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June 27, 2008 

US warns Taliban to step up fight in new Afghan areas
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Taliban will likely try to boost its presence in new areas of Afghanistan while continuing to fight in its south and eastern strongholds, the Pentagon warned Friday in its first report on security in the country.

Pentagon: Taliban a resilient force in Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A new Pentagon report says the Taliban has regrouped after its initial fall from power in Afghanistan. The new report offers a rather dim view of progress in the nearly 7-year-old war, declaring that the Taliban has "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

Taliban slit throats of "U.S. spies" in Pakistan
By Shaibzada Bahauddin Fri Jun 27, 3:21 AM ET
DAMADOLA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan publicly slit the throats of two Afghans on Friday after they were accused of spying for U.S. forces suspected of launching a missile strike in May.

Pakistan fails to pressure Taliban on Afghan border: Gates
Fri Jun 27, 1:11 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Pakistan's failure to put pressure on Taliban forces on the country's border with Afghanistan had fueled a rise in violence, but said Islamabad appeared to recognize the problem.

Feature: Foreigners threaten endangered Afghan snow leopards
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, June 27 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's snow leopards have barely survived three decades of war. But now the few remaining mountain leopards left in Afghanistan face another threat -- foreigners involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Four U.S. coalition soldiers dead in Afghan attacks
June 27, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - Four members of the U.S.-led coalition force have been killed in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, the force said on Friday, making June the deadliest month for foreign soldiers since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

US Senate approves Iraq, Afghanistan war funding
Fri Jun 27, 3:19 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a much-disputed bill alloting 162 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. doubts resolve to fight militants on border
Relationship with Afghans marked by rising tension
Nicholas Kralev and David R. Sands The Washington Times / June 26, 2008
The United States expressed doubts Wednesday over a Pakistani pledge to fight militants along its border with Afghanistan amid escalating violence that included a massacre of tribal elders and growing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan's shattered history
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 26 June 2008 15:45 UK
Afghanistan is used to war on its land, but many Afghans still hope for a more peaceful and stable future.

Good news follows bad in Afghanistan
Timothy Giannuzzi, For The Calgary Herald Thursday, June 26, 2008
A spot of good news can work wonders when you're in a tight spot. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan just received a bit which ought to put the spring back in its step after a particularly difficult couple of weeks:

Afghanistan: Allied death toll reaches 7-year high
(CNN) -- The number of U.S. and allied troops killed in Afghanistan in June has reached 40 -- the highest monthly toll of the seven-year-old war.

G8 FMs committed to Afghanistan's long-term stability, urge nuclear nonproliferation efforts
www.chinaview.cn  2008-06-27 19:39:37
KYOTO, Japan, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) reaffirmed their commitment to support Afghanistan on its path to long-term stability and urged nuclear nonproliferation efforts in Iran and the People's

Afghan poppy barons still at large
By Jon Boone June 27 2008 The Financial Times
Afghanistan's opium barons remain at large partly because the world's leading countries have failed to use far-reaching new powers of extradition, said the UN's anti-narcotics chief, writes Jon Boone in Kabul

Afghans love Indian films transcends language barrier
Panaji, Jun 27 (PTI) Transcending the barrier of language, Indian films and television soaps have become a big hit in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Children jailed and denied rights, says UN study
New York, 27 June (AKI) - Children held in detention in Afghanistan continue to face violations of their rights, including maltreatment and poor access to education and health services, says a United Nations study.

Should Buddhas Blasted by the Taliban be Rebuilt?
By ARYN BAKER Time Magazine / June 26, 2008
Mirza Hussain, and other prisoners like him, had labored for hours to stack mines, bombs and dynamite beneath the feet of Afghanistan's most iconic public artwork — a 175-foot standing statue of the Buddha carved from the sandstone

Aid promise prompts IDPs to return
MAZAR-I SHARIF, 26 June 2008 (IRIN) - An estimated 9,000 people who abandoned their homes in the Alburz District of Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan, over a month ago and camped near Mazar-i Sharif have now agreed

Afghanistan's attorney general: Training crucial
Salt Lake Tribune, United States By Matthew D. LaPlante The Salt Lake Tribune 06/27/2008
Afghanistan's top lawyer, in Salt Lake City to meet with 16 prosecutors from his country who are studying at the University of Utah, said Thursday that three decades of war in his nation have destroyed a once-thriving judicial system.

Ex-Taliban fighter tells of training, cash, orders from Pakistani military
The Canadian Press 06/26/2008
KANDAHAR-A former Taliban fighter has provided a gripping first-hand account of being secretly trained by members of the Pakistani military, paid $500 a month and ordered to kill foreigners in Afghanistan.

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US warns Taliban to step up fight in new Afghan areas
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Taliban will likely try to boost its presence in new areas of Afghanistan while continuing to fight in its south and eastern strongholds, the Pentagon warned Friday in its first report on security in the country.

"The Taliban will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas, especially in the south and east. The Taliban will also probably attempt to increase its presence in the west and north," the report to Congress said.

The hardline Islamic militia, which was routed from power in Afghanistan by a US-led coalition in 2001, has regrouped since then and "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

The Taliban has continued to grow in strength, and Afghanistan suffered its worst violence in some years in 2007, when some 6,500 people died in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and other violence.

