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June 10, 2008 

Nearly 30 killed in Afghanistan unrest
KABUL (AFP) 10 June 2008 • Extremist unrest left five Afghan policemen and nearly two dozen Taliban fighters dead yesterday, officials said, as Britain reached the grim landmark of 100 soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan needs stronger state for development: World Bank
Tue Jun 10, 4:08 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The World Bank on Tuesday said war-torn Afghanistan needs to build a more effective state to promote economic development and urged the international community to help in the process.

Conference seeks cash and progress for Afghanistan
By Francois Murphy June 10, 2008
PARIS (Reuters) - Donor states, military powers and regional players will be seeking a more effective strategy for Afghanistan's development and security as well as pledging funds at a conference in Paris on Thursday.

Afghanistan to forge "new deal" with international community in Paris
Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Kabul, 10 June 2008 – As delegates from over eighty countries and international organizations gathered in Paris for an international conference in support of Afghanistan to be held this Thursday, the United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide

US to reaffirm support for Afghanistan, Karzai at donor meet
June 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States this week will renew its support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he presents an ambitious, 50 billion dollar reconstruction plan for his troubled country at a donors conference in Paris.

Afghanistan's Future Threatened by Poor Police, Balkenende Says
By Ed Johnson
June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan's ineffective police are jeopardizing the country's future and its government must do more to improve the force and the justice system, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told President Hamid Karzai.

AFGHANISTAN: Low rainfall affecting agricultural production - FAO
KABUL, 9 June 2008 (IRIN) - Low precipitation and drought have hit rain-fed agricultural production in Afghanistan and will cause a "significant" reduction in the country's agricultural output in 2008, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

Prince Andrew visits troops in Afghanistan
Tue Jun 10, 5:53 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Fourth-in-line to the throne Prince Andrew visited troops in Afghanistan last weekend, as the number of British military personnel to die there reached 100, the royal household said Tuesday.

Afghanistan's Hidden Treasures on Display in D.C.
by Susan Stamberg NPR - National Public Radio
Morning Edition, June 10, 2008 · The history of Afghanistan is bloodied with wars, warlords, invasions and occupations, but as a vital stop along the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan was also a place where traditions of the East and West met

Explosion in N Afghanistan leaves NATO soldier dead
KABUL, June 10 (Xinhua) -- A soldier of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) died Tuesday from injuries sustained in an explosion in northern Afghanistan, the military alliance said.
Pakistan's prickly foreign relations
Ahmed Rashid, guest columnist, on why relations between the US and Pakistani militaries are at their worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008 BBC News
In recent weeks there has been a crescendo of international criticism at Pakistan for cutting peace deals with the Pakistani Taleban on its territory, that gives both Pakistani and Afghan Taleban the freedom to cross the border and attack Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Death Threats, Intimidation Part Of Journalists' Daily Lives
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty June 10, 2008
Afghan journalists are becoming increasingly bold about reporting on serious problems facing their society -- the drug mafia, warlordism, and corrupt police or government officials.

Few Clues to Helmand Journalist’s Killers
Death of Abdul Samad Rohani sends shock waves through journalistic community, though not everyone holds Taleban responsible.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 292, 09-Jun-08)
The journalists of Helmand gathered in the provincial centre Lashkar Gah on the morning of June 9 to say goodbye to their murdered friend and colleague, Abdul Samad Rohani, as some rejected the official government account that the Taleban

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Nearly 30 killed in Afghanistan unrest
KABUL (AFP) 10 June 2008 • Extremist unrest left five Afghan policemen and nearly two dozen Taliban fighters dead yesterday, officials said, as Britain reached the grim landmark of 100 soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Military aircraft from the NATO force were called in overnight after insurgents were seen gathering in the eastern province of Paktia, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Dastgir said. "NATO planes and artillery targeted them and killed 20 Taliban.

Several others were wounded," Dastgir said.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force in the capital Kabul could not immediately provide information, but an ISAF worker in the region confirmed the incident.

Separately, a roadside bomb blew up a police vehicle in the central province of Ghazni early yesterday, killing a highway commander and two of his men, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said.

The attack occurred as the commander, Abdul Qayoum, was returning to Ghazni town from the remote district of Rashidan, which has not had a police commander since Taliban militants took control of the district headquarters in May, Zaman said. The rebels were kicked out less than 24 hours later, but they took with them the administration and police officials. Authorities said they suspected the officials had been working with the Taliban.

"Qayoum and two other policemen were killed in the blast and their vehicle was destroyed," Zaman said.

Ghazni, roughly halfway between Kabul and Kandahar, has become one of the provinces most affected by Taliban attacks over the past year.

Police also reported yesterday that Taliban rebels had attacked a post in the central province of Ghor on Sunday, sparking a gunfight that left two policemen and three rebels dead.

Another policeman and six of the attackers were wounded in the fighting, provincial police chief Shahjahan Noori said.

