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January 29, 2008 

Afghan women protest American kidnapping
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 29, 7:50 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - About 500 Afghan women gathered in a rare mass protest Tuesday against the kidnapping of an American aid worker. The women, many wearing burqas, called on officials to find the captive American and urged the kidnappers to release her.

US regrets Ashdown's refusal to be UN Afghanistan envoy
Tue Jan 29, 3:23 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regretted that British politician Paddy Ashdown had withdrawn his bid to be UN envoy for Afghanistan, saying a "stable figure" was badly needed there.

US, Britain stung by an Afghan temper
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / January 29, 2008
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Central Command, traveled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital, last Thursday. It was the first visit by a high-level US military officer since Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov evicted American troops

UK's Ashdown too 'super' for Kabul
By Alastair Leithead and Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul Monday, 28 January 2008
The deal was done, or so it seemed. The UK's Paddy Ashdown had agreed to take on what he'd suggested was an impossible task as "super-envoy" to Afghanistan, but, at the last minute, it all fell apart.

US urges quick naming of UN envoy for Afghanistan
Mon Jan 28, 2:30 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States called Monday for the swift appointment of a UN special envoy to Afghanistan after senior British politician Paddy Ashdown backed out, citing weak support from Kabul.

US envoy accused of sabotaging Ashdown
Patrick Wintour, political editor, Tuesday January 29, 2008 The Guardian
Senior Foreign Office officials believe the Afghan-born US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is planning to stand for the presidency of Afghanistan and played a complex role in advising the current president, Hamid Karzai

Kabul diplomats' concerns grow regarding Karzai
By Jon Boone in Kabul  January 29 2008 Financial Times, UK
President Hamid Karzai's last-minute derailment of carefully laid plans to appoint Lord Ashdown as the United Nations' top international envoy in Afghanistan has heightened concerns in Kabul's diplomatic community about the Afghan leader.

Canada may pull Afghan troops unless NATO boosts support
Tue Jan 29, 1:03 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned NATO that Canada could pull its 2,500 troops from volatile southern Afghanistan next year unless NATO provides substantial reinforcements.

NATO needs more intel on Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press Writers Mon Jan 28, 5:51 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Military commanders are looking for more surveillance and other intelligence-gathering systems to help aid the fight in Afghanistan, the top NATO commander said Monday.

Germany's defense minister meets Afghan leaders, visits troops
AP - Wednesday, January 30
KABUL, Afghanistan - Germany's defense minister held talks with top Afghan officials on Tuesday and planned to meet with his country's troops who are serving in the NATO-led force, officials said.

NATO Asks Germany For Rapid Reaction Force In Afghanistan-AFP
BERLIN (AFP)--The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has formally asked Germany to deploy a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan to replace a Norwegian contingent, a defense ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

300 Afghans die from recent snow, cold
Mon Jan 28, 2:29 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Some 300 Afghans have died in the past 10 days from bitter cold and heavy snow across the country, the Health Ministry said Monday.

Aid reaches winter-affected families as deaths top 500
KABUL, 29 January 2008 (IRIN) - Food and non-food humanitarian relief supplies have been delivered to hundreds of vulnerable families affected by heavy snow and extremely cold weather in western and central-western provinces of Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Die-Hard Governor
KHOST, Eastern Afghanistan, Jan. 29, 2008
(CBS) This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's eastern Paktia and Khost provinces.

FOR THE RECORD: AFGHANISTAN
Tuesday, January 29, 2008; The Washington Post Page A13
"In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel

Afghan woman is all about business
Entrepreneur Kamela Sediqi teaches Afghans around the country the skills they need to start ventures.
By Gayle Tzemach | The Christian Science Monitor January 29, 2008
Kabul, Afghanistan
In a small office hidden behind a gate in Kabul, Kamela Sediqi sits at her laptop and builds her business. The unlikely entrepreneur is the architect of Kaweyan Business Development Services, a consulting firm she started in 2004

Harper backs Manley report push to extend Afghan mission
DARREN YOURK Globe and Mail Update January 28, 2008 at 3:18 PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted the recommendation made in the Manley commission report to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan if NATO allies help reinforce the effort.

Witness: Casings Tossed in Afghan Deaths
By ESTES THOMPSON January 28, 2008
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — Brass shell casings collected along an Afghan highway were thrown away before investigators could examine whether they were from an ambush or Marines accused of firing upon civilians, a U.S. Army police officer testified Monday.

Rice fears deepening war in Afghanistan
By Geoff Elliott in Washington NEWS.com.au, Australia January 30, 2008 02:00am
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice fears a deepening conflict in Afghanistan without an urgent solution to differences between Kabul and Western forces trying to restore order there.

Sifting out the Afghan 'bad guys'
Taliban not sole danger to leader -Brian Hutchinson,  National Post  Monday, January 28, 2008
ARGHANDAB DISTRICT, Afghanistan - They come at him from all directions. Agents of the Taliban, who would not hesitate to kill him, if they could get close enough. Tribal rivals who openly defy his authority

Amritsar sweets flavoured with Afghan dry fruits
Amritsar, Jan 28 (ANI): Dry fruits imported from Afghanistan add flavour to sweets made in Amritsar.

Progress and challenges: Regional Director for South Asia Dan Toole visits Afghanistan
By Ash Sweeting Source: United Nations Children's Fund 28 Jan 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan, 28 January 2008 – UNICEF's new Regional Director for South Asia, Dan Toole, visited Afghanistan last week, during which time he helped launch UNICEF's flagship report, The State of the World's Children 2008

Musharraf rejects CIA bid to hunt Taliban
By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad The Telegraph (UK) January 28, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf has rejected an offer of greater American involvement in hunting down al-Qa'eda and Taliban militants in Pakistan, it has been reported.

Strategy to focus on maintaining legitimacy of Afghan Govt: Gates.
By Lalit K Jha - Jan 26, 2008 - 13:15
NEW YORK (PAN): The US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said Thursday the new strategic vision document, currently under preparation, for Afghanistan would focus on how to maintain the legitimacy of the Afghan Government.

Bush urged to double resources for hunting Osama
By Lalit K Jha - Jan 26, 2008 - 20:12
NEW YORK (PAN): The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Friday urged the Bush Administration to double its resources both intelligence and forces deployed for hunting the most wanted terrorist of the world: Osama bin Laden.

Tripartite commission meets in Quetta
By Pajhwok reporter - Jan 26, 2008 - 19:12
KABUL (PAN): The second tripartite commission meeting was held in Quetta between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO about the security of the southwest zone.

Afghan women protest American kidnapping
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 29, 7:50 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - About 500 Afghan women gathered in a rare mass protest Tuesday against the kidnapping of an American aid worker. The women, many wearing burqas, called on officials to find the captive American and urged the kidnappers to release her.

Officials said they still had not identified any suspects in the kidnapping of Cyd Mizell and her Afghan driver, Abdul Hadi. Gunmen abducted the two Saturday in a residential neighborhood of the southern city of Kandahar.

The demonstration by so many Afghan women in the conservative southern province of Kandahar was a rare display of women's wishes. The 90-minute meeting was filled with prayers and speeches calling on government leaders to act.

Rona Tareen, director of the Kandahar Women's Association, urged Mizell's captives to free her immediately, saying she had helped Kandahar's women with small business projects.

"She was here helping the woman in Kandahar. She was trying to get their embroidery outside of the country," Tareen told the 500 to 600 women — many wearing the all-encompassing burqa — who gathered in a Kandahar wedding hall. The crowd estimate came from participants in the rally and an Associated Press journalist.

"Her kidnapping is against our culture and tradition," Tareen said. "We demand that the kidnappers free her immediately."

Another woman, Bibi Nanai, said she received permission from her husband to join the protest.

"I came from my home to show my support," Nanai said. "We are very upset."

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said Tuesday there were still no suspects in the case and authorities were searching for clues.

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid reiterated Tuesday that he could neither confirm nor deny that Taliban militants had taken the American woman and her driver.

Mizell, who was wearing a burqa when she was taken, works on aid projects for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation. The director of her organization, Jeff Palmer, said the kidnappers still had not contacted any officials.

"That's part of the frustration that we're dealing with right now," Palmer said Monday. "We are hoping they will contact us. We want to hear about the safety of Cyd and the driver."

"Nobody really knows" who the kidnappers are, Palmer said.

The Asian Rural Life Development Foundation has taken precautionary measures for other staff members in Kandahar, he said, but declined to elaborate.

Mizell, who taught English at Kandahar University and gave embroidery lessons at a girls' school, speaks the local Pashtu language well, colleagues said. She has worked for the foundation in Kandahar for the last three years, Palmer said.

Several foreigners — including 23 South Koreans, two German construction workers and two Italian journalists — have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last year, but kidnappings of Americans are rare. An American civilian was briefly abducted in Kabul in April 2005 but escaped by throwing himself from a moving car.

Kidnappings of Afghans for ransom have been on the rise in the last year, and rumors persist of foreign governments paying large ransoms to win the freedom of their citizens. Two of the 23 South Koreans kidnapped in July were killed while the rest were freed.

Meanwhile, visiting German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told President Hamid Karzai that German troops are ready to "participate in operations against terrorists and cooperate with other international forces in any other part of the country," said a statement from Karzai's office.

Jung, who also held talks with his Afghan counterpart Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak in Kabul, praised the role German troops play in training the fledgling Afghan National Army. Jung also planned to visit some of the 3,000 German troops serving in the relatively peaceful north.

Last year was Afghanistan's most violent since the ouster of the Taliban in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 6,500 people — mostly militants — died as a result, according to an Associated Press count of figures provided by local and international officials.

Most of the fighting occurs in the country's south and east. Germany has been criticized for not joining the frontline of the fight against Taliban and other militants in these areas.
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US regrets Ashdown's refusal to be UN Afghanistan envoy
Tue Jan 29, 3:23 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regretted that British politician Paddy Ashdown had withdrawn his bid to be UN envoy for Afghanistan, saying a "stable figure" was badly needed there.