The insurgency has been fiercest in the Taliban strongholds of southern Afghanistan and to the east, bordering Pakistan.

The Pentagon report, which recorded events up to April, acknowledged that international forces had "caused setbacks to the Afghan insurgency, including leadership losses and the loss of some key safe-havens in Afghanistan.

"Despite these setbacks, the Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan over its support for the Al-Qaeda network.

But violence in the region has steadily increased in the past two years despite the presence of some 70,000 multinational troops in Afghanistan, including soldiers under US command and others under NATO's authority.

The "Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" is the first such report to Congress, and a similar accounting will be now made every six months in the same way that the Pentagon tracks the war in Iraq.

On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates lashed out at Pakistan's failure to put pressure on Taliban forces on the country's border with Afghanistan saying it had fueled a rise in violence.

A 40 percent spike in attacks in east Afghanistan in the first five months of 2008 "is a matter of concern, of real concern, and I think that one of the reasons that we're seeing the increase ... is more people coming across the border from the frontier area," Gates told a news conference.
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Pentagon: Taliban a resilient force in Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A new Pentagon report says the Taliban has regrouped after its initial fall from power in Afghanistan. The new report offers a rather dim view of progress in the nearly 7-year-old war, declaring that the Taliban has "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

Noting that insurgent violence continues to climb, the report said that despite efforts to capture and kill key leaders, the Taliban is likely to "maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."

At the same time, the Afghan Army and national police are progressing slowly, and still lack the trainers they need.

The report was released Friday along with a separate plan for the development of Afghan security forces. They are the first two comprehensive reports done by the Pentagon evaluating progress in Afghanistan.
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Taliban slit throats of "U.S. spies" in Pakistan
By Shaibzada Bahauddin Fri Jun 27, 3:21 AM ET
DAMADOLA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan publicly slit the throats of two Afghans on Friday after they were accused of spying for U.S. forces suspected of launching a missile strike in May.

The two men, one of them a former Taliban fighter, were brought blindfolded before a crowd of several thousand people near the village of Damadola in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border before they were executed.

"They were spies. Whoever spies for the Americans will meet the same fate," Qari Zia-ur-Rehman, a Taliban leader in the area, told the crowd before another man slit the throats of the two with a sword.

The crowd shouted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) when the Taliban held up the severed heads of the victims who Rehman said were from the eastern Afghan province of Kunar.

Bajaur is one of Pakistan's seven border regions dominated by ethnic Pashtun tribes and a hotbed of support for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

After the killings, shooting broke out in the crowd but it was not clear why. Two people were killed and seven wounded.

Rehman said the two Afghans had spied for U.S. forces who the militants believed were responsible for a missile strike on a house in Damadola in May in which 18 people, including foreign militants, were killed.

Two missiles were apparently fired by U.S. drones and a government official said at the time the strike had apparently targeted a mid-level, Arab al Qaeda member, who had been killed.

Islamist militants have killed scores of people in the tribal belt on the Afghan border on suspicion of spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan but public executions have been rare.

(Writing Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and David Fox)
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Pakistan fails to pressure Taliban on Afghan border: Gates
Fri Jun 27, 1:11 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Pakistan's failure to put pressure on Taliban forces on the country's border with Afghanistan had fueled a rise in violence, but said Islamabad appeared to recognize the problem.

A 40 percent spike in violence in east Afghanistan in the first five months of 2008 "is a matter of concern, of real concern, and I think that one of the reasons that we're seeing the increase ... is more people coming across the border from the frontier area," Gates told a news conference.

He said "the ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern."

Gates said the issue "needs to be addressed with the Pakistani government" that came to power after February 18 elections won by parties opposed to US ally President Pervez Musharraf.

He said cross-border infiltration and violence had increased in the past few months after peace deals were negotiated with Taliban elements and other militants.

"What has happened is that as various agreements have been negotiated or were in the process of negotiation with various groups by the Pakistani government, there was the opportunity -- the pressure was taken off of these people and these groups.

"And they've therefore been more free to be able to cross the border and create problems for us."

But he said he was encouraged by the response from Islamabad to the problem, citing a statement by the prime minister that the government plans to "reassert its control and authority in the northwest frontier province."

"The fact that the Pakistani government itself has recognized that this is a problem and that these groups' activities are a problem for the Pakistani government as well as for those of us in Afghanistan, I think is a heartening sign."

He added: "And my hope is that the prime minister's statement today indicates a willingness to reassert that pressure."

Gates spoke amid growing unease in Washington and Kabul over Pakistan's efforts to broker deals with Taliban militants, which President George W. Bush's administration fears could give the insurgents a chance to regroup.

Pakistan has denied charges from US and Afghan officials that it is turning a blind eye to Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces based in restive tribal zones, saying it faces a porous border and that security forces have had bloody clashes with militants.

Relations between the United States and Islamabad have been strained since a US air raid in Pakistan on June 11. Washington said it was targeting militants but Pakistan said 11 of its soldiers were killed.

Pakistan meanwhile on Thursday rejected accusations from Kabul that its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was behind an assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan over its support for the Al-Qaeda network.

Violence in the region has steadily increased in the past two years despite the presence of some 70,000 multinational troops in Afghanistan, including soldiers under US command and others under NATO's authority.

