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January 9, 2008 

At least 34 killed in Afghan snowfalls
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Authorities said Wednesday that at least 34 people had been killed in days of heavy snowfall across trouble-torn Afghanistan.

Afghan Officials Show Desire For US Attacks Inside Pakistan
(RTTNews) - Hints and suggestions emanating from Afghan officials clearly point to US forces attacking Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens in Pakistan in the very near future.

Afghanistan arrests 11 Taliban fighters
Jan. 9, 2008 at 8:50 AM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Counter-terror agents in Afghanistan arrested 11 suspected Taliban members and seized bomb-making equipment in various provinces, officials said Wednesday.

Japan PM urges opposition to back Afghan mission
by Hiroshi Hiyama
TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's embattled Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda Wednesday urged the opposition to support resuming a naval mission backing the US-led "war on terror" ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote.

Afghan gov't dismisses reports on civilian causalities in Musa Qala
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-09 20:06:54
KABUL, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Defense Ministry on Wednesday dismissed reports that at least 20 civilians were killed in a Taliban former fiefdom in southern Helmand province during a government operation.

The great Afghan juggle
Both the Grits and the NDP will take shelter in anti-Americanism
J.L. GRANATSTEIN From Tuesday's Globe and Mail January 8, 2008 at 8:27 AM EST
At the end of January, John Manley's panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan will report to the government. We don't know how it will phrase it or what nuances will be encompassed, but the Manley report is likely to recommend that

Germany Faces U.S. Calls for More Afghan Commitment, Aide Says
By Andreas Cremer
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The German government expects to be pressured by the next U.S. administration to step up its efforts to fight Taliban insurgents and train police officers in Afghanistan, a government adviser said.

'Bribes' free top Taleban leader
By Alastair Leithead - BBC News, Kabul, 8 January 2008
A Taleban commander in Afghanistan responsible for leading attacks on British troops says he has been freed from prison after paying a bribe. Mullah Sorkh Naqaibullah told the BBC he paid $15,000 (£7,500) to the Afghan authorities to win his freedom.

Two Wars, One Enemy
Strategypage.com - January 9, 2008:
The Taliban offensive, that has been going on for nearly a year now, is transnational. About 40 percent of the action takes place across the border in Pakistan. Thus while the fighting has killed about 6,500 in the past year (two-thirds of them Taliban)

Run for President of Afghanistan? Zalmay, Zalmay Not.
By Al Kamen The Washington Post Wednesday, January 9, 2008; A13
Seems everyone is riveted to news reports about the presidential campaign here. Everyone, that is, except some folks at the United Nations, where persistent chatter has it that Zalmay Khalilzad, our ambassador to the U.N.

Marine: Convoy fired upon after bombing
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - A Marine riding in a Humvee during a shooting that left as many as 19 Afghan civilians dead testified Wednesday that his convoy was fired upon at least three times after it was attacked by a car bomb.

Saving Afghanistan's Art
By Lauren Comiteau/Amsterdam The Time Magazine Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2008
The Taliban's dynamiting of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001 was only the most dramatic expression of their mission to obliterate all "idolatrous" images from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past. They also destroyed 2,500

INTERVIEW-Poland near deal on bigger Afghanistan role
09 Jan 2008 16:02:32 GMT By Gabriela Baczynska
WARSAW, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Poland has reached a preliminary agreement with NATO partners on expanding its role in Afghanistan by taking over command of an eastern province, Poland's defence minister said.

Liberals say time to end Afghanistan combat mission
Juliet O'Neill CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, January 09, 2008
OTTAWA - The Liberals say Canada's "enormous sacrifice" in Afghanistan must be brought to a close by ending the combat mission in Kandahar, reducing troop deployments and shifting them to training, civilian protection and reconstruction in safer zones.

Afghanistan to set up Confucius Institute for learning Chinese language, culture
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-09 23:30:41
KABUL, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- China and Afghanistan Wednesday signed here an agreement on establishing a Confucius Institute at Kabul University to promote Chinese language and culture education in the Central Asian country.

Bulgaria will not send troops to Afghanistan provinces- PM
16:11 Wed 09 Jan 2008 - Elitsa Savova Sofia Echo, Bulgaria
At this stage Bulgaria would refrain from taking part in missions in the provinces of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said.

Second thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War
Asia Times Online January 8, 2008 By Chalmers Johnson
I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (Democrat - 2nd District, Texas, 1973-1996) because, for close to 20 years, my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke"

Pakistanis see US as greatest threat
Asia Times Online January 8, 2008 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Amid reports that the administration of US President George W Bush is considering aggressive covert actions against armed Islamist forces in western Pakistan, a new survey released here Monday suggested that such

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At least 34 killed in Afghan snowfalls
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Authorities said Wednesday that at least 34 people had been killed in days of heavy snowfall across trouble-torn Afghanistan.

Hundreds of isolated communities were cut off after days of constant snowfall and rain blocking their roads to the major cities, authorities said.

Afghan health officials meanwhile have called on tens of thousands of health workers to stay on a state of alert.

In the worst incident, eight members of one family died when their mud-brick house collapsed under the weight of snow in western Herat province Monday night, Nooruddin Ahmadi, head of the Afghan Red Crescent in Herat, said.

Among others killed were six shepherds from a mountainous region in the province and two people in an avalanche nearby, he added.

Seven others, including two female health workers, were killed in another avalanche in central Ghor province, an official said, while five others perished in another avalanche in neighbouring Farah province.

Most parts of poverty-stricken Afghanistan is mountainous and extremely vulnerable in winter.

Officials in western, central and northern parts of the country said that most roads leading to small towns and villages were closed.

"Our roads are blocked and we can't access communities in the districts," Sultan Uruzgani, the governor of the central province of Daikondi, said. He said two people were killed from cold and heavy snowfall there.

The Red Crescent's Ahmadi called on the Kabul government and the international community for urgent support before it turns into a "real disaster."
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Afghan Officials Show Desire For US Attacks Inside Pakistan
(RTTNews) - Hints and suggestions emanating from Afghan officials clearly point to US forces attacking Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens in Pakistan in the very near future.