Meanwhile, insurgents in the northeastern province of Nuristan attacked a supply helicopter as it came in to land at an ISAF base, the force said in a statement.

"The base came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire immediately following the aircraft landing there to drop off supplies," it said.
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Afghanistan needs stronger state for development: World Bank
Tue Jun 10, 4:08 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The World Bank on Tuesday said war-torn Afghanistan needs to build a more effective state to promote economic development and urged the international community to help in the process.

"Building an effective state that can provide security and services to all Afghan citizens and make government accountable to them is critical to achieving development results in Afghanistan," the World Bank said in releasing a report ahead of the Paris Conference on Afghanistan on Thursday.

The report, "Building an Effective State -- Priorities for Public Administration Reform in Afghanistan," calls for a shift of government functions that are still performed by the international community, or are not performed at all, to strengthen Afghan institutions.

The Afghan government meets its donors in Paris with its most ambitious post-Taliban reconstruction plan on the table -- a 50-billion-dollar strategy that spans five years.

Its Afghanistan National Development Strategy envisages development of security forces and infrastructure and a new emphasis on agriculture among a range of goals.

Analysts say it is a realistic assessment of the needs still facing the destitute country seven years after the ouster of the extremist Taliban regime.

But the World Bank and others have raised concerns about how well the plan prioritises its objectives and the corruption-dogged government's capacity to handle such an enormous sum while keeping an eye on how well aid is spent.

The World Bank recalled Tuesday that the Afghan government and the international community have been working closely together for the past six years to rebuild Afghanistan after more than two decades of conflict.

The development of an effective state is at the heart of the reconstruction agenda, the bank said, and public administration reform is intended to contribute to that effort by building up civil service, improving governance and service delivery at the local level, and making government accountable.

"It is vital to persevere with the longer-term task of building an effective state, one which can gradually take on more responsibility for Afghanistan's future," said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Director, Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries Group.

He said the challenge lay in "finding innovative ways to improve service delivery to citizens as quickly as possible, while at the same time gradually improving the country's own capacity to deliver services without large amounts of external expertise."

The report acknowledges that public administration reform in Afghanistan is particularly difficult because of the country's strong, informal power relationships, weak formal government systems and insecurity.

It stressed the importance of building an effective civil service capable of reassuring donors that their financial support is being credibly spent.

"Unless citizens can see that civil servants are serving the larger public interest rather than their own, the government's trustworthiness will be eroded," the bank said.
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Conference seeks cash and progress for Afghanistan
By Francois Murphy June 10, 2008
PARIS (Reuters) - Donor states, military powers and regional players will be seeking a more effective strategy for Afghanistan's development and security as well as pledging funds at a conference in Paris on Thursday.

Afghanistan will ask the ministers and other delegates from around 65 countries to fund a $50 billion five-year development plan, for which donors will demand that Kabul do more to fight corruption in what is one of the world's poorest states.

Two years after a similar meeting in London outlined an international effort to promote security, good governance and development, envoys will assess "remaining challenges" in Afghanistan, which still suffers daily violence more than six years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government.

Last year alone, an insurgency by a rejuvenated Taliban accounted for some 6,000 deaths.

"No one anticipated the levels of violence that we see today. That's probably one of the best reasons for reviewing the London compact -- the basic assumptions in the compact did not hold true when they were written," said one official who briefed reporters.

Around 15 international organizations will also take part in the conference, which will be opened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

States leading the more than 50,000-strong foreign military presence in Afghanistan are expected to attend, as are neighboring countries including Iran, Pakistan and China.

COORDINATION

Diplomats said envoys would seek to improve coordination between the more than 60 major donor countries and international organizations, dozens of aid agencies and foreign forces who are also engaged in reconstruction and development work.

As part of that effort, the conference would strengthen the role of the U.N.'s special envoy for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, in coordinating efforts that include building roads, schools and clinics in the mountainous country, scarred by 30 years of war.

"Coordination is a real problem, all the more so because in complex situations like Afghanistan, security and reconstruction have to go hand in hand, and so they need to be coordinated," said Etienne de Durand, head of the centre for security studies at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

"That is at the heart of the problem."

Eide has said the international community does not spend its resources efficiently enough, and diplomats said donors were looking at giving local contractors more autonomy.

Afghanistan depends on aid for 90 percent of its spending. But international donors have fallen behind in paying what they have already pledged, and much of the money goes straight back to donor countries in salaries and profits.

The lag in aid is partly due to concerns about corruption. Of the $25 billion pledged for Afghanistan from 2001 until now, only around $15 billion has been spent, aid agencies say.

The Paris conference is unlikely to raise the full $50 billion over five years that Afghanistan is looking for.

"It would be surprising if there were not another conference on Afghanistan in the next five years, so we are instead going to focus on what will happen in the first two or three years," one diplomat involved in preparations said.

The biggest item in the Afghan development plan is infrastructure, with a price tag of $17 billion, followed by security, with a budget of $14 billion.