"There needs to be a stable figure who can bring together and coordinate the multiple, multiple efforts of the international communities to support Afghanistan's reconstruction," Rice told reporters Monday at a press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

Ashdown, the international community's former envoy to Bosnia, said Sunday he had withdrawn from the running because of insufficient support from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The international effort involves clearing areas of Afghanistan from "terrorists," then delivering goods and services to Afghans to prevent those areas from "falling back" into the hands of militants, she said.

"I think it is fair to say that the international community has not yet found a way to coordinate its effort in a way that is effective and efficient and can fully support the Afghan government in reconstruction," Rice said.

Having a strong track record in public service, Ashdown "would have done a superb job, I think, in this activity. He has decided to withdraw. He has given his own reasons for that.

"And I have to say that the United States is sorry this couldn't be worked out because we need strong leadership in the international community," Rice said.

She pledged that with US allies and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the US would continue to seek ways to coordinate international efforts in Afghanistan.

Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack also praised Ashdown.

"It's important that there be somebody to fill that role. Certainly Lord Ashdown would have been a highly experienced, extremely capable person to fill that role," McCormack said. "The work will continue in finding somebody to fill those shoes."

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said Kabul's objections were not down to Ashdown or his nationality but to a "negative atmosphere" created around the envoy role.

"It's better if our friends let us learn more and more by walking on our own feet, with our own experience," he said.
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US, Britain stung by an Afghan temper
By M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online / January 29, 2008
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Central Command, traveled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital, last Thursday. It was the first visit by a high-level US military officer since Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov evicted American troops from the Karshi-Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan (used for ferrying supplies for Afghan operations) in retaliation for the covert American encouragement of the abortive Andizhan uprising in the Ferghana Valley in May 2005.

Central Asian leaders can be excessively polite. Karimov told Fallon, "We see your visit ... as a meaningful event in relations between the US and Uzbekistan." Karimov went on to say the visit was a chance to discuss "issues of common interest, first of all in the military and arms sphere". To be sure, Karimov knew his strategic defiance of the George W Bush administration has paid off splendidly well.

He will be justified in estimating that Washington is desperately keen to regain influence in Tashkent so it can effectively counter Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia. He sizes up that the medium-term US objective will also be to consolidate a permanent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in Central Asia. In short, the Bush administration has learnt the hard way that Uzbekistan is a key country in Central Asia.

But in immediate terms, US Central Command is badly in need of Tashkent's cooperation for operating a second air corridor to Afghanistan so that the heavy dependence on Islamabad gets somewhat reduced.

Kabul rejects Washington's choice

What lends urgency to Fallon's mission to Tashkent is the criticality of the Afghan situation. Much thinking has gone into Fallon's mission and it was preceded by months of mediation by the European Union between Washington and Tashkent. Karimov took time to relent. Yet, ironically, the fragility of the overall situation in Afghanistan is such that the thaw in US-Uzbek relations was overtaken within 24 hours of Fallon's mission by dramatic developments in Kabul.

In a series of statements over the weekend, President Hamid Karzai's government rubbished a major decision taken by Washington and London on the appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown as the United Nations' super envoy in Kabul.

Kabul knew for months about the impending appointment of Ashdown as a key step in a new NATO strategy spearheaded by the US and Britain, aimed at stabilizing the Afghan situation. Karzai knew detailed planning had gone into the move involving NATO, the EU and the United Nations Security Council. But Karzai waited patiently until the eleventh hour before shooting it down publicly on Saturday in a interview with the BBC while attending the World Economic Forum meet in the Swiss resort town of Davos. The move was pre-planned and carried out in a typical Afghan way with maximum effect.

Karzai insists there has been a serious misunderstanding of motives because Kabul had never taken a "decision" on Ashdown's appointment. He is perfectly right in saying so. But in actuality, Karzai has put on display his proud Afghan temper. He has taken umbrage that Washington and London took the decision on Ashdown's appointment in consultation with Brussels and thereupon got UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to execute it, all the time taking Kabul's agreement for granted.

Karzai had fired a warning shot recently by expelling two diplomats from the UN and European Union. But Washington failed to take notice. US commanders have routinely ignored Karzai in the conduct of the heavy-handed war. On a number of occasions, he cut a lonely figure, left to pick up the debris after coalition forces behaved like a marauding army in Afghan villages where three quarters of the people live. Each instance humiliated him and eroded his credibility, especially among Pashtuns. Now, by saying no to Ashdown's appointment, Karzai settles scores. Washington and London should have known Karzai's Afghan snub was long overdue.

At the same time, it is much more than a snub. An Afghan snub is never one-dimensional. Karzai knows his rejection of Ashdown's appointment is bound to go down well with the Afghan elite.

Second, Karzai anticipated that Ashdown, true to his reputation in the Balkans, would function like a colonial viceroy. Karzai knows that the Western agencies and organizations operating in Afghanistan lack coordination. But a "unified command" under Ashdown would create a counterpoint in Kabul to Karzai's own authority. Karzai didn't want that to happen.

The bottom line concerns Karzai's political future. He sizes up that Ashdown is part of a political package leading toward a post-Karzai era. There has been persistent chatter in recent weeks that Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to the UN - an ethnic Afghan - is in the mix for a run as president of Afghanistan. According to Washington Post columnist Al Kamen, Karzai took the rumor seriously and point-blank asked Khalilzad about it when the two met in London in October, but Khalilzad "didn't give a Shermanesque response".

At any rate, no matter Karzai's own motive, his act of defiance will have serious consequences at different levels. The UN has certainly taken a beating. Ban made a last-minute personal intervention with Karzai. Evidently, Ban had no clue about Afghan character. The UN's capacity to spearhead the political process in Afghanistan now stands seriously impaired. This deprives Washington of a neutral international bridge - but under its control - leading toward the Taliban camp, which is a pre-requisite for commencement of any meaningful intra-Afghan dialogue.

Meanwhile, the war hangs perilously on the edge of an abyss. Almost everyone is talking to the Taliban one way or another. Confusion is near-total. All this is happening at an awkward time when NATO lacks a counterinsurgency strategy. In particular, Britain, which lately assumed a lead role within NATO, has been embarrassed.

Karzai singled out British operations in Afghanistan for criticism in an interview with the Times newspaper of London on the eve of his meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Davos on Friday. Karzai alleged that Afghan people "suffered" from the coming of the British. He had little praise for the 7,800 British troops deployed in Afghanistan. He said, "Both the American and British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them. And, when they came in, the Taliban came."

There was an angry rejoinder from No 10 Downing Street. The very next day, Karzai went public with his rejection of Ashdown's appointment. This spectacular Afghan-British falling-out goes beyond a mere blame-game. At the root lies Karzai's insistence that it will be his sole prerogative to decide on the appointment of key provincial officials and that he will not brook top-level requests from NATO commanders and diplomats. (But Karzai also knows in the Afghan bazaar, any snub to Britain will enhance his stature, given the complicated history of Afghan-British relations.)

As The Times commented, "British forces believe that, in many respects, their Afghan allies pose more of a challenge to their mission than the Taliban ... It is the Afghan government that is now proving more of an obstacle to stability in an area where a mixture of official corruption, ineptitude and paranoia are stymying British efforts." There is bound to be questioning in Britain about the government's policy. After all, a total of 87 British troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and Britain has spent US$3.2 billion on its military campaign there.

The setback to Britain's leadership role will impair Washington's effort to drum up greater NATO involvement in southern Afghanistan. Hardly 10 weeks lie between now and the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania. Again, Washington's monopoly over the political process in Afghanistan itself has got frayed at the edges. How long more will the monopoly be sustainable when the war has been almost lost already? Reports indicate Russia has been pressing for Turkey's Hikmet Cetin in place of Ashdown.

On a broader geopolitical plane, it remains to be seen how long Washington can keep Karzai away from the reach of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Russia and China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization. From the Ashdown saga, Karzai must have realized his capacity to shake up US strategy in the region. In an interview with CNN in Davos on Thursday, Karzai said, "We have opened our doors to them [Iran]. They have been helping us in Afghanistan." Karzai then insisted that the Bush administration has "wisely understood that Iran is Afghanistan's neighbor". Karzai was speaking hardly two days after the latest attempt by Washington to isolate Iran over its nuclear program at the meeting of the "Five plus One" (US, UK, France, Russia and China plus Germany) in Berlin on Tuesday.

Musharraf wards off US pressure

But it is in Islamabad that the reverberations of Karzai's mini-revolt will be most keenly felt. The impasse in the "war on terror" weakens Washington's capacity to further undermine President Pervez Musharraf or to pressure the Pakistani military. Conversely, Musharraf will know that his own defiance of Washington's recent attempts to dictate the nature of the political set-up in Islamabad now enters a conclusive phase. He will know that with such a first-rate mess-up in the war in Afghanistan, Washington is hardly in a position to be intrusive, let alone dictate terms of engagement to him. In a curious way, Karzai has considerably smoothened for him the passage from now until the elections in Pakistan on February 8.

In all probability, Pakistan, which has excellent intelligence outfits in Kabul, knew in advance that Karzai was about to give shock-and-awe treatment to Washington. Clearly, Musharraf has begun finger-pointing at anyone who will even remotely suggest the need of deploying US troops on Pakistani soil.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates virtually challenged Islamabad in his sensational press conference in Washington last Thursday where he made the unsolicited offer - despite Islamabad's repeated rejection of the idea - that "we [US] remain ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistanis and to partner with them, to provide additional training, to conduct joint operations, should they [Pakistani military] desire to do so". But Musharraf's speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London on Friday vividly brings out that he can afford to ignore Gates' veiled threat. In essence, Musharraf knows he may have put a particularly difficult period behind him.

