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April 3, 2008 

Afghan opposition courts Taliban
By Anand Gopal The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Apr 03 1:00 AM
Kabul, Afghanistan - The country's most powerful opposition group announced last week that they have been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban. The move signals both the growing divisions within the Afghan government and the increasing

NATO confirms long-term Afghan commitment
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - NATO leaders confirmed on Thursday their "firm and shared long-term commitment" to Afghanistan but also pledged to aid a transition to Afghan forces by boosting their training.

France responds to call for more troops in Afghanistan
by Jim Mannion Thu Apr 3, 4:42 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - NATO leaders turned to the conflict in Afghanistan on the second day of a summit Thursday as France responded to an appeal for more troops to counter a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

Reinforced Canada will stay in Afghanistan
By Randall Palmer and Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Canada said on Thursday it would keep its troops in Afghanistan following an offer by France to bolster the NATO force there, freeing up U.S. units to help Canadian soldiers in the violent south of the country.

NATO troop target for Afghanistan hard to pin down
By Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Just how many troops does NATO need in Afghanistan? Despite repeated calls for more forces to be sent to fight Taliban insurgents, alliance leaders -- meeting on Thursday at a summit in Bucharest

Airstrike kills 3 in Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 3, 6:08 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed three armed militants, while a raid by U.S.-led coalition troops in the same region left several insurgents dead, officials said Thursday.

NATO chief wants Afghan talks with new Pakistan govt
Thu Apr 3, 2:45 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he wanted direct talks between his military alliance in Afghanistan and the new government in Pakistan.

Don't 'pull an Iraq' in Afghanistan
By Benjamin H. Friedman The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Apr 03 1:00 AM
Cambridge, Mass. - This week at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romaina American officials asked Europeans to send more troops to the war in Afghanistan. Leaders in both the Democrat and Republican parties agree that higher troop

Indian soaps face Afghanistan ban
Thursday, 3 April 2008 13:15 UK BBC News
The Afghan government has told private television stations in the country to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas.

Pakistan crucial for Afghan stability: Karl Inderfurth
April 3rd, 2008 Thaindian.com, Thailand
Washington, Apr 3 (ANI): A South Asia expert, formerly working with the US State Department, has said that Pakistan was crucial for the stability of Afghanistan and the reinforcement of the ability of NATO forces to complete their mission successfully.

UN urges NATO to adopt "holistic approach" to conflict
KABUL, 3 April 2008 (IRIN) - As NATO sets about exploring ways to boost its military effort in Afghanistan at a summit in Bucharest on 3 April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Representative for Afghanistan

'US hasn't asked India to do more in Afghanistan'
The Times of India 3 Apr 2008
WASHINGTON-Describing India as a "strong partner", a top US military officer has said that Washington has not asked New Delhi to do "more" in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Bush Urges Patience in Afghanistan
The New York Times By STEVEN LEE MYERS April 3, 2008
BUCHAREST, Romania -President Bush opened a meeting of NATO leaders here on Wednesday by urging the alliance to “maintain its resolve and finish the fight” in Afghanistan and to strengthen its military forces to combat Al Qaeda

Rights groups to appeal Afghan detainees ruling
Federal Court's decision not to halt transfer of captives into local custody 'failed to acknowledge the Charter,' Amnesty declares
The Globe and Mail (Canada) PAUL KORING April 2, 2008
Taliban fighters taken prisoner by Canadian troops in Afghanistan may be denied rights they would have if captured by British or U.S. forces, rights groups said yesterday as they announced an appeal of a Federal Court decision.

Stoned to death for committing adultery
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia Dylan Welch April 3, 2008
A man and a woman have reportedly been stoned to death by the Taliban after being found guilty of adultery by a tribal court in Pakistan's border region.

Afghan opposition courts Taliban
By Anand Gopal The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Apr 03 1:00 AM
Kabul, Afghanistan - The country's most powerful opposition group announced last week that they have been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban. The move signals both the growing divisions within the Afghan government and the increasing possibility that elements of the insurgent group could be drawn into the political process, say analysts.

If successful, officials argue that the talks will change the way the United States deals with Afghanistan, by forcing Washington to contend with the opposition.

Representatives of the United National Front – an assemblage of ministers, members of parliament, and warlords led by former Northern Alliance commanders – say they have held secret talks with the Taliban for at least five months.

"Leaders of some Taliban sections contacted us," says Front spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussein Fazel Sancharaki, "saying, 'We are both Muslims, we are both Afghans, and we are both not satisfied with the government's performance.' "

The government, which has had a series of secret talks with the "moderate Taliban" since 2003, has in contrast taken a different approach to negotiations. It insists that the Taliban must first surrender completely – disavow armed insurrection and accept the foreign presence.