Some other parts of the $50 billion package requested by the Afghans have not been justified in detail, the diplomat said.
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Afghanistan to forge "new deal" with international community in Paris
Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Kabul, 10 June 2008 – As delegates from over eighty countries and international organizations gathered in Paris for an international conference in support of Afghanistan to be held this Thursday, the United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide called for a 'new deal' to be forged between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to push forward progress for the Afghan people.

The conference will take stock of the progress made in Afghanistan since the last international donors' meeting in London over two years ago and will see the launch of the Government's Afghanistan National Development Strategy, a five-year blue print for the reconstruction of the country.

UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide said; 'The Paris conference is more than just a pledging conference for donors, we will seek to forge a 'new deal' between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community.

'On our part, the international community must bring much greater coherence in the assistance being provided, we must channel more resources and effort towards building basic state institutions able to protect and serve the Afghan people. The Afghan Government must play its part by deepening and broadening its economic and political reform process demonstrating greater accountability and intensify anti-corruption efforts.

'With the Afghanistan National Development Strategy we now have an Afghan-led and owned blue print for all our support efforts. The imperative will be on the Government to show increased accountability for the support received and on the international community to get behind Afghanistan's own priorities. The Paris conference should be an occasion to enter into an enhanced partnership between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to the benefit the Afghan people. '
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US to reaffirm support for Afghanistan, Karzai at donor meet
June 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States this week will renew its support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he presents an ambitious, 50 billion dollar reconstruction plan for his troubled country at a donors conference in Paris.

The five-year Afghanistan National Development Strategy is "indicative of the needs of Afghanistan" after 30 years of conflict, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday. "So their needs are great."

"But we are not going to lose faith with them. And this conference in Paris is one way of demonstrating that the international community is not going to lose faith in the Afghan people and the Afghan government," he said of the meeting taking place Thursday.

"We did that before. We've seen that, when we abandoned Afghanistan. And we saw the results of what happened," said the spokesman referring to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by Al-Qaeda, allies of the former Taliban regime.

"So, certainly the United States is not going to repeat that."

McCormack did not disclose how much the United States plans to pledge at the Paris conference, but he did hope the international community would be forthcoming: "I think they'll be generous."

Patrick Moon, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told AFP the conference was expected to net a total of 15 billion dollars in pledges.

The amount would cover the international community's contribution since the 2006 donors conference for Afghanistan in London, as well as future needs, Moon added.

He said the meeting's aim was not to finance Karzai's entire 50 billion dollar development plan, because legislative disparities among donor countries would make it impossible. US donations, for example, need Congress' approval before they can be disbursed.

Congress said in a recent report the US "war on terror" in Afghanistan had cost 140 billion dollars since it began in 2001, including some 10 billion dollars in reconstruction and development.

First Lady Laura Bush is expected to announce the US contribution at the Paris conference, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will give a speech on US policy in Afghanistan.

On her brief visit to Kabul on Sunday, Laura Bush announced an 80 million dollar aid package for education projects in Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush, who on Monday went on a farewell trip to Europe hoping, among other things, to prod US allies to back Afghanistan development, said his wife had seen the progress made in Afghanistan, but also felt that a lot remained to be done.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that the US government was frustrated at Karzai's inability to deal with his country's main challenges, especially corruption and drug trafficking.

Afghanistan grows nearly 93 percent of the world's opium, according to the United Nations. It provides the country some four billion dollars a year in revenue, part of which goes to finance the Taliban insurgency.

"We do focus a lot with the Afghan government on issues of capacity-building, good governance, and as part of that, fighting corruption," said McCormack.

"That's also interlinked with a strong effort to fight the production of poppies, as well."
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Afghanistan's Future Threatened by Poor Police, Balkenende Says
By Ed Johnson
June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan's ineffective police are jeopardizing the country's future and its government must do more to improve the force and the justice system, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told President Hamid Karzai.

``Without highly motivated police officers, there can be no bright future for Afghanistan,'' Balkenende said at a joint news conference yesterday after talks in The Hague.

The Netherlands has about 1,650 soldiers under NATO command in the South Asian country and leads the fight against a Taliban insurgency in southern Uruzgan province. Authorities must improve governance in the region because, without ``good public servants and courts, reconstruction efforts cannot get fully under way,'' Balkenende said.

Karzai is in Europe to ask the international community to step up support for his administration, as 80 governments and aid groups gather at a donors' conference in Paris June 12. The United Nations has led calls for Karzai to tackle corruption and improve the rule of law.

While training of the Afghan army is progressing well, developing the nation's police force is proving more challenging, Balkenende said, according to a transcript.

``NATO, the EU and the Netherlands will be increasing their efforts to train police officers,'' he said. ``But Afghanistan needs to do more.''

Pentagon Study

Efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are faltering because too little has been done to build an effective government and police force, according to a Pentagon-funded study released yesterday.