The US-led coalition on Thursday reported more violence, with an attack on a patrol near the Afghan capital killing three more soldiers in the coalition and a local interpreter. The nationality of the casualties was not revealed.

June has been a deadly month for foreign soldiers, with four others killed in the past few days. At least 39 of the 106 soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year died since the beginning of this month, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Gates said he was encouraged by commitments from NATO allies to deploy more troops to Afghanistan and he recalled the United States has plans to send reinforcements in 2009.
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Feature: Foreigners threaten endangered Afghan snow leopards
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, June 27 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's snow leopards have barely survived three decades of war. But now the few remaining mountain leopards left in Afghanistan face another threat -- foreigners involved in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Despite a complete hunting ban across Afghanistan since 2002, snow leopard furs regularly end up for sale on international military bases and at tourist bazaars in the capital. Foreigners have ready cash to buy the pelts as souvenirs and impoverished Afghans break poaching laws to supply them.

Tucked between souvenir stores on Chicken Street, Kabul's main tourist trap, several shops sell fur coats and pelts taken from many of Afghanistan's threatened and endangered animals.

"This one is only $300," one shopkeeper told Reuters, producing a snow leopard pelt from the back of his shop.

"It was shot several times," he said pointing to the patches of fur sewn together. "The better ones are only shot once. The skin remains intact," he says as his assistant brings out a larger pelt, this time with no patches. "This one is $900."

All the shopkeepers said they had more pelts at home and that they had sold furs to foreigners over the past few weeks.

Asked if it was easy to send the furs back home, one shopkeeper who did not want to be named said: "No problem! We hide the fur inside blankets and send it back to your country."

Snow leopards along with several other animals in Afghanistan are listed as endangered or threatened under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Anyone caught knowingly transporting a fur across an international border is liable to a large fine. In the United States, it could result in a $100,000 fine and one year jail term.

It is hard to know the exact numbers of snow leopards left in Afghanistan due to the creatures' elusive nature and the lack of any case studies during the last three decades of conflict, said Dr. Peter Smallwood, Afghanistan country director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

But what is known is that the snow leopard is endangered.

"If you look historically at Afghanistan, Afghanistan actually had more big cat species than the entire continent of Africa," said Clayton Miller, Environmental Advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"Now the only cat species that is not on the threatened and endangered species list is the domestic cat.

Destruction of infrastructure, movements of refugees, modern weaponry, extreme poverty and a lack of law enforcement together with drought and deforestation are just some of the factors that have devastated Afghanistan's flora and fauna.

There are now only between 100 to 200 snow leopards estimated to be left in Afghanistan. In comparison, Bhutan has the same number but has three times less the area of habitat.

The estimated number of snow leopards in the wild worldwide is between 3,500 and 7000, according to the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT).

CRACKING DOWN ON FOREIGNERS
Snow leopards in Afghanistan mainly inhabit the extreme northeast of the country in particular the remote sliver of land called the Wakhan Corridor which separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and extends all the way to China.

The mountainous Wakhan is sparsely populated by humans but is a vital link for the snow leopard.

"The Wakhan is a critical area because ... you're going to get snow leopards going between Tajikistan, Pakistan and China through the Wakhan valley, so it's a key, key area. Its importance far outweighs its physical size," Smallwood said.

When the U.S. embassy's Miller first moved to Afghanistan he discovered a widespread practice of selling endangered animal parts to foreigners.

"There were threatened and endangered species being marketed to international personnel, not only military but aid mission folks and anybody visiting the bazaar," said Miller.

In a bid to stop poaching of snow leopards, the U.S. embassy and the WCS targeted the buyers.

"We decided that one of the quickest ways of trying to address this issue was to go after the demand. The only individuals that are actually able to purchase these things were internationals," Miller told Reuters.

Snow leopard pelts can sell for up to $1500, well beyond the means of most Afghans.

Since August last year, Miller and the WCS have been educating military and civilian staff, in particular those in charge of mail services, on how to recognise endangered and threatened animal furs as well as conducting "raids" on U.S. military bases.

The raids have yielded products from endangered species including snow leopards, said Miller, but he stressed the U.S. military was very "cooperative" in trying to combat the trade.

Within two weeks of their first training session on a U.S. base just outside Kabul, the military had managed to "virtually eliminate" any trade of these products on the base, he said.

Local traders who offer their wares on military bases are issued with a warning if they are caught selling the furs and are barred from returning if caught again.

Because of the structured nature of the military, said Smallwood, it is easier to get the message delivered.

"The harder part is trying to deliver the message to the rest of the international community, which we're working on," he said.

But the threats to the snow leopard still remain.

"With numbers this low I wouldn't want to say ...if we just fix this problem the rest is fine. All of these problems need to be dealt with. Losing 10 animals could be as much as 10 percent of the population," Smallwood said.

(Editing by Megan Goldin)
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Four U.S. coalition soldiers dead in Afghan attacks
June 27, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - Four members of the U.S.-led coalition force have been killed in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, the force said on Friday, making June the deadliest month for foreign soldiers since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

The deaths took the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this month to 40. More than 200 foreign troops were killed in Afghanistan last year.

Three soldiers from the U.S.-led force and an interpreter were killed in Wardak province southwest of Kabul on Thursday when their convoy was blown up by a bomb, the force said in a statement.