Timely backing from China has also strengthened Musharraf's hands. In an extraordinary commentary titled "No more turmoil in Pakistan is permissible", China's People's Daily has come out with a whole-hearted endorsement of Musharraf's leadership. It said, "President Pervez Musharraf has resorted to a host of viable measures ... Pakistani government has been making unremitting efforts in defense of the supreme national interests ... Some opposition forces at home and a few powers overseas impose pressures or punitive measures against Pakistan in the name of 'democracy', 'freedom' and 'opposition to terrorism'. So the nation is currently in very complex and stark circumstances and its government is confronted with unprecedented challenges."

The commentary went on to laud Musharraf's leadership: "Thanks to the effective leadership of the Musharraf government along with joint efforts of people from all walks of life, Pakistan has on the one hand worked to coordinate with the struggle of the international community against terrorism. On the other hand, the nation has scored remarkable successes in socio-economic development, and also eased off its strained relations with its neighbor India."

The commentary concluded with a warning against any outside attempt to destabilize the existing political order in Pakistan. It said, "Major policy measures taken by the Pakistani government with the aim of safeguarding internal stability and social order will surely be understood and accepted by the people in the nation and subsequently win their support. Likewise, the international community should also have a sober-minded awareness and understanding of these related useful measures being implemented there as Pakistan will absolutely not be the sole nation to suffer provided its stability is not fully guaranteed."

Musharraf must be greatly relieved that Beijing has finally broken its silence and come down unequivocally in support of him at a crucial juncture in his desperate resistance of the US game plan to remove him from power and to disgrace the military by deploying American troops on Pakistani soil.

Karzai and Musharraf on same side

What outsiders often overlook is that Afghan-Pakistani relations have different templates, including some strange templates. The fact is the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani establishment has largely accommodated the Pashtun elite. Thus, the real issue today is Pashtun alienation in Afghanistan. Conceivably, there can be a commonality of interests between Karzai and Musharraf. It is not something being deliberately fostered by either side - at least, not yet - but it is there somewhere just beneath the surface. In the period since his last visit to Islamabad in November, Karzai has been extremely careful not to criticize Pakistan.

In his interview with CNN last week in Davos, Karzai touched on his expectations from Musharraf. Karzai said, "I had a very fruitful talk with President Musharraf last time. From that respect, I hope there is more recognition of [terrorist] dangers there and of the dangers of the future of both countries and the region. Based on that, I hope there will be a stronger effort in Pakistan and the region, and help from the rest of the world."

Increasingly, Karzai and Musharraf find themselves in a somewhat similar predicament. They cannot do without American support, but they do not accept US pressure tactics. They know US regional policies are part of their problem within their own countries and, therefore, they need to differentiate themselves for their political survival. Paradoxically, their attempt is to perpetuate the US's dependence on them while they work at consolidating a political base of their own, which is independent of US control. In Karzai's case, the 3-4 million votes that Musharraf can mobilize from the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan will always remain a decisive factor in his re-election as president.

Besides, there are regional powers - China and Iran in particular - which are keenly watching the geopolitics surrounding Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Iranian thinking is that there is a concerted US-Israeli plot to destabilize Musharraf's regime with the twin objective of the US establishing a base in Pakistan for its military intelligence operations directed against Russia and China and at the same time for neutralizing Pakistan's nuclear capability.

In the Iranian perception, after some dangerous brinkmanship in recent weeks, the US and Israel have somewhat backed off, but a systematic US attempt continues to undercut the Musharraf regime. In a recent commentary, the Tehran Times, which reflects official thinking, warned that Washington is using its "minions" in the region to weaken the authority of Musharraf's government and to create tensions within Pakistan's federal structure. It called on the Pakistani people to understand the "gravity of the situation" and to "confront the hidden hands" destabilizing their country.

The Iranian commentary has been much more forthright than the People's Daily, but essentially, there is a similarity of views. Both China and Iran are keen on the stability of the Karzai government. Both would like Karzai to continue to explore the parameters of a neutral, independent foreign policy free of US manipulation. Both visualize that Afghanistan can serve as a vital land bridge between them, playing a strategic role in the rapid expansion of Sino-Iranian relations. To quote the Tehran Times, the primary reason behind the US mounting pressure on the Musharraf regime has been for consolidating its control over Pakistan, which is "situated at a strategic crossroads in South Asia bordering West Asia and Central Asia and within proximity of China's western frontier".

Interestingly, the People's Daily took a broadly similar line - in innuendos, though - when it commented, "As is known to all, Pakistan is a fairly sensitive nation ... Its unique, specific geopolitical factor proves [that] if its situation is out of control and the entire nation [is] in unrest and turmoil, the scope of negative influences would outreach its adjacent areas and negatively impact the global situation ... stability in Pakistan's surrounding areas is sure to be menaced, and new variables will add to the war on terror being waged in Afghanistan and, consequently, the hard-won situation in South Asia featured with peace, development and cooperation could possibly get lost."

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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UK's Ashdown too 'super' for Kabul
By Alastair Leithead and Charles Haviland BBC News, Kabul Monday, 28 January 2008
The deal was done, or so it seemed. The UK's Paddy Ashdown had agreed to take on what he'd suggested was an impossible task as "super-envoy" to Afghanistan, but, at the last minute, it all fell apart.

It was the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government who blocked the appointment when all appeared settled.

Now the process to find a new head for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan has to begin again and the international efforts here will be without strong direction for the foreseeable future.

The feeling among the international community in Kabul is that it's a missed opportunity - a powerful character with a proven track-record who could unite the aid effort in a way most say is crucial.

But perhaps Lord Ashdown, who served as the UN's High Representative and EU envoy to Bosnia from 2002 to 2005, was just too strong a character in a place where the international influence is being perceived as strengthening with time, rather than giving way to the new Afghan institutions.

'Super' powers

President Karzai would not admit to feeling threatened by Paddy Ashdown - the two men met in Kuwait at the end of last year and the president was satisfied they could do business together.

But there was a sudden and unexpected change of heart - ministers had been worried he could come here as a 'Viceroy' with too much power, but that seemed to have been resolved.

The two issues surrounding his appointment were his personality and the terms of reference for his job.

Simply being headlined as a "super-envoy" was enough to suggest greater powers than his predecessor.

He would have had the same title, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative, and would not have "worn two hats - the other being Nato's International Security Assistance Force civilian representative, a job which remains vacant.

But there was an understanding he would have more sway with Nato and in European capitals, and that was perhaps too much for the Afghan decision makers to handle.

The fact he was seen as an Anglo-American appointee may also have played against him.

Media role

There are more than 37 nations signed up to backing Afghanistan, but not all supported his candidacy.

The critical voices inside the government swung from rejecting a colonial-style leader, to opposing a non-Muslim with too much association with the West.

The fact he is British, at a time when relations between the UK and the Afghan government are going through one of their periodic rough patches, could also have had an impact.

And the media seems to have played an important role, and may well have sparked doubts in President Karzai's mind.

The Reuters agency leaked, by a source in Brussels, news that Ban Ki-Moon had approved his position, something that without proper consultation may have offended the Afghan government.

Then a leader article in the Times newspaper suggested the Afghan president would now just have to accept the decision.

President Karzai reads a lot of newspapers and is known to react strongly, sometimes angrily, to the way he and his country are reported.

This may have been the key that let doubting advisers get his ear and persuade the president that Paddy Ashdown would command too much power.

The Afghan foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, told a press conference that Lord Ashdown was known to be "very controversial" and even "authoritarian", according to other unspecified foreign ministers.

But Mr Spanta revealed a lot about the Afghan government's fears over a threat to its sovereignty when he stressed the importance of "standing on our own two feet".

Where to now?

Government-controlled Afghan media did feature articles critical of the proposed new envoy, but the question is whether they were the true voice of the people, or whether they were reacting to government views.

So where from here?

The name General John McColl has been mentioned by the Afghan government, perhaps as a foil to suggestions they were opposed to a British appointee.

He has served here before and got on well with the president, but as a military four-star general - already working for Nato - it's unlikely the UN would accept his candidacy to take the civilian lead.

There are other names in the hat, but it's likely the international community may want to approach other people to do the job with the strength of character, proven track record and who would be broadly accepted by all sides: all qualifications Lord Ashdown was said to have had.
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US urges quick naming of UN envoy for Afghanistan
Mon Jan 28, 2:30 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States called Monday for the swift appointment of a UN special envoy to Afghanistan after senior British politician Paddy Ashdown backed out, citing weak support from Kabul.

"It's important that there be somebody to fill that role. Certainly Lord Ashdown would have been a highly experienced, extremely capable person to fill that role," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"The work will continue in finding somebody to fill those shoes," he told reporters.

Ashdown, the international community's former envoy to Bosnia, said Sunday he had withdrawn his bid because of insufficient support from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said that Kabul's objections were not down to Ashdown or his nationality but to a "negative atmosphere" created around the envoy role.

"It's better if our friends let us learn more and more by walking on our own feet, with our own experience," he said.
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US envoy accused of sabotaging Ashdown
Patrick Wintour, political editor, Tuesday January 29, 2008 The Guardian
Senior Foreign Office officials believe the Afghan-born US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is planning to stand for the presidency of Afghanistan and played a complex role in advising the current president, Hamid Karzai, to block the appointment of Lord Ashdown as the UN envoy to the country.

Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader who became the international community's high representative in Bosnia, withdrew his application for the role on Sunday in the face of Afghan objections, leaving western policy in chaos.

America and Britain had been lining Ashdown up for a senior role since October, and believed they had the support of the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, and Karzai.

High-level British sources believe that Karzai changed his position as he faced mounting objections from Pashto-speaking warlords and after advice given to him by Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Khalilzad is himself a Pashtun. British sources suggested that contrary to the official US position, Khalilzad had been warning Karzai that Ashdown was an interventionist figure and would weaken his authority still further.

Khalilzad's office at the UN last night denied he had any interest in standing for the Afghan presidency and rejected the suggestion he had undermined Lord Ashdown as a candidate for the UN special envoy's job. "Quite the opposite - he thought it was a good idea and worked hard to get it done," Richard Grenell, the ambassador's spokesman, said. He added that Khalilzad had publicly ruled out running for president in Afghanistan, describing it as "an old rumour that has been proved erroneous".

