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January 5, 2008 

Afghan clerics warn Karzai against missionaries
By Sayed Salahuddin Sat Jan 5, 5:19 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Islamic council has told President Hamid Karzai to stop foreign aid groups from converting locals to Christianity and also demanded the reintroduction of public executions.

India reviewing security of workers in Afghanistan
By IANS Friday January 4, 09:01 PM
New Delhi, Jan 4 (IANS) The external affairs ministry Friday clarified that only one Indian, and not two as said earlier, was killed and six others injured in a suicide attack in Afghanistan Thursday. It said the government was sending

Suspected insurgents arrested in S Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-05 19:47:31
KABUL, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), supported by the U.S.-led Coalition forces, have arrested several suspected insurgents in Panjway district of southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province

Afghanistan: Marriage Practice Victimizes Young Girls, Society
By Farangis Najibullah Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty January 4, 2008
Most girls dream about about falling in love, getting married in a beautiful dress, and having a family. But for thousands of young Afghan girls, and millions more across Asia and Africa, marriage often comes before they are old enough

Kandahar mayor teams up with Cdns to reduce pedestrian, auto congestion
via cnews.canoe.ca January 4, 2008 By THE CANADIAN PRESS
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - In the bustling marketplace of ultra-Conservative Kandahar city, women are regularly subject to sexual harassment and assault.

Why are we in Afghanistan?
SALLY ARMSTRONG January 5, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
OUTSIDE THE WIRE
The War in Afghanistan In the Words of Its Participants Edited by Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren 320 pages, $32
Outside the Wire is a strange hybrid that mixes the surreal, the surprising and the exceedingly monotonous with a few heart-pounding flashes of drama and one brilliant chapter called Mascara that's so entertaining that it's worth

Fundraiser set for Afghanistan Orphanage Project documentary
The Salt Lake Tribune 01/05/2008 01:50:31 AM MST
A local nonprofit, born of the experiences of several Utah National Guard members in Afghanistan, will hold its first fundraising dinner at La Caille on Jan. 19.

Marine's charity for Afghan dogs
Friday, 4 January 2008 BBC News
A Royal Marine from 42 Commando in Devon has set up a charity to rescue dogs from Afghanistan.

Quiet on one Pakistani front
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / January 4, 2008
KARACHI - The decision by President Pervez Musharraf to allow Scotland Yard investigators from London to help in the probe into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last week offers Musharraf a chance to save face in the growing

Etisalat announces major cut in call, SMS rates
By: - 3/01/2008 - 19:55
KABUL, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Private mobile-phone company Etisalat, four months after launching operations in several cities of Afghanistan, announced on Thursday a cut in call and short messaging service (SMS)

UNICEF constructs two schools in Samangan
By: - 3/01/2008 - 20:24
AIBAK, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two boys' schools were constructed in Dar-i-Souf of northern Samangan province by UNICEF which will benefit twelve hundred students.

Taliban deadline for halt to Swat operation expires today
By: - 3/01/2008 - 10:16
PESHAWAR, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pro-Taliban insurgents have warned of expanding their activities to settled areas if the government does not end ongoing military operations in the northwestern valley of Swat and tribal areas.


Afghan clerics warn Karzai against missionaries
By Sayed Salahuddin Sat Jan 5, 5:19 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Islamic council has told President Hamid Karzai to stop foreign aid groups from converting locals to Christianity and also demanded the reintroduction of public executions.

The council, an influential group but without binding authority, is made up of Islamic clergy and ulema (scholars) from various parts of Afghanistan and made the warning in a statement during a meeting with Karzai on Friday.

The ulema have always played a crucial role in Muslim Afghanistan and have been behind a series of revolts against past governments.

But since the ousting of Taliban's radical Islamic administration by U.S.-led troops in 2001, Afghanistan has seen an unprecedented period of freedoms.

"The council is concerned about the activities of some ... missionary and atheistic organs and considers such acts against Islamic sharia (law), the constitution, and political stability," said a copy of the statement obtained by Reuters.

"If not prevented, God forbid, catastrophe will emerge, which will not only destabilize the country, but the region and the world."