In another attack on Thursday, in the southwestern province of Farah, a coalition soldier was killed and seven people, including two Afghan soldiers, were wounded, the U.S. military said.

It did not identify those killed or give their nationalities but most members of the coalition force are American. A separate NATO-led force is also battling a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

In a separate incident, about 12 rounds fired from the Pakistani side of the border killed a child and wounded 12 people in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar on Friday, a provincial official said.

There have been several incidents of fire across the border in recent days, apparently fired by Taliban taking refuge on the Pakistani side. Four Afghan civilians were killed and eight wounded in such attacks last week.

Eleven Pakistani border soldiers were killed in a U.S. air strike on the Pakistani side of the border on June 10.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened this month to send troops into Pakistan to fight the Taliban in border sanctuaries.

Pakistan said this week it would not allow militants to attack Afghanistan from its territory and it would never let foreign troops operate on its soil.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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US Senate approves Iraq, Afghanistan war funding
Fri Jun 27, 3:19 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a much-disputed bill alloting 162 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill gives funding for the conflicts through to mid-2009 after President George W. Bush, who must now sign the bill into law, has left office.

The legislation passed 92 votes to six in the Senate after its approval by the House of Representatives June 19 topped weeks of haggling between Democrats and Republicans.

Bush has indicated he will sign the legislation despite opposing some of the measures included in it.

The deal was reached after Democrats agreed to drop a withdrawal timetable from the bill. The majority party has repeatedly failed to force Bush's hand on Iraq since taking over Congress in 2006 elections.

Democrats insisted on inserting a modern version of the post-World War II GI Bill in order to expand education benefits to veterans, a plan that Senate Republicans and the White House had opposed.

The House passed the war funding section of the bill by a 268-155 vote, with only 80 Democrats voting in favor along with 188 Republicans.

The veterans' benefits part of the legislation, which also included a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits and aid for Midwest flood victims, was overwhelmingly approved, 416 to 12.

The legislation calls on the Iraqi government to spend as much money as US taxpayers for reconstruction and bars the Bush administration from using the funding to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

Democratic Senator Robert Byrd noted that with this new funding, Congress will have approved over 656 billion dollars for the war in Iraq.

But he expressed frustration that Bush repeatedly threatened to veto the measure unless a troops withdrawal timetable was removed.

"Despite the positive measures for struggling Americans, our veterans, and their families included in this amendment, I deeply regret that this legislation will go to President Bush without the necessary checks to ensure that the war in Iraq is not open-ended," Byrd said in a statement to the Senate.

"The majority of the American people have come to see this war as a costly mistake that needs to be brought to a close. This legislation brings us no closer to that goal.

"However, with this legislation, we will once again take care of our troops. We also invest in America here at home."

Republican White House hopeful John McCain, a staunch backer of the war in Iraq, hailed the bill last week when it passed the House, while his Democratic rival Barack Obama has vowed to withdraw troops from Iraq.

"This bill is about giving the men and women of our military the same education benefits that all of America's veterans have received since World War II," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who cosponsored the bill's post 9/11 Veterans Assistance Act with Virginia Democrat Jim Webb.

"In rotating forward these earned benefits into the 21st century, making them relevant to the realities of the cost of education today, we are fulfilling a commitment that we have all made to our veterans," he added.

"By investing in education we are investing in America's future and continuing to build a society worthy of the sacrifices of our veterans. ... This was the right thing to do for our service men and women and their families," Hagel stressed.
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U.S. doubts resolve to fight militants on border
Relationship with Afghans marked by rising tension
Nicholas Kralev and David R. Sands The Washington Times / June 26, 2008
The United States expressed doubts Wednesday over a Pakistani pledge to fight militants along its border with Afghanistan amid escalating violence that included a massacre of tribal elders and growing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of involvement in an April assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai, complicating efforts by the U.S. military to reconcile the two U.S. allies.

U.S. Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, who recently took command of NATO forces in Afghanistan, told The Washington Times in an interview published Wednesday that a key goal is to build a cooperative relationship among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the coalition forces he leads.

Pakistani leaders acknowledge that Taliban and al Qaeda militants find refuge in its lawless tribal belt. However, they angrily reject allegations that its security agencies are colluding with militants.

Moreover, Pakistan has become increasingly wary of militants based in its tribal regions because of attacks that have killed hundreds of its own citizens, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In its strongest message to militants since it came to office in the spring, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's Cabinet vowed Wednesday not to "allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan."

"Elimination of terrorism and extremism is the gravest challenge to Pakistan's national security and to fight this menace, a multi-pronged strategy will be followed," the government said after a meeting with federal and provincial leaders, as well as military and security agency chiefs.

The Bush administration cautiously welcomed the Pakistani statement while expressing skepticism over Pakistani talks with militants themselves.

"Politicians say, 'We have a policy of negotiating with the tribes, not the militants.' And yet, what we've seen is negotiations with Sufi Mohammad in Swat and Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan," Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said in reference to militant leaders.