Afghan police have been ``corrupt, incompetent, under- resourced and often loyal to local commanders rather than to the central government,'' according to the National Defense Research Institute, a center run by the non-partisan policy research group, the RAND Corporation.

Training Afghan police was a low priority for the U.S. until 2005 and it ``will take at least a decade'' to build an acceptable force, according to the report.

Karzai agreed with Balkenende that the police force was a matter for concern, Agence France-Presse reported.

``This is a sector of Afghan security forces which received attention quite late,'' the news agency cited him as saying.

Afghanistan needs at least a decade before it can handle its own security and will have a ``much better administration by 2010,'' Karzai told reporters, according to AFP.

The government in Kabul is backed by about 70,000 soldiers from more than 40 countries.

The national army currently stands at 57,000 personnel and is expected to rise to 80,000 early next year when it will have the manpower to lead the fight against the Taliban, U.S. Major General Robert Cone, who is in charge of training the force, said last month.

The nation has 79,000 police officers, close to the target of 82,000. Many are ill-trained and underpaid, Cone said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Low rainfall affecting agricultural production - FAO
KABUL, 9 June 2008 (IRIN) - Low precipitation and drought have hit rain-fed agricultural production in Afghanistan and will cause a "significant" reduction in the country's agricultural output in 2008, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

Afghanistan has about 1.5 million hectares of rain-fed agricultural land which accounted for 35 percent of the total 4.6 million tonnes of cereals (including wheat, beans, rice and maize) produced in 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) reported.

Other agricultural production is generated by irrigation systems, many of which have been destroyed during wars and turmoil since 1979. However, there are still about 1.5 million hectares of irrigated land, which produced about 300,000 tonnes of grain last year.

"Production of cereals and other agricultural products in 2008 will decrease sharply," FAO said in a statement on 9 June in Kabul. "Given the latest months' price trends and unfavourable production prospects for wheat this year, the price of wheat is likely to increase further," it said.

The shortage of food in local markets will increase Afghans' dependency on imports and the main source of staples, Pakistan, has imposed an export ban. This could further drive up prices locally, making it even more difficult for poor people to get adequate food, according to Tekeste Ghebray Tekie, a FAO representative in Afghanistan.

"The low [domestic] wheat production this year will [also] aggravate the shortage of fodder and feed supplies," said Tekie, adding that livestock production in 2008 will be 10 percent lower than in the previous year.

New appeal for aid

Immediately after food prices soared in November 2007 several UN agencies and Afghan government bodies conducted a joint vulnerability assessment to determine how many people were affected by rising prices.

The survey found that 2.55 million Afghans had been pushed into "high-risk" food-insecurity and were in need of a "safety net".

The survey prompted the UN and the Afghan government to request about US$80 million in order to provide food assistance to the affected communities until the end of June 2008.

Aid workers say food prices have steadily increased since December 2007 - when the vulnerability assessment was conducted - and more people have been pushed into high-risk food-insecurity.

To mitigate the impact of food prices and drought, aid agencies are planning to launch a fresh appeal. "In the coming days UN agencies will launch an appeal to support people who fall below the safety net," Tekie told IRIN.

The new appeal will follow the previous one which is facing implementation delays owing to insecurity and food export restrictions imposed in regional counties.
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Prince Andrew visits troops in Afghanistan
Tue Jun 10, 5:53 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Fourth-in-line to the throne Prince Andrew visited troops in Afghanistan last weekend, as the number of British military personnel to die there reached 100, the royal household said Tuesday.

The Duke of York, a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot who saw active service in the Falklands War in 1982, toured military bases, met soldiers and was briefed on reconstruction work in southern Afghanistan.

Andrew was in Afghanistan Saturday and Sunday before returning home Monday, his spokesman said.

The visit came as the British military death toll in Afghanistan reached the grim landmark of 100 after three soldiers were killed in a suicide attack outside their base in volatile Helmand province Sunday.

"The Duke was deeply impressed with the courage and professionalism of the servicemen and women he met on his visit," his spokesman said.

"But it comes at a very sad time when our thoughts and prayers are with those families who lost loved ones at the weekend."

Andrew is the latest royal to visit British troops in Afghanistan.

Second-in-line to the throne Prince William, 25, made a secret visit in April while his younger brother, Harry, 23, served there for 10 weeks in a deployment that was kept under wraps until it leaked out and he was withdrawn.

Their aunt and Andrew's younger sister, Princess Anne, spent two days in Afghanistan in 2006, meeting troops in Kandahar and President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
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Afghanistan's Hidden Treasures on Display in D.C.
by Susan Stamberg NPR - National Public Radio
Morning Edition, June 10, 2008 · The history of Afghanistan is bloodied with wars, warlords, invasions and occupations, but as a vital stop along the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan was also a place where traditions of the East and West met — a crossroads of cultural riches.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington is exhibiting some artifacts that have outlasted all the wars and conflicts. The show is a mix of breath-catching beauty, artistry, derring-do and heroism.