Quoting what he said were reliable sources, Ahmad Ali Jebrayeli, a member of the council and also a member of parliament, said unnamed Christian missionaries had offices in Kabul and in the provinces to convert Afghans.

"Some NGOs are encouraging them (to convert), give them books (Bibles) and promise to send them abroad," he told Reuters on Saturday.

STRONG CHRISTIAN LINKS
Numerous foreign aid groups and charities operating in Afghanistan have strong direct or indirect links to Christian organizations, but they insist they are not proselytizing.

Some 23 South Korean missionaries, were kidnapped by the Taliban last year and, amongst other things, accused of trying to convert Muslims. Two of the group were murdered before the rest, almost all women, were freed following a complex secret deal.

The conversion and spiriting out of an Afghan Christian convert following the intervention of several Western leaders and Pope Benedict in 2006 also sparked a series of protests locally.

Strict interpretations of Islam as practiced in Afghanistan treat conversions as apostasy, which is punishable by death.

The council also urged Karzai to stop local TV stations from airing Indian soap operas and movies -- enormously popular in Afghanistan -- which they said showed obscenities and scenes which threatened the morality of society.

The council also demanded a return to public executions for murderers as well as a crackdown against graft.

The Taliban, leading an insurgency against Karzai's government and foreign troops, used to publicly execute those convicted of capital crimes -- usually on Fridays after midday prayers.

While Afghanistan still has the death penalty on its books, it has been rarely been carried out since the Taliban's fall and never in public.

Karzai instructed various government departments to address the demands of the council, but stopped short of committing to change, Jebrayeli said.

"If he fails to listen to the Ulema, people will further distance themselves from the government (and) there will be more pessimism and instability," he said.

(Editing by David Fox and Bill Tarrant)
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India reviewing security of workers in Afghanistan 
By IANS Friday January 4, 09:01 PM
New Delhi, Jan 4 (IANS) The external affairs ministry Friday clarified that only one Indian, and not two as said earlier, was killed and six others injured in a suicide attack in Afghanistan Thursday. It said the government was sending a team to review the security of the nearly 2,000 Indian workers there.

The ministry also said it would try and ensure that the injured are brought back as soon as possible.

The external affairs ministry Thursday said two Indians were killed when a suicide bomber blew up in Khasrudh district in Nimroz province. The attackers were targeting a convoy of Indian workers who are constructing the Zaranj-Delaram road leading to the Iranian border.

On Friday, the ministry gave the name of the Indian killed as Manoj Kumar Singh, of 10th battalion of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). It said the explosion was aimed at derailing the ongoing Indian involvement in building the crucial road that will reduce Kabul's dependence on Islamabad for overland access to Central Asia.

The six injured are Umakant, Desha Singh, Rajesh Prasad, Prakash Chand, Harbans Lal and Gajender Singh.

Gajender Singh has been shifted to Zabol in Iran for specialized emergency medical assistance.

'An aircraft is on standby to evacuate the personnel to India as soon as they reach Kabul from Zaranj,' Sarna said.

India is on its guard against a renewed bid by a resurgent Taliban to assert its control over Afghanistan. 'The target is clearly the Zaranj-Delaram road. The Taliban and its backers (a veiled reference to Pakistan) for obvious reasons do not want us to be involved in constructing this road,' an official source told IANS.

'We are reviewing security arrangements for Indians working in Afghanistan in consultation with the Hamid Karzai government. Nothing will dissuade us from the good work that we are doing to rebuild Afghanistan,' the source said.

Significantly, the attack comes barely three weeks after the Indian cabinet approved over $180 million for building the Zaranj-Delaram road.

Pakistan resents India's assistance in building this road-link as Islamabad fears it will give India greater presence in Afghanistan and reduce its influence in a country it regards as its sphere of influence.

India Thursday strongly condemned the suicide attack as an 'act of terrorism' aimed against its aid and humanitarian programme in Afghanistan, and reiterated its determination to continue the work.

Thursday's attack, reminiscent of the kidnapping and murder of Ramankutty Maniyappan, a driver at the Border Roads Organisation, in Afghanistan over two years ago, put the spotlight on the security of around 2,000 Indian workers involved in a slew of reconstruction projects in that country.

Some of key India-assisted projects include the construction of 220 KV double circuit transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a sub-station at Kabul in Afghanistan and the Salma Dam Power project in Herat province.