But some observers say this strategy is too stringent and will not produce fruitful talks. "Why are they negotiating with Taliban who aren't fighting?" former Taliban official turned political analyst Wahid Muzjda asks. "The problem is with those who are fighting the government, and yet the government refuses to speak to this group."

Loosening the rules for talks
Mr. Sancharaki notes that his party will be more flexible in negotiations. "The Karzai government is using peace negotiations for political gain," he says, referring to President Hamid Karzai. "They will only talk to the Taliban if they lay down their weapons. This is impossible. But the National Front will have an agenda and a clear program for talks."

Perhaps to avoid being outmaneuvered by the opposition, Mr. Karzai's office responded by stating that both houses of parliament can negotiate directly with the insurgent group. The response marked a shift from previous policy in which Karzai tightly controlled the negotiation process.

The announcements come at a time when the government and the Taliban are feeling increased pressure to come to the table.

Last year marked the bloodiest year of the insurgency yet – the United Nations reports that Taliban attacks and NATO reprisals killed more than 6,000 people, including at least 1,200 civilians. The nation also saw more than 130 suicide attacks in 2007, and 10 percent of the country is under Taliban control, according to a recent US intelligence estimate.

Using Taliban to angle for power
As frustration with the poor security conditions has chipped away at the government's support, analysts say that the Front is announcing the talks now in order to increase pressure on Karzai.

"[They] are trying to use the Taliban to enhance their leverage vis-à-vis Karzai, to force him to make concessions in terms of ministerial posts and other appointments," says Antonio Giustozzi, a research fellow at the London School of Economics.

As Karzai's foreign and domestic support slips, the Front hopes to use its new status as Taliban interlocutor to win international backing.

"The people of this country are turning against the international community because of the record of the Karzai government and the security situation," says Sancharaki. "The international community should look to the National Front as a partner in bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan."

The Front formed last year when former Mujahideen commander and president Burhanuddin Rabbani organized other strongmen and former Northern Alliance commanders in opposition to Karzai.

While the Front claims the support of 40 percent of members of parliament and scores of other influential figures, it still has difficulty shaking a checkered past.

Human rights groups allege that the commanders were behind many atrocities during the civil wars of the mid-'90s, and sections of the population consider the commanders nothing more than warlords.

Talks with the Taliban increase the strength and prestige of the Front and further isolate Karzai, says Mr. Muzjda. "This is an election year," the political analyst says, referring to the spring 2009 presidential elections. "They are trying to bolster their popularity and show that they are committed to peace."

Regardless of their intentions, experts say that recent declarations of negotiations help draw the Taliban into the political process and convince all sides that a powersharing agreement is possible in the future.

"All these talks have the net effect of legitimizing the Taliban and weakening the rationale for foreign presence in Afghanistan," Mr. Giustozzi says.

While most expect the insurgency to continue for several years, the Taliban is facing increasing pressure to open dialogue – despite losses inflicted upon NATO and its Afghan allies, the insurgents have not been able to defeat the coalition in most conventional battles.

Shared antipathy for Karzai
Although the core leadership is likely to resist peace talks, observers say that some Taliban commanders might be drawn to the Front due to shared antipathy for Karzai and to the opposition group's more flexible negotiation approach.

A recent Taliban statement openly called for coordination with the Front. "There is no doubt that the former ... commanders of Jihad have given a lot of sacrifices for Islam and for the path of freeing the country," the statement said, referring to Front leaders. "Now, it is necessary that they ... sacrifice once again against this invasion."

Yet ongoing deliberations in the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania – where members are debating troop commitments in Afghanistan – are convincing some insurgents to eschew negotiations and continue battling until all foreign soldiers leave the country, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi says in a phone interview.
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NATO confirms long-term Afghan commitment
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - NATO leaders confirmed on Thursday their "firm and shared long-term commitment" to Afghanistan but also pledged to aid a transition to Afghan forces by boosting their training.

"We will provide the training teams and help provide the equipment needed to meet the goal of an effective 80,000-strong Afghan army by 2010," the leaders of NATO countries and all those participating in its peacekeeping mission said in a statement agreed at a summit, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

(Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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France responds to call for more troops in Afghanistan
by Jim Mannion Thu Apr 3, 4:42 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - NATO leaders turned to the conflict in Afghanistan on the second day of a summit Thursday as France responded to an appeal for more troops to counter a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were to join a discussion here on devising a comprehensive, long term strategy to stabilize the country more than six years after the Taliban's ouster.