Hidden for Safety

Exhibit curator Fredrik Hiebert explains that in the midst of the political chaos in the early 1980s, the staff of the Kabul Museum sneaked boxloads of cultural objects away and hid them for more than 20 years.

Thousands of precious gold, bronze and glass pieces were transported from the museum to a secret hiding place — a bank vault in the presidential palace just a few miles outside Kabul.

"They kept them safe by a code of silence," Hiebert says.

If the museum staff had not hidden the ancient objects, the artifacts very likely would not have survived, says Abdul Wasey Feroozi, head of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.

"They are real heroes for having the understanding in the 1980s to take these treasures and hide them," Hiebert says. "That's what saved their culture."

A Cultural Crossroads

Traders traveling between China and Rome passed through Afghanistan for centuries, bringing aspects of their cultures with them. Traders left cups, plates and jewelry behind, and Afghan artisans incorporated the designs into their own work.

The objects on display at the National Gallery are exquisitely designed, both for everyday use and for special ceremonies. Golden bowls, dating back more than 4,000 years, are the oldest artifacts in the exhibition.

"It's really unusual to find ancient gold," Hiebert says. "Gold itself doesn't rust, doesn't deteriorate, so people tend to take old gold and melt it down."

One of the most impressive pieces in the show is a golden crown from the first century B.C., found in the tomb of a well-fixed lady nomad. It was unearthed by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi in the late 1970s near the dividing line between Afghanistan and the former Soviet Union. Sarianidi had a moment of panic when he couldn't find the precious artifact in his tent at the excavation site.

"Viktor went crazy," Hiebert remembers. "It turns out that this particular crown is a distinctive crown of nomads; it's a collapsible crown. It's made out of six separate pieces. Five pieces on top are shaped like trees, and they can be taken off and the bottom part folded up and placed in a package so the ancient nomad could gallop away. Well, one of his assistants had taken the crown apart, folded it up, and it was still in the tent."

Wearing Their Wealth

It is not known how often the nomad woman wore her collapsible golden crown, but Hiebert says that Afghanistan's ancient herders used their gold objects all the time.

"They wore them day in and day out ... you can see the signs of wear," Hiebert says. "The definition of a nomad is someone who doesn't have a house. If they don't have a house, then they don't have banks. You are looking at the nomadic banking system. They are literally wearing their wealth."

Looking at the golden crown, the turquoise-studded jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, rings, even the clasps that held their clothing together — it's clear, Hiebert says, that these first-century nomads were a people with a clear sense of self and a deep appreciation for beauty.

In the harsh, brutal landscape of central Asia, beauty was either created or carried through by the Romans, Indians, Greeks, Chinese and others who plied the Silk Road many centuries ago.

"Every time that people went through or invaded Afghanistan they left a little bit of themselves," Hiebert says.

The National Museum of Afghanistan has the motto, "A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive." In these days of Afghan tensions, the hidden treasures from Kabul's National Museum may find more tranquillity here than they would at home.

The artifacts will be on view at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. through early September and will then travel to San Francisco, Houston and New York through September 2009.
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Explosion in N Afghanistan leaves NATO soldier dead
KABUL, June 10 (Xinhua) -- A soldier of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) died Tuesday from injuries sustained in an explosion in northern Afghanistan, the military alliance said.
Without giving details on how the explosion occurred, The NATO-led military in a statement said, "This soldier died while helping to bring security and peace to the people of Afghanistan."

As usual the ISAF did not release the nationality of the killed soldier, citing a policy.

The past two weeks saw continued bombings and attacks on Afghan government targets and international forces across the post-Taliban nation.

In the east, a contracted supply aircraft of the ISAF was damaged by insurgent fire Monday morning in Nuristan province and the NATO said no ISAF, contractors or Afghan civilians were injured during the incident.

Moreover, on June 8, three British soldiers of the ISAF were killed and one more soldier was wounded in an insurgent suicide attack in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

Escalating militancy-related conflicts and violence in Afghanistan claimed 8,000 lives last year, a bloodiest one since 2001 when the hard-line Taliban regime collapsed and the militants went into a years-long insurgency.
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Pakistan's prickly foreign relations
Ahmed Rashid, guest columnist, on why relations between the US and Pakistani militaries are at their worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008 BBC News
In recent weeks there has been a crescendo of international criticism at Pakistan for cutting peace deals with the Pakistani Taleban on its territory, that gives both Pakistani and Afghan Taleban the freedom to cross the border and attack Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Senior US officials and legislators, Nato commanders, European leaders, the UN and the Afghan government have voiced their anger and frustration.

At the same time, relations between two critical allies in the war on terror - the US military and the Pakistan army - seem to be at their worst since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Pakistani troops are pulling out of all the tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan that are home to Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of their fighters, according to senior Nato military officers and diplomats in Kabul.

The Taleban now virtually rule over the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federal Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata).