Afghan officials have often in their speeches stated that al-Qaida and Taliban leaders operate "outside the country" and that the war on terror "should know no borders." They also say that the international community should address the "root causes of terrorism - wherever they are."

However, the prospects of a US military deployment inside Pakistan, a key US ally in its war on terror, seems remote, fearing backlash from the pro-US government of President Pervez Musharraf and the wider public outrage it would trigger.

Defense analysts say the US and NATO won't make lasting progress in Afghanistan unless the militants' ability to command and control the insurgency from across the Afghan border is diminished if not eliminated totally.

Afghanistan has seen 2007 as the bloodiest year since the 2001 US-led invasion. Back to Top

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Afghanistan arrests 11 Taliban fighters
Jan. 9, 2008 at 8:50 AM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Counter-terror agents in Afghanistan arrested 11 suspected Taliban members and seized bomb-making equipment in various provinces, officials said Wednesday.

At a Kabul news conference, Gen. Abdul Manan Farahi of the Interior Ministry said the arrests had been made in Kabul, as well as in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Maidan Wardak, Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported.

He said three of the suspects were Pakistani citizens, two of whom allegedly had been assigned to assassinate the governor of Helmand.

Farahi said explosives had been recovered in most of the arrests, including fully assembled suicide vests and belts, the report said.

He declined to give details on where the explosives had come from or were manufactured, KUNA said.
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Japan PM urges opposition to back Afghan mission
by Hiroshi Hiyama
TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's embattled Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda Wednesday urged the opposition to support resuming a naval mission backing the US-led "war on terror" ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote.

But the opposition refused to budge in the first formal parliamentary debate with Fukuda since he took power in September, saying the deployment violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

Japan in November ended the mission in the Indian Ocean providing refuelling support to coalition forces in Afghanistan after the opposition, which won one house of parliament last year, refused to extend legislation.

Parliament is widely expected to restart the mission soon as Fukuda's coalition still enjoys an overwhelming majority in the more powerful lower house of parliament.

Japanese media reported Wednesday that the opposition-led upper house planned to reject the bill to restart the mission in a vote on Friday, with the lower house then expected to move immediately to pass it.

Fukuda, who is struggling in polls after a series of scandals, said the naval mission, Japan's main contribution to the "war on terror" launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks, benefited the international community.

"As a matter of principle, it is an international peacebuilding activity that is not defined as an exertion of military force," Fukuda said in a televised debate with opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa.

His coalition has asserted that the world's second-largest economy needs to play a role in global security while staying true to the post-World War II constitution, under which Japan forever renounced the right to wage war.

"It is not a constitutional matter. We are not using force in the Indian Ocean," Fukuda said.

"We are not doing this for any particular nation," he added. "This is a very meaningful activity. There are areas for discussion, so I sincerely ask for your cooperation."

But Ozawa said the government has failed to clarify the constitutional rationale for the deployment of the navy, which the pacifist nation calls the Maritime Self-Defence Forces.

"To send the Self-Defence Forces, who are really military soldiers, to overseas missions, we must have basic and clear rules," Ozawa said.

"Considering our country's past, the judgement must not be left up to the powers that be of the time. That could mislead our nation," he said, alluding to Japan's militarist history.

"To say it's OK because we are not directly involved in 'bang bang' situations, to say it's OK because the United States asked us so, to say it's OK because it's contributing to the international community... if we start saying these things, anything can be done," Ozawa said.

But Ozawa's Democratic Party of Japan has little power to stop the deployment from resuming, barring persuading members of the ruling coalition.

The government-controlled lower house passed the bill on November 13 to restart the mission. Even if the opposition-led upper house refused to vote, it would go back to the lower house after 60 days, which is Friday.

The lower house can override the upper house as the ruling coalition enjoys a two-thirds majority in the more powerful chamber.

As Fukuda fights to resume the mission, a survey Sunday showed that only 33 percent of voters supported his Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for all but 10 months since its founding in 1955.

The government has been hit hard by a series of controversies including a bribery scandal at the defence ministry and a row over compensation to victims of hepatitis C-contaminated blood.

A committee of lawmakers decided Wednesday to file a perjury charge against Takemasa Moriya, the former vice-defence minister embroiled in a gifts-for-contracts scandal, according to Kyodo news agency.

The committee is expected to formally vote for the action unanimously on Friday, lawmakers said, according to the report.
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Afghan gov't dismisses reports on civilian causalities in Musa Qala 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-09 20:06:54
KABUL, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Defense Ministry on Wednesday dismissed reports that at least 20 civilians were killed in a Taliban former fiefdom in southern Helmand province during a government operation.

"The reports that at least 20 civilians had been killed after recapturing Musa Qala by government troops are merely one sided and groundless," Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told a press conference.

The spokesman criticized the BBC World Service for quoting an unnamed individual in its reports without verifying with the government. He put the number of civilian casualties at four.

Government forces backed by NATO troops regained the control of Musa Qala early last December. According to Azimi, some 200 Taliban insurgents had been killed during the operation.
Editor: Bi Mingxin 
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The great Afghan juggle
Both the Grits and the NDP will take shelter in anti-Americanism
J.L. GRANATSTEIN From Tuesday's Globe and Mail January 8, 2008 at 8:27 AM EST
At the end of January, John Manley's panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan will report to the government. We don't know how it will phrase it or what nuances will be encompassed, but the Manley report is likely to recommend that Canada continue its military presence in Afghanistan, if not necessarily in Kandahar. If so, what will the political response be?

There is no doubt about the New Democratic Party's position. Leader Jack Layton wants Canada out of Afghanistan immediately rather than waiting for the mandated end of the mission in 2009. He also wants negotiations with the Taliban. Those who faithfully parrot the NDP line put it more baldly. Steven Staples of the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute sees Canada as "part of a NATO force but really fighting for George Bush," while the University of British Columbia's Michael Byers argues that "it's time to move from a combat-oriented approach to one that focuses on negotiation, peacemaking and nation-building. ... It's time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in." If only there was some peace to keep, someone with whom to negotiate and enough stability to permit nation-building to take hold.