But Canada and other countries have called for an immediate infusion of troops to deal with rising violence in southern Afghanistan, a call answered in part by France.

"I have decided to reinforce the French military presence with a battalion deployed in the eastern region," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech Thursday to a closed door session of allied leaders.

A NATO spokesman said that the French battalion, about 800 troops, would free up US troops for deployment in the south.

The United States had previously ordered the deployment of 3,500 marines to Afghanistan, about 2,500 of whom will spend seven months in the south. The remainder will be used to train Afghan security forces.

"It's pretty clear that there are going to be new commitments to the effort (in Afghanistan), and they won't be insignificant," a senior US official told AFP late Wednesday.

Canada, which has taken rising casualties in the south, has insisted that its forces would stay only if other countries reinforced them with a 1,000-strong battle group as well as helicopters and unmanned aircraft.

US officials said they were optimistic that the Canadian requirement would be met at the summit.

NATO's minimum needs, contained in a Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, call for two maneuver battalions and a border security battalion.

But the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, General Daniel McNeil, has requested as many as 10,000 more troops in the form of two combat brigades and a brigade of trainers.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that he was "reasonably optimistic" that the minimum requirements would be met but there will not be "anywhere near" the number that the commander wants.

ISAF has grown from 33,000 troops in Janaury 2007 to 47,000 at the end of March amid a violent challenge from the Taliban and other militants operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan and in Afghanistan's vast ungoverned spaces.

A weak central government and record poppy harvests in Taliban-dominated Helmand province have helped propel the resurgence, even as NATO has struggled to convince reluctant members to provide more troops and equipment.

The session here with Karzai and Ban and representatives of other troop contributing nations was expected to focus a more comprehensive and better coordinated approach to Afghanistan's longer-term economic and political development.

The summiteers were expected to issue a public declaration of NATO's goals and intentions over the next three to five years, in part in an attempt to shore up public support in the face of rising casualties.

So far this year, 36 international soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Nearly 220 died last year, most of them in hostile action.
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Reinforced Canada will stay in Afghanistan
By Randall Palmer and Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Canada said on Thursday it would keep its troops in Afghanistan following an offer by France to bolster the NATO force there, freeing up U.S. units to help Canadian soldiers in the violent south of the country.

The French pledge at a NATO summit in Romania, coupled with planned contributions by other nations, proved enough for Canada to withdraw a threat to pull its 2,500 troops out of the 47,000-strong Western military alliance force in Afghanistan.

In a joint declaration due to be issued at the summit, the 40 nations of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission also confirmed their "firm and shared long-term commitment" to Afghanistan, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.

The declaration included the goal of helping train an 80,000-strong Afghan army by 2010 as part of what NATO hopes will allow domestic forces to gradually lead more security operations across the country.

The uncertainty of Canada's commitment had emerged at a time of tensions over whether other countries were doing enough in the battle against Taliban insurgents.

It had forced Canada's minority Conservative government -- which had been under pressure from three opposition parties to pull out next February or earlier -- to set conditions of an extra battalion and more equipment for it to stay until 2011. It also wanted more focus on reconstruction and development.

"Today I can report that we have met these conditions," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a news conference, further marginalizing what had months ago promised to be a possible election issue in Canada.

He said it was important not just for Afghanistan but also because it marked an increased role in the alliance for an often reluctant France.

"I think it represents in fairness a significant and historic re-engagement of France in NATO, which we have seen coming really since the arrival of President (Nicolas) Sarkozy in power," he said.

FRENCH PLEDGE
Sarkozy said on Thursday he would dispatch 700 new troops: "France has decided to send an extra battalion to the east."

U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed the move and said it would allow some U.S. troops to move from the east to the south of Afghanistan, scene of the worst violence.

"It is expected that a like number of U.S. forces would deploy to the south," a U.S. official said.

Canada had asked for a battle group of approximately 1,000 troops but the Americans come with the added benefit of being highly armed and equipped with ample helicopters.

"We anticipate that the American deployment in Kandahar will more than meet our needs," Harper said. Poland will also base helicopters in eastern Afghanistan which will be made available to the Canadian forces.

The French commitment coincides with increasing Western concern about violence in Afghanistan, with suicide attacks and car bombings on the rise.

The United States has been concerned about the commitment of some European countries, who in turn have been annoyed by public U.S. exhortations to send more troops into a war they believe Washington neglected because of its focus on Iraq.