India has pledged an assistance of $750 million for various projects that makes it one of the top six contributors to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
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Suspected insurgents arrested in S Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-05 19:47:31
KABUL, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), supported by the U.S.-led Coalition forces, have arrested several suspected insurgents in Panjway district of southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, a Coalition statement said Saturday.

The arrest was made on Jan. 2 in Mushan Village of Panjway district following a searching operation, it said.

"When the ANSF-led combined force entered the compound, insurgents attacked with small-arms fire," it added. "After neutralizing the threat, the combined force secured the compound and detained several suspected insurgents with ties to the Taliban."

A search of the area discovered fully-loaded weapons and additional ammunition, according to the statement.

Around 50,000 foreign troops including the Coalition forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are deployed in war-torn Afghanistan with mission of ensuring security and assisting in reconstruction.
Editor: Wang Hon
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Afghanistan: Marriage Practice Victimizes Young Girls, Society
By Farangis Najibullah Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty January 4, 2008
Most girls dream about about falling in love, getting married in a beautiful dress, and having a family. But for thousands of young Afghan girls, and millions more across Asia and Africa, marriage often comes before they are old enough for such dreams -- and ends in nightmare.

Torpekay, for example, is an Afghan girl from western Herat Province. Although just 17, she has been married for four years.

Torpekay tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that becoming a wife at the tender age of 13, being forced to serve her husband's family, and having virtually no say in her own life have taken a heavy toll on her. So heavy, she says, that she tried to escape -- by taking her own life.

She survived the attempt, and has been recovering at a local hospital. "I was so angry that I wanted to kill myself," she says, asking that her surname not be used. "I didn't have a knife, I didn't have any drug to inject into myself, so I decided to set myself on fire. Using gasoline was the easiest way."

The issue of child marriages, which affects more than 50 million girls worldwide according to the United Nations, was thrust back in the headlines recently when the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) selected its "Photo of 2007." The winning shot, by American photographer Stephanie Sinclair, shows a 40-year-old Afghan man, Mohammad, sitting next his visibly horror-stricken fiancee, Ghulam. She is barely 11 years old.

"We needed the money," Ghulam's parents, from Ghor Province, were quoted as saying.

UNICEF says child marriages are a reaction to extreme poverty. They mainly take place in Asian and African regions where poor families see daughters as a burden and as second-class citizens. The girls are given into the "care" of a husband, and many of them end up abused. Morever, they are often under pressure to bear children, but the risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth for girls under 14 is five times higher than for adult women.

Still Clutching Toys

According to UNICEF, 57 percent of Afghan marriages involve girls under 16. Women's activists say up to 80 percent of marriages in the country are either forced or arranged. And the problem is particularly acute in poverty-stricken rural areas.

In such places, many girls are forced into marriages when they are as young as nine or 10, says Khatema Mosleh of the Afghan Women's Network (AWN), a nonpartisan group of organizations that campaign for women's rights in Afghanistan. Most marry far older men -- some in their 60s -- whom they meet for the first time at their wedding.

So young are some girls, Mosleh says, that they hold onto their toys during the wedding ceremony. And they usually become mothers in their early teens, while they are still children themselves.

"When we speak with girls who married very young, they usually say, 'It feels like we didn't have a life, we didn't have childhood,'" Mosleh says. "These girls don't even remember their wedding day because they were so young. They say, 'We had a wedding, but we didn't even understand what the ceremony meant.'"

Women and children's rights activists in Afghanistan say the marriages are imposed on young girls for a variety of reasons.

In Afghan villages, it's considered dishonorable for families for daughters to meet and date boys. Some parents try to marry their daughters as soon as possible to avoid such a prospect. A lack of security during more than three decades of war, and the risk of kidnapping and rape, has also prompted many families to force their young daughters into marriage. And widespread poverty still compels many parents to get their daughters married to avoid the cost of caring for them.

According to Mosleh, most men who marry young girls are much older and wealthier, and they pay significant amounts of money to the families of the young brides.

Deadly Consequences

Young marriages have contributed to high rates of death among women, infant mortality, and particularly maternal deaths. At 44, an Afghan woman's life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world.