Ashdown had spoken to Karzai about the appointment and agreed his job description, which would have been to coordinate the roles of Nato, the UN and the EU. But in the past week Karzai started to turn against the British, accusing their forces of losing their grip in the south of the country in the fight against the Taliban, and then making it clear to Gordon Brown and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, that he would not support Ashdown's appointment.

The state-influenced press in Kabul ran stories likening Ashdown to former British generals in the first Afghan war, and even demanding to know who would be willing to assassinate him.

Some British officials said Karzai's decision to withstand the clear US demand for Ashdown will strengthen him with some Pashtun tribes in the short term. No one in British circles is accusing Karzai of corruption, but with the loss of support of the former Northern Alliance, the Afghan president is increasingly dependent on drug traffickers and warlords to maintain his political base.

British sources say they have no idea at this stage how they will repair the damage caused by the Afghan president's sudden change of heart, but without a clear alternative authority figure to Karzai, the west will have to soldier on with the current president for at least another year.

Asked by the Washington Post last week whether he planned to stand again, Karzai was enigmatic, saying: "Well, I have things to accomplish. Who was it who wrote - Robert Frost? - 'The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.'"
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Kabul diplomats' concerns grow regarding Karzai
By Jon Boone in Kabul  January 29 2008 Financial Times, UK
President Hamid Karzai's last-minute derailment of carefully laid plans to appoint Lord Ashdown as the United Nations' top international envoy in Afghanistan has heightened concerns in Kabul's diplomatic community about the Afghan leader.

International officials reacted with consternation at what was, in effect, Mr Karzai's vetoing of the British statesman as the new UN's senior representative in Afghanistan at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the weekend.

The president said he had reservations about Lord Ashdown, who later announced that without Afghan support he was no longer prepared to do the job.

International officials have long worried about Mr Karzai, described by one diplomat as "a brilliant communicator but a less than able as a public administrator".

Recently there have also been concerns about Mr Karzai's health with many believing he is politically isolated and overworked, particularly in the wake of two other big run-ins with the international community.

Mr Karzai created havoc on Christmas day when his government announced that it was expelling two diplomats from the UN and the European Union, who were accused of talking to the Taliban. Also at Davos he upset the British, criticising the UK military effort in troubled Helmand province.

One senior European diplomat described the president as "rather chaotic", lacking a "coherent management style".

"In a way he is a bit like a king - he spends so much time listening to other people that he then does not know what to do. He is completely overwhelmed in work and has not taken a proper break since 2001. He has had no time for mental -reflection."

Afghan officials said the president had been alarmed by opposition from the Afghan media and worried about uncertainties surrounding the extent of the proposed mandate for Lord Ashdown, who enjoyed full executive powers while serving as the high representative to Bosnia.

But a US official denied that Lord Ashdown had been pushing for a wider mandate.

Other diplomats have pointed out that most of the press opposition to the appointment had come from government-controlled outlets - something Lord Ashdown himself noted in his letter to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general.
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Canada may pull Afghan troops unless NATO boosts support
Tue Jan 29, 1:03 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned NATO that Canada could pull its 2,500 troops from volatile southern Afghanistan next year unless NATO provides substantial reinforcements.

Harper endorsed an independent panel's much-anticipated report last week that recommended Canada's military mission continue after its mandate ends in February 2009, but indicated that troops should stay on only if additional manpower is provided by NATO and more helicopters and military equipment by Ottawa.

"Our government broadly accepts the recommendations put forward by the panel on Canada's future in Afghanistan," he told reporters Monday.

"The government also accepts the recommendation that the mission be extended if certain criteria are respected. These criteria are having partners in the Kandahar province, having adequate equipment for our soldiers who are out there in Afghanistan."

About 2,500 Canadian troops serve in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents have staged an increasing number of bombings and attacks on Afghan and NATO-led forces.

Harper cited the rise of the Taliban in Kandahar as a key reason more NATO efforts are needed.

"Kandahar, once again, is the center of the Taliban insurgency. There are long-term efforts to regain power in the country, and if NATO cannot put all the necessary troops and equipment in Kandahar province, I don't think it's ultimately going to do it anywhere."

The independent commission, led by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley, also called for a greater emphasis on diplomacy and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The prime minister has previously made clear he supports extending the mission, despite public concern and the loss of 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat since the mission began in 2002.

Harper announced that in line with the recommendations by the experts, he would lead a diplomatic effort to gain the support of his global allies before the NATO summit, planned for April in Bucharest.

The report said the contingent's focus should gradually shift from combat to training Afghan national security forces and also urged a major diplomatic push by Canada to coordinate international efforts in Afghanistan.

The conservative prime minister also recalled his promise to hold a vote on the issue in parliament, where the three opposition parties hold a majority and are hostile to keeping up a military presence in Afghanistan.

Harper named the commission last October to make recommendations on how to proceed with the mission in Afghanistan.

The Bloc Quebecois has demanded the return of the soldiers in 2009, while the leftist New Democratic Party wants an immediate repatriation.

But the Liberal Party has a more nuanced stance. Leader Stephane Dion has said the combat mission should end in 2009, but be followed by "a mission to help Afghanis to build that country; a mission in the tradition of Canada."

Canadians are divided on the Afghan mission, with 50 percent supporting a combat mission against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan but 37 percent favoring a pullout of forces in February 2009, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll on Saturday.

Even though the panel recommended the mission be extended under certain criteria, it did not set a timeline for eventual troops withdrawal.

Harper meanwhile said that Canada's contribution should be reviewed and progress in the country examined within two to three years.
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NATO needs more intel on Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press Writers Mon Jan 28, 5:51 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Military commanders are looking for more surveillance and other intelligence-gathering systems to help aid the fight in Afghanistan, the top NATO commander said Monday.

Gen. John Craddock, who also is chief of U.S. European Command, said that while the U.S. currently provides much of the eye-in-the-sky capabilities — which include unmanned aircraft — other allied nations could also contribute needed sensors and other technologies.

"There is an increased requirement for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," Craddock said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I think we're seeing now the value to cross check and reference different sensors and make sure we've got a better perspective."

Craddock's comments come as commanders begin to put together their list of troop and equipment needs from the allies in advance of a NATO meeting next month. Last year Craddock presented NATO ministers with a plan that called for several thousand additional troops, as well as helicopters and other equipment needs.

This year, he said the updated request likely would include surveillance capabilities, as well as some troop shifts on the battlefield, which he did not detail.

The problem, Craddock said, is the ongoing competition for what he called the "unblinking eye" — often provided by unmanned aircraft such as Global Hawks and Predators, which are in heavy use for the war in Iraq. The Predators provide live video links to commanders and can be armed with missiles.

"The problem with ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) with all the nations is there is never enough to go around," said Craddock, sitting in his cramped office in the Pentagon. "The U.S. has a lot of ISR, but there are demands and there has to be a prioritization."

As an example, Craddock pointed to efforts by insurgents last year to move more into areas where there were civilians — leading to several incidents in which U.S. and allied troops were criticized for killing innocents as they fought suspected terrorists.

To deal with that, he said, the military had to use more drones to get a clear picture of what was going on.

The Pentagon is increasingly turning its attention to Afghanistan, as fears grow of a resurgence of al-Qaida in the ungoverned tribal region along the Pakistan border. The rugged mountains there have provided insurgents with safe havens, including — many believe — the Taliban and al-Qaida's elusive leader, Osama bin Laden.

As the U.S. looks to other NATO allies to meet some of the ongoing military needs in Afghanistan, Craddock said a new document being drafted by allies which lays out long-term goals for Afghanistan could encourage greater allied participation.

Noting that the need for more forces has yet to be filled by the allies, Craddock said, "one could deduce (that) in many of the countries they have not come to the understanding of how important this is."

Recently the Pentagon announced it would send about 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, to fill part of the need for more combat troops and trainers. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates in insisting that NATO countries will have to come up with the troops to replace the Marines when the leave in the fall.

The allies, Craddock said, must understand that it is in their interest to contribute more as part of an effort to stop the spread of terrorism.

"Will this (NATO) document be a catalyst, I don't know," he said. "Will it be a reinforcement to the faithful and maybe a convincer of the unconvinced? I hope."

The long-term goals document is expected to include things that need to be accomplished before security can be turned over to the Afghans, how long it might take and what the risks will be. It also will talk about the need to reduce corruption, improve governance and boost development. Gates wants it to be ready for consideration by NATO leaders at a summit meeting in Romania in early April.

Craddock also emphasized the importance of NATO and U.S. forces being nimble and able to react quickly as the Taliban and other extremist fighters adjust to changing conditions on the Pakistan side of the border.

"This is going to be, over the next 12 months, very important to watch what happens with the Pakistani forces there," he said. "We are encouraged with what we've seen and what we've been told" about Pakistan putting more conventional military forces into the border area that serves as a sanctuary for the extremists.

The Pakistanis have told U.S. and NATO officials that more regular army troops will supplement the work of a Pakistani paramilitary force known as the Frontier Corps, which Craddock said "are not really the capability needed" to deal with the extremist fighters.

In other comments, Craddock said he believes it is important to have a person, operating under U.N. auspices, coordinate the international aid effort in Afghanistan. And he said it was "unfortunate" that the attempt to get British diplomat Paddy Ashdown to take the job did not work out.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the United States was sorry Ashdown had withdrawn himself from consideration for the job.

Ashdown said he would not take the envoy post after Afghan President Hamid Karzai suddenly revoked his support. Ashdown, the top international administrator in Bosnia from 2002 to 2005, was considered the leading candidate to serve as overall coordinator of international aid, government and political efforts in Afghanistan.
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Germany's defense minister meets Afghan leaders, visits troops
AP - Wednesday, January 30
KABUL, Afghanistan - Germany's defense minister held talks with top Afghan officials on Tuesday and planned to meet with his country's troops who are serving in the NATO-led force, officials said.