A senior French official said the battalion of 700 soldiers would take France's contingent in Afghanistan to 2,300.

The French move was another sign of the warm relations Sarkozy has cultivated with the United States since he took office in May last year, and it won Bush's thanks.

Washington has 31,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 19,000 serving in the NATO-led force; 3,500 Marines recently deployed to Afghanistan but the Pentagon has stressed they are there for only seven months and other allies will have to replace them.

That compares to the 100,000 to 120,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union's occupation from 1979 to 1989, according to Russian military experts quoted in Russian language websites.

Troops in the Soviet conscript army were rotated through Afghanistan so that by the time Moscow withdrew, 1 million Soviet troops had served there, according to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. A total of 14,453 were killed.

(Additional reporting by Mark John; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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NATO troop target for Afghanistan hard to pin down
By Andrew Gray
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Just how many troops does NATO need in Afghanistan? Despite repeated calls for more forces to be sent to fight Taliban insurgents, alliance leaders -- meeting on Thursday at a summit in Bucharest -- have been reluctant or unable to give a consistent figure for how many soldiers are required.

Adding to the confusion, NATO recently revised the number of soldiers it says it already has in Afghanistan -- adding some 4,000 troops in one fell swoop to give a total of 47,000.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged in Bucharest to send a battalion -- some 700 troops -- to eastern Afghanistan. Other NATO leaders welcomed the move but no one suggested it would be enough to plug all the gaps in the force.

Precise troop figures are often hard to pin down because military planners think in terms of units and capabilities needed for a mission, rather than raw numbers of soldiers.

Units can vary greatly in size depending on their mission and which country is providing them. A U.S. Army brigade, for example, can have anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

But the lack of clarity over NATO's Afghan mission goes beyond the vagaries of military mathematics.

It also reflects differences between what military doctrine suggests is needed in Afghanistan, what commanders would like and what NATO has approved as requirements.

The force is about three battalions short of the minimum outlined in an official document known as Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, NATO officials say. That translates into anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000 troops, they say.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has campaigned strongly for more troops in Afghanistan, said this week that even achieving that minimum is "pretty ambitious."

But U.S. Army Gen. McNeill, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, has a larger "wish list" amounting to an extra three brigades, Pentagon officials said.

Even that figure may not be what NATO really needs to succeed in Afghanistan.

McNeill has said U.S. doctrine suggests a force of well over 400,000 Afghan and foreign troops to fight an insurgency in a country of Afghanistan's size and population, although he has made clear he does not expect NATO to provide that.

While the lack of a clear target number of troops is a source of confusion, it also has an advantage for nations such as the United States pushing NATO allies to provide more forces -- they can always argue that the alliance must still do more.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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Airstrike kills 3 in Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Thu Apr 3, 6:08 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - An airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed three armed militants, while a raid by U.S.-led coalition troops in the same region left several insurgents dead, officials said Thursday.

The airstrike Wednesday killed militants north of Kandahar city, the capital of the southern Kandahar province, deputy provincial chief Amanullah Khan said.

In neighboring Helmand province, U.S.-led coalition troops killed several insurgents during a raid targeting a Taliban commander in Kajaki district, the coalition said in a statement.

During the Tuesday raid the insurgents fired on the coalition soldiers before the troops returned fire, killing "a number" of militants and detaining four others, the statement said.

"As an added measure of safety, coalition forces temporarily relocated the compound's noncombatants to protect them from hostilities taking place," Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, said in the statement.

Compounds in the region are usually walled areas with several mud-brick houses where extended families live.

The military said there were no civilian or coalition casualties during the raid.

Helmand, the biggest opium poppy-producing region in the world, has been the arena of the bloodiest battles between international troops and insurgents.

More than 8,000 people were killed in the insurgency in 2007, the deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
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NATO chief wants Afghan talks with new Pakistan govt
Thu Apr 3, 2:45 AM ET
BUCHAREST (AFP) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he wanted direct talks between his military alliance in Afghanistan and the new government in Pakistan.

With rows over troop numbers and deployments, and worries over the state of the porous Afghan-Pakistan border, Scheffer also dropped a broad hint he would soon head to Islamabad himself.

Speaking ahead of the formal opening of a NATO summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest, Scheffer pleaded for more contact between the 47,000 strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the newly-elected government of Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

"Military-to-military contacts are good. We must complement a military dialogue with a political one. NATO/ISAF need a political dialogue with Pakistan because instability there breeds instability in Afghanistan," he told foreign policy experts on Wednesday ahead of the summit opening dinner.