The Liberals' position has been different than the NDP's. They were, after all, the government when the decision was made to go into Afghanistan in 2002 and into Kandahar in the current combat role in 2005. Officially, the Grits still continue to support the continuation of the mission until 2009, something for which many Liberal MPs voted - including deputy leader Michael Ignatieff and Bill Graham, the defence minister when the decision to go into Kandahar was taken.

But Bob Rae, the party's foreign affairs critic and now a candidate in the St. Patrick's Day by-election in Toronto Centre, Mr. Graham's old riding, is pushing the party position leftward. "If we continue down the path that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper wants to take us on, we're really going to be essentially engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, and I think that's extremely unwise," he was quoted as saying in an article published at year-end. "I don't think that's where people want to be. I think they want to see us in a peacekeeping role. I think they want to see us in a peacemaking role." You can take Bob Rae out of the NDP, it seems, but it's going to be pretty difficult to get NDP ideas out of Bob Rae's orations.

But recent opinion polls do suggest that Mr. Rae is correct in describing public attitudes. Leaders, however, are supposed to help shape public opinion, not simply follow it. Does Mr. Rae now reflect the new Liberal position? Paul Martin's government sent troops to Kandahar precisely to play a counterinsurgency role, not for peacekeeping or peacemaking. The government of 2005 understood that there could be no peace until the Taliban were either defeated or had their support reduced to a level at which the elected Karzai government could gradually extend its control across the country. What has changed since 2005? Perhaps the Liberal foreign affairs critic will enlighten us.

What these opposition positions mean is that the Manley report and the Harper government's probable decision to try to extend the Afghan mission beyond 2009 will face a rough ride in the House of Commons. But should it?

The opposition parties and those who support them have forgotten a few facts. Yes, the United States led the way into Afghanistan after the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. The Taliban regime had given terrorists sanctuary, and the plans for 9/11 had been hatched there. The United Nations authorized the intervention and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization picked up the burden.

In other words, Afghanistan is part of a UN-authorized mission now being conducted by NATO-led forces. Canada, then, is not, as Mr. Staples puts it so crudely, "really fighting for George Bush." It is, in fact, trying to help fulfill a UN mandate. Nor, as Prof. Byers has it, "is it time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in." The NATO troops are the UN forces.

Canadians are quick to argue that they stayed out of Iraq in 2003 because it was not an approved UN mission. Fair enough (although, contrarily, most Canadians approved intervening in Kosovo in 1999 even though the Security Council pointedly did not authorize that war). But consistency surely demands that, when UN authorization is given, Canadians, as self-professed enthusiasts for the world body, support its efforts.

The NDP and the Liberals talk a good game on the UN, praise Mike Pearson, and prattle on about peacekeeping's great virtues (which are many). The contradictions in their positions, however, suggest that sanctimonious, opportunistic anti-Americanism plays a large part in deciding where they sit. Nothing Washington supports can be good in Liberal and NDP eyes, it seems, not when anti-Americanism remains a prime vote-getting tactic in Canada.

J.L. Granatstein writes on behalf of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. The opinions expressed are the author's own.
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Germany Faces U.S. Calls for More Afghan Commitment, Aide Says
By Andreas Cremer
Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The German government expects to be pressured by the next U.S. administration to step up its efforts to fight Taliban insurgents and train police officers in Afghanistan, a government adviser said.

``Whatever the color of the next government, it will want us to increase our engagement in Afghanistan,'' Karsten Voigt, the German Foreign Ministry's coordinator for U.S. relations, said in a telephone interview in Berlin today. ``Expectations are crystal clear.''

U.S. calls for more active support from Germany in Afghanistan ``would stand in stark contrast'' to parliament's agreement to extend the deployment of about 3,500 German troops, most of them under North Atlantic Treaty Organization control, Voigt said. NATO has about 41,700 troops in Afghanistan, according to the organization's Web site.

German lawmakers voted in October last year to extend the country's involvement with NATO forces in Afghanistan to assist rebuilding efforts. A month later, parliament renewed a mandate for troop participation in U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations, including the fight against Taliban insurgents.

While U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops do the bulk of the fighting in the south of Afghanistan, German forces are largely confined to the more peaceful north of the country. The government has repeatedly said troops will not be sent to fight in the south, other than to help out allies on an ad-hoc basis.

``The Afghanistan mission has exposed real limitation in the way the alliance is organized, operated and equipped,'' U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is leading calls for NATO allies to increase troop levels, told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington Dec. 11.
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'Bribes' free top Taleban leader
By Alastair Leithead - BBC News, Kabul, 8 January 2008
A Taleban commander in Afghanistan responsible for leading attacks on British troops says he has been freed from prison after paying a bribe. Mullah Sorkh Naqaibullah told the BBC he paid $15,000 (£7,500) to the Afghan authorities to win his freedom.

It was the third time that the leader, known as the "Red Mullah", had been captured and released, he said. Mullah Naqaibullah operates in Helmand province, where there is a large concentration of British troops.

He told the BBC he had been released from custody for the third time in three years after paying a bribe to an Afghan National Directorate of Security official.

On the last occasion he said that he had been held for more than five months, but was now back in the Gereshk and surrounding districts of Helmand province leading a group of insurgents.

"I was arrested on 24 July and then they sent me into Kabul National Directorate of Security (NDS) custody," he said.

"The law is they can keep suspects in the NDS for two months and after that they have to send them to court.

"But I was in NDS custody for five months. On Friday (4 January) a visitor came to see me, and met the NDS officer on the gate. "He paid $15,000 to the officer, who then released me."

Mullah Naqaibullah also explained how in 2004 he had bribed his way out of Kabul's notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, 16 months after being caught in Helmand.

He said he did the same thing the following year - 2005 - by bribing police to let him go after he had been caught again. An NDS spokesman refused to comment on his allegations, saying he could not confirm whether the reports were right or wrong.

