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April 8, 2008 

Kabul hotel tax raid sparks cash exodus
FT.com - World News By Jon Boone in Kabul  April 7 2008
Afghanistan businesses are moving cash reserves overseas after learning that the government claimed it was owed more than $285,000 in back taxes from the Aga Khan’s luxury hotel development in Kabul.
A fortnight after eight guests

US hopes to pledge more for Afghans
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is hoping to pledge almost $4 billion in additional aid for Afghanistan at an international donors conference to be held in Paris in June, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

Militants kill 17 Afghan road workers
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants killed 17 road workers in Afghanistan's lawless south Tuesday, part of a spike in violence that left 40 people dead over two days.

NATO soldier among 35 killed in Afghan violence
by Nasrat Shoaib / April 8, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - At least 35 people, including 17 civilians and a NATO-led soldier, were killed Tuesday in the latest violence to hit insurgency-hit Afghanistan, officials said.

ICRC: War spreading across Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 8, 5:46 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The war in Afghanistan is spreading across the country, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes this year, the international Red Cross said Tuesday during the visit of its president.

Taliban kill 2 police in Afghanistan
Tue Apr 8, 6:18 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants killed two police officers and wounded another at a checkpoint in western Afghanistan, an official said Tuesday.

No word on Hekmatyar link to Afghan attack
Tue 8 Apr 2008, 10:41 GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government has no information on whether a wanted guerrilla leader was in a village hit by a U.S.-led air strike in the east of the country this week, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

India rules out military involvement in Afghanistan
Tue, Apr 8 08:33 PM
New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) India Tuesday ruled out any military involvement in Afghanistan, which is facing Taliban resurgence once again, as the defence ministers of the two countries met here Tuesday.

AFGHANISTAN: Humanitarian needs growing as conflict spreads - ICRC
08 Apr 2008 16:31:47 GMT
KABUL, 8 April 2008 (IRIN) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed deep concern about the intensification and spreading of armed conflict in Afghanistan, and called on aid agencies to "urgently"

French goverment wins no-confidence vote on Afghanistan
Tue Apr 8, 2008 12:38pm EDT
powered by  SpherePARIS (Reuters) - The French government easily survived its first no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, facing down opposition charges that it was sending extra troops to Afghanistan simply to please its U.S. allies.

Winning not a standard of success in Afghanistan, says general
Canada.com, Canada Matthew Fisher Canwest News Service Monday, April 07, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -The Canadian general commanding 13,000 Canadian, American, and European combat troops in the Taliban heartland says winning is not the way to judge success in fighting Afghanistan's insurgents.

Defence lessons: Afghanistan's minister meets Antony
Times of India, India 8 Apr 200
NEW DELHI-As the US-led Nato's International Security Assistance Force gets increasingly bogged down in Afghanistan amid a Taliban resurgence, Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak is in India on a week-long visit to hold talks with the government here.

AFGHANISTAN: Children work in brick factories to help pay off family debts
08 Apr 2008 13:32:25 GMT
JALALABAD, 8 April 2008 (IRIN) - Over 2,200 children are working long hours in dozens of brick-making factories in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, to pay off their families' debts, a survey by the Child Action Protection Network

Threat of ethnic clashes over grazing land
KABUL, 7 April 2008 (IRIN) - There are increasing fears of an imminent outbreak of ethnic conflict in central Afghanistan over access to grazing land between Kuchis and Hazaras.

Embattled Karzai beams after Bucharest
By Haroun Mir Asia Times Online
KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai emanated self-confidence during his press conference in Kabul following his participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) April 3 meeting in Bucharest

Afghanistan: 2001-2008A chronology of events in Afghanistan since the attacks of September 11 2001
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday April 8 2008
2001
September 11: Hijackers fly planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Washington blames Osama bin Laden and tells the Taliban to hand him over

US to prosecute Afghan at Guantanamo
April 7, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon Monday moved forward to prosecute an Afghan prisoner at the Guantanamo naval base accused of planting explosives and launching missiles toward a U.S.-occupied area in Afghanistan in 2003.

Panjwaii road built the Afghan way, locals acquire skills for rebuilding
The Canadian Press April 7, 2008
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The top political leaders of Kandahar province and the commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan hailed hundreds of sweaty, sun-baked Afghan workers Monday for their courageous

Talking to the Taliban: when and why
The Globe and Mail - Opinions SEDDIQ WEERA AND JOANNA SANTA BARBARA Special to Globe and Mail Update April 7, 2008
Talking to the Taliban, the remarkable research series by The Globe and Mail, has revealed many interesting things about Taliban foot soldiers: Their overriding goal is to rid Afghanistan of foreigners. They are not global jihadists

British Council to send pupils on Afghanistan exchange
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Damien McElroy Foreign Affairs Correspondent  08/04/2008
British children are to make exchange visits to war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq under a classroom twinning scheme.

Kabul hotel tax raid sparks cash exodus
FT.com - World News By Jon Boone in Kabul  April 7 2008
Afghanistan businesses are moving cash reserves overseas after learning that the government claimed it was owed more than $285,000 in back taxes from the Aga Khan’s luxury hotel development in Kabul.
A fortnight after eight guests and staff were killed by a terrorist attack at the city’s most upmarket hotel on January 14, the ministry of finance took the money from the dollar account of the Serena hotel without warning.

After two years in operation, the Serena, an elegant five-star hotel set up by the Aga Khan in the hope that it would spur other international investors, has yet to make healthy profits.

The ministry of finance said it was within Afghan law to settle tax disputes by freezing or “making transfers” from private accounts. But Christopher Newbery, the hotel’s general manager, said the sudden withdrawal of funds could not have come at a worse time. The hotel’s revenue had dried up after a team of suicide bombers detonated themselves in front of the compound in central Kabul and it needed cash to repair the damage.

“We were absolutely furious because having been attacked on January 14, on January 29 we had a second attack when the government took our money at just the moment we needed it most.”
The case has highlighted the risks of starting businesses in a country where entrepreneurs say government interference and ¬“nuisance taxes” are as big a problem as declining ¬security and a decrepit national electricity supply.

Three companies, which declined to be named, told the Financial Times that they were taking cash out of the country to protect their businesses.

The Serena is one of two businesses that the Aga Khan Development Network has invested in as part of a private sector-led development programme. Frantic lobbying of Hamid Karzai, the president, by the ambassador to the Aga Khan, the billionaire spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community, led to the money being temporarily repaid.

The ministry of finance says it expects the money to be paid to the government in three tranches. But the Serena’s tax consultants say the amount owed, which related to tax accrued by the Indian construction company that built the hotel, is more like $50,000 (£25,000, 32,000).