"Certainly, the approach of saying, 'We will work with the tribes to kick out the militants,' is a better approach than going directly to negotiate with the militants. That seems to be the approach they are adopting, not one that they have implemented successfully yet," Mr. Boucher told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mehsud's group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which the government blames for Mrs. Bhutto's December assassination, claimed responsibility Wednesday for killing 28 elders from a rival pro-government tribe after abducting them earlier this week.

Also yesterday, a truce in the Swat Valley recently negotiated by the Pakistani government began to unravel when militants burned down five schools for girls.


Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday burn an effigy of President Pervez Musharraf in Multan, Pakistan. The Cabinet declared extremism "the gravest challenge" to national security. (Associated Press)

The Swat Valley, once known as the Switzerland of Asia, is the base for Mohammad, the other militant leader mentioned by Mr. Boucher.

Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence chief, claimed Afghan intelligence could prove Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, was involved.

A spokesman for the Pakistan army, which controls the ISI, was not immediately available for comment. The Foreign Ministry said it would only respond after viewing a transcript of Mr. Ansari's remarks, the Associated Press reported.

Gen. McKiernan said in his interview with The Times that he hopes to visit Pakistan in the next few weeks to meet army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other officials to help establish a relationship between Gen. Kayani and the Afghan leadership.

"Part of the security environment and challenge in Afghanistan are the materials, the insurgents, the leadership that comes across the border from [Pakistan's] North-West Frontier Province," Gen. McKiernan said.
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Afghanistan's shattered history
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 26 June 2008 15:45 UK
Afghanistan is used to war on its land, but many Afghans still hope for a more peaceful and stable future.


With its steep sides, glistening blue river and green patchwork of fields, the Panshir valley is firmly associated with one man, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of the Panshir.

It was from this valley - with its crevices and caves - that Shah Massoud kept the Soviet army at bay throughout the 1980s.

He then fought the Taleban, which controlled most of the country from the mid-1990s until 2001.

Not long before the 11 September attacks in the US, Shah Massoud was killed in a suicide bombing attack by a team masquerading as a TV crew.

Today many Afghans regard him as a national hero and his mausoleum can be found on a hilltop in the Panshir valley.

Its construction began in 2002, but six years on it is still not finished.

The huge building is surrounded by scaffolding. Bamboo ladders reach up to a criss-cross of wooden platforms.

Every Friday, people from across Afghanistan come on a pilgrimage to this spot.

One man called Farhad and a friend had driven for three hours to get here from Kabul.

"It's beautiful," Farhad told me. "But I wish that the builders would hurry up and finish it."

Lost opportunities

It is seven years since the mainly American and British forces came to Afghanistan to drive out the Taleban and the al-Qaeda forces the movement was hosting. There is still a colossal amount of work to be done here.

Yes, there has been some progress. More children - many of them girls - are going to school now. Health clinics have popped up across the country.

Roads have been built, and travel times between many cities have been cut significantly. There is a parliament, although it doesn't always act in a democratic fashion.

But for most people here, this progress isn't really enough.

"We thought things would be better," is something that you hear constantly from Afghans. "The politicians and international community told us that things would become much better."

It is not a comment made in anger, it is more a lament, an aching sense that opportunities have been lost.

This is a country worn down by 30 years of war, where hopes are higher and disappointments crushingly lower than in almost any other country.

Afghans want, and need, an escape from the past.

But fragments of the country's shattered history are everywhere.

In Kabul, you might see an old man with a walking stick, and then you look closer and realise he has only got one leg. The other one was blown off by a landmine.

Or a beggar, led by his relative, who has sidled up to my car on two or three occasions asking for money. You look into his eye and all you see is a barren socket.

Afghanistan's ministries and public institutions are largely threadbare, ill-equipped, with untrained staff. In a country where a public official is likely to earn only a very small wage, corruption is like a virus.

In the south, Taleban insurgents and drug cartels rule the land.

Many of those involved also have jobs with the government or even as policemen. This is an extremely dangerous part of the country for Afghans, never mind foreigners.

Country of contrasts

The BBC's young reporter Abdul Samad Rohani was shot earlier this month in Helmand province.

I met him once. He was a young, vivacious kid, full of life. But then his bullet-ridden corpse was found and the circumstances of the killing may never be known.

But among the despair, there are glimpses of happiness, of better times.

Weddings - the cement of Afghan society - continue to take place despite the instability and violence.

The middle class in Kabul get married in a district of the city that is like a corner of Las Vegas. Neon lights jazz up the streets, and there is even an illuminated Eiffel tower, several storeys high, dominating the skyline. It is Kabul kitsch, but the Afghans seem to love it.

And there is Qargha lake, a half an hour's drive from the city. It is a beautiful, turquoise-blue stretch of water, where Afghans gather for Friday afternoon picnics.

There are speedboats, and pedaloes. Families sit in small huts and eat ice-cream.

But even amid such beauty and apparent tranquillity, there is still much uncertainty.

Back at the Panshir valley, more people have arrived, their cars kicking up clouds of dust.

Through my translator, I asked one of the builders who was lounging in the shade, when the mausoleum would be finished. "In six months," he said, not terribly convincingly, as a lizard ran across the concrete steps.

Inside the mausoleum, a bare light bulb hangs above Shah Massoud's tomb.

I ask the watchful guard when he thinks the mausoleum will be completed. He said possibly a year, but even then, he did not look terribly sure.