But another NDS source confirmed that Mullah Naqaibullah had been released, and that an investigation had begun to track down those responsible. A Taleban spokesman said Mullah Naqaibullah had returned to Helmand.
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Two Wars, One Enemy
Strategypage.com - January 9, 2008: 
The Taliban offensive, that has been going on for nearly a year now, is transnational. About 40 percent of the action takes place across the border in Pakistan. Thus while the fighting has killed about 6,500 in the past year (two-thirds of them Taliban) in Afghanistan, 3,600 have died just across the border in Pakistan (40 percent of them Taliban). Civilians are more likely to be the victims in Pakistan, where they are 42 percent of the dead, compared to Afghanistan, where civilians are only 14 percent of those killed in the fighting. NATO is better at killing Taliban, and avoiding civilian casualties.

While the Taliban managed to take control of the Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the movement has its origins in Pakistan, where it still has lots of support. But the Taliban faces a different kind of war on each side of the border. In Afghanistan, the government does not have a lot of military manpower, but does have foreign allies who have aircraft and smart bombs. That means Taliban fighters are more likely to be killed, but that there is not enough manpower to halt the production of dangerous drugs (opium and heroin). The drugs provide more cash to the Taliban on the Afghanistan side of the war. One Taliban leader recently boasted of paying a $15,000 bribe to get out of jail, and this was the third time he had done that. Not a wise move, as he will end up in a U.S. or NATO run jail next time around. But you get the picture.

Pakistan also has a problem with many of its troops, who are not eager to fight the tribesmen. For thousands of years, the fierce, and fearless, tribesmen have terrified the lowlanders. Not so in Afghanistan, where everyone is a badass tribal warrior. Most of the foreign troops in Afghanistan are also ready for a fight, and regularly beat the Taliban fighters at their own game. Indeed, there is currently a British Gurkha battalion serving in Afghanistan, whose reputation has preceded it. Taliban fighters are avoiding the Gurkhas, which is hard to do. The Gurkhas come from a similar mountainous region to the east, and are noticeably faster, than the British and Canadian troops they work with, when moving cross country.

Gurkhas were the least of the Taliban's troubles in 2007. Playing the bad guy has hurt morale. The Taliban were ordered to attack aid and reconstruction projects. As a result, at least a hundred aid workers were killed or kidnapped in 2007, and 55 relief convoys looted or destroyed. That has meant some remote areas are facing starvation this Winter because those convoys could not get through before snow closed the passes. For the Taliban, it's "God's will." For the starving villagers, it's all about not being pro-Taliban enough to please the Islamic terrorists. The Taliban leadership is openly feuding over these tactics, with loud accusations of "traitor" and "butcher" being tossed about.

In Pakistan, the security forces are numerous enough to literally seal off the tribal areas, making it uneconomical to run major drug operations. That's why the heroin business moved across the border to Afghanistan two decades ago. But the Taliban have not gone anywhere, and more of their al Qaeda allies have moved in. The Pakistanis are bucking thousands of years of tradition by putting the pressure on the tribes. But there isn't much choice. Unlike in the past, the tribesmen aren't moving raiding parties down into the lowlands. They are sending terrorists instead, who use suicide bombers and other forms of assassination to go after the national leadership. That makes it kind of personal for the big shots. Self-preservation will motivate a politician as well as anyone else. The war on the Pakistani side of the border is heating up. You can tell by the flow of refugees. Many more are moving from Pakistan into Afghanistan. In the last week or so, over 5,000 have been counted entering Afghanistan to avoid the fighting.

The Pushtun tribes are always ready to make deals, and negotiations continue on both sides of the border. But because the Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population in Afghanistan, and only 15 percent in Pakistan, the demands are more compelling on the Afghan side. There, the government has managed to pry many conservative tribes from the Taliban. But in the process, the government has lots more influential Islamic conservative clerics and tribal leaders demanding new laws, for things like outlawing racy (by Islamic standards) media (especially television) and banning Christian missionaries (even if they are delivering vital aid and reconstruction.)

Afghanistan would like to move more of the fighting into Pakistan, and NATO forces are eager to do that, even if only for raids. Basically, NATO troops can go anywhere in Afghanistan. Any Taliban base in Afghanistan is essentially temporary, until it is discovered, and NATO troops decide to visit. In Pakistan, there are large areas where Pakistani troops do not go, or go rarely and only with great effort. Here the Taliban and al Qaeda can rest and train. Here Osama bin Laden and Taliban leaders have been hiding out for the past seven years. Here, the NATO commandos are planning to come in and look around on the ground.
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Run for President of Afghanistan? Zalmay, Zalmay Not.
By Al Kamen The Washington Post Wednesday, January 9, 2008; A13
Seems everyone is riveted to news reports about the presidential campaign here. Everyone, that is, except some folks at the United Nations, where persistent chatter has it that Zalmay Khalilzad, our ambassador to the U.N., is also thinking of running for president . . . of Afghanistan.

The Afghan-born Khalilzad, a former Pentagon official, former ambassador to Afghanistan, then to Iraq and now to the U.N., is said to be in the mix for a run, which would probably be in the fall of 2009.

Honest. This is a real rumor. So real that we hear Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Khalilzad about it when the two met in London back in October. But Khalilzad didn't give a Shermanesque response.

Another U.N. official asked him to say no more definitively, but Khalilzad declined, another official told our colleague Colum Lynch. On Dec. 12, a reporter asked Khalilzad about his "plans after your current job, if you have any."

"Well, I have no particular plan at this time," he replied, other than to leave at the end of the administration and "work in the United States in some job" in the private sector. "As to other plans," he said, "it is only plans in the United States after I finish this job." Which may have been his way of saying he isn't running.

But that apparently wasn't good enough. The rumors persist. Asked about this on Monday afternoon, Khalilzad said through spokesman Richard Grenell: "He is not a candidate for president of Afghanistan."

Of course he isn't. Not yet, anyway.
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Marine: Convoy fired upon after bombing
By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - A Marine riding in a Humvee during a shooting that left as many as 19 Afghan civilians dead testified Wednesday that his convoy was fired upon at least three times after it was attacked by a car bomb.

Sgt. Brett Hayes said the gunner in his vehicle was knocked out of the turret by the blast. The gunner returned to his position and began firing, shouting he was being shot at by small arms fire from both sides of the road near a bridge over a dry riverbed.