Moreover they are making dramatic inroads into the settled areas of the North West Frontier Province. The peace deals are allowing the Taleban to cross into Afghanistan in ever increasing numbers.

This is a source of great frustration to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is under severe international pressure to do more to improve governance and fight corruption if his government is to receive more aid at a high level donors conference in Paris on 12 June.

Mountain war

''I am asking the world to concentrate on ending the sanctuaries for the terrorists,'' said President Karzai.

''The war is not in every village but it is continuing because of the sanctuaries outside Afghanistan and we have to succeed in convincing the world to shut them down."

He said the increasing tempo of the Taleban insurgency in the south and east of his country was making it more difficult to provide people with the security needed for improving governance and faster reconstruction.

President Karzai said what is needed is a joint strategy by Pakistan and Afghanistan, but he is still looking for a viable partner on the Pakistani side to plan and conduct such a strategy with.

Nato commanders are further frustrated by the fact that Pakistani generals have told their American counterparts that not only are they pulling the army out of Fata, but they are unwilling to allow the army to be retrained or re-equipped by the Americans to fight the necessary counter-insurgency mountain war on its western borders with Afghanistan.

Instead the bulk of the Pakistan army will remain deployed on its eastern border and train for any possible threats from its traditional enemy India - wars that have always been fought on the plains of Punjab.

Over 80% of the $10bn in aid Pakistan has received from Washington since 9/11 has gone directly to the military and much of it has been used to buy expensive weapon systems for the Indian front, rather than the small ticket items needed for counter-insurgency.

Nevertheless Pakistan will continue to deploy its 100,000 strong paramilitary forces along its long, porous border with Afghanistan.

The US military is now providing training and equipment to the Frontier Corps, the principle paramilitary force which is poorly trained and equipped.

Pakistan has lost more than 1,000 paramilitary and regular soldiers since the army launched its first offensive against the Pakistani Taleban in 2004 and the army is badly shaken with low morale.

The peace deals with the extremists have allowed for increased Taleban attacks in Afghanistan.

The number from the Pakistani side of the border into Afghanistan doubled between March and April this year, compared to the same time span last year.

There are now an average of 100 terrorist attacks a week compared to 60 attacks last year.

Nato officials also report a dramatic increase in the number of Pakistanis, Arabs and others nationalities now fighting alongside the Afghan Taleban in Afghanistan.

'Determined to win'

One result of the deals in Fata became visible when 30 journalists were invited to an unprecedented press conference on 23 May in South Waziristan agency held by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban and the main host for Afghan Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders in FATA.

The journalists saw few signs of the Pakistani military while the Taleban were re-occupying army check posts that had been abandoned.

At the June donors conference President Karzai will ask for $50bn commitment for the next few years although such funds are unlikely to materialise.

Major aid donors are demanding that he gets tougher with drug lords and corrupt Afghan officials.

''Karzai has to do more for himself and convince the Afghan people he is determined to win this war to rebuild the nation," said a Western ambassador in Kabul.

Next year there will be presidential elections and there is already intense speculation in Kabul as to who all will stand against President Karzai.

There are attempts to forge alliances among both the president's fellow Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns so that a common candidate to oppose him can be agreed upon.

President Karzai is confident he can beat off any challenge, but he still lacks a team to run his election campaign and lacks an agenda to offer the people.

At the same time he is acutely aware that by being an incumbent president Afghan people will judge him more by his past achievements or lack of them, than what he tells them he will do in the future.

The crisis in both Afghanistan and Pakistan remain uppermost in the minds of the presidential candidates contesting the next US election, but it seems that the Bush administration still lacks a clear strategy as to what to do about Pakistan's reluctance to fight the extremists.
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Afghanistan: Death Threats, Intimidation Part Of Journalists' Daily Lives
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty June 10, 2008
Afghan journalists are becoming increasingly bold about reporting on serious problems facing their society -- the drug mafia, warlordism, and corrupt police or government officials.

But the more these daring investigative journalists reveal about deeply rooted problems in Afghan society, the more dangerous their jobs become.

Intimidation and death threats against reporters or their families have become commonplace -- not just from Taliban militants, but also from warlords, drug barons, but even corrupt government officials and police who do not want the media spotlight cast upon their activities.

The killing in the southern Helmand Province of BBC reporter Abdul Samad Rohani is seen by journalists in Afghanistan as the latest example of a worrying trend. Rohani was kidnapped on June 7 while working on a story about illegal opium-poppy cultivation in Helmand. His body was discovered the next day.

The Taliban -- usually eager to claim responsibility for such high-profile attacks -- denied any role in Rohani's abduction and execution-style killing. Many journalists in Afghanistan think Rohani was killed by gunmen with links to the illegal drug trade -- and possibly with connections to local authorities.

Rahimullah Samadar, the head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, says that journalists "have always faced tremendous challenges from different groups and factions" in Afghanistan. "They have faced suppression and have been killed in the past. I think illegal gunmen who are working within the government -- or in an area under governmental control -- are involved in this."