Franz Josef Jung met with President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak during his visit in Kabul, government officials said on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media. Jung also planned to visit some of the 3,000 German troops serving in Afghanistan's relatively peaceful north.

Jung told Karzai that German troops are ready to "participate in operations against terrorists and cooperate with other international forces in any other part of the country," said a statement from Karzai's office.

Following their meeting, Wardak also praised the role German troops play in training the fledgling Afghan National Army.

Last year was Afghanistan's most violent since the ouster of the Taliban in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 6,500 people _ mostly militants _ died as a result, according to an Associated Press count of figures provided by local and international officials.

Most of the fighting occurs in the country's south and east. Germany has been criticized for not joining the frontline of the fight against Taliban and other militants in these areas.
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NATO Asks Germany For Rapid Reaction Force In Afghanistan-AFP
BERLIN (AFP)--The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has formally asked Germany to deploy a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan to replace a Norwegian contingent, a defense ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

The German government has been expecting the request and officials in Berlin suggested last week that the country would comply, despite strong opposition among the German public to its five-year-old military mission in Afghanistan.

According to NATO sources, the alliance is asking Germany to prepare a contingent of 250 troops who will be stationed at Mazar-i-Sharif, replacing the Norwegian force which will withdraw in the summer.

Germany has some 3,200 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the 37-nation, NATO- led International Security Assistance Force.

The overwhelming majority of the troops are stationed in the relatively calm north of Afghanistan and Berlin has resisted mounting pressure to deploy troops in the south to help its NATO partners fight a tenacious Taliban insurgency.

Government officials have in recent weeks denied that supplying a rapid reaction force would amount to sending men into combat.

They pointed out that the force was designed to provide emergency support to other troops in the north and that though its brief includes hunting " terrorists" and dealing with kidnappings this is not its main task.

Senior German defense official Thomas Kossendey said last week that Germany would not need a new, wider parliamentary mandate to deploy the rapid reaction force and that it would "remain in northern Afghanistan".

The current mandate limits the German force in Afghanistan to 3,500 soldiers.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung has said he expects to make a decision on the request by Feb. 8.

Germany has faced strong criticism within NATO ranks for refusing to send troops to southern Afghanistan to help tackle the Taliban.

NATO is undertaking its most ambitious and potentially perilous mission ever in the country, where it is trying to spread the influence of President Hamid Karzai's government to more lawless regions well away from the capital Kabul.

But NATO commanders say they need some 7,500 extra troops to carry out their mission, even though the force the alliance leads there grew from around 33,000 in January 2007 to some 42,000 in December.
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300 Afghans die from recent snow, cold
Mon Jan 28, 2:29 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Some 300 Afghans have died in the past 10 days from bitter cold and heavy snow across the country, the Health Ministry said Monday.

Officials said the dead included nomads who live in tents and villagers cut off from food and medical aid because heavy snow had blocked roads.

Faryab province in northwest Afghanistan is covered in a 20-inch-deep blanket of snow, said Gov. Mohammad Omar.

"This is a grave crisis," he said. "Sixty percent of the roads to the remote villages are cut off by the snow."

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Afghans in remote villages are typically able to heat their mud-brick homes only by burning animal dung or wood, if the family can afford it.

Afghan officials reported on Jan. 15 that 85 people had died in the previous days from heavy snow, avalanches and cold weather.

The Afghan government and NATO's International Security Assistance Force have been providing emergency supplies to areas hard-hit by the weather, but provincial officials said the aid has not been reaching some areas fast enough.
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Aid reaches winter-affected families as deaths top 500
KABUL, 29 January 2008 (IRIN) - Food and non-food humanitarian relief supplies have been delivered to hundreds of vulnerable families affected by heavy snow and extremely cold weather in western and central-western provinces of Afghanistan, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Latest figures from Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) indicate that 503 people - mostly children and the elderly - have lost their lives due to cold weather and heavy snow since December 2007. The UN has confirmed at least 329 deaths in Herat, Badghis, Ghor and Farah provinces.

Some parts of Afghanistan are facing their harshest winter in 30 years, with temperatures falling to minus 25, aid agencies say.

UN agencies, Afghan and foreign aid organisations, NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams and local residents have separately delivered relief items in Herat, Badghis and other affected provinces, OCHA said in a situation report.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed over 65 metric tonnes (mt) of mixed food aid to 6,000 families in five districts in Herat Province, western Afghanistan. Additionally, 12,797 mt of food items have been delivered to neighbouring Ghor Province where tens of thousands are “high risk” in terms of food-insecurity. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has also stocked 1,000 blankets, 500 plastic mats, heaters and personal hygiene items in Ghor Province.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Red Crescent Society has earmarked about US$1 million to ensure that every vulnerable, affected family receives a cash voucher of up to $70, the organisation said.

IDP camps affected

Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in several camps and settlements in Herat, Helmand and Kandahar provinces are feared to have been severely affected by the winter weather.

“[IDPs] living in camps near Herat [city] have suffered greatly from the recent snowfall and intense cold,” OCHA’s report said.

Aid agencies have agreed to assist 2,500 families in Maslakh, Shaidai and Minaret IDP camps in Herat Province.

However, it is still unclear whether similar aid will be offered to thousands of other IDPs in Mukhtar and Zherai camps in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where UN agencies suspended their relief operations in March 2006.

Needs assessments, coordination

Blocked roads, rugged terrain and insecurity have hindered access to remote areas. This has prevented reliable humanitarian needs assessments from being carried out, and has to some extent affected coordinated relief delivery, some aid agencies said. Consequently, there are confusing numbers regarding casualties and aid needs.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP conducted a joint assessment of some areas in Ghor Province by air, which was followed by talks with officials in the provincial capital, Chaghcharan, on 24 January.

“There is a need to improve information collection and management and also strengthen coordination which will help humanitarian actors to respond effectively and promptly,” Ingrid Macdonald, a regional advocacy adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Kabul, told IRIN.

Meanwhile, dozens of people in Jowzjan Province, northern Afghanistan, demonstrated on 27 January calling on the government and aid organisations to provide urgent humanitarian assistance.

In Daykundi Province, central Afghanistan, where a convoy of commercial trucks could not deliver about 800 mt of WFP food aid due to extremely cold weather - people are waiting for aid to be delivered by two military helicopters, officials said.
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Afghanistan's Die-Hard Governor
KHOST, Eastern Afghanistan, Jan. 29, 2008
(CBS) This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's eastern Paktia and Khost provinces.

The U.S. military's key ally in Afghanistan's Khost Province is the Taliban's number one target.

"The Governor? That guys needs to watch his back," laughs a soldier who is helping provide protection for Khost Gov. Arsala Jamal at a ribbon cutting for a new power grid.

Security is very tight.

Afghan police snipers man the roofs of nearby buildings, nearby roads have been closed off to traffic and American and Afghan soldiers surround the building where the ceremony will take place. They search it thoroughly before anyone is allowed inside.

Last year, a suicide bomber in a lab coat penetrated security at the dedication for a new hospital wing in Khost, a province along eastern Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

Gov. Jamal arrives at the last minute, rushed in by a convoy of SUVs. His Afghan security personnel prevent anyone from getting close to him as he enters the building.

Jamal has been targeted by would-be assassins three times in the past 12 months. On each occasion he has been traveling in a convoy of U.S. and Afghan military vehicles.

"They're (the enemy) definitely well organized. They get spotters to see where he is in a convoy and pass the word up that he's coming down this route and this is the vehicle he's riding in," said U.S. Army Sgt. Fred Adams, who adds he's seen the bombers counting the numbers of vehicles to their target. "They really want to get rid of the governor."

In each case, Jamal survived by switching vehicles at the last minute. Some of his Afghan security guards were not so lucky.

Jamal is one of the U.S. military’s key allies in eastern Afghanistan. A former aid worker himself, he has helped promote and organize infrastructure projects that the U.S. believes are crucial to defeating the insurgency.

"He's fighting for the same thing that we want here, and that's a government that can sustain itself," Adams said.

Jamal is not the only provincial leader to be targeted by Taliban extremists. The former governor of neighboring Paktia province was assassinated last year. And the sub-governor of Tani, a border village in Khost province, recently survived an attack by a suicide bomber.

The bomber stood alongside the road as Gov. Badi Zaman made his way home from work one evening. Zaman had his driver run the bomber over. The Governor suffered a neck wound in the explosion.

Sitting in his office, surrounded by windows taped to prevent glass shrapnel from a bomb attack, Jamal won’t specifically name those he believes are targeting him. "I think it's very much obvious. It is the enemy of Afghanistan."

He points out that Afghan soldiers and teachers have also been targeted. "They are exposed to the same type of danger. If everybody stopped working, what would happen? We would give the province to them."

Jamal is surrounded by dozens of body guards, who he says he has trouble paying, and he's sent his family to live in another country. Asked about his personal motivation for staying on the job, Jamal seemed surprised by the question.

"It's my country. I don't know what else to say. Someone has to do it."
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FOR THE RECORD: AFGHANISTAN
Tuesday, January 29, 2008; The Washington Post Page A13
"In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies, and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaeda is now a young democracy. . . . These successes must continue, so we are adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan."

ANALYSIS: President Bush did not mention the large dispute within NATO over how to fulfill the Afghan mission, including discord over the number of forces that each nation should contribute and where and how they should fight.

He also did not mention that a White House assessment last year concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals that the Bush administration set for 2007 had not been met. The extra Marines are, according to senior officials, being sent not to build on success but to prevent failure.

Only a few NATO countries engage in fighting -- especially the British, Canadians and Dutch -- while the rest focus on reconstruction. The United States already provides more than half of the 53,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, but the additional Marines were deemed necessary because no other NATO country was willing to commit new forces to the southern provinces where the Taliban has made a comeback.