Badriya Hassas, a gynecologist in Rabiya Balkhi Hospital in Kabul, says that shortly after being married, many young girls are admitted to hospital in a state of shock from serious physical injuries and psychological trauma. "Some of these girls suffer irreversible physical damage," Hassas tells RFE/RL. "They suffer from tearing and extensive bleeding. Besides, they usually come to hospital too late -- after massive bleeding, and in a state of shock. We have personally seen many such cases."

Sami Hashemi, an expert at UNICEF's Kabul office, says it is a tragedy for Afghan society that "young girls who are supposed to be thinking about toys, books, and cartoons are being forced to become wives, to serve their husbands' families, and bear a child."

The Afghan government has taken some steps to tackle the problem. The country has recently changed the legal age for marriage for girls from 16 to 17. Men who want to marry girls under 17 are not entitled to obtain a marriage certificate, although rights activists say many men simply do not bother with officially registering their marriages.

Local NGOs and their international partners have also started an awareness campaign throughout the country to promote children's rights to education and self-determination.

Mosleh says many parents, teachers, and local leaders take part in workshops and meetings organized by her and other NGOs in Afghanistan's remote towns and villages. But she and other activists harbor few illusions: It will take years, perhaps a generation, to root out the tradition of child marriages.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report)
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Kandahar mayor teams up with Cdns to reduce pedestrian, auto congestion
via cnews.canoe.ca January 4, 2008 By THE CANADIAN PRESS
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - In the bustling marketplace of ultra-Conservative Kandahar city, women are regularly subject to sexual harassment and assault.

But Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi is confident that by cleaning up the streets and sidewalks, life for women in the city will improve.

During a pilot project launched a year ago when he first took office, people were discouraged from loitering and shopkeepers were ordered to stop renting sidewalk space to fruit vendors who cluttered the walkways.

Hamidi says it worked for a while before the chaos resumed, but he's looking forward to working with Canadian military and civilian development workers at the Provincial Reconstruction Team to revive the project.

Sgt. Andre Duchesneau of the Civilian-Military Co-operation Team says he's working with the city to enlarge the sidewalks and install paint limitations.

He says it will not only reduce parking congestion but will also give the city grounds to ticket drivers, thereby increasing revenue.
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Why are we in Afghanistan?
SALLY ARMSTRONG January 5, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
OUTSIDE THE WIRE
The War in Afghanistan In the Words of Its Participants Edited by Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren 320 pages, $32
Outside the Wire is a strange hybrid that mixes the surreal, the surprising and the exceedingly monotonous with a few heart-pounding flashes of drama and one brilliant chapter called Mascara that's so entertaining that it's worth the slog through almost two-thirds of the book to get to it.

Sample: When Cpl. Ryan Pagnacco wakes up in a drug-induced stupor after being severely wounded in action, he hears the sound of rocket fire and sees a nurse throw a blast blanket over him. He asks, "Are we being attacked?" She replies, "Yes ... go back to sleep." Or this: The Taliban use blocks of ice to hold down the release lever of a rocket so they can be a good distance away when it fires and the retaliatory helicopters become airborne. And who knew that "cold blood does not clot properly." Or that "an Afghan woman can accept three more other wives if Allah wills it, but if she feels another woman got a slightly better brand of mascara (or lipstick), she'll make a nasty desert sandstorm look mild compared to the rage that'll rise."

There are moments in this collection of chapters written by soldiers, aid workers and volunteer doctors that sizzle. But much of it ... The blogs and journal entries and letters home bring to mind the comments of the one-time über-editor at Saturday Night magazine, Barbara Moon. She once told a story at the National Magazine Awards gala about a writer who complained about her unkind cut of what the author saw as the best paragraph in the article. "Guilty," she told the crowd. She went on to explain that the paragraph had indeed been beautifully written, descriptive and moving. But, she opined, it didn't fit with anything else written in the entire piece. So taking a page from "which one of these things doesn't belong," she cut the best and left the rest.

Some of Outside the Wire would have been better left outside this book. In an age of YouTube, blogging and Facebook, it is a fine idea to hear the story of this war that has preoccupied Canadians from someone other than pundits and politicians. But pages stuffed with mundane daily schedules: "0700: wake up; 0730: shower and shave; 0800: in the office," that sort of thing, or, "I spent some time talking to old friends and comrades at the compound but we didn't stay too long," begin to feel like fillers.