"I started hearing fire come at us," Hayes said during a fact-finding hearing at Camp Lejeune, adding that he heard small arms fire from AK-47 rifles and cracks of the bullets passing overhead.

Hayes recalled the March 4 attack during the second day of testimony at a rarely used fact-finding proceeding that is investigating the conduct of two officers involved in the shooting.

On Tuesday, defense lawyers presented photographs of men with rifles standing in the riverbed and said the bombing was a well-planned attack on the patrol.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission issued a report after the shooting that accused the Marines of firing indiscriminately at pedestrians and people in cars, buses and taxis at six locations along a 10-mile stretch of road. Defense lawyers have maintained the shooting was justified and wasn't indiscriminate.

The administrative Court of Inquiry, scheduled to last two weeks, will recommend whether the officers — Maj. Fred C. Galvin, 38, commander of the 120-person special operations company, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, 29, a platoon leader — should be charged with a crime. That decision will be made by Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command.

Some Marines in the six-vehicle convoy opened fire along a crowded roadway in Afghanistan's Nangahar province after an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into their vehicles. One Marine was wounded. Although an Army investigation concluded 19 Afghan civilians died and 50 were wounded, attorneys for the two officers argue the death toll was lower.

Hayes said that after his Humvee began to roll after the bombing, the vehicle was fired on again from the right side of the road. The gunner fired back, then fired once or twice at a 45-degree angle toward the road, Hayes said, but he didn't know the intended target.

At that point, the gunner realized he had been hit in the arm with shrapnel and Hayes got into the turret for the trip back to base. Hayes said he didn't fire the weapon.

Hayes said the explosion of the vehicle bomb was close enough that he could feel its heat.

The company was on its first deployment after the 2006 creation of the Marine Special Operations Command. After the shooting, eight Marines were sent back to Camp Lejeune and the rest f the company was taken out of Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, the commander of the Marine Special Operations Command, later said the unit responded appropriately. Marine Corps commandant Gen. James T. Conway also criticized an apology issued by an Army brigade commander, calling it premature because an investigation remained under way.

The Marine Corps last used a Court of Inquiry more than 50 years ago.
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Saving Afghanistan's Art
By Lauren Comiteau/Amsterdam The Time Magazine Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2008
The Taliban's dynamiting of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001 was only the most dramatic expression of their mission to obliterate all "idolatrous" images from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past. They also destroyed 2,500 other cultural artifacts from Kabul's National Museum of Afghanistan, many of them priceless. But thanks to the heroic efforts of curators, they didn't get it all. Hidden Afghanistan, a traveling exhibit that recently opened in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), gives a tantalizing glimpse of Afghanistan's stunningly diverse cultural legacy, and tells an engrossing tale about how these remnants of it were saved. In May the exhibition will go to Washington to start a 17-month tour of the U.S.

"The message of this exhibit is that Afghanistan is not only a country of war, destruction and terrorism, but of life, culture and art," said Omar Sultan, Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, at the exhibition's opening. "We have a cultural heritage that belongs not only to Afghanistan, but to the world."

That's partly because the world has so often come to Afghanistan. Located on the trade routes between East and West, the country has always been at a crossroads of civilizations. The Silk Road provided a vector for Buddhism to come from the east, while Hellenistic and even Egyptian influences flowed the other way. Alexander the Great's eastward conquest essentially ended there in the 4th century B.C., and Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang passed through in the 7th century A.D. on his quest for Buddhist texts. "Amsterdam, Berlin and London today are the Afghanistan of 2,000 years ago," says Khalid Siddiqi, a former Afghan refugee who is on the advisory committee for the exhibit. "It was a crucible of different cultures that came together and melded, showing the enrichment — not impoverishment — of different cultures."

The Amsterdam exhibition presents 250 objects from four archaeological sites — Tepe Fullol, Ai Khanum, Tillya-tepe, and Begram — dating back as far as 4,000 years ago. It includes gold and silver vases from the Bactrian Bronze Age; a Greek limestone pillar and sundials from the 2nd century BC; Indian-related ivory figures and furniture from the 1st century AD; and a spectacular gold collection from Tillya-Tepe that includes bracelets, hearts, a crown, and even a pair of golden shoe soles meant to convey an aristocrat's disinclination for walking.

But just as Afghanistan's geography invited cultural influence, so too did it draw a sequence of invasion and conquest that has put the country's heritage in constant peril. The Taliban's destruction of art was the culmination of years of catastrophe visited on the National Museum, and the extraordinary story of how the surviving art got here is as much part of the exhibit as the art itself.

The National Museum first opened its doors in 1922, and by the time the Soviets Union invaded in 1979, it had some 100,000 objects on display. But many of its treasures were plundered in the course of the ensuing war against the Soviet invaders, which left two million dead. In the years following the Soviet Army's withdrawal in 1989, what remained of the museum's collection survived further looting, a direct rocket attack, fire, a collapsed roof and resulting snow damage. The victorious Taliban had every interest in completing the destruction.

That anything is left at all is in large part due to the efforts of museum director Omar Khan Massoudi, his staff, and a small group of concerned archeologists and politicians. In 1988, they secretly moved the highlights of the collection to a vault in the Central Bank at the presidential palace. Massoudi, who risked his life to preserve his country's cultural heritage, was one of seven men who had keys to the vault. All seven keys were needed to open it, so by spreading them around and keeping their locations secret (in case of death, a key reverted to the keeper's eldest son), they were able to preserve the treasures.

"During the civil war these people knew about the transfer of these pieces and never gave any information to anybody," says a modest Massoudi. "In this case we keep this like a separate memory during the war, especially during the civil war and even during the Taliban? At that time I remember most of the Afghan and foreign journalists asking about these treasures. 'Where is it? Is it looted or is it here? Is it safe or not?'"