Meanwhile, the economy and security situation in Afghanistan remain poor. Kidnappings and suicide bomb attacks have become more common in some regions, even in Kabul, where the city's top hotel was recently bombed. Opium production has risen, and many experts say programs to provide rural Afghans with alternative income are underfunded and poorly coordinated. Polls show a growing portion of the citizenry is losing faith in the government headed by President Hamid Karzai.

According to a survey released last year by the Asia Foundation, for example, 79 percent of Afghans said the government does not care what they think, while 69 percent said it is not acceptable to publicly criticize the government.
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Afghan woman is all about business
Entrepreneur Kamela Sediqi teaches Afghans around the country the skills they need to start ventures.
By Gayle Tzemach | The Christian Science Monitor January 29, 2008
Kabul, Afghanistan
In a small office hidden behind a gate in Kabul, Kamela Sediqi sits at her laptop and builds her business. The unlikely entrepreneur is the architect of Kaweyan Business Development Services, a consulting firm she started in 2004 with only her computer and her determination.

Barely 30 and on her third startup, Ms. Sediqi employs 25 men and women, more than half of them full time. She started her first venture, a tailoring business, to support her mother and brother during Taliban rule. In the end, it provided work for more than 100 women. And it gave Sediqi the entrepreneurial bug that eventually led her to Kaweyan – a service firm that had few capital needs at the outset.

Now, traveling across the country on buses and planes operating on unpredictable schedules, Sediqi trains adults in the basics that will help them launch their own ventures. Over a few days, Sediqi teaches skills ranging from developing an idea to marketing and accounting. Many participants go on to start their own businesses.

Sediqi's goal is to grow Kaweyan into one of South Asia's leading consultancies. By the end of January, the firm will be operating in Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, and Herat, making national reach nearly a reality. Many of Sediqi's contracts still come from foreign donors, but that is changing as Kaweyan matures and the private sector develops.

Longtime clients say they are impressed with Sediqi's growth – and see her gender as an opportunity in this segregated society.

"With her training materials and her approach, she is able to put her clients at ease," says Bryan Rhodes, head of a US Agency for International Development program to grow Afghan small business. "And [being female] opens up a market segment.... She can train men and women where others cannot."

The success of Sediqi and a handful of other Afghan businesswomen come amid difficult circumstances, despite steady growth in the overall economy. In the face of a resurgent Taliban, stagnant reconstruction, and the high-profile kidnappings of foreign aid workers, these women push forward, propelled by entrepreneurial grit and desire to support their families. While no official figures track their numbers, they can be found in pockets of Afghanistan, launching consultancies, furniture factories, and printing houses. Many of them say better business conditions, rather than more talk of their plight, are critical.

"Business is the only way to support Afghanistan," says Sediqi, noting that the foreign money now funding the country soon will dry up. "We can make our country by establishing businesses and supporting businesses and creating more investment."

Government officials say business is critical to women's advancement as well as Afghanistan's, tracing some of the stubbornness of the hurdles they face to an "externally injected" aid effort.

"The women's thing here, particularly with the international community, is very politicized," says Omar Zakhilwal, president of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. "It is more of a show than substance. We should focus on meaningful economic progress, and that is sustainable economic development."

Aid workers argue that the social structure makes bringing women into the fold a struggle. "Our entrepreneurship program comes from very strong market analysis, which does make it more difficult to incorporate women because the range of activities that women can undertake for cultural reasons is very constrained," says Joanne Trotter of the Aga Khan Development Network.

Visitors wandering around a recent agricultural fair in Kabul saw the challenge on display. In stall after stall, women sold the same wares: handicrafts, jewelry, and traditional clothing.

"A lot of women are interested in business but there is a lack of markets – that is the main problem," said Zahra Sharifi of the Daikondi Women's Business Association as she tried to draw in a rare customer. Seated nearby, her husband nodded, saying he supported his wife's work and just wished she sold more of it.

Alongside the pitfalls facing all business owners, including limited capital, marginal infrastructure, and corruption, women face societal constraints and growing insecurity.

Yet Sediqi remains committed to bringing her work to even the more conservative and less secure areas of her country, including the region from which an American aid worker recently was abducted. On those trips, she gladly dons her burqa and boards a bus.

Once she arrives, Sediqi stands before a room full of men, facing a slew of questions, such as whether she is married (she is) and whether her family approves of her work (it does). She must convince her audience to take her seriously despite her gender and youth. She does this by speaking in terms they know: family and the Koran.

"I say to them, 'I come to you as a sister and daughter to share my experience,'" says Sediqi. Most of the time, she wins them over. One man told her he would educate his daughter if he could be certain she would turn out like Sediqi.

Back in Kabul, she is up against high rents and even higher energy prices. And she must battle for talented staff against well-paying international agencies. Yet Sediqi is fueled by a belief that small business can make a difference.

Certainly many, both women and men, are watching. "When it comes to business, the belief is that it is a male thing," says Dr. Zakhilwal. "Women are seen as dependent. But as more and more women come into the arena, they are seeing it is not just for men."
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Harper backs Manley report push to extend Afghan mission
DARREN YOURK Globe and Mail Update January 28, 2008 at 3:18 PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted the recommendation made in the Manley commission report to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan if NATO allies help reinforce the effort.

The comments came as Mr. Harper made his first official remarks on the report issued last week by the blue-ribbon panel headed by the former foreign affairs minister.

The report said the Canadian mission in Afghanistan should not arbitrarily end in February of 2009, but the conditions for the continued presence of Canadian troops in the dangerous southern part of the country must be clearly dictated to NATO allies.

“The government accepts the panel's specific recommendation of extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan if, and I must emphasize if, certain conditions are met,” Mr. Harper said.

“That is, the securing of partners in Kandahar province with additional combat troops and equipment capabilities. In other words, while the case for the Afghan mission is clearly compelling, the decision to allow our young men and women in uniform to continue to be in harm's away demands the responsibility to give them a strong chance of success.”

Mr. Harper said his government will launch a diplomatic effort before the April meeting of NATO heads of government in Bucharest to meet those conditions. At some point this spring, the government will introduce a motion seeking the support of the House of Commons for the mission, which is set to end in February 2009.

“As I said the last time we attended a NATO meeting, I did think NATO's future credibility and effectiveness did hinge on the effectiveness of this mission,” he said. “I don't think there is any way for any NATO country to get around that fact.”

The Manley commission report said at least 1,000 more soldiers from some other NATO country are needed to reinforce Canada's efforts. The panel rejected all four options proposed by the Conservative government for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan because each entailed a pull-out of Canadian troops starting in February, 2009. It instead argued for an indefinite extension that would see the Canadian Forces gradually refocus on reconstruction and then withdraw as Afghans are able to do their jobs.

“The panel has made a clear case that there cannot be a definitive timeline placed on when NATO will have finished the job in Afghanistan and when Afghans are able to take responsibility for their own security, and we agree,” Mr. Harper said. “However, Canada's contributions should be reviewed at a minimum in the context of progress on the benchmarks the panel has advocated and within two to three years time.”

The report, which found security in Kandahar is deteriorating despite the efforts of 2,500 members of the Canadian Forces who are stationed there, also set the purchase of medium-lift helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles as a condition for the mission's continuation.

The government has already placed its order for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles and is working with allies to secure them quickly, said Mr. Harper.

The Manley commission report boils down to two choices for Canada, the Prime Minister said: “We do everything better, we do everything right, or we don't do it.”

“We can't do a half a mission that might not succeed,” Mr. Harper said.

The panel also argued that successive governments have failed to adequately explain to Canadians why Canada is in Afghanistan – or what the troops are doing there – and calls for the government to have a more balanced communications strategy. Mr. Harper himself should take a lead on the file, the panel said.

The Prime Minister said Monday he takes that criticism seriously.

“This is an extremely difficult mission. We don't believe it is perfect and never have,” he said. “There has been no issue that has caused me as Prime Minister more headaches, and quite frankly more heartache, than this particular mission. I don't think that's going to change in the near future. We accept the judgment that there are several things that could be done better. In the case of most of these things, I think the panel would also acknowledge the government has taken steps.”

Mr. Harper said the very nature of the Afghan mission makes it hard to communicate to Canadians.

“A robust military mission where there are casualties is never going to be easy to communicate and it is never going to be all that popular to communicate,” he said. “That's the reality of the situation. We do accept the criticisms, and we're looking to improve on that and several other fronts.”

The Prime Minister suggested one step his government will take is making military and foreign affairs officials available to the public and press to discuss the Afghan mission on a more regular basis.

Mr. Harper refused to comment directly when pressed by reporters to discuss the government's handling of the suspension of detainee transfers to Afghan jails, saying it was a matter of national security.

“We are not going to publicly discuss how many Afghan prisoners we have — and where they are,” he said. “These are details of military operations and we are not going to answer such questions.”

The detainee issue was the hot topic of conversation during Question Period Monday, most notably the fallout from last week's revelation from government lawyers that Canadian troops stopped transferring prisoners to Afghan jails on Nov. 6, a day after officials heard a credible allegation of torture.

Opposition members took issue with Mr. Harper and his senior ministers never mentioning the transfer halt, despite repeated questions in the Commons.

“The Minister of Defence was actually in Afghanistan the very day the transfers stopped, and yet the Prime Minister and his ministers mislead the House and Canadians for three months,” Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said. “Why did the Prime Minister hide the truth from Canadians?”

Mr. Harper called the allegation completely false.

“The truth of the matter is that what the government revealed in November was the fact that there was credible evidence of a particular case of abuse,” he said. “The government doesn't reveal the cases where there is no abuse because those are simply matters of military operation. The Leader of the opposition had that information himself, and understood it wasn't to be revealed.”

With files from Gloria Galloway and Campbell Clark
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Witness: Casings Tossed in Afghan Deaths
By ESTES THOMPSON January 28, 2008
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — Brass shell casings collected along an Afghan highway were thrown away before investigators could examine whether they were from an ambush or Marines accused of firing upon civilians, a U.S. Army police officer testified Monday.