That said, there are chapters in this book that leap from the page. The powerfully written foreword by Roméo Dallaire is one. In fact, his treatise about war zones should be required reading for anyone who decides to comment on or demonstrate over Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan, experiencing the intensity of battle; being the cause of the destruction of villages, of putting peoples' homes in the target cross-hairs; being able to do little to address the extreme poverty and deprivation of the children; witnessing the burden and abuse of women in this male-dominated social order; hearing the suffering and cries of the wounded, civilian and military alike; seeing the cold and cruel face of death on your enemy as well as your comrade: These are some of the realities veterans carry back to Canada."

He goes on to speak of the other realities that shock the returnees: "The debates and posturing of politicians wanting to grab the next headline without knowing much about the war."

Editors Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren follow with an introduction that explains the goal of the texts that will follow: "Political decisions made so far from the battlefield must be informed by knowledge of it. Which is why these voices have to be heard."

A first-hand account from those voices is what we get in this book. Sgt. Russell Storring describes the stench of Kabul as "something that hits the back of your throat and stays with you like you swallowed it." And Cpl. Pagnacco begins his story with, "To my surprise, my brush with death came just after breakfast on September 4, 2006."

Marija Dumancic's hilariously funny and very telling tale, Mascara, is written from Kunduz, where she's teaching Afghan women to become radio journalists and winds up buying them mascara during her R&R leave out of the country. (Note to editors: Why do you save the best for almost last?)

As she prepares to leave Calgary for her posting, Dumancic considers the message she's received about complaints from her protégées regarding the brand of cell phones they have, and comments, "I couldn't really comprehend women in Afghanistan complaining about cell phones. Weren't they all starving and eating bark off trees? Or was that North Korea?" She tells a story about tripping over her shoelaces and crashing to the ground, thankful that her camera bag has broken her fall (as well as one of her ribs) and suffering the smirks of the men on the street who watch this infidel trying to get to work. She writes, "I soldiered on to work and hoped that I could find the Dari phrase for punctured lung. Possibly it's synonymous with bruised ego. Or growing realization."

The shortest chapter in the book - On a Chilly Evening in March, by Dr. Peter Sherk - is a stark and poignant entry that reads like a take on the Death of the Unknown Soldier.

Cap. Martin Anderson posts his story from the safety of his 19th-floor office in London, Ont., where he works as a financial adviser, and while staring at the photo of an orphan girl he helped when serving as a reservist in Kabul. "I look at that picture and think back to a time when I was part of something bigger. ... I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this mission."

He closes by quoting Winston Churchill: "We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst - and we will do our best."

No doubt all of these authors did their best. And some of that makes a memorable read.

Sally Armstrong is the author of the novel The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, to be published in paperback next month. She is working on a book about the women of Afghanistan.
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Fundraiser set for Afghanistan Orphanage Project documentary
The Salt Lake Tribune 01/05/2008 01:50:31 AM MST
A local nonprofit, born of the experiences of several Utah National Guard members in Afghanistan, will hold its first fundraising dinner at La Caille on Jan. 19.

The Afghanistan Orphanage Project members are seeking to raise money to produce a documentary after their journey back to the wartorn nation - not as soldiers but as individuals involved in the construction of one of Afghanistan's largest orphanages. After decades of war, more than 2 million children are thought to be homeless in Afghanistan, but there is only space for about 10,000 in the nation's orphanages, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. For more information, visit www.taoproject.org.
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Marine's charity for Afghan dogs
Friday, 4 January 2008 BBC News
A Royal Marine from 42 Commando in Devon has set up a charity to rescue dogs from Afghanistan.

Sgt Paul "Penny" Farthing and his wife Lisa have brought the first two rescued dogs to live at their house in Exmouth.

Nowzad and Tali have just come out of quarantine after their 3,500-mile journey from Helmand Province.

Sgt Farthing was on patrol when he found Nowzad - named after the town he was found in. His ears had been cut off and he was being groomed for fighting.

"We put a stop to that and Nowzad sort of adopted us," he told BBC News.