At a meeting on December 31 they paid that sum as a goodwill gesture and were told by Sharifullah Ibrahimi, the deputy minister of finance, that the dispute would only be settled after a full audit by the country’s large taxpayer’s office.

“It was as if the meeting had never taken place,” Mr Newbery said. “Not only did they simply help themselves to money, they claimed that we had never paid the $50,000. That’s what they do to people who actually pay their taxes – they take whatever they can get.”

Cases such as these are, the Afghan business community says, damaging the country’s efforts to build its economy, so Afghanistan can pay its own way when the foreign cash that pays for almost everything the government does dries up.

But the private sector is so limited – and so reliant on money spent by international consultants, diplomats and aid workers – that a French restaurant in Kabul catering to the culinary needs of the city’s expats is one of the country’s 100 biggest taxpayers.

Taxes, along with crime and persistent power outages, are leading some businesses to stop projects or relocate some or all of their businesses to Dubai. Saad Mohseni, chief executive of Moby Media, which runs television and radio stations, says he recently had videotapes of imported Indian television programmes impounded at Kabul airport because a government agency believed they should be paying on the content.

“The government says it is dealing with these so-called nuisance taxes but it’s ridiculous that after seven years we are still facing these problems,” he said. “Why can’t the whole lot just be declared null and void?”

He says his frustration with Afghan government “incompetence” is so great that the company has set up a business division in Dubai.

One leading international logistics company came close to pulling out of Afghanistan last year after it discovered it had been paying taxes to the ministry of communications – technically illegal because only the ministry of finance is allowed to raise revenue.

Some efforts to improve the tax system have made the situation worse. Draft laws prepared in English by foreign consultants have been mistranslated into Dari, the official language of government. The garbled version is then treated as the law. A western official, who declined to be named but has worked closely on tax reform issues, said the “cheques had been made out to the ministry of post, which doesn’t exist, so God knows who actually got the money”.
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US hopes to pledge more for Afghans
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is hoping to pledge almost $4 billion in additional aid for Afghanistan at an international donors conference to be held in Paris in June, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

France will host the meeting on June 14 and has set a broad goal of raising $12 and 15 billion to fund Afghan reconstruction projects through 2014. The United States is looking to contribute a minimum of 25 percent of that total, the official said.

The official, who said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would likely lead the U.S. delegation to the conference, spoke on condition of anonymity because the administration has not yet determined what its pledge will be.

International donors have pledged about $32.7 billion in reconstruction funds for Afghanistan since 2001, of which $21 billion has come from the United States.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced last month that France would host the June conference, although the exact date was not settled until recently due to the travel plans of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. France and Germany will serve as co-organizers of the meeting.

The donors will gather as NATO tries to better coordinate military and civilian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan with the help of new U.N. envoy Kai Eide. Eide attended last week's NATO summit in Romania where France and other nations agreed to deploy more troops to Afghanistan to boost the alliance's 47,000-strong force there.

But more manpower is still needed to fill gaps in the force and international assistance to Afghanistan has been criticized as wasteful, with one umbrella group of aid agencies estimating that 40 percent of donations go to salaries of highly paid foreign experts.

Eide has said one of his key roles will be to see that the aid money is well spent.
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Militants kill 17 Afghan road workers
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants killed 17 road workers in Afghanistan's lawless south Tuesday, part of a spike in violence that left 40 people dead over two days.

Sixteen other construction workers were wounded in the attack in Zabul's Shinkay district, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. Afghan and international security forces responding to the ambush killed seven militants and wounded 12, he said.

Road-building is a key part of Afghan reconstruction and many projects are in remote, insurgency-plagued areas. Militants have targeted work crews in roadside bomb attacks, ambushes and kidnappings. In January, militants in eastern Nuristan province beheaded four road construction workers.

The 40-nation military alliance in Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to contain the growing insurgency and the U.S. now has some 32,000 troops in the country, the most since the 2001 American-led invasion. Last year was the deadliest since the invasion, with more than 8,000 people killed, mostly militants, the U.N. says.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have warned the Bush administration that Washington hasn't committed enough troops or aid money to Afghanistan, even as it poured resources into Iraq.

"The negligent policies of the last half-decade have permitted al-Qaida and the Taliban to regenerate and to pose a greater threat to the national security of the United States than at any point since Sept. 11, 2001," said the letter, which was dated Sunday.

Afghanistan has become a virtual narco-state where drug-fueled corruption and warlords are "recreating the chaos that enabled the Taliban to seize power in the 1990s," the Democrats wrote. Forty-six senators signed on, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Denmark said Tuesday it will add 50-75 personnel to its contingent in Afghanistan and two to four reconnaissance helicopters to help Danish forces spot roadside bombs and other threats.

Denmark has about 600 troops serving in the NATO force in Afghanistan, with most of them based in the volatile Helmand province.

In violence elsewhere Tuesday, a Polish soldier died and one was wounded when a NATO patrol hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni province, next to Zabul, Poland's Defense Ministry said.

In southern Uruzgan province, militants attacked a police convoy Monday, and the ensuing clash left 13 insurgents dead and five wounded, said Bashary.

In the western province of Herat, Taliban militants attacked a checkpoint Monday in Shindand district, killing two police officers and wounding another, said Rauf Ahmadi, spokesman for the western region police.

Most Afghan police are poorly trained and equipped, leaving them vulnerable. Authorities say that more than 900 police were killed in insurgent attacks last year.
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NATO soldier among 35 killed in Afghan violence
by Nasrat Shoaib / April 8, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - At least 35 people, including 17 civilians and a NATO-led soldier, were killed Tuesday in the latest violence to hit insurgency-hit Afghanistan, officials said.

In a single incident, 17 civilian roadworkers were killed and almost as many others were injured when Taliban rebels attacked them in the southern province of Zabul, the country's interior ministry said.

"The enemies attacked civilian roadworkers in Zabul this morning. Seventeen civilian roadworkers were martyred and 16 others were injured," ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.

In a subsequent counter-attack by Afghan and foreign security forces, seven militants were killed and a dozen more were wounded, the spokesman said, adding that six vehicles belonging to the roadworkers were also destroyed.

"After the incident, the (Afghan) national army, police and international forces went to the area and chased the enemies away, killing seven enemies and wounding 12 others," Bashary said.

Troops were searching for the remaining attackers through the evening, he added.

Later Yousouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP by telephone: "We carried out the attack."

The incident was the latest in a string of attacks by Taliban-led insurgents who have targeted civilians working with the government and international troops.