First Lt. Leah Miller of the 66th Military Police Co. was one of the final witnesses in the special Court of Inquiry investigating two leaders of Fox Company, a special operations company.

Several Marines have said a suicide car bomb initiated a well-planned ambush on their convoy March 4 along Highway 1 in Afghanistan's Nangahar Province. But an Afghan human rights organization said Marines fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and motorists.

The shootings killed as many as 19 Afghan civilians, according to an Army report, but no evidence has shown exactly how many were killed or wounded.

By the time investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived three months after the shooting, the evidence bag with the brass casings had been thrown away during an office cleanup at an Army compound at the Pakistan border, Miller testified.

Miller testified that soldiers were driving 10 to 15 minutes behind the Marines, who had visited the MP compound earlier, and found angry residents at the scene of the bombing and shooting.

"The civilian populace was more hostile than I have seen them before," she testified by telephone from Afghanistan.

Miller said soldiers didn't go past a bridge over a dry riverbed, where Marines said they fired back at attackers, because more hostile civilians were on the other side. The MPs didn't have enough security to examine the road past the bridge for evidence. Afghan police were sent to the top of a hill where Marines said they were fired at to look for shell casings, but they didn't find any, she said.

Miller also said brass was found in the riverbed. Mark Waple, an attorney for the officers, said an NCIS report concluded the shell casings in the riverbed "could indicate the presence of enemy troops firing from the riverbed."

No shell casings were found in a sport-utility vehicle that Marines said fired at their six-vehicle convoy, Miller said.

The panel of three senior officers has been hearing evidence about the leaders of the company: company commander Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, of the Kansas City area, and a platoon leader, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, of Philadelphia.

Closing arguments are scheduled Tuesday, and then the panel will write a report on whether the officers should be charged with a crime. It's not clear how long that process will take or whether the report will be made public when complete.
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Rice fears deepening war in Afghanistan
By Geoff Elliott in Washington NEWS.com.au, Australia January 30, 2008 02:00am
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice fears a deepening conflict in Afghanistan without an urgent solution to differences between Kabul and Western forces trying to restore order there.

In a frank assessment of the problems in Afghanistan following the collapse of plans for a "super-envoy" to try to meld the disparate international forces, Dr Rice said the West was still working to find a way to better support the Afghan Government in its reconstruction efforts.

"Counter-insurgency work is very difficult because you have to clear the area of the terrorists or of the enemy, and then you have to be able to deliver goods and services for the people of the area, or the area will fall back into conflict," she said in her first joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

"And I think it's fair to say that the international community has not yet found a way to co-ordinate its effort in a way that is effective and efficient and can fully support the Afghan Government in reconstruction."

Mr Smith, on his first trip to Washington as Foreign Minister, made clear the Rudd Government's frustration at the political strife in Kabul while telling the Bush administration that Australia stood ready to continue to increase its commitment in the war-torn country.

"When it comes to Afghanistan, we are, as a Government, particularly concerned about Afghanistan and the adverse consequences for Afghanistan so far as what's occurred recently in Pakistan," Mr Smith said.

He told Washington that Australia also stood ready to increase its commitment in "aid, civilian training, infrastructure, governance (and) the capacity-building contributions that are required".

In Australia, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, a critic of the current strategy in Afghanistan, said Australia was "already making very significant contributions to the war in Afghanistan".

"While we are open to future discussions, we currently see no compelling argument for extra Australian resources or troops to be sent into the region," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "In any case, before we would even consider any such request we would want to see a new and coherent strategy be developed, and furthermore we would want our NATO partners to significantly increase their troop numbers and commitment to this war."

The public concerns of Mr Smith and Dr Rice came amid news that British politician Paddy Ashdown had withdrawn his bid to be a "super-envoy", after it was reportedly blocked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai because he had demanded too much power.

Mr Smith reaffirmed Australia's pledge to pull 550 combat troops out of Iraq by the middle of this year, but said it would not hurt its relationship with the US. It would not "be anything of any significance in terms of a longstanding, enduring alliance which will last, in my view, for many, many years to come".
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Sifting out the Afghan 'bad guys'
Taliban not sole danger to leader -Brian Hutchinson,  National Post  Monday, January 28, 2008
ARGHANDAB DISTRICT, Afghanistan - They come at him from all directions. Agents of the Taliban, who would not hesitate to kill him, if they could get close enough. Tribal rivals who openly defy his authority, or pretend to curry favour while undermining his authority. Villagers begging for his assistance, an indulgence or a command.

Today, inside a walled compound protected by rifle-toting guards, Kalimullah Naqibi, 26, is besieged by angry elders. They are visibly upset that 50 of their local men were arrested last week on suspicion of insurgent activity and hauled off to a police station for interrogation.

The new leader of Arghandab district, which lies just to the north of Kandahar city, Mr. Naqibi fiddles with a string of yellow worry beads and listens politely before gently shooing away the elders.

"It is sad a thing," he said after they have left. "But one of our police commanders said it would be a good idea to round up these 50 suspects. So I agreed. We are trying to find the bad guys. We are being cautious."

With good reason. Mr. Naqibi is still stinging from deadly attacks by Taliban insurgents, launched soon after his famous predecessor -- his father, Mullah Naqib -- died of a heart attack in October.

Seeking to exploit Mullah Naqib's passing and seize an important route from the fertile Arghandab valley south to Kandahar city, 300 Taliban fighters with 300 reinforcements poured into the district. There was little resistance. The Arghandab was theirs.

The insurgents danced atop the roof of Mr. Naqibi's evacuated house, he recalls with bitterness.

But the Taliban's victory was brief; a three-day counterattack by Canadian, U.S. and Afghan forces later in October made short work of the insurgents, leaving 50 of them dead and forcing the rest to flee north to more remote areas.

But three weeks later, they struck again, this time with a much smaller, more subtle operation. A Taliban mole infiltrated an Afghan National Police substation in the Arghandab valley.

Posing as a junior officer, the mole directed a sneak attack on the police post early on Nov. 23, as seven officers slept. The other Taliban arrived on motorbikes. All seven policemen were slaughtered.

The perpetrators, including the mole, ran off and have evaded capture. Another humiliation, admits Mr. Naqibi. Worse, he says, he had prior knowledge of the mole's presence inside the substation. He even knew his name: Abdul Aziz.

"I told the [substation] commander that this person was not good, that he was linked to Taliban," Mr. Naqibi revealed for the first time. "I told him to kick him out. But the commander refused. He said there was no problem."

Even without Mr. Naqibi's warning, the commander should have realized that something was amiss. Aziz did not look or behave like a police officer. He arrived with no credentials, he didn't wear a uniform and he "behaved strangely," said Abdul Hakim Jan, a police commander from a neighbouring substation in the Arghandab.

Could it be that other, senior officers were involved in the planning of the sneak attack? If that grim prospect has crossed his mind, Mr. Naqibi isn't saying.

The two assaults came just after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai formally crowned Mr. Naqibi as leader of the Arghandab. The appointment was predetermined; Arghandab's elders had already agreed that the mullah's son would be their chief and top decision-maker.

On one hand, it made sense. Mr. Naqibi is an Alokozai, the ethnic tribe that dominates the fertile Arghandab valley.

His late father was the tribal leader for decades. Mullaf Naqib was practically revered by the Alokozai for fighting back the invading Soviet army in the 1980s, and later, for maintaining a semblance of peace and prosperity during Taliban rule.

Mullah Naqib's high station is still evident three months after his death. His portrait is ubiquitous here in the Arghandab, appearing even on mud walls that line the roadways. He was buried next to a highway, on a prominent rise that overlooks the valley.

Yesterday afternoon, an elderly man was stooped in prayer beside the impressive gravesite. "I fought with Naqib," said Ghulam Sakhi, who hails from the nearby village of Khishky. "We fought together. We killed a lot of Russians. I salute him."

And his son, the new leader? "He's young, but I think he's intelligent. Maybe even brilliant." High praise indeed for a man who has not shown any sign of having mastered a demanding, dangerous job made more complex by internecine battles.

Mr. Naqibi has little leadership experience. Schooled mostly in Pakistan, he was a building contractor before his appointment as district head and tribal leader. "It has been difficult," he admits.

He does have his famous father's example to follow. The mullah's words of advice still ring in his ears.
"My father was directly involved with his people, and he told me I must work with them, too. Find work for them," he said. "And you will lead them down an easy path," remembers Mr. Naqibi.

He doesn't want people in the Arghandab to ignore their agrarian roots. The district is renowned for its pomegranates, among other crops. He worries that if too much international aid reaches his people, they might lose their self-reliance. Projects that make the Arghandab more secure are welcome, he says.

A forward operating base that Canadian army engineers are now building in the northern reaches of the district will help keep the Taliban away, he hopes.

But Mr. Naqibi dismisses other forms of assistance. "The Canadians wanted to give food to the people here," he explained. "I thought that would be trouble. So after discussing it with the elders, I refused it. I don't want the people here to become couch potatoes." But that might be the least of his worries, agrees the harried young potentate.
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Amritsar sweets flavoured with Afghan dry fruits
Amritsar, Jan 28 (ANI): Dry fruits imported from Afghanistan add flavour to sweets made in Amritsar.

Sweet-makers in Amritsar prefer almond kernels, raisins, apricots and pistas from Afghanistan. Amritsar has traditionally been a transit hub for a wide variety of dry fruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

An importer of various items from across the border, the city is the market for fresh and quality dry fruits coming from Afghanistan. Avinash Singh, a sweetshop owner in Amritsar, said: “Since Afghanistan is ravaged by war, the supply of dry fruits has come down. But, if trade via road is allowed bilateral trade will get a boost. It not only benefits us, but Amritsar as a whole will become a business hub.”

For decades now, Amritsar have been the center of trade from Afghanistan and accounts for 15 per cent of India’s total dry fruit imports. India’s import of goods from Afghanistan via Pakistan has picked up after trucks were allowed to roll into India through Wagah border.