"We didn't bring him back to our camp on purpose. Nowzad just followed us back and he became the camp dog."

Veterinary training

The Marine said Nowzad, who is the charity's figurehead, would almost certainly have died without his intervention.

Money raised by the charity will be used to train Afghan vets in the UK and teach them about animal welfare.

It will also help cover transport and quarantine costs.

There are currently about 20 rescued dogs waiting in Afghanistan.

It will cost about £2,000 to bring each one to the UK.

Sgt Farthing's second dog Tali - short for Taleban - was struggling to survive after giving birth to a litter of puppies.

"Tali snuck under the gate at camp one night and brought us six little presents - the puppies," he said.

"Sadly only one of them survived. Five died from parvo virus."

The lone survivor, named Helmand, remains in Afghanistan as work to rescue him continues.

"Hopefully he'll come back to the UK and we've already got a family willing to take him on," Sgt Farthing said.
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Quiet on one Pakistani front
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / January 4, 2008
KARACHI - The decision by President Pervez Musharraf to allow Scotland Yard investigators from London to help in the probe into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last week offers Musharraf a chance to save face in the growing crisis over the former premier's death.

The participation of one of the world's most famous police squads will go some way to at least help calm the political situation, with

Musharraf announcing on Wednesday that general elections scheduled for January 8 will now take place on February 18.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and other opposition parties, including former prime minister's Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, had wanted the election to take place as planned, but they have indicated they will contest on the new date.

Investigations into Bhutto's death will focus on whether she was shot by an assassin. The government claims she fatally hit her head on a lever in the sun roof of the car in which she was traveling in Rawalpindi when a suicide bomb went off nearby. Her family and the PPP insist that she was shot twice.

On Wednesday, in a dramatic move, Musharraf, whose government earlier rejected any option of international investigations, announced in a televised speech to the nation that Bhutto's murder would be investigated by Scotland Yard. Pakistan requested the assistance from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"There is a need for experts to gather all the evidence, assess it and then draw their conclusions. The Scotland Yard team will soon come and investigate the matter," Musharraf said. In response, the PPP's new leader, Asif Zardari, Bhutto's husband, commented: "How can they consider Scotland Yard now? They did not agree on a Scotland Yard investigation when Mrs Bhutto demanded one after the October 18 bomb blast in Karachi," said Zardari in reference to a failed attempt on Benazir's life on her return to the country after years in exile.

"Now we demand an inquiry into what is happening in the region and who is instigating the violence," Zardari said. "Nobody should blame the workers for the violence. When big trees fall, the earth trembles," he added in reference to widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 60 people since Bhutto's death.

All the same, he said that the bottom line was a policy of contesting the elections rather than agitation. The PPP's central executive committee announced on Wednesday that February 7 will be the final mourning day for Bhutto and confirmed the party will contest the polls, but under protest. However, Zardari warned that if any vote rigging was detected, they would have no option but agitation. Musharraf blamed the law and order situation in the country for the delay in the polls and also announced the deployment of the Pakistani army and the paramilitary Rangers during the elections. "I don't want to make the army controversial, but the situation demands its deployment," Musharraf told the nation. Veteran Pakistani analyst Mujeebur Rahman Shami commented to Asia Times Online, "The major stumbling block in the whole crisis is over. Now that the Pakistan People's Party has decided to take part in the polls, the dust will settle and after that even the Pakistan Muslim League will follow suit and contest the elections."

Columnist and former speech writer to Sharif, Nazeer Naji, also told Asia Times Online, "The government did not have any option except to delay the polls. If the elections had been held on January 8, they would have had to be postponed in 45 constituencies." Rioters destroyed many election officers in the unrest over Bhutto's death.

However, while the political situation might be approaching some form of normalcy, the country's real fault line is in the tribal areas of South Waziristan and North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan, where a new war is building.