Meanwhile, a NATO-led soldier was killed and another was injured Tuesday in an explosion in neighbouring Ghazni province, the force said. Two Polish soldiers with NATO were wounded in a similar incident in Ghazni on Monday.

With the latest casualty, 38 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year. Most have been killed in violence.

In a separate incident linked to the insurgency, two policemen were killed when their post was attacked by rebels before dawn in Shindand district, a troubled region in the western province of Herat, a police spokesman said.

Afghanistan's under-resourced police force, which is being rebuilt by an internationally-funded effort, is seen as an easy target by Taliban militants.

More than 1,000 police officers were killed in attacks last year, the deadliest in the insurgency, which the Taliban launched after their ouster in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

Also in Shindand, eight tribal militia were killed after battling each other over tribal disputes, police spokesman for western Afghanistan, Abdul Rauf Ahmadi, told AFP.

Police and army forces were sent to the area to calm the violence, he added.

The latest violence comes as International Committee of Red Cross said the violence was spreading across Afghanistan which had worsened the humanitarian situation in the war-torn country.

"We are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in

Afghanistan," the aid group said in a statement, quoting its president, Jakob Kellenberger who arrived here Tuesday on a week-long visit to assess the situation.

The Taliban began stepping up their insurgency last year.

More than 8,000 people, most of them Taliban-led rebels, were killed in the violence last year, according to a United Nations report. About 1,500 civilians were also slain in the violence over the same period.

More than 70,000 international, mainly Western troops, are stationed in Afghanistan to fight the insurgency and help the government expand its influence to the countryside.
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ICRC: War spreading across Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 8, 5:46 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The war in Afghanistan is spreading across the country, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes this year, the international Red Cross said Tuesday during the visit of its president.

"There is growing insecurity and a clear intensification of the armed conflict, which is no longer limited to the south but has spread to the east and west," Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement.

The U.N. has said that more than 8,000 people, mostly militants, were killed in 2007, the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban from power by a U.S.-led coalition. At least 1,500 civilians were among the dead last year.

At least 13,000 people have fled their homes since January because of the conflict, the Red Cross says. A spokeswoman said tracking where the people have gone is difficult because of limited access to dangerous regions.

"Their growing humanitarian needs and those of other vulnerable people must be met as a matter of urgency," Kellenberger said.

During his stay in the country, Kellenberger plans to visit the U.S. military prison at Bagram airfield, the main American military installation in the country.

Human rights groups accuse the U.S. military of holding prisoners without charge at facilities like Bagram, in some cases for more than five years.

Kellenberger said the more than 600 prisoners held at Bagram should have their cases handled "within an appropriate legal framework," the statement said.

"We see the need for more robust procedural safeguards in Bagram, where to this day most detainees live in uncertainty about their fate," Kellenberger said.

The Red Cross and the U.S. military set up a video conferencing system this year that allows Bagram prisoners to speak with and see family members, the only outside contact the prisoners are allowed to have.
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Taliban kill 2 police in Afghanistan
Tue Apr 8, 6:18 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban militants killed two police officers and wounded another at a checkpoint in western Afghanistan, an official said Tuesday.

Rauf Ahmadi, spokesman for the western region police, said the militants attacked the police checkpoint Monday in the Shindand district of Herat province.

Most Afghan police are poorly trained and equipped, leaving them vulnerable. Taliban insurgents killed seven police Monday in southern Kandahar province as they were eradicating a field of opium poppies.

Authorities said more than 900 police were killed in insurgent attacks last year. Overall, the United Nations says more than 8,000 people, mostly militants, were killed in 2007.

Also in Shindand, eight people were killed Tuesday morning during a six-hour gunbattle between two tribes, Ahmadi said.
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No word on Hekmatyar link to Afghan attack
Tue 8 Apr 2008, 10:41 GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's government has no information on whether a wanted guerrilla leader was in a village hit by a U.S.-led air strike in the east of the country this week, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Afghan authorities are investigating the air attack on what the Afghan and U.S. militaries said were heavily armed insurgents in the province of Nuristan. A provincial official said more than 20 civilians were killed in the bombing.

 Asked about a report that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fugitive pro-Taliban insurgent leader wanted by the United States, was the target of the attack, a presidential spokesman said the guerrilla leader's whereabouts were unknown.

"We have no precise information whether Hekmatyar was there or not ... we are not aware as to where Hekmatyar is," presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada told a regular briefing.

The air strike was part of an operation involving Afghan and U.S.-led troops against suspected militants in the rugged region near the Pakistani border where Hekmatyar's followers are active.

Nuristan's governor was cited as saying Hekmatyar was believed to have been at a meeting in the village.

Hekmatyar was a prominent commander during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and factional warring in the 1990s.

Security analysts said it was doubtful Hekmatyar would have been in the area and a spokesman for the militant commander said the report he might have been in the area was false.

"Hekmatyar has never been to the area where coalition forces conducted the operation," the spokesman, Hassan Ansari, told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency.

RESENTMENT
Hamidzada said the Defence Ministry was investigating the reports of civilian casualties and the government would announce the result.

Civilian casualties are a highly sensitive issue for the government and foreign troops based in the country since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

Analysts say civilian casualties can strengthen support for the Taliban in the countryside and feed resentment of the Western-backed President Hamid Karzai and foreign forces in general.

More than 500 civilians were killed during operations by foreign troops against the Taliban last year, according to aid groups and some Afghan officials.

Karzai has repeatedly called on U.S. and NATO-led forces to do everything they can to avoid killing civilians.

The Taliban have vowed to step up their war to expel foreign troops and bring down Karzai's government and there has been intermittent fighting in recent weeks after a traditional winter lull.

On Tuesday, a soldier from Afghanistan's NATO-led force was killed in a blast in Ghazni province to the southwest of Kabul, the force said. One soldier was wounded.

The NATO-led force did not identify the casualties or give their nationalities.
(Editing by Robert Birsel and Valerie Lee)
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India rules out military involvement in Afghanistan
Tue, Apr 8 08:33 PM
New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) India Tuesday ruled out any military involvement in Afghanistan, which is facing Taliban resurgence once again, as the defence ministers of the two countries met here Tuesday.

'India has been helping in rebuilding and rehabilitation in Afghanistan and will continue doing so. However, there will not be any military involvement there,' Defence Minister A.K. Antony said after meeting his Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak.

'We are seeking Indian cooperation against threats of terrorism and extremism. I am told you (India) have good counter-insurgency training institutes. We will share our experience,' Wardak, a four-star general in the Afghanistan army, told reporters after the meeting.