Since 2007, nearly 3,000 tones of dry fruits has been imported each month from Afghanistan. Experts feel India and Pakistan - the two important pillars of South Asia Free Trade Area — can play a crucial role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

Confederation of Indian Industries (Amritsar Zone) Chairman Gurveer Singh said:

“Fortunately, today the situation is changing. But, the situation is still not good. Trade at the moment is to the tune of about Rs 300 crore annually, which, we are getting one way into India. Import and export both can increase, but this is entirely dependent on free passage from Pakistan. At present, only imports are allowed through Pakistan from Afghanistan. There is tremendous need for Indian goods in Afghanistan.”

In view to increasing trade between India and Afghanistan, New Delhi is seeking passage from Pakistan to export goods via Wagah border. In 2004, Afghanistan’s 43.3 percent of exports were to India, and 32.8 percent of imports were from India and Pakistan. Since 2001, Afghanistan’s imports and exports have increased around 2.7 times.
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Progress and challenges: Regional Director for South Asia Dan Toole visits Afghanistan
By Ash Sweeting Source: United Nations Children's Fund 28 Jan 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan, 28 January 2008 – UNICEF's new Regional Director for South Asia, Dan Toole, visited Afghanistan last week, during which time he helped launch UNICEF's flagship report, The State of the World's Children 2008, in Kabul. His four-day visit coincided with the publication's official launch in Geneva.

"Afghanistan is a country that has one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in the world," Mr. Toole said. "What isn't really known is that we have made tremendous progress in the last five years."

Mr. Toole cited a recent study by Johns Hopkins University which noted that since 2001, child mortality in Afghanistan has fallen by 25 per cent. Yet, even with this vast improvement, Afghanistan still has the world's third highest rate of mortality for children under five.

During his visit, Mr. Toole met with Government officials including President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and the Ministers for Health, Education and Rural Development to discuss UNICEF programmes.

"I was once again impressed by the commitment of the Government of Afghanistan to invest human and financial resources to improve the daily lives of women and children in this war-torn country," Mr. Toole said afterwards.

Successes and challenges

Mr. Toole also met with the President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, Fatemah Gailani to discuss partnering to utilize a vast network of existing volunteers.

"There have been huge successes, such as children in schools and the drop in child and maternal mortality – despite the difficult security environment in which UNICEF has been working," Mr. Toole said. "We all know there is political commitment to make a positive difference in the lives of Afghans. This now needs further and consistent investments."

When asked about what challenges UNICEF faces in Afghanistan this year, Mr. Toole said: "Without clean water and sanitation, children will become sick and we will have continued high infant and child mortality."

'The road to change'

On the final day of his visit, Mr. Toole braved icy conditions and headed up to the snow-covered Panjshir Valley to see the results of UNICEF's long-term commitment to Afghanistan. He saw how teams of community health workers travel to remote villages deep in the mountains to vaccinate children, provide basic health care and educate the communities about nutrition, health and hygiene.

Mr. Toole met with the Panjshir shura (tribal council), where he stressed the importance of children – especially girls – being allowed to finish their education.

"Afghanistan is on the road to change," Mr. Toole said. "It's on the road for improved child survival, but the road is very long and we have a lot of progress to make."
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Musharraf rejects CIA bid to hunt Taliban
By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad The Telegraph (UK) January 28, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf has rejected an offer of greater American involvement in hunting down al-Qa'eda and Taliban militants in Pakistan, it has been reported.

Amid growing concern in Washington over militants' entrenchment in Pakistan's border tribal areas, America's two most senior intelligence officials made the proposal during a secret visit to Islamabad earlier this month.

The New York Times reported that the CIA director, Michael Hayden, and the director of US national intelligence, Mike McConnell, proposed an expansion of America's presence in Pakistan either through covert CIA missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.

Pakistan and the United States are now instead discussing other joint efforts, such as increased use of armed Predator surveillance aircraft over the tribal areas, and identifying ways America can speed intelligence information to Pakistani security forces, the report claimed.

The newspaper quoted a senior official as saying "the purpose of the mission was to convince Musharraf that time is ticking away" and that the militant attacks in Pakistan would ultimately undermine his effort to stay in office.

America already operates on Pakistani soil through the use of missile strikes, intelligence operations and 'hot pursuit' actions from Afghanistan.

Last week the US defence secretary, Robert M Gates, said America was willing to send combat troops to Pakistan to conduct joint operations against al-Qa'eda and other militants if the Pakistani government asked for American help.

Mr Musharraf, who is due to meet Gordon Brown on Monday, has repeated during his current tour of Europe that public opinion would not tolerate a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

He said two days after the Jan 9 meeting with the US officials, that American troops would be regarded as "invaders" if they crossed into Pakistan.

Washington has been frustrated by Pakistan's recent efforts to tackle al-Qa'eda leaders and by a series of increasingly audacious attacks by militant tribesmen on military outposts and supplies near the Afghan border.

Last week Mr Musharraf said that, despite billions of US military aid given to hunt down al-Qa'eda, that his troops' priority was to battle Taliban militants.

Pakistani security forces yesterday retook control of a major road tunnel in the northwest after a day of fighting in which at least 24 militants were killed, the army said. Unrest is spreading along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Troops were also engaged in a major operation in the tribal South Waziristan stronghold of al-Qa'eda-linked militant Baitullah Mehsud, how has been accused of the assassination of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
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Strategy to focus on maintaining legitimacy of Afghan Govt: Gates.
By Lalit K Jha - Jan 26, 2008 - 13:15
NEW YORK (PAN): The US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said Thursday the new strategic vision document, currently under preparation, for Afghanistan would focus on how to maintain the legitimacy of the Afghan Government.

With the popularity rating of Karzai Administration plummeting low and prevalence of widespread corruption, maintaining the legitimacy of a democratically elected government has been major issue of concern for the Bush Administration and the Pentagon, which has been fighting the war against terror in the country.

Early January, Gates had issued directions for preparing a five-year strategy paper for Afghanistan that would not only set up the directions, but also goals and objective of the US-led international mission in Afghanistan.

Gates said the US and its allies are in agreement that there is need of a strategy that addresses both the security situation and governance and development.

The strategy papers that are being put together address both of those, he said, adding: I would say that the military planners already have their campaign plans to a considerable degree.

Referring to the one draft strategy paper that he has seen, Gates said it really focuses more on the kinds of issues of how to help Afghan government maintain its legitimacy with the people? After all, they have had a free election. There is -- the poll numbers that I've seen indicate that there is still strong support for President Karzai, so I think that government still has broad legitimacy, Gates said.

But how can we help them extend services and so on into the provinces? How can we help them with economic development? The strategy papers that we're working on address all those issues, Gates said.

The vision document is being prepared by Department of Defense department, with inputs from the Department of State and the National Security Council. Once ready, the vision document, would be shared with the US allies who are contributing troops in Afghanistan.

The Defense Secretary said at this point of time there was no plans to send additional troops other than the 3,200 Marines announced last week. He said it is only a one-time affair.

But I have started a dialogue with my NATO colleagues about falling in behind the Marines when the Marines come out, for others to go in and take on some of the responsibilities that they have -- that they will have carried out, he said.

My hope is that, using the vehicles of the meetings in Vilnius and the summit meeting, the NATO summit in Bucharest, plus the fact that we're talking about some months from now may elicit a more positive reaction and provide the kind of additional support that the Canadian report has called for, he said.
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Bush urged to double resources for hunting Osama
By Lalit K Jha - Jan 26, 2008 - 20:12
NEW YORK (PAN): The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Friday urged the Bush Administration to double its resources both intelligence and forces deployed for hunting the most wanted terrorist of the world: Osama bin Laden.

We call upon (the US) President George Bush to immediately double the number of intelligence and special operations teams engaged in the hunt for bin Laden and Al Qaida, Reid said during his interaction with journalists at the National Press Club in Washington.

With focus and discipline, that is a fight we can win, he argued, while addressing a joint press conference with the House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The Democrats hold majority in both the chambers of the Congress.

Blaming Bush for his wrong policies to fight terrorism, Reid said:  Before the rubble of September 11th was cleared, we joined forces with our global allies to drive Al Qaida out of Afghanistan and restore freedom to its people.

Democrats and Republicans stood together to support that war. And for some time, it seemed to be a success, he observed.

But, he argued in the same breadth, the US President and his Republican allies squandered that opportunity to bring the entire world together to wage a truly global war on terrorism.

Now, with a diminished focus and inadequate resources in Afghanistan, progress is threatened by exploding violence. The drug trade is running rampant. And today, 2,327 days since 9/11, the world's number-one terrorist -- Osama bin Laden -- remains free, Reid said.

Our government's 16 intelligence agencies speak with one voice when they say that the Al Qaida threat is growing. Democrats say it's long past time to finally answer that threat, she said.

The speaker of the House of Representatives said Osama bin Laden remains free and the Al Qaida network grows stronger.  Afghanistan, once hailed as a great success, continues to backslide into violence, extremism and a rampant drug trade. The path toward democracy in Pakistan waivers with billions of American anti-terrorism dollars unaccounted, she observed.
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Tripartite commission meets in Quetta
By Pajhwok reporter - Jan 26, 2008 - 19:12
KABUL (PAN): The second tripartite commission meeting was held in Quetta between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO about the security of the southwest zone.

The press release issued by defence ministry said the meeting was held two days back which discussed fighting against terrorism and security on both sides of the Durand line.

The press released quoted a Pakistani General Amjad Khan saying that terrorism was a common challenge: Pak- Afghan people have a joint enemy, and we must give hand in hands to destroy terrorists

Six months back a similar meeting was held in Kandahar.

Syed Ishaq Paiman, deputy spokeman of defence ministry told Pajhwok Afghan News such meetings were to improve the security situation and will be continued.

The press release said Afghan, Pakistani and NATO military officials attended the meeting.

The press release stated that the all involved parties in the meeting agreed to continue such meetings in future.
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