A bit like Afghanistan itself, nobody, it seems, knows when this project will ever end.
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Good news follows bad in Afghanistan
Timothy Giannuzzi, For The Calgary Herald Thursday, June 26, 2008
A spot of good news can work wonders when you're in a tight spot. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan just received a bit which ought to put the spring back in its step after a particularly difficult couple of weeks: Germany has agreed to beef up its military contingent in Afghanistan by 1,000 troops.

The German announcement comes less than two weeks after more than 60 countries pledged $20 billion in foreign aid to the struggling Afghan government over the next several years, so the situation in Afghanistan has rarely looked brighter. Germany's decision might even mark early signs of a European rethink of defence and the projection of military force abroad, which could have profound implications for the ISAF and future missions. Just don't hold your breath.

German Minister of Defence Franz Josef Jung made the announcement on Tuesday, after what have been some rather heated talks with other NATO countries (Canada, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands) concerned that large continental European nations are not pulling their weight in the ISAF. Of the mainlanders, only the Dutch and the Danish have sizable military forces which are not restricted in some way from engaging in combat.

Now, at first blush the German decision appears underwhelming. The 3,500 members of Germany's military contingent are based largely in four of Afghanistan's more stable northern provinces where their principal task is reconstruction, not combat. The extra 1,000 troops will be stationed in the same provinces to do the same thing while operating under the same German government mandate which forbids them from fighting the Taliban outside of the north.

This is still remarkable when you consider the situation four months ago. At a conference of NATO defence ministers in Lithuania, the assorted grandees went out of their way to issue public denials of conflicts between member nations, a sure indicator of spats.

Tellingly, the denials did not stop Germany, feeling unfairly singled out, from responding to its critics with some carefully crafted public statements which added up to a request that the complaining member states take a hike. Politicians and spokesmen lined up to assert that Germany was doing important work in Afghanistan, that the existing division of labour was fair and that the complainers were insensitive clods who did not understand German history and the consequent German reluctance to engage in combat operations.

Equally interestingly, Jung remarked that the additional troops would give the German military "a little more flexibility." While this unquestionably signals Germany's willingness to contribute more, it might also be a sign that the German government is prepared to alter its military mandate in Afghanistan and allow limited numbers of troops to operate beyond the north, provided it can sell the idea to the opposition parties and ordinary Germans (among whom the war is highly unpopular).

Even if this is not the case, Germany's commitment of the extra troops shows a readiness to change. Combine this with France's decision in April to send a battalion to eastern Afghanistan to free American soldiers to help Canadian troops in the south in accordance with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's demands and suddenly the European Union does not look quite so stodgy. Ideally, renewed pressure on Italy, which has soldiers in western Afghanistan hobbled by prohibitions that also generally prevent them from fighting the Taliban, will produce similar results.

Despite these encouraging signs, things could still go awry. The European Union has a habit of talking big on defence and failing to deliver.

Grand plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force have been hampered by a lack of transport capability. The Eurofighter Typhoon, a European-designed fighter aircraft, has been beset by cost overruns and political squabbles. As well, many European nations have been slashing their military spending of late (France announced major cuts only last week).

Still, no matter how fragile this change of attitude might prove, it will be welcomed. With casualties among ISAF soldiers on the rise, no clear strategy for crushing the Taliban's insurgency, that embarrassing mass breakout from Kandahar's Sarposa prison two weeks ago and mounting evidence of the ineptitude of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, NATO needs all the good news it can get.
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Afghanistan: Allied death toll reaches 7-year high
(CNN) -- The number of U.S. and allied troops killed in Afghanistan in June has reached 40 -- the highest monthly toll of the seven-year-old war.

The latest casualty came when a coalition service member on a reconnaissance patrol in western Afghanistan was killed Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition said Friday.

The incident took place in the Gulistan District of Farah province. Five other coalition and two Afghan soldiers were wounded.

Three U.S.-led troops southwest of Kabul in Wardak province were also killed Thursday.

Taliban militants have increased their attacks this year. The top U.S. commander in southeastern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, said Tuesday that attacks on his troops were up 40 percent in the first five months of 2008.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, asked about Schloesser's comments at a Thursday news conference, said one of the reasons for the increase was that more people are "coming across the border from the frontier area [he was referring to Pakistan]."

Gates said he hoped a newly announced Pakistani effort to clamp down on Islamic militants in the country's northwestern tribal districts would improve the situation in Afghanistan.

"The ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern," Gates said.

One of the weapons of choice for militants in Afghanistan is the roadside bomb.

Pentagon figures detailing the number of roadside bombs detonated and found in Afghanistan illustrate the level of insurgent activity.

In 2007, 876 roadside bombs blew up and 439 were found. This year 431 have blown up with 354 found.

The war in Afghanistan began after the al Qaeda terror network, harbored by the country's ruling Taliban regime, attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

A U.S.-led invasion quickly toppled the Taliban regime.

Since then, the coalition and NATO-led troops have been battling a Taliban insurgency.
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G8 FMs committed to Afghanistan's long-term stability, urge nuclear nonproliferation efforts 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-06-27 19:39:37
KYOTO, Japan, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) reaffirmed their commitment to support Afghanistan on its path to long-term stability and urged nuclear nonproliferation efforts in Iran and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) during a two-day meeting that concluded Friday.