Wardak, who is on a weeklong visit to India with his delegation comprising policymakers and key officers of the Afghanistan Army and Air Force, will Wednesday visit the army establishments in Jammu and Kashmir.

'Jammu and Kashmir is facing the same problem of infiltration as faced by Afghanistan. So Wardak probably wants a first-hand experience of the counter-insurgency operations in the state,' a well-placed defence source said.

Wardak will visit the 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar, where he will be given a presentation on the counter-insurgency operations. He will be the first Afghanistan defence minister to visit the border state in three decades.

'In the meeting with the Indian defence minister, Wardak sought an increase in their defence capability so that they can handle the defence of Kabul alone in the near future,' the source said.

Wardak said there has been a decline in the face-to-face fighting with the Taliban, which is now employing means like improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

'The minister has sought enhancement of logistical capability of their large Soviet fleet of aircraft and tanks from India, which also has a similar inventory. Moreover, the minister also sought assistance in terms of supply of spares of Mahindra and Tata vehicles,' he said.

'Afghanistan have eight to 10 MI-35 helicopter gunship for which they have asked for training support from Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major,' he added.
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AFGHANISTAN: Humanitarian needs growing as conflict spreads - ICRC
08 Apr 2008 16:31:47 GMT
KABUL, 8 April 2008 (IRIN) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed deep concern about the intensification and spreading of armed conflict in Afghanistan, and called on aid agencies to "urgently" meet the growing humanitarian needs of conflict-affected Afghans.

''We are extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan," the president of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, was quoted in a press release on 8 April as saying.

"There is growing insecurity and a clear intensification of the armed conflict, which is no longer limited to the south but has spread to the east and west,'' the press release said.

Kellenberger is on a seven-day visit to Afghanistan to assess the humanitarian situation and the impact of the armed conflict on civilians.

According to the ICRC, intensified conflict has displaced a "growing" number of Afghan civilians, but the humanitarian capacity to reach and assist them is diminishing. The growing humanitarian needs of conflict-affect civilians and other vulnerable people "must be met as a matter of urgency", the ICRC said.

Fourth biggest operation

The ICRC runs its fourth biggest operation in the world in Afghanistan with a budget of US$60 million for 2008.

Over 8,000 people, at least 1,500 of them civilians, died in conflict-related violence in different parts of Afghanistan in 2007, the UN Secretary-General said in March.

In addition to humanitarian assessments the ICRC president will discuss the protection of non-combatants with the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and a commander of US forces in Afghanistan, the ICRC said.

Kellenberger will also visit 600 detainees at a "Temporary Internment Facility" at Bagram airbase - the headquarters of US forces in Afghanistan - to which no human rights or humanitarian organisation other than the ICRC has access.

''The detention of persons captured or arrested in connection with the fight against terrorism must take place within an appropriate legal framework. We see the need for more robust procedural safeguards in Bagram where, to this day, most detainees live in uncertainty about their fate,'' the ICRC president said.
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French goverment wins no-confidence vote on Afghanistan
Tue Apr 8, 2008 12:38pm EDT
powered by  SpherePARIS (Reuters) - The French government easily survived its first no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, facing down opposition charges that it was sending extra troops to Afghanistan simply to please its U.S. allies.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced this month that France would dispatch up to 1,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, where it is part of a NATO coalition fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The opposition Socialists have accused the government of being too pro-American and submitted a censure motion in parliament after they were refused a vote on the deployment.

"The decision to send reinforcements is more political than military," Socialist party leader Francois Hollande told the National Assembly, also challenging Sarkozy's willingness to move towards rejoining NATO's integrated command.

"We are today faced with a (U.S.) president who is at the end of his mandate and no one knows what his successor's policy will be. Why such a rush one year before the end of George Bush's mandate?" Hollande said.

As expected, the motion against the government in the National Assembly lower house fell well short of the 288 votes needed for victory, with just 227 lawmakers backing it. Sarkozy's UMP party has 311 deputies in the 577-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, defending the government line, said it was necessary to increase France's presence in Afghanistan -- which is around 1,500 troops -- to bring peace and the rule of law to the country.

"The opposition accuses us of Atlanticism, a pleasant way of saying we are in the pay of George Bush. Everyone understands that their aim is to surf on one of our most questionable failings: basic anti-Americanism," Fillon told lawmakers.

"Reading this motion, I see nothing that indicates a parallel plan, a serious plan for Afghanistan," he added.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy)
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Winning not a standard of success in Afghanistan, says general
Canada.com, Canada Matthew Fisher Canwest News Service Monday, April 07, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -The Canadian general commanding 13,000 Canadian, American, and European combat troops in the Taliban heartland says winning is not the way to judge success in fighting Afghanistan's insurgents.

"I never use the term winning because it too simplistic and does not relate to what we are doing here," Maj.-Gen. Marc Lessard said in his first formal interview since assuming command of NATO's Regional Command South in January.

"The question really is, 'Are we making progress: Yes or no?' The fact is that I think we are making significant progress."

To demonstrate that there had been progress Lessard, a Van Doo who has been a peacekeeper in Cyprus, Bosnia and Croatia and is deputy commander of the Canadian army when in Ottawa, referred to what Canada's troops had achieved in Kandahar's Zhari/Panjwaii districts by working closely with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. He recalled a day he was there recently when within 500 metres of a police sub-station several hundred farmers were at work.

"Before you didn't have security," he said during a half-hour conversation in his plywood office, which has the look and the feel of a bush camp. "Then you had security but no activity and now you have those workers there."

Security means different things to different people.

"I hear sometimes in Canada that it is better because when we go on patrol we are not getting shot at," he said. "That is semi-security.

"Real security is talking with the Afghans and they don't get 'night letters' (from the Taliban) or are being intimidated at all."

It was announced at last week's NATO summit in Bucharest that the U.S. would not only meet Canada's demand for an additional 1,000 combat troops in Kandahar, but plans to send more troops than that to the south to join the 3,200 marines that have just arrived on a seven-month deployment.

"There is always fact, fiction and noise. This is good news," Lessard said alluding to months of speculation about who might contribute more forces in Kandahar. "I believe that sooner than later we will have some U.S. planners in this headquarters. Who are they, when are they coming and what they will do will be between us and the Americans."

Asked about ominous reports such as two prepared by U.S. Marine Gen. Jim Jones, the retired former NATO supreme commander who concluded that Afghanistan might collapse because of the neglect by U.S. and Europe, Lessard agreed that more work needs to be done, but says it's not merely a question of troop numbers.