Scheffer, who is holding the ring during this three-day conference in a row over the NATO allies' varying troop deployments across Afghanistan, added: "I look forward to going to Pakistan when the government in settled in.

"We have a common fight against terrorism -- my starting point is, Pakistan is part of the solution, not part of the problem."

NATO's Afghanistan commitment has seen attention increasingly turn to neighbouring north-western Pakistan, from where the Taliban is directing its Afghan insurgency across the porous border.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at the same event, criticized the previous government under President Pervez Musharref.

"We were told democracy (in Pakistan) would inflame the radicals," he said. "The problem was the previous government in Pakistan was cracking down on the democrats, not the extremists."

Scheffer insisted: "We are not failing, we are prevailing (in Afghanistan)," at the event, jointly organised by the Chatham House think-tank in London and the German Marshall Fund.
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Don't 'pull an Iraq' in Afghanistan
By Benjamin H. Friedman The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News - Apr 03 1:00 AM
Cambridge, Mass. - This week at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romaina American officials asked Europeans to send more troops to the war in Afghanistan. Leaders in both the Democrat and Republican parties agree that higher troop levels and a deeper commitment to state-building are the path to victory in Afghanistan. But both sides are wrong, and Iraq shows why.

When it comes to military occupations, Iraq reveals that bigger isn't always better. The heavy United States troop presence at the start of the occupation helped spark the insurgency. New tactics, militia cease-fires, and resettlement moved Iraqis out of harm's way and reduced violence in Iraq in recent months. The surge in troop numbers mattered less than these factors.

But what US involvement in Iraq principally demonstrates is the limitation of American military power in reordering foreign societies. US troops can check violence in areas they occupy, but cannot repair the tensions that produce such violence. Those tensions stem from political problems that only Iraqis can solve, as the current unrest in the Shiite south indicates. If Iraq teaches Americans that flooding troops into other states racked by civil war and that undertaking massive state-building efforts is a good use of tax dollars, they are misguided.

Disappointingly, US foreign-policy makers have embraced this false lesson. The politicians and think tank experts likely to guide the next administration's military policy seem to believe that if Americans only plan better, coordinate more, and master counter-insurgency doctrine, the country can succeed in future wars meant to build foreign governments. The public may have learned enough to change their opinion, but Washington's hubris is essentially intact.

Consider the recent push to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan. John McCain agrees with the current administration that more European soldiers are needed, but seems chary of sending more Americans there given his commitment of troops to Iraq. His friends at the American Enterprise Institute ignore this problem and back another American surge. Meanwhile, the loudest backers of increasing troops in Afghanistan are Democrats.

The liberal Center for American Progress has long advocated shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, a stance now echoed by several left-leaning think tanks. Last month, Hillary Rodham Clinton called for expanded American and NATO troop contributions, plus increased funds for reconstruction. Barack Obama recently said something similar with greater specificity.

The problem with this outbreak of surge enthusiasm is less the push for more troops itself than the associated idea that Afghanistan needs the treatment Iraq is getting. Democrats argue that Bush has neglected Afghanistan and that its stability and US security require a bigger, better state-building effort. This is backward.

One of the Bush administration's rare achievements is the modesty of US presence and ambitions in Afghanistan.

Defending American interests in Afghanistan requires nothing more than ensuring the absence of a haven for international terrorists and making an example of those who provide one. Those two reasonable goals justified the war in Afghanistan, unlike the Iraq war.

If the latter goal should fail, US forces can target terrorist camps and supporters through raids and airstrikes guided by intelligence, even if Taliban militias gain power in some regions. Those missions do not require a huge force structure, or that Afghanistan become a modern nation, a democratic one, or even stable.

Instead of this realistic approach, the next president will probably move to expand a never-ending war meant to assert the control of a statelet in Kabul over an unruly territory. Afghanistan is full of arms and grievances. It lacks the basics of statehood: a road network, a working national energy grid, widespread patriotism, and tax collection. The notion that a 25 percent increase of Western forces and investment is enough to transform Afghanistan into a peaceful, centralized state shows idealism of stunning tenacity.

Only Afghans can properly build Afghanistan. When Americans attempt to do the job, we protect Afghans from the struggle that will ultimately make them stronger. The truth is, neither Americans nor Afghans can create an Afghanistan that fulfills US hopes. We should aim for one that meets US needs.

• Benjamin H. Friedman is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute and a PhD candidate in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Indian soaps face Afghanistan ban
Thursday, 3 April 2008 13:15 UK BBC News
The Afghan government has told private television stations in the country to stop broadcasting Indian soap operas.