As Afghanistan is still faced with grave challenges such as terrorism, insecurity, poverty, corruption, illegal drug production, the G8 nations agreed during talks at a working dinner to assist the country "through a holistic approach to its stability and reconstruction."

The G8 members will accelerate assistance to build the Afghan National Army and Police and strengthen support for Afghanistan in other elements of security sector reform, said a statement on Afghanistan released after the working dinner.

Urging its neighbors to play a constructive role for the stability of Afghanistan, the ministers maintained that Afghanistan and Pakistan continue their cooperation in a constructive way and mutually beneficial manner through dialogue.

In this regard, the G8 countries endorsed more than 150 projects currently planned or implemented by the G8 members, and pledged strengthened assistance to the border regions between the two countries.

International efforts for nuclear nonproliferation, along with peace building in Afghanistan, was also one of the key issues on the table of the ministerial meeting.

During the working sessions, the ministers called on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and welcomed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) move in providing a declaration of its nuclear inventory.

Expressing serious concern over the proliferation risks posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the ministers strongly urge Iran to "answer all of the IAEA's questions without further delay" and comply with its international obligations and suspend all enrichment-related activities.

Iran also needs to respond to the updated incentives package in a constructive way, said the chairman's statement released towards the conclusion of the G8 foreign ministers meeting.

The top diplomats expressed the hope that Iran will act in a more responsible and constructive manner in the region, particularly in the context of the Middle East Peace Process and the stability of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, they reiterated their commitment to achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, welcoming the DPRK's provision of the declaration as an important step towards achieving the goal.

The ministers also urged the DPRK to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs as well as ballistic missile programs and live up to its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations under the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005 and UN Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718.

The ministers underscored the significance of verifying the declaration and swiftly disabling all existing nuclear facilities as well as that of expediting the Six-Party Talks toward the full implementation of the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005.

They also expressed "grave concern" about the situation in Zimbabwe.

"We deplore the actions of the Zimbabwean authorities... which have made a free and fair Presidential run-off election impossible," said a document entitled "G8 Foreign Ministers' Statement on Zimbabwe."
"We strongly urge the Zimbabwean authorities to work with the opposition to achieve a prompt, peaceful resolution of the crisis...cooperate fully with the international efforts," it said, adding that the ministers will continue to closely monitor the situation.

In light of Pakistan's strategic importance, they concurred that the stability of Pakistan is conducive to that of the international community at large, calling for support for the country's drive to achieve sustained economic growth.

Concerning cyclone-hit Myanmar, the ministers reached a consensus that the G8 nations will continue to support its reconstruction efforts, urging its government to accept rescue personnel from outside to help with the relief operations.

During the meeting, the top diplomats also exchanged views on the Middle East, Sudan, and issues of counter-terrorism, transnational organized crime.

The G8 foreign ministers gathered Thursday in the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto. The two-day meeting is the last of a series of G8 ministerial conferences in the run-up to the G8 summit scheduled for July 7-9 at the Toyako (Lake Toya) resort area in Hokkaido.
Editor: Bi Mingxin 
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Afghan poppy barons still at large
By Jon Boone June 27 2008 The Financial Times
Afghanistan's opium barons remain at large partly because the world's leading countries have failed to use far-reaching new powers of extradition, said the UN's anti-narcotics chief, writes Jon Boone in Kabul .
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said no one had yet taken advantage of UN resolutions designed to make it easier to extradite Afghan drug traffickers.

"It is perplexing and frustrating that we go all the way to introducing these measures at the Security Council but then nothing comes of it," he said.

In December 2006 the Security Council passed a resolution allowing states to add drug traffickers to the "al-Qaeda and Taliban list" on the basis that some of their profits helped fund terrorism and the insurgency.

Afghanistan has received millions of dollars for counter-narcotics projects but arresting, prosecuting and convicting super-rich poppy barons in such a poor country has proved almost impossible.

Mr Costa said the number of leading drugs traffickers was low, in the "few dozen", and many of them were well known.

But the Afghan police still lack the skills to build a water-tight case against such people.

And traffickers, who made $2.3bn (€1.5bn, £1.1bn) in 2006, can simply buy their freedom from underpaid policemen and judges.
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Afghans love Indian films transcends language barrier
Panaji, Jun 27 (PTI) Transcending the barrier of language, Indian films and television soaps have become a big hit in Afghanistan.

"Afghanis do not bother if the content is not dubbed into local language because they understand 70 per cent of it," Afghan filmmaker Abdul Latif Ahmadi told PTI.

"Women love to watch the trials and tribulations of 'tulsi' and 'prerna' (popular characters of Balaji soaps 'Kyun ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and 'Kasauti Zindagi Ki' respectively)," Ahmadi, director of Afghan Film, the state-run film finance company, said.

Recalling that filmstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Sunil Dutt had visited Afghanistan to shoot their films before the Taliban took over the country, Ahamadi said two years ago Kabir Khan shot his 'Kabul Express' in the rugged terrains of Afghanistan.

"Aamir Khan was also supposed to come to Afghanistan for a film shooting. But, I am not aware what happened to his visit," he said, adding Afghanis have a special place for Indians in their hearts.