"A lot of people talk, 'We need more troops, more troops.' I think it is more about better synchronization between security, development and governance in terms of a comprehensive plan for Afghanistan."
Command in Regional South rotates between Dutch, British and Canadian generals who report to U.S. army Gen. Dan McNeill, the NATO commander in Afghanistan. The four countries provide about 95 per cent of the combat troops to International Security and Assistance Force.

As well as better security in Canada's area of responsibility in Kandahar, Lessard cited similar trends in western Uruzgan after a Dutch-led joint operation with the U.S. "cleared the Taliban out in January," and the re-opening of a bazaar after three years in Helmand where British troops were stationed.

"My mantra is that we are here to make a difference for the Afghans," said Lessard. "Sometimes Canadians forget that. They wonder what it means for them or for ISAF and the international community.
"Whether we are ISAF, OEF (mostly U.S. forces who are part of Operation Enduring Freedom), coalition forces or international donors we are still foreigners and we have to respect their culture and respect the Afghans."

Regional Command South's mentoring program for the Afghan army is now running about two years ahead of a similar program for the widely distrusted and often corrupt police, who were to undergo eight weeks of intensive re-training this year.

"What we (want to) do is get rid of some of the drug users and some of the other people who should never have been admitted," Lessard said of the program, which involved teaching techniques and tactics along with ethics and citizenship.

Having lost badly in direct combat the few times that they dared to gather a large force together, the Taliban has succeeded in hitting at NATO by seeding roads used by patrols with improvised explosive devices. Such attacks killed seven of Lessard's soldiers in one week last month.

"No doubt the great majority of our casualties are through IEDs and we are having more IEDs than we used to," the general said. "But it is also a fact that we discover the great majority of IEDs either through patrols or through the air with ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and also sometimes though local nationals who report it to us or to the ANA or ANP.

"For the soldiers, there is no doubt that being wounded or having one of your buddies killed is horrific," he added, giving "the resilience of our soldiers" credit for the army's ability to continue.
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Defence lessons: Afghanistan's minister meets Antony
Times of India, India 8 Apr 200
NEW DELHI-As the US-led Nato's International Security Assistance Force gets increasingly bogged down in Afghanistan amid a Taliban resurgence, Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak is in India on a week-long visit to hold talks with the government here.

After meeting defence minister A K Antony and military brass on Tuesday, Wardak is slated to visit J&K, where he will get a first-hand look at the way the Indian army conducts counter-insurgency operations.

"The two governments will share their perceptions about the situation in Afghanistan as well as the immediate neighbourhood," said an official.

Wardak will also be visiting IAF's Training Command as well as HAL at Bangalore amid reports that Afghanistan might be considering sending its air force pilots for training to India.

Afghanistan has already declared that the faster it builds its own national armed forces, sooner Nato will be able to begin withdrawing its soldiers.
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AFGHANISTAN: Children work in brick factories to help pay off family debts
08 Apr 2008 13:32:25 GMT
JALALABAD, 8 April 2008 (IRIN) - Over 2,200 children are working long hours in dozens of brick-making factories in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, to pay off their families' debts, a survey by the Child Action Protection Network (CAPN), an Afghan body, has found.

Up to 90 percent of 2,298 children - boys and girls - who work in 38 brick-making factories in Sorkhrod District of Nangarhar Province do not go to school and are deprived of other means of education, said the survey conducted by a local non-government organisation (NGO), Wadan Afghanistan.

The survey which was completed in March and made available to IRIN in April has been endorsed by CAPN, a network of several government and non-governmental organisations involved in child protection and development efforts.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other partner NGOs said efforts were under way to establish community-based schools and facilitate vocational training for children in Sorkhrod's brick-making community.

"Slaves"

Almost all of the 556 families that live in mud-huts and shacks around brick-making factories in Sorkhrod District said they owed large amounts of money to factory owners and a group of brick merchants who have employed them as wage labourers.

"Debt levels vary from 40,000 Afghanis [US$800] to 100,000 Afghanis [$2,000]," said Haji Hayat Khan, director of the department of labour and social affairs in Nangahar Province, whose organisation is also a member of CAPN.

Many families not only find it difficult to pay-off their debts but also remain trapped in a cycle of unending debt due to high interest rates imposed by some lenders.

"Some families are in debt for many years," Hayat Khan told IRIN, adding that the only available option for families to survive was to work as "slaves" in factories.

Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Kabul said the government would encourage NGOs and aid agencies to help indebted families pay off their debts through short- and long-term loan schemes.

"Obviously the government alone cannot pay all their debts," said Wasil Noor Mohmand, a deputy labour and social affairs minister.

Broken bones

In an effort to simultaneously pay-off debts and meet daily requirements almost all parents in Sorkhrod's brick-making community make their children work alongside them as wage labourers, the CAPN survey found.

"Children work 8-12 hours a day to help their parents meet their financial needs," said Mohammad Afzal, the head of Wadan Afghanistan in Nangarhar Province.

Children face various risks at work and some of them sustain serious injuries such as broken bones due to the heavy nature of the brick-making labour, child protection NGOs said.

Afghanistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on Children's Rights and other treaties which prohibit child labour, but the country's human rights watchdog said institutional mechanisms designed to translate formal commitments into appropriate action were absent.
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Threat of ethnic clashes over grazing land
KABUL, 7 April 2008 (IRIN) - There are increasing fears of an imminent outbreak of ethnic conflict in central Afghanistan over access to grazing land between Kuchis and Hazaras.

The estimated 2-3 million Kuchis (nomads) - predominately Pashtuns - have traditionally moved all over the country with their camels, sheep, goats and donkeys in search of greener pastures. At the start of spring they normally flock into the central provinces where most of Afghanistan's third largest ethnic minority, the Hazaras (9 percent of the population). The Hazara have warned that Kuchis will not be allowed to graze animals in "their" areas.

Hundreds of Hazaras demonstrated in Kabul on 30 March, threatening to take up arms and fight if Kuchi herders entered Bamiyan and Wardak provinces.

"If the government does not stop Kuchis from entering our areas, we will do so by all possible means," said a leader of Hazara demonstrators in Kabul. "Down with Kuchis," chanted others.

Kuchis say their right to pasture-land has been denied by the Hazara minority and they have no option but to fight for it. "Because the government is weak and cannot ensure our legitimate rights we may have to fight for them," said a young Kuchi man, Nazargul.