It wasn't until 2003, more than a year after the overthrow of the Taliban, that the Afghan government confirmed the existence of the treasures and restoration work began. Less than one-quarter of the museum's original collection survived. Afghanistan is still deemed too unstable for the art to go home, and the museum itself remains badly damaged. So currently this traveling exhibit is the only way Afghans can see the museum's collection. Curators hope the exhibit will go home in the not too distant future, but for now, it will continue making its rounds abroad: it was in Paris and Turin before Amsterdam, and after Washington will travel to New York, San Franciso and Houston. The exhibit's catalogue, though, has been translated into the Afghan languages Dari and Pashtu and will be distributed to every school in the country. Deputy Minister Sultan has no doubts about the future of his country's art. "If they were able to save it at that time," he says with a smile, thinking back, "I promise you we can save it for as long as we are alive."
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INTERVIEW-Poland near deal on bigger Afghanistan role
09 Jan 2008 16:02:32 GMT By Gabriela Baczynska
WARSAW, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Poland has reached a preliminary agreement with NATO partners on expanding its role in Afghanistan by taking over command of an eastern province, Poland's defence minister said.

Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said he hoped to seal the deal in talks with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Washington next week.

"(The) Americans know we would like to boost our mission's visibility in Afghanistan by taking responsibility for a province under ISAF's jurisdiction," Klich told Reuters in an interview.

"We have just finished the first round of negotiations on this with NATO. My talks with Defence Secretary Gates would actually only aim to seal the proposal we have been made (by NATO in response to Polish requests)."

Poland, the biggest ex-communist NATO member, has around 1,200 troops in Afghanistan as a part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It has agreed to send 400 more soldiers and badly needed helicopters in April or May to join the U.S.-led operation against Taliban insurgents.

Polish officials say Poland is keen to assume responsibility for the strategically important eastern province of Paktika on the porous border with Pakistan from behind which insurgents regularly mount attacks.

At present, the main presence listed by ISAF in the province is a U.S-led deployment in the town of Sharana.

Klich said Poland would also like a Polish commander to receive a senior overall role in the 41,700-strong ISAF force, which includes representatives from 39 countries.

"If Poles take responsibility for a certain territory in Afghanistan and can fly a Polish flag there, a Polish general should become a deputy operational commander in ISAF," Klich said. (Editing by Caroline Drees)
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Liberals say time to end Afghanistan combat mission
Juliet O'Neill CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, January 09, 2008
OTTAWA - The Liberals say Canada's "enormous sacrifice" in Afghanistan must be brought to a close by ending the combat mission in Kandahar, reducing troop deployments and shifting them to training, civilian protection and reconstruction in safer zones.

The Liberals insisted Tuesday on a halt to the 2,500-member combat mission in Kandahar as scheduled in February 2009, in a formal submission to a government-appointed panel on Canada's future role in Afghanistan headed by former Liberal politician John Manley.

Expressing suspicion about the minority Conservative government's plans, the Liberals said it would be "a travesty" to simply rename the combat mission a training mission and carry on with perilous counter-insurgency work in which 76 Canadian military personnel and one diplomat have died since 2002.

The eight-page written submission, which contains some sharp criticisms of the government's handling of Canadian policy towards Afghanistan, could serve as the official Opposition blueprint on a key campaign issue in a potential federal election this year. While it was a Liberal government that first sent the troops to Kandahar in August 2005, the submission said it was "never intended to be a life-long effort or even a 10-year commitment."

Since he was chosen Liberal leader 14 months ago, Stephane Dion has unsuccessfully pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to give formal notice to the NATO alliance that the Canadian mission will not be extended past February 2009 - already a two-year extension approved by Parliament in 2006.

His party's submission emphasized the importance of serving formal notice to NATO, which controls the multinational security assistance force in Afghanistan.

"As long as other NATO countries believe that our commitment to continue the counter-insurgency combat role in Kandahar is open-ended, they will never prepare for our departure," it said.

No matter what mission is agreed on, the Liberals called for an immediate effort to strengthen co-ordination among Canadian government departments and agencies on the Afghanistan file, alleging "an almost complete breakdown" in the ability of Defence, Foreign Affairs and CIDA - the international development agency - to work together towards a coherent vision.

"We are open to other possible military roles in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan National Army and police, protect Afghan civilians or for reconstruction efforts," Dion said in a prepared statement. "But we will not accept the simple re-branding of the current combat mission as a training mission. Any new military role must be crafted in such a way as to ensure that other significant Canadian Forces deployments in other parts of the world are possible."

The Liberals accuse the government of taking a simplistic approach that lacks information, realism and candour on such issues as the porous border with Pakistan, government corruption and the extent of the narcotics trade.

"Support for the current mission is painted in terms of patriotism, support for our troops and the notion that nothing but military force will succeed in the so-called war on terrorism. Canada has paid a price for this simplistic approach and we hope that the panel will not persist in painting the choices in these ways."

The panel is expected to submit its report to the government later this month.

Ottawa Citizen
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Afghanistan to set up Confucius Institute for learning Chinese language, culture 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-01-09 23:30:41
KABUL, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- China and Afghanistan Wednesday signed here an agreement on establishing a Confucius Institute at Kabul University to promote Chinese language and culture education in the Central Asian country.

The Confucius Institute, a specially-designed organization for meeting people's demand for access to Chinese language and information about China, an emerging economy in East Asia with increasing global influence, has expanded its reach to over 60 countries with around 200 outlets across the world, according to Chinese officials.

The proposed outlet at Kabul University, the first such one in Afghanistan, will be jointly funded by Kabul University, a premier Afghan government-run university, and the Beijing-based Confucius Institute Headquarters, a non-profit education promotion organization.

"It will not only satisfy the growing need of Afghan young people in learning Chinese, but also make contribution to Sino-Afghan social and culture exchanges, and further help to enhance economic cooperation between the two friendly neighbors," said Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr. Yang Houlan, while hailing the signing of the agreement.

Dr. Rahman Ashraf, Chancellor of Kabul University, who signed the agreement representing the Afghan side, said his university will offer all possible convenience and cooperation to facilitate the early operation of the Confucius Institute.

Ashraf thanked the Chinese side for the assistance in Afghan education field, saying the fresh move will help to deepen the friendly relations between the two countries.     
Editor: Mu Xuequan 
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Bulgaria will not send troops to Afghanistan provinces- PM
16:11 Wed 09 Jan 2008 - Elitsa Savova Sofia Echo, Bulgaria
At this stage Bulgaria would refrain from taking part in missions in the provinces of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said.