The attack on December 28 in North Waziristan by a US Predator drone on al-Qaeda ideologue Sheikh Essa, who advocates all-out war on the Pakistani army and state, was a war drum. Immediately after, men of the chief commander of the Taliban in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, carried out big attacks on the positions of the Pakistani security forces. The latter have sustained several casualties and many have been abducted. According to Asia Times Online contacts, a special services group has been assigned the target of killing Baitullah Mehsud at all costs. "This is a war on the Islamic Emirates [the self-proclaimed name given to the Waziristans by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban] and we have the full right of our defense," said a contact from North Waziristan.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief
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Etisalat announces major cut in call, SMS rates
By: - 3/01/2008 - 19:55
KABUL, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Private mobile-phone company Etisalat, four months after launching operations in several cities of Afghanistan, announced on Thursday a cut in call and short messaging service (SMS) charges in an effort to lure more customers.

Under the package unveiled here today, the company said, Etisalat subscribers would be charged only one afghani a minute, which previously cost five afghanis. By the same token, it added, a text message that earlier accounted for 2.5 afghanis would now cost only one afghani.

Minister for Communication and Information Technology Eng. Amirzai Sangin, meanwhile, welcomed the Etisalat announcement as a significant stride towards healthy competition among major telecom actors operating in the impoverished Central Asian country.

He hoped other private mobile companies such as Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), Roshan and Areeba would follow suit by bringing down call rates as well as SMS charges to woo more subscribers. Saving Etisalat, all other companies continue to exact almost five afghanis a minute and 2.5 afghanis per SMS.

In an exclusive chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, acting chief of Etisalat Ghanem al-Marzooqi promised the company would cover the whole of Afghanistan during the current year. Currently, the UAE-based group is operational in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz City, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Baghlan, Ghazni and some other cities.
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UNICEF constructs two schools in Samangan
By: - 3/01/2008 - 20:24
AIBAK, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Two boys' schools were constructed in Dar-i-Souf of northern Samangan province by UNICEF which will benefit twelve hundred students. 

The schools were constructed in Chobaki and Toqsan villages at the total cost of $99000 in six months by the help of UNICEF.

Deputy Director of Samangan Education Department, Abdul Jabar Mayar told Pajhwok Afghan News the schools have single-storey building and each school has six classrooms and each having the capacity two accommodate six hundred students at a time.

Dar-i-Souf Education Officer Muhammad Amin hoped these two schools would be the first step towards construction of educational institutions in the district.

He informed presently there were thirty-two schools with eight thousands male and female students in the district; thirty of which have no buildings and the students study in the open.
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Taliban deadline for halt to Swat operation expires today
By: - 3/01/2008 - 10:16
PESHAWAR, Jan 3 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Pro-Taliban insurgents have warned of expanding their activities to settled areas if the government does not end ongoing military operations in the northwestern valley of Swat and tribal areas.

If security forces were not withdrawn from the embattled scenic region on Thursday (today), the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threatened its activists would widen their actions from Waziristan to Kohistan and other districts.

Intriguingly, the amalgam of militant outfits - active in tribal areas near the Pak-Afghan border and several districts of the NWFP - set the government the new deadline to halt the crackdown, as military reinforcements arrived in the tourist resort Wednesday morning.

An earlier deadline for troop pullout from Swat had expired on Dec 15, a spokesman for the militant group said, but they did not resume attacks on security personnel and government installations because the nation was mourning the assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.

In phone calls to media organisations yesterday, Maulvi Omar said they gave the government the ultimatum in line with a decision taken at a meeting of the TTP shura. Taliban commanders from all the seven tribal agencies, Frontier Regions (FRs) and settled districts of the NWFP attended the meeting.

A close ally of Baitullah Mehsud, Omar added the participants unanimously decided on giving the government the two-day deadline to stop the operations in Swat, North Waziristan and other tribal areas. He also sought the immediate release of detained rebels.

"Needless to say, we will attack security forces and other government facilities if our demands are not accepted before the deadline runs out," Omar reiterated, revealing the extension of a ceasefire in North Waziristan Agency till January 20 also figured at the Shura meeting.

He confirmed the TTP had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of four paramilitary personnel in South Waziristan a day earlier. He alleged the soldiers were building new bunkers in a sign of a looming swoop on Baitullah Mehsud, blamed for the shooting of the PPP chairperson.

Also on Wednesday, fresh reinforcements were rushed to Swat, where the operation against militants loyal to a rebel cleric was stepped up. A curfew remained in place in Malakand and Swat districts to prevent attacks on troops.
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