"Dangerous" grievances

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has indicated that parts of the country could be affected by more drought than usual in 2008. Kuchis in southern and eastern provinces - where drought is anticipated to be more severe - could thus be prompted to move to less drought-affected provinces in the north and centre of the country.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the Independent Directorate of Kuchi Affairs (IDKA) are concerned that clashes between Hazaras and Kuchis could be worse than in previous years. "Given that both parties lack confidence in the government's ability to solve their disputes they may try to defeat each other by violent means," warned the AIHRC's Hamidi.

The AIHRC warning was echoed by the director of IDKA who said grievances on both sides had become "dangerous". "There are strong possibilities that a future conflict could turn into a widespread battle with devastating results," said Daudshah Niazi, the head of the IDKA.

Kuchi elders complain that since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001, Hazaras have enjoyed strong international support and been given opportunities in the government and other decision-making bodies, while Kuchis have been perceived as collaborators of the mainly Pashtun Taliban and "terrorists".

"Because they are in a position of power, Hazaras have objected to all the traditional norms and laws in this country and have denied us access to a main source of livelihood," said Abdul Ghani, an elderly Kuchi.

Hazara leaders counter by saying they have been repressed by the more numerous Pashtuns for centuries - a situation which the Kuchis are trying to perpetuate. "We only want to end their oppression and only want our rights," said Ali Orfani, a Hazara leader in Kabul.

Government inaction?

The AIHRC blamed the government for not doing enough to end growing tensions between Hazaras and Kuchis.

"This problem recurs every year," Farid Hamidi, a member of the AIHRC, told IRIN in Kabul, adding: "The government has not taken appropriate measures to solve it."

In July 2007, after several people were reportedly killed in clashes between Kuchi herders and Hazara settlers in Behsood District, Wardak Province, President Karzai set up a commission to investigate the causes of conflict and recommend a solution. The commission made a number of suggestions - one of which was that Kuchis should have access to grazing lands in Hazara areas, according to the IDKA's Niazi, a member of the commission.

The president has yet to rule on the issue. A spokesperson for Karzai was not available for comment.
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Embattled Karzai beams after Bucharest
By Haroun Mir Asia Times Online
KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai emanated self-confidence during his press conference in Kabul following his participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) April 3 meeting in Bucharest, where he had the opportunity to meet with key NATO heads of state.

He is in dire need to improve his national standing in the country and image abroad because he has clearly signaled his intention to run in the presidential election in 2009; he will want to end his first term smoothly as the first elected president of Afghanistan.

Karzai has been under tremendous pressure from major NATO countries. The accumulation of setbacks in NATO's counter-insurgency and narcotics policies in Afghanistan as well as in development projects have transformed into political upset in the form of severe criticism of the president, particularly by the British media, tarnishing his domestic and international position.

A series of events, such as the public expulsion from Afghanistan last December of British and Irish diplomats accused of secret negotiations with the Taliban, followed by Karzai's rejection of Paddy Ashdown's appointment as the United Nations' special representative to Afghanistan, has caused growing irritation between Kabul and some Western capitals.

Karzai has also become frustrated by not being able to pacify and gain the leadership of influential Pashtun tribes in the greater Kandahar region. One reason he has become critical of the British role in Afghanistan is that British forces have alienated some of his closest friends in Helmand province.

Thus, his rejection of Ashdown was the consequence of his anger against British secret dealings in the province. In addition, he was afraid Ashdown would interfere in his decisions at a time when he is focused on re-election.

On the other hand, the lack of progress in Afghanistan as a result of a dysfunctional government has infuriated the NATO members fighting in the country

As a result, they have been revising their military mission in Afghanistan. Eliminating al-Qaeda and getting rid of the Taliban have become more challenging compared with immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US and the invasion of Afghanistan that year. In addition, the policy to eradicate poppy fields in insurgency-infested territory, which served as a political justification for Britain to send more troops to Afghanistan, is another big disappointment - 2007 saw a record harvest of 8,200 tons of opium.

Simply put, the overall NATO mission has been reduced to preventing Afghanistan from becoming a narco state and sliding into total chaos.

Tensions between Karzai and his political rivals are growing fast in view of the presidential elections, and his enemies in Afghanistan are exploiting the end of his honeymoon with his Western allies. The foes are doing their best to undermine his leadership and further destabilize the government.

For instance, in February, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord, undermined the rule of law in Kabul by beating up and humiliating one of his rivals who tried to defy Dostum's leadership in the north. The reaction of the government in Kabul was timid and hesitant, which sent the wrong signal to other recalcitrant and unruly warlords just waiting to reclaim their lost influence.

NATO countries recognize they have a very tough year in front of them before Karzai's fate is decided. They need to maintain cohesion in the face of determined Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters this spring and beyond. At the same time they have to prevent political chaos before the presidential election, which has become the only viable benchmark for NATO's mission in the country.

A public show of support for the Afghan president from key NATO members, especially the US and Britain, is thus crucial for the stability of Afghanistan. Indeed, Karzai''s legitimacy depends less on the fact that he is an elected president than on the unconditional support he has received from the international community. Without this support, many of his enemies will undermine his authority.

This support, signs of which emerged at the NATO summit, will also prove wrong opportunist politicians in Afghanistan who prematurely believe the Western allies have already abandoned Karzai.

Haroun Mir served as an aide to late Ahmad Shah Massoud, Afghanistan's former defense minister. He is the co-founder and deputy director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS).
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Afghanistan: 2001-2008A chronology of events in Afghanistan since the attacks of September 11 2001
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday April 8 2008
2001
September 11: Hijackers fly planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Washington blames Osama bin Laden and tells the Taliban to hand him over

October: The US begins bombing Afghanistan, to root out bin Laden and his Taliban protectors

November: Forces from the rebel Northern Alliance enter Kabul

November 25: CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann is killed during a prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif, becoming the first US combat casualty of the campaign. One of the 80 fighters found at the prison turns out to be an American, John Walker Lindh

December 7: The Taliban stronghold of the southern city of Kandahar falls. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Bin Laden escape

December 16: Tora Bora, the complex of mountain caves sheltering al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts, falls

December 22: Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who leads one of the largest tribes in southern Afghanistan, is sworn in as chairman of a six-month interim government

2002
June 13: Karzai is elected as president of the new interim government of Afghanistan by the loya jirga, or grand council

2004
January 4: Rival Afghan factions agree on a constitution, paving way for elections

April 1: In Berlin, 23 donor nations pledge a total of $8.2bn in aid to Afghanistan over three years

April 22: Former US professional football star Pat Tillman is killed when his Army Ranger unit is ambushed. Although the US military says he died from enemy fire, it later emerges he was accidentally shot by his own side