Jean MacKenzie, the Afghan country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), oversees a network of Afghan correspondents who file reports for the nonprofit investigative-journalism organization. MacKenzie tells RFE/RL there are vested interests in Helmand Province, besides the Taliban, who may have been responsible for Rohani's murder. She suspects powerful local figures who also have threatened her own reporters.

"Our reporters are working in some very risky areas and are taking on some very edgy topics," MacKenzie says. "That brings them into conflict with various members of the Afghan society. Certainly, our reporters in the south are under constant threat from a variety of sources. And, as the murder of Abdul Samad Rohani is testament to, it is not necessarily the Taliban or the insurgents who are the major source of risk."

Criminalized Society

MacKenzie agrees that the threats against Afghan journalists are growing as they increasingly cover stories about government corruption and the drug trade.

"I don't want to downplay the dangers associated with covering the Taliban or covering the war in the south. But Afghanistan is also a deeply corrupt and criminalized society," MacKenzie says. "There is very big money involved in the [illegal drug] trade. And certainly, there is a very long chain of traffickers. These people are very sensitive to being exposed and being written about or covered in any way by the media."

MacKenzie cites the case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, an Afghan journalism student sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a provincial court in northern Afghanistan. She says the sentence is in fact an attempt to stop journalists from covering corruption in the local government in Balkh Province, noting that Kambakhsh's brother is an IWPR journalist who has filed investigative reports on local officials there.

She says Afghan journalists also face intimidation and death threats from powerful warlords -- some of whom have links with the government.

"These are sometimes very big commanders, and sometimes more petty commanders who are surrounded by their own private militias," MacKenzie says. "They engage in extortion, both large and small, in the communities around them...including rape, murder, and just plain robbery. These people are also very sensitive to being covered. And in many cases, they are entwined with sources within the police and within the government."

Akbar Ayazi, the director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, agrees with MacKenzie's assessment about sources of intimidation for reporters, pointing out that the threats vary depending on the location in Afghanistan. Journalists "are not only faced with the challenges of the Taliban. They are faced with challenges from the drug lords and warlords, and also, sometimes, with challenges from government officials," Ayazi says. "We have had reporters who are detained and questioned by governors or district chiefs -- asking them questions about why they are reporting on an issue or why they are not reporting on certain issues."

Ayazi says Radio Free Afghanistan's reporters -- like journalists from other media organizations -- receive threatening phone calls not only from within Afghanistan, but also from neighboring Pakistan. Sometimes, he says, the threats have a chilling effect upon the reporters.

"There are times when the reporter would get threatened and he will have this fear [about] reporting," Ayazi says. "When they are threatened, we transfer them from one province to another. We temporarily stop their reporting -- not airing their voice or their name. We get the audio. We get the material to [RFE/RL's] Prague headquarters. And then we put them together and write a report without giving the source. These are ways that we can manage things."

In fact, Ayazi says he has to deal with a death threat or other form of intimidation against a Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent almost every month. One female correspondent was moved to a different province and stopped reporting temporarily until she and her colleagues believed the threat had subsided. Another reporter was kidnapped by the Taliban for four days, but the service managed to secure her release.

In another case last year, Ayazi says, a reporter from Quetta, Pakistan, was threatened by Pakistani officials. "He was arrested on the border [of Pakistan and Afghanistan] and then he had to quit the job. He just could not take it anymore because he and the lives of his family were threatened. So these are extreme cases that we have," Ayazi says.
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Few Clues to Helmand Journalist’s Killers
Death of Abdul Samad Rohani sends shock waves through journalistic community, though not everyone holds Taleban responsible.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 292, 09-Jun-08)
The journalists of Helmand gathered in the provincial centre Lashkar Gah on the morning of June 9 to say goodbye to their murdered friend and colleague, Abdul Samad Rohani, as some rejected the official government account that the Taleban were behind the killing of this respected BBC reporter.

Rohani’s body was being taken back to his home district, Marja, for burial – a journey that most of his colleagues could not make because of the security situation.

“All eyes were red,” said Aziz Ahmad Tassal, a journalist and friend of the deceased. “The governor, the chief of police, friends, relatives – everybody was there.”

Rohani, a BBC reporter, was abducted on June 7 and murdered. His body was then left in a nearby cemetery.

Friends and colleagues had been consumed with worry since news of his disappearance broke on the evening of June 7. Rohani’s wife, concerned that he had not come home for dinner, called a friend, who alerted the journalistic community.

From then on, journalists, police and even the Taleban embarked on an all-out search to find the missing reporter.

“It was about 10:30 on Saturday evening when I got a call,” said Aziz Ahmad Shafe, who worked with Rohani at the BBC. “I was very worried, and at midnight I called my office.”

Frantic phone calls and a determined search for information produced a detailed account of Rohani’s movements prior to his abduction, but yielded little in the way of answers.