These missions required “more serious financial engagement and efforts of civilian experts” and Bulgaria was not prepared for them, he said as quoted by Bulgarian news agency BTA.

Bulgaria could not take up such mission, especially in Southern Afghanistan, Stanishev said.

At the same time it was natural for Bulgaria to continue its participation in NATO’s ISAF mission.

The PM said that Bulgaria’s priorities were security and stability on the Balkans. The country was interested in the former USSR, Near and Far East and its relations with the US and Russia.

A new national security strategy was to be discussed, Stanishev said.
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Second thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War
Asia Times Online January 8, 2008 By Chalmers Johnson
I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (Democrat - 2nd District, Texas, 1973-1996) because, for close to 20 years, my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors.

Wilson and Cunningham held exactly the same plummy committee assignments in the House of Representatives - the Defense Appropriations Sub-committee plus the Intelligence Oversight Committee - from which they could dole out large sums of public money with little or no input from their colleagues or constituents.

Both men flagrantly abused their positions - but with radically different consequences. Cunningham went to jail because he was too stupid to know how to game the system - retire and become a lobbyist - whereas Wilson received the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Clandestine Service's first "honored colleague" award ever given to an outsider and went on to become a US$360,000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan.

In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, 1993, James Woolsey, Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. There were many heroes in this battle, but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth.

On May 25, 2003, (the same month George W Bush stood on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History - the Arming of the Mujahideen." [1] The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, "The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times." Neither the claim that the Afghan operations were covert nor that they changed history is precisely true.

In my review of the book, I wrote,

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every "secret" armed intervention it ever undertook. From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs, the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the "secret war" in Laos, aid to the Greek colonels who seized power in 1967, the 1973 killing of president Allende in Chile, and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, there is not a single instance in which the agency's activities did not prove acutely embarrassing to the United States and devastating to the people being "liberated". The CIA continues to get away with this bungling primarily because its budget and operations have always been secret and Congress is normally too indifferent to its constitutional functions to rein in a rogue bureaucracy. Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest.

According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). The agency flooded Afghanistan with an incredible array of extremely dangerous weapons and "unapologetically mov[ed] to equip and train cadres of high tech holy warriors in the art of waging a war of urban terror against a modern superpower [in this case, the USSR].

The author of this glowing account, [the late] George Crile, was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show 60 Minutes and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. He argues that the US's clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was "the largest and most successful CIA operation in history", "the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time", and that "there was nothing so romantic and exciting as this war against the Evil Empire". Crile's sole measure of success is killed Soviet soldiers (about 15,000), which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. That's the successful part.

However, he never once mentions that the "tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists" the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed 19 American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the USS Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "

Where did the 'freedom fighters' go?

When I wrote those words I did not know (and could not have imagined) that the actor Tom Hanks had already purchased the rights to the book to make into a film in which he would star as Charlie Wilson, with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper.

What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the US government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, drunken sleazebags, so in that sense it's accurate enough. But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. As I noted in 2003:

"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, the president must sign off on - that is, authorize - a document called a "finding". Crile repeatedly says that president Jimmy Carter signed such a finding ordering the CIA to provide covert backing to the mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, and former CIA director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. It may surprise Charlie Wilson to learn that his heroic mujahideen were manipulated by Washington like so much cannon fodder in order to give the USSR its own Vietnam. The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, they may not be all that grateful to the United States. "

In the bound galleys of Crile's book, which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Full stop. Director Mike Nichols, too, ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. And then the credits roll.

Neither a reader of Crile, nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, we are also talking about the militants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, the reader or viewer would never suspect that, when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, president George H W Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times.

Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the US) was the rich, pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, Osama bin Laden, whom we helped by building up his al-Qaeda base at Khost. When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, he had the support of much of the Islamic world. This disaster was brought about by Wilson's and the CIA's incompetence as well as their subversion of all the normal channels of political oversight and democratic accountability within the US government. Charlie Wilson's war thus turned out to have been just another bloody skirmish in the expansion and consolidation of the American empire - and an imperial presidency. The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves.

An imperialist comedy

Which brings us back to the movie and its reception in the US. (It has been banned in Afghanistan.) One of the severe side effects of imperialism in its advanced stages seems to be that it rots the brains of the imperialists. They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, beacons and guides for citizens of the "underdeveloped world".

Such attitudes are normally accompanied by a racist ideology that proclaims the intrinsic superiority and right to rule of "white" Caucasians. Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Charles Darwin's discovery of evolution, so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. (For an excellent short book on this subject, check out Sven Lindquist's Exterminate All the Brutes.)

When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, then ideological thinking kicks in. The horror story is suppressed, or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Thus, for example, Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, a co-producer as well as the leading actor, "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing".

Similarly, we are told by another insider reviewer, James Rocchi, that the scenario, as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame, included the following line for Avrakotos: "Remember I said this: There's going to be a day when we're gonna look back and say 'I'd give anything if [Afghanistan] were overrun with Godless communists'." This line is nowhere to be found in the final film.

Today there is ample evidence that, when it comes to the freedom of women, education levels, governmental services, relations among different ethnic groups, and quality of life - all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, Kabul. But Americans don't want to know that - and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, either the book or the film.

The tendency of imperialism to rot the brains of imperialists is particularly on display in the recent spate of articles and reviews in mainstream American newspapers about the film. For reasons not entirely clear, an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), a "high-living, hard-partying jihad" (A O Scott in the New York Times), "a sharp-edged, wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post wrote of "Mike Nichols' laff-a-minute chronicle of the congressman's crusade to ram funding through the House Appropriations Committee to supply arms to the Afghan mujahideen"; while, in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War)," Richard L Berke in the New York Times offered this stamp of approval: "You can make a movie that is relevant and intelligent - and palatable to a mass audience - if its political pills are sugar-coated."

When I saw the film, there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie", but certainly no laff-a-minute. The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Hanks himself, who, according to Berke, called it "a serious comedy". A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, for instance, thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Just don't think about it too much or you may choke on your popcorn." Peter Rainer noted in the Christian Science Monitor that the "Comedic Charlie Wilson's War has a tragic punch line." These reviewers were thundering along with the herd while still trying to maintain a bit of self-respect.