The culture and information ministry says the stations have until 15 April to stop broadcasting the shows.

A ministry spokesman said the decision follows a meeting with MPs and clerics. He said there had been numerous complaints about the shows.

Correspondents say the decision reflects the growing influence of hardline Islamists in Afghanistan.

There are six Indian soap operas running in Afghanistan, providing vital revenue for TV stations, but they have been criticised for being un-Islamic.

A television show broadcast recently which showed Afghan men and women dancing together at a movie awards ceremony caused uproar in parliament.

Correspondents say that foreign soap operas and music videos are relatively new to Afghanistan - most television was banned by the extremist Taleban government between 1996 and 2001.

While the shows are popular, they have alarmed conservatives who argue that they threaten to lower moral standards and harm Afghan traditions and culture.
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Pakistan crucial for Afghan stability: Karl Inderfurth
April 3rd, 2008 Thaindian.com, Thailand
Washington, Apr 3 (ANI): A South Asia expert, formerly working with the US State Department, has said that Pakistan was crucial for the stability of Afghanistan and the reinforcement of the ability of NATO forces to complete their mission successfully.

In an analysis published in Boston Globe, Karl F Inderfurth, former head of South Asia Desk at the State Department, wrote that both the nations should develop an effective process of devising a successful strategy to counter terrorist organisations Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if Pakistan is not a part of the solution. The future stability of both depends on the development of an effective regional strategy to counter and uproot the Taliban/Al Qaeda sanctuary in Pakistans tribal border areas. Despite Pakistans counterinsurgency efforts over the last four years, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have developed a stronghold in this region that bolsters the Talibans capabilities against coalition forces in Afghanistan, poses a direct threat to the Pakistani state itself, and facilitates Al Qaeda planning and execution of global terrorist plots, including those directed against the US, the Daily Times quoted him as saying.

Inderfurth said in his article that the Trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-NATO Military Commission is an important mechanism as is the strengthening of the US military presence along the Afghan side of the border. Washington also needs to work more closely with Pakistan in joint counterterrorism operations, he added.

The possibility for collaboration exists, but these operations are highly sensitive and politically charged in the Tribal Areas and must be pursued through quiet, behind the scene efforts with Pakistans political and military leaders.

Inderfurth proposed holding a UN-sponsored high-level international conference attended by all Afghanistans neighbours and other concerned major powers to work out a multilateral accord that recognises Afghanistans borders with Pakistan, namely the still-disputed 1893 Durand Line; pledges non-interference in Afghanistans internal affairs; affirms that, like the Congress of Vienna accord for Switzerland, Afghanistan should be internationally accepted as a permanently neutral state; and establishes a comprehensive international regime to remove obstacles to the flow of trade across Afghanistan, the key to establishing a vibrant commercial network that would benefit the entire region. (ANI)
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UN urges NATO to adopt "holistic approach" to conflict
KABUL, 3 April 2008 (IRIN) - As NATO sets about exploring ways to boost its military effort in Afghanistan at a summit in Bucharest on 3 April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide are urging a "holistic approach" and better coordination by all parties to defeat the Taliban and restore stability.

Ban and Eide are calling on NATO to increase non-military support to the Afghan government in order to tackle the insurgency more effectively and help rebuild and develop the country, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.

"To defeat the insurgency we need to see more than just military efforts; we need to see political outreach efforts; we need to see development efforts; we need to see humanitarian assistance efforts; and more broadly, regional cooperation," Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for UNAMA, told IRIN in Kabul.

"The insurgency cannot be defeated and peace cannot be achieved only through military means," he said.

All parties involved in peace-building and development in Afghanistan - chiefly NATO, the UN and the Afghan government - should "step-up coordination" among themselves, Siddique said.

NATO role in humanitarian activities?

Apart from its military operations in coordination with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) (http://www.nato.int/isaf/topics/history/index.html), NATO also runs Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in 26 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and has carried out over 7,500 development projects, said a NATO report released on 1 April.

While some aid agencies criticise the increasing involvement of NATO soldiers in development and humanitarian activities and consider this a major reason for the "shrinking humanitarian space" in Afghanistan, UNAMA says Afghanistan needs more than the traditional distinction between help from the military and help from aid agencies.

"We want to get away from this black-and-white scenario where it is purely the military that are responsible for security and purely the international community and the government that are responsible for political outreach and the development," said Aleem.