June 9: Gunmen storm a camp for Chinese road workers in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10, in the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban

September 16: Karzai escapes an assassination attempt in the town of Gardez in the early stages of campaign for a presidential election

October 9: Afghanistan begins holding its presidential election. Karzai is declared the winner in early November, with 55% of the vote

2005
April 6: A Chinook helicopter crashes during a dust storm in Ghazni province, killing 15 US servicemen and three American civilian contractors

June 28: Sixteen US special forces troops are killed when militants shoot down their Chinook during a mission to rescue a four-man Navy Seal team trapped in a battle in the north-eastern province of Kunar. Three members of the team are killed and one rescued

2006
May: The worst rioting seen since the fall of the Taliban breaks out in Kabul following a traffic accident involving a US vehicle

September 2: Fourteen British personnel die when their Nimrod surveillance aircraft crashes near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan

October: Nato takes control of security operations across Afghanistan

2007
February 1: Defence secretary Des Browne announces that Britain will send a further 800 troops to Afghanistan, boosting numbers to 5,800

June 17: A Taliban suicide bomber blows up a police bus in Kabul, killing at least 35 people in the country's most devastating suicide bombing since the fall of the Taliban

November 7: A suicide attack on a parliamentary delegation kills at least 59 people in the northern town of Baghlan, in the country's worst attack to date

2008
February: Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is pulled out of Afghanistan after serving 10 weeks in action in Helmand province because a media blackout collapses
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US to prosecute Afghan at Guantanamo
April 7, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon Monday moved forward to prosecute an Afghan prisoner at the Guantanamo naval base accused of planting explosives and launching missiles toward a U.S.-occupied area in Afghanistan in 2003.

The Pentagon approved a charge against detainee Mohammed Kamin, clearing the way for him to be tried in the special war court created by the Bush administration to try non-U.S. citizens at the U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba.

Kamin, who is in his 20s, faces one count of providing material support for terrorism by joining al Qaeda and training at one of its camps to make and use small arms against U.S. and coalition forces.

Prosecutors alleged that Kamin trained to make remote detonators for roadside bombs and transported mines, missiles, rockets and tracking equipment to be used by Taliban or al Qaeda members against the American forces that invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attack in 2001.

He is accused of conducting surveillance on U.S. military bases, planting two mines on a bridge and launching missiles into areas occupied by U.S. troops and their allies around the Afghan city of Khost. Kamin would face life in prison if convicted.

Pretrial hearings were scheduled to resume this week for three other prisoners facing charges at Guantanamo in the first U.S. military tribunals since World War Two.

The trials have moved in fits and starts amid numerous legal challenges from military defense lawyers who have argued that the Guantanamo system violates U.S. and international law and is stacked to ensure convictions.

Prosecutors have sought charges against 15 prisoners and 14 of those cases are still pending.

Only one prisoner has been convicted in the Guantanamo war court and that was through a plea bargain that averted a full trial.

Australian David Hicks admitted training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and pleaded guilty in March 2007 to providing material support for terrorism. He was sent to Australia to finish a nine-month sentence that ended in December. (Reporting by Jane Sutton, editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)
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Panjwaii road built the Afghan way, locals acquire skills for rebuilding
The Canadian Press April 7, 2008
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The top political leaders of Kandahar province and the commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan hailed hundreds of sweaty, sun-baked Afghan workers Monday for their courageous effort to build what's being billed as their road to a safer, more prosperous future.

Surrounded by a phalanx of Canadian and Afghan soldiers, police and local media, Kandahar provincial governor Asadullah Khalid and Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche arrived to celebrate an ambitious road construction project they envision as a vital social and commercial link for the people of the war-ravaged Panjwaii district.

With Afghan National Army troops diligently guarding the perimeter, the locals who shoulder the bulk of the labour dropped their spades and picks to crowd around Khalid as he surveyed their work. District leaders later took turns speaking to the crowd through a tinny ANA radio.

"It is your right to work here; it is your country, it is your district," Khalid told the workers.

"Canadian and Afghan forces will take care of your security, (but) you also have to take care of your security and you have stop the Taliban. If you don't stand against them, it is a sin."

The project, funded by the federal government, originally envisioned a $4.5-million funding envelope for a 6.5-kilometre stretch of road to be completed by October 2008. Discussions are now underway to pave 22 kilometres of dirt track that runs through the heart of the district known as the birthplace of the Taliban.

Khalid praised Canada for its contributions toward improving the lives of Afghans, citing the 82 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat, Glyn Berry, who have died in the country since 2002.

"They have given this sacrifice for our nation, which we never forget."

Once the project is fully up and running in the next several weeks, an estimated 450 local nationals will be working on a daily basis, using little more than wheelbarrows, shovels and muscle - resources they have at their disposal, rather than the more efficient but costly high-tech methods familiar to western commuters.

The idea is to imbue them with the skills to do the work long after coalition forces have left, said Lt.-Col. Dave Corbould, the Canadian battle group commander.

"We're teaching them how to build a road with the materials they have, and they're now running it; we're just helping it along," Corbould said.

"It's building them a skill that will be enduring, that will last a long time, so that when repairs eventually need to be made to the road or they want to build more roads on their own, they're taught the skills that they can use here, without having to have all the advanced heavy machinery."

Laroche saluted the courage of the locals who participate in the project despite ongoing Taliban intimidation. Ominous "night letters" that warn of dire consequences for the workers are often found nailed to doors; one man was shot in both feet last month for his refusal to stay away.

"To all of you, thank you very much for your courage, thank you very much for the work you are doing," Laroche said.

"You are building your own road."

Rehmatullah, a 34-year-old labourer who like many Afghans goes by only one name, said he's been working on the road for two months for the daily sum of 300 Afghanis - just $6 a day.

"It is really a very risky job," Rehmatullah said.

"Taliban are always asking about our job, but we tell them lies. Because we don't have another option. The security is good for us here in the day, but not in the night - they could come very easily and kill us at our home."

Qudratullah, 25, said he's seen some of the letters left at mosques and homes by insurgents.

"'If we see anybody working here on road construction, they get killed'," Qudratullah quoted the letters as saying. "'We are warning you."'

It's a testament to the resiliency of the Afghan people, and to the value of such projects, that the workers have so far remained defiant and willing to work, said Laroche.

"They want to protect their jobs, also, because now, they are getting used to being paid, and by coming here they can work for themselves and feed their own families," he said.

"We could have brought machinery and so on, things like that to build that road, and it would have been done faster ... but we don't want to do that. We want the people to work on these projects, we want to create jobs, and in the end it's to their advantage, and I think they understand that."