At approximately 3 pm, Rohani left his home in Lashkar Gah to drive his sister and younger brother to the bus station, where they were catching a ride back to their home in Marja district. He then picked up a friend, whom he accompanied to their English class, and was with him until 5:30, when he dropped him off at a pharmacy to pick up medicine for the friend’s sick child.

According to Shafe, this friend reported that at about 4:20 pm, Rohani received a phone call.

“[Rohani’s] friend said that he got a phone call from someone who told him that there was to be a meeting at the airport at 6:00,” said Shafe. “Rohani kept saying, ‘Yes, rais sahib, yes, rais sahib.’”

“Rais” or “chief” is a title normally reserved for important functionaries.

At 5:45, Rohani drove to a petrol station to buy fuel, but the attendant told him he should come back in an hour.

The journalist was not seen alive again.

“Rohani was taken in the heart of the city, during the day,” said Shafe. “That is extremely worrying.”

Initial reports assigned blame to the Taleban. A press release from the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture attributed the crime to “the black-hearted enemies of the country” – a standard phrase used for the Taleban insurgents. The ministry also erroneously reported that Rohani was “taken from his house in the night”, which if true would have been in keeping with Taleban tactics.

But according to journalists in Helmand, the Taleban said they were not involved.

“We were on the phone with [Taleban spokesman] Qari Yusuf from early morning until mid-afternoon on Sunday,” said Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, an IWPR reporter who was Rohani’s friend and colleague.

“They said they’d had nothing to do with it. They said they would try to help, but there was no result.”

Shafe, too, was also in contact with the Taleban spokesman.

“Qari Yusuf told me, ‘Don’t worry, I will try, my friends will try, and my other friends will try to find this guy. We are searching for him.’ And he told me he was very sorry,” said Shafe.

As the search continued, it was probably already too late.

At 4:30 pm on June 8, Shafe received a phone call from a man who did not identify himself.

“I asked him who he was, and he told me it was none of my business,” he said. “Then he said, ‘Go to the graveyard in Bolan and you will find Rohani’s dead body.’ The man said Rohani was killed on Saturday evening, on the same day he was taken.”

Shafe and several policemen went to Bolan, just over the Helmand river from Lashkar Gah. There, after some searching, he found Rohani’s body among the graves.

“His throat was slit in three places,” said Shafe. “The bloodstained knife was still there beside him. His body was all bruised – I think they were unable to kill him by cutting his throat, because they shot him in the head. There were four bullet casings around the body, and some cigarette butts. Rohani was killed in a very brutal way.”

As Shafe stood over the body, he received yet another phone call.

“I was just standing there, numb,” said Shafe. “They asked, ‘Did you find him?’ I said yes. I asked them again who they were, but they just cursed me and hung up.”

The body was taken to the Bost Hospital for an autopsy.

The outpouring of grief and anger that followed was testament to Rohani’s unique position among Helmand’s journalists. A true professional, his balanced, careful reports had done much to expose the troubled state of his native province.

“There is a big story to tell in Helmand,” said Andres Ilves, head of the BBC’s Persian and Pashto Service, speaking to the World Service. “Unfortunately, someone killed the storyteller.”

Jan Gul, head of the department of information and culture in the Helmand provincial administration, told IWPR that Rohani was the cream of Helmand’s press corps.

“He was a very good journalist, brave and patriotic,” said Jan Gul. “I gave him the title ‘Sardar’ [Chief]. I told all the other reporters, ‘Look at Rohani, look at his reports. He is balanced and professional; he shows the realities on the ground.’”

Rohani’s colleague Dayee recalled, “I will never forget how he used to tell me, ‘Never send your report until it is accurate.’ He told me to check it and recheck it. His job was his highest priority.”

But it was probably Rohani’s profession that got him killed. Most of his colleagues are convinced the young journalist was targeted because of his reporting.

In this volatile province, there is no shortage of suspects. As centre of the opium poppy industry, Helmand boasts drug traffickers, smugglers, corrupt officials and petty warlords, all of whom have interests to protect.

“Besides the armed Taleban here in Helmand, we have government terrorism, there are smugglers networks, and there are other powerful people who destroy everything for their own benefit,” said Dayee. “It is quite possible that some of Rohani’s reports touched on the activities of these smugglers, in relation to some of the authorities.”

Rohani was just 25, the oldest son in a family of seven children. He was married with two children – two-year-old daughter Zahra, and a five-month-old son, Emran.

No matter who emerges as the prime suspect, Helmand’s journalists have been left reeling by this murder.

“I no longer feel safe in Lashkar Gah,” said Shafe.

The reporters say they will not be intimidated. But even the bravest among them are feeling the pressure.

“I have promised to do my job,” said Tassal. “I will do even more than that. But every time I leave the house, my parents beg me not to go. They are afraid I will be killed. I think all journalists are in the same situation.”

Abaceen Nasimi is an IWPR journalist in Kabul. Hafizullah Gardesh, IWPR’s local editor in Kabul, also contributed to this report.
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