However, aid agencies such as Oxfam America, member of Oxfam International, have said the military should not be engaged in humanitarian and development activities unless there is no other way to meet life-threatening needs (http://www.oxfamamerica.org/newsandpublications/news_updates/archive2003/art4362.html).

Civilian casualties

At least 1,500 Afghan civilians lost their lives in insurgency-related violence in 2007, the UN has reported.

Preliminary reports compiled by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) indicate that almost half of civilian casualties in the past two years came about as a result of aerial strikes and other military operations conducted by international forces.

During the Bucharest summit, Ban and Eide will reiterate the UN's concerns about civilian protection and ask NATO leaders to adopt stronger measures to minimise the impact of the conflict on civilians, Siddique said.
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'US hasn't asked India to do more in Afghanistan'
The Times of India 3 Apr 2008
WASHINGTON-Describing India as a "strong partner", a top US military officer has said that Washington has not asked New Delhi to do "more" in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

At a press conference, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said that the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had not conveyed to India to "do more" during his recent visit.

"The Secretary (Gates) had a great visit in India; a very strong partner and strong ally. And I'm not aware that he had any discussions along the lines of asking India to do anything else in Afghanistan," Mullen said, responding to a question at the conference.

Gates had visited India in February and met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee among others during his two-day trip.
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Bush Urges Patience in Afghanistan
The New York Times By STEVEN LEE MYERS April 3, 2008
BUCHAREST, Romania -President Bush opened a meeting of NATO leaders here on Wednesday by urging the alliance to “maintain its resolve and finish the fight” in Afghanistan and to strengthen its military forces to combat Al Qaeda and other threats around the world.

With the war in Afghanistan in its seventh year, Mr. Bush used a speech and a news conference to urge NATO nations to deploy still more troops than the 47,000 there now, even as he acknowledged it was politically and militarily difficult for some of the alliance’s 26 nations to do so.

“We expect our NATO allies to shoulder the burden necessary to succeed,” he said, appearing with Romania’s president, Traian Basescu, at a retreat beside the Black Sea.

With officials and commanders warning that NATO risked failure in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush sought to reinvigorate the alliance’s commitment to what earlier in the day he called the “most daring and ambitious” mission in its history. Some nations, including France, have publicly indicated they intend to send more troops, but a full accounting of any additional forces will not be clear until Thursday, when the summit officially convenes.

Mr. Bush, noting that this NATO summit would be the last he attends, effectively called on the alliance to embrace the ambitious and aggressive policies of his presidency on every front, including Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, notably Iraq and Iran.

He warned that Iran had declared its intention to build a ballistic missile with a range of 1,200 miles — enough “to reach us right here in Romania.” And he reminded the European allies that Osama bin Laden’s latest statement, a recording released two weeks ago, included a threat to attack Europe.

“We need to take the words of the enemy seriously,” Mr. Bush said. “The terrorist threat is real, it is deadly, and defeating this enemy must be the top priority of the NATO alliance.”

Mr. Bush’s positions, and his insistence on repeating them even as leaders were gathering, have highlighted internal divisions within the alliance that have rarely spilled so starkly into public.

As he did in Ukraine the day before, Mr. Bush called on the alliance to add three new nations — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — and to begin a process toward membership for two others, Ukraine and Georgia.

In doing so, he again brushed aside concerns among some of the United States’ closest NATO allies that rapid expansion deeper into what was once the Soviet Union risked weakening the alliance and angering Russia.

Mr. Bush also defended his administration’s plans to install parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, another contentious issue for Russia, but added that he hoped to persuade the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to cooperate with NATO, not oppose it, when the two leaders meet this week.

“I will reiterate that the missile defense capabilities we are developing are not designed to defend against Russia, just as the new NATO we are building is not designed to defend against Russia,” Mr. Bush said during a morning speech at the Palace of the Deposit and Savings Bank, a Beaux-Arts building in Bucharest’s center. “The cold war is over. Russia is not our enemy.”

As dozens of NATO leaders and others gathered here for the first of three days of meetings and social gatherings, Mr. Bush and his aides worked behind the scenes to avoid any public rifts, officials said, though the question of new members continued to divide the allies.

France and Germany have said they will oppose offering a “membership action plan” that could pave the way for Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, to join NATO. Greece has also objected to inviting Macedonia to join because of a dispute over that country’s use of the name Macedonia.

NATO has already incorporated seven new nations during Mr. Bush’s presidency. Russia has long been wary of NATO’s expansion, but the consideration of potential membership for Ukraine and Georgia, countries with deep historical ties to the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire before it, has been met with hostility and threats.