The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines - with one major exception, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. In an essay subtitled "Charlie Wilson's War celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans," Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, one of those films that comes off as being more pleased with itself than it has a right to be".

My own view is that if Charlie Wilson's War is a comedy, it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Simply put, it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. The most accurate review so far is James Rocchi's summing-up for Cinematical: "Charlie Wilson's War isn't just bad history; it feels even more malign, like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia."

Note

1. For a report on the book, see Charlie's war, act two Asia Times Online, July 19,2005.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback trilogy - Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004) and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, January 2008).
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Pakistanis see US as greatest threat
Asia Times Online January 8, 2008 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Amid reports that the administration of US President George W Bush is considering aggressive covert actions against armed Islamist forces in western Pakistan, a new survey released here Monday suggested that such an effort would be opposed by an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis themselves.

The survey, which was funded by the quasi-governmental US Institute of Peace and designed by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, also found that a strong majority of Pakistanis consider the US military presence in Asia and neighboring Afghanistan a much more critical threat to their

country than al-Qaeda or Pakistan's own Taliban movement in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.

Only five 5% of respondents said the Pakistani government should permit US or other foreign troops to enter Pakistan to pursue or capture al-Qaeda fighters, compared to a whopping 80% who said such actions should not be permitted, according to the poll, which was based on in-depth interviews of more than 900 Pakistanis in 19 cities in mid-September.

As a result, the survey did not take account of the tumultuous events that have taken place in Pakistan since then, including the six-week state of emergency declared by President Pervez Musharraf, the sacking of the Supreme Court, the return from exile of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and Bhutto's December 27 assassination which has led to the delay of scheduled parliamentary elections from January 8 until next month.

To what extent those events may have influenced public opinion in Pakistan on the range of issues covered by the survey - particularly toward the Pakistani Taliban one of whose leaders, Baitullah Mehsud, has been accused by the government of carrying out Bhutto's killing - cannot be known.

But the underlying attitudes revealed in the poll, especially toward the US, can offer little very little comfort to the administration, which has become increasingly alarmed about recent events in Pakistan, particularly Bhutto's death, the Pakistani army's reluctance to take on the Taliban, and intelligence reports that al Qaeda and its local allies, including the Taliban, have intensified their efforts to destabilize the government.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a front-page article regarding a White House meeting on Friday in which top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reportedly debated pressing Musharraf and his new military leadership to permit the Central Intelligence Agency and US Special Operations Forces to carry out more aggressive covert operations against selected targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the quasi-autonomous tribal areas that have come become increasingly dominated by the Pakistani Taliban who have more recently extended their influence into the North-West Frontier Province. The US currently has about 50 soldiers in Pakistan acting primarily in an advisory and intelligence capacity.

While some administration officials reportedly believe that recent events have persuaded Musharraf and the army that they need such assistance to curb the growing Taliban-al-Qaeda threat, regional specialists both in and outside the administration have argued that such an intervention risked further destabilizing the country by triggering what the Times called "a tremendous backlash" against the US and any government that was seen as its accomplice.

Despite the nearly four-month hiatus since the survey was conducted, its findings would certainly appear to support the latter prediction.

While the survey found that a large majority of Pakistanis hold negative views of radical Islamists, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda and strongly reject its their use of violence against civilians, their views of the United States and its intentions toward Pakistan appear to be considerably more hostile and distrustful.

A whopping 84% said the US military presence in the region was either a "critical" (72%) or an "important" (12%) threat to Pakistan's "vital interests".

By comparison, 53% of respondents said they believed tensions with India - with which Pakistan has fought several wars - constituted a "critical threat"; 41% named al-Qaeda as a "critical threat"; 34% put "activities of Islamist militants and local Taliban" in the same category.

Asked to choose from a list of alleged US goals in the region, 78% cited Washington's alleged desire "to maintain control over the oil resources of the Middle East" (59% said it was "definitely" a goal, 19% said "probably"; 75% cited "to spread Christianity"; and 86% cited "to weaken and divide the Islamic world"). Only 63% chose the option "to prevent more attacks such as those on the World Trade Center in September 2001".

Moreover, a majority of respondents said they believed that the US controls either "most" (32%) or "nearly all" (24%) of the recent major events that have taken place in Pakistan, compared to 22% who attributed "some" control to the US and 4% who said "very little". Eighteen percent declined to respond.

As to Pakistan-US security cooperation, less than one in five respondents said it had either benefited Pakistan primarily or both equally. Forty-four percent said it had mostly benefited the US; and 11% said neither party had benefited.

Distrust of the US, however, did not translate into support for radical Islamists, the Taliban, or al-Qaeda, according to the survey. While they were considered much less of a threat than the US, six out of 10 respondents said they considered the Taliban and al-Qaeda either a "critical" or an "important threat" to Pakistan.

And even as huge majorities opposed any US or foreign military intervention against the two groups in Pakistan, pluralities approaching 50% said they would support the Pakistani army entering the FATA to capture al-Qaeda fighters or Taliban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan.

Comparable pluralities said they favored phasing out FATA's special legal status and integrating its areas into the country's overall legal structure but also prefer taking a gradualist approach that includes negotiating with the local Taliban over using military force to impose the central government's control.

The survey also found overwhelming support for government based both on "Islamic principles" and on democratic ideals, including an independent judiciary and being governed by elected representatives. While six in ten respondents said they supported a larger role for Islamic law, or sharia, in Pakistan's legal system, only 15% said they wanted to see more "Talibanization of daily life", a common phrase used in Pakistani media to refer to extreme religious conservatism.

Indeed, more than eight in ten said it was important for Pakistan to protect its religious minorities; more than three out of four said attacks on those minorities are "never justified"; and nearly two out of three said they support government plans to regulate religious schools, or madrassas, to require them to teach secular subjects, such as math and science. Only 17% said they oppose those reforms.

In general, those respondents who supported the expansion of sharia and government based on "Islamic principles" also tended to favor both democratic ideals and educational reforms at higher rates than others.
(Inter Press Service)
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