It's not the ultimate objective, but a fringe benefit of a paved road is that it's less receptive to the improvised explosive devices that are the preferred weapon of the Taliban, Laroche said.

"By paving a road, it's easier to detect IEDs. It's not foolproof, though. It doesn't mean there will not be any more IEDs. But it's going to help, that's for sure."

Because it's a labour-based project, progress is slow - just 500 metres per month, said Capt. Pascal Blanchette, the construction engineer from 1 Engineering and Support Unit, based in Moncton, N.B., who oversees the work.

The end result, however, will be a road that lasts for generations.

And though there were some initial difficulties in getting the crews organized and working, they're now comfortable with their Canadian overseers and enthusiastic about the workmanship, Blanchette said.

"They bring us flowers every day now, and every day at lunch they come and knock on my door so I can go have lunch with them," he said.

"When we first got here, we really had to dictate everything that occurred on the work site; we really had to push the interpreters and the team leaders to get their guys working. Now, we don't say anything; we just let the team leaders do their thing, because they really want to build a good road."
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Talking to the Taliban: when and why
The Globe and Mail - Opinions SEDDIQ WEERA AND JOANNA SANTA BARBARA Special to Globe and Mail Update April 7, 2008
Talking to the Taliban, the remarkable research series by The Globe and Mail, has revealed many interesting things about Taliban foot soldiers: Their overriding goal is to rid Afghanistan of foreigners. They are not global jihadists – they don't even know Canada is a country, much less have intentions to harm it. Many have lost relatives in aerial bombing. Many have lost their livelihood because of poppy eradication. They want to be included in the governance of their country. They want to protect fundamentalist Muslim values.

Many are favourable to a negotiated peace, but will not be bought off by money. As an aggregate force, they are doing fairly well, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including Canada, is not. Among Canadian decision-makers, there is frequent reference to the assertion that this war cannot be won by military action alone, but will also require diplomacy. So far, however, diplomacy has largely meant persuading our NATO allies to do more of the fighting. Whereas Dutch NATO forces engage in dialogue with Taliban in Uruzgan, and the British in Helmand, Canada's position has mirrored that of the United States: “We don't talk to terrorists.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose government we are supposedly supporting, has repeatedly stated a desire to negotiate with the Taliban and other armed opposition, but has received little evident support from NATO. The terms of the United Nations engagement, set by Western allies, contains no peace mandate.

Let us make some clear assertions. This war, which is partly a continuation of the pre-2001 Afghan civil war, cannot be ended through military means. The Taliban and other armed opposition groups have some war goals we would regard as illegitimate (for example, ending female education and institution of a Taliban regime) and some we should seriously consider as legitimate (for example, ending the categorical exclusion of one faction from the political process and eventually having foreign troops leave the country).

There is also a regional dimension to the Taliban's war goals. Many insurgents express concerns about what they see as excessive Iranian influence promoting structural discrimination against Pashtuns. It is also interesting that the Globe uncovered distrust for Pakistan's intentions among Taliban foot soldiers. They hold this in common with the Kabul government, which sees Pakistan as supporting the insurgents.

Such agendas have been encountered in meetings with moderate Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami leaders. There is something to talk about. The suffering population desperately needs an end to this ruinous conflict. Good governance and durable development cannot take place in the presence of war. Corruption and the opium trade thrive on it.

The answer is peace dialogue on multiple levels. Canada should support dialogue to address the political exclusion, dialogue to address the Pakistani concerns and dialogue to reconcile the Northern Alliance with Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami groups.

Supporting peace dialogue does not mean acceding to measures Canadians and the Afghan constitution would regard as illegitimate. It means seeking common ground and working from there. It does not mean immediate foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most Afghans agree that in without a peace process, this would bring a disastrous escalation of the civil war. Military peace support functions are necessary while a peace process unfolds.

It does mean offering Afghans a future beyond endless war and privation, and offering Canadians an opportunity to promote durable development, rather than fighting an unwinnable war.

Seddiq Weera is an Afghan-Canadian consultant to the Afghan Education Ministry. He and Joanna Santa Barbara are associates of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University
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British Council to send pupils on Afghanistan exchange
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Damien McElroy Foreign Affairs Correspondent  08/04/2008
British children are to make exchange visits to war-ravaged Afghanistan and Iraq under a classroom twinning scheme.

The plan is the latest step in a dramatic change in outlook for the British Council as it prepares to mark its 75th anniversary next year.

Promoting ties with Muslim countries has emerged as a top priority and is closely linked to the Government's efforts to fight terrorism.

Swapping the Playstations and duvets of modern Britain for the dirt floors and brick beds of Afghanistan will depend on security assessments.

Only older children are likely to be involved in the exchanges. However, local authorities across Britain will be asked next year to volunteer their primary and secondary schools to "twin" with Afghan equivalents.

"We will apply a risk assessment to travel and be pragmatic," said James Rowe, a council spokesman. "We have recently had visits to Yemen go ahead and that country has a reputation for violence."

The threat to Westerners in Aghanistan has increased sharply in recent weeks following a suicide bombing at the Serena Hotel, a favourite of foreigners staying in Kabul.

But the prize of promoting ties in a country where, as recently as 2001, the Taliban banned all forms of modernity, including education for girls, is deemed too great to miss.

The Connecting Classrooms scheme is a global programme with long established links to Africa and China. Now expansion across Muslim countries has emerged as the most important development for the British Council since the end of the Cold War.

The extension of the programme to Afghanistan marks its boldest move since it was expanded to Iraq in 2004, where there are links to 24 schools. While exchange visits have so far been confined to meetings in Jordan, there are hopes that British children could soon visit northern Iraq.

The scheme's planned expansion in central Asia from April next year will be rapid. By 2012 it aims to cover 220 schools, involving 220,000 pupils in both primary and secondary grades, in Britain, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

"The mission of the British Council is to improve the understanding of the UK in the rest of the world," said Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty, the council's chairman, last week.

Efforts to promote reform among Islamic societies range widely from sponsoring Electric Steps, Libya's only hip-hop band, to setting up an English school in al-Azhar University, in Cairo, the world's largest institution for the training of mullahs.

"The debate inside Islam would be helped by having proficient Islamic scholars able to communicate in English," said Dominic Asquith, the UK ambassador to Egypt.

Accusations from Russia that the British Council was a front for spying resulted in the closure of two of its offices in December.

Prior to that, its employees, including Lord Kinnock's son, Stephen, the director of the St Petersburg outpost, also suffered harassment.

However, the row came at a time when the organisation is winding down its presence in the country.
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