Flying to Bucharest on Tuesday night, the White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, said that Russia should not influence NATO’s decisions on membership. “The last time we checked, Russia didn’t get a vote,” she said. “And this is a NATO discussion, a NATO exercise, and it will be a NATO decision.”

In addition, the alliance will consider whether to begin negotiations with two more countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

Mr. Bush suggested there should be few restraints on NATO’s growth as a political and military alliance. “NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe’s democracies that seek it,” he declared. His unambiguous position could end up at odds with NATO’s final decision. Since the alliance works by consensus, France and Germany can easily block a decision on extending preliminary invitations to Ukraine and Georgia.

The NATO leaders are to meet on Wednesday evening over dinner. The formal meeting on Thursday, where most decisions will be made, takes place at the Palace of the Parliament, a colossal structure built by Romania’s Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was overthrown and executed in 1989.

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, renewed his country’s pointed criticism of NATO and indirectly challenged Mr. Bush’s assertion that the cold war had ended. He said the alliance was mired in the “bloc logic” of another era.

“Attempts to artificially and needlessly expand NATO’s borders — an expansion that will in no way boost the effectiveness of the fight against modern and mutual threats — will not remain unanswered, believe me,” Mr. Lavrov said in televised remarks in Russia’s Parliament. “But we will respond pragmatically, not like little boys in school, who take offense, slam the door and run out of class to cry in a corner.”
 
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Moscow.
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Rights groups to appeal Afghan detainees ruling
Federal Court's decision not to halt transfer of captives into local custody 'failed to acknowledge the Charter,' Amnesty declares
The Globe and Mail (Canada) PAUL KORING April 2, 2008
Taliban fighters taken prisoner by Canadian troops in Afghanistan may be denied rights they would have if captured by British or U.S. forces, rights groups said yesterday as they announced an appeal of a Federal Court decision.

The case, which seems likely to end up in the Supreme Court of Canada, may determine whether the Constitution marches alongside Canadian troops waging war overseas.

Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say that a ruling last month by Madam Justice Anne Mactavish "failed to acknowledge the Charter and international law obligations to prevent torture or ill treatment of prisoners" even after they are turned over to Afghan authorities.

Canadian handovers of detainees were stopped in November when compelling evidence of torture was found on a visit by Canadian diplomats to an Afghan prison. Prisoner transfers resumed three months later after yet another increase in monitoring arrangements and further promises from Kabul that abuse would stop and allegations of torture would be thoroughly investigated.

In the meantime, Judge Mactavish had refused to order a halt to transfers and ruled against the rights groups.

"British and American courts have ruled that some human rights protocols apply to detainees" captured by their armed forces in war zones, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada. "Canada should be at the top of the heap in respect for human rights, not somewhere else," he added.

The British and U.S. rulings haven't been tested with respect to detainees captured and transferred in Afghanistan. The British case involved prisoners in Iraq. U.S. cases include some captured in Afghanistan and currently held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"This case is less about given rights to foreign detainees and more about preventing agents of our government from being ensnared in atrocities such as torture and genocide," said Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The government has argued that international law coupled with deals with the Afghan government provide all the protection needed to ensure detainees are not abused or tortured.

Canadian law already applies to Canadian soldiers deployed abroad. For instance, a criminal investigation into allegations that Afghan detainees were beaten by Canadian soldiers has been under way for more than a year, but there has been no decision on whether to lay charges.

The appeal announced yesterday is expected to be heard some time this fall.

Among the 11 grounds cited for the appeal, the right groups says the judge "erred in law by finding that the Charter does not apply to the detention of individuals by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan despite the fact the Canadian Forces have 'complete control' over these detainees and cannot be compelled to turn them over to the custody of any other country, including Afghanistan."
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Stoned to death for committing adultery
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia Dylan Welch April 3, 2008
A man and a woman have reportedly been stoned to death by the Taliban after being found guilty of adultery by a tribal court in Pakistan's border region.

The stoning was carried out in a tribal area on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan where the Taliban has a strong presence, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.

The killings are the first recorded incident of death by stoning by the militants, who usually put accused before firing squads, the newspaper stated.

The pair had been captured by the Taliban after eloping about two weeks ago from a border area known as the Mohmand Agency.

A complaint was made that the woman, married to another man, had been kidnapped but it was later reported that she had actually eloped.

A spokesman for the local Taliban told the newspaper the militants had captured them as they returned from Karachi.

They tried the couple, found them guilty and sentenced them to death by stoning.

After the executions were carried out the man's body was handed over to his relatives. The body of the woman was buried in the area by local people, the newspaper stated.
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