Two of Ahmadi's films 'Akthar-the Joker' and 'Stoning' will be screened at the South Asian Film Festival(SAFF) beginning here today. The festival is being held in Goa for the first time.

Ahmadi said 'Stoning' was about the situation faced by women during the Mujahadeen rule.

Speaking about Afghan Film, he said it was a government institution funding independent filmmakers to make feature films and documentaries.
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Afghanistan: Children jailed and denied rights, says UN study
New York, 27 June (AKI) - Children held in detention in Afghanistan continue to face violations of their rights, including maltreatment and poor access to education and health services, says a United Nations study.

“A punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice seems to be still predominant in Afghanistan,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said of the study,

It was carried out by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission with help from the agency and released in the capital, Kabul.

UNICEF’s Representative in Afghanistan, Catherine Mbengue, said the study – which contains data gathered from 22 provinces over a one-year period – offered an opportunity to evaluate the existing services for children in conflict with the law.

Among other recommendations, the study urged full implementation of the Juvenile Code adopted by the Government in 2005, which incorporates the basic principles of juvenile justice found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF has been supporting the government’s efforts to implement the code through awareness-raising and training among law enforcement and judicial bodies.

“UNICEF strongly advocates measures to prevent and reduce detention or imprisonment of children and prevention programmes involving communities and children at risk,” said Mbengue.

“We need to invest more to prevent children coming into conflict with the law while we continue to assist children already in detention."

UNICEF and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission will be holding a workshop for judicial officials to discuss the study in a bid to improve the situation of detained children.
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Should Buddhas Blasted by the Taliban be Rebuilt?
By ARYN BAKER Time Magazine / June 26, 2008
Mirza Hussain, and other prisoners like him, had labored for hours to stack mines, bombs and dynamite beneath the feet of Afghanistan's most iconic public artwork — a 175-foot standing statue of the Buddha carved from the sandstone cliffs of the Bamiyan Valley sometime in the 7th century. Finally, the local Taliban commander blew his whistle, and hundreds of observers plugged their ears, held their breath and waited for the Buddha to fall. It didn't. The first load of explosives only destroyed the statue's feet. "They were disappointed," says Hussain, of the Taliban leaders who had decreed in March of 2001 that the famous Buddhist monument was idolatrous, and would be demolished. Initially, Taliban fighters had fired at the Buddha with assault rifles, stinger missiles and RPGs, to little effect. When the stacked explosives at the statue's base failed, Hussain and other prisoners were dangled over the edge of the cliffs to stuff dynamite into holes in the soft stone. "Our soldiers are working hard to demolish the remaining parts," announced Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal, the Taliban's minister of information and culture, at a press conference in Kabul a day later. "It is easier to destroy than to build."

He was right. Within days the Taliban had all but decimated the remains of a magnificent Buddhist civilization that had for six centuries ruled this strategic valley at the crossroads of Central Asian trade. They rampaged through the caves that honeycomb Bamiyan's cliffs, smashing thousands of smaller Buddha sculptures. They chiseled intricate frescoes from the walls, and where they weren't able to tear off the plaster, they gouged out the eyes and hands of those depicted. Locals say the figures in the images bore facial features typical of the Hazara, the persecuted Shi'ite minority group that populates the province. The Taliban massacred hundreds of Hazaras when they took control of Afghanistan; many in the valley believe that the destruction of the Buddhas was an extension of their genocidal campaign. "The Buddhas had eyes like ours, and the Taliban destroyed them like they tried to destroy us," says Marzia Mohammadi, a midwife. "They wanted to kill our culture, erase us from this valley."

Seven years on, archaeologists and volunteers from around the world are doing what they can to put the symbols of Bamiyan's Buddhist legacy back together again. Piles of shattered rock lie stacked under shelters of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting where the Buddhas once stood. Under debate, right now, is the question of how and whether the statues should be rebuilt. Little remains of the stucco coat and sculpted stone that gave the Buddhas of Bamiyan their definition. Putting them back together again would be akin to piecing together a puzzle of a million pieces — but without the benefit of an image printed on the box top. Nevertheless, Habiba Sarabi, Bamiyan's governor, believes rebuilding the Buddhas is important for the psychic wellbeing of her province. "The Buddhas were a part of the life of people in Bamiyan," she says. "Now the empty niches of the Buddhas affect the landscape, so the people share the sorrow."

In a process called anastylosis, original fragments of damaged statuary can be pieced together with cement or other materials — as has been done at Cambodia's ancient Angkor Wat temple complex. But if less than half of the original material remains, says restoration experts, the new structure loses its historical value, and should be considered a replica. And being rebuilt as a replica could put the World Heritage Site status of the Bamiyan Buddhas at risk. Archaeologists have estimated that about 50% of the original stone remains, but a full study has yet to be completed.

Abdul Ahad Abassy, head of Afghanistan's Preservation and Restoration of Historical Monuments department, sees a pattern in the Taliban's efforts to take down the Buddhas. One of Afghanistan's early Islamic kings tore through the caves in the 11th century, smashing idols as he went. And at the end of the 19th century the mother of then King Abdul Rahman had cannons fired at the standing Buddhas. Afghan history, he says, is filled with characters who attempt to erase the past. They, too, are part of Afghanistan's heritage — a heritage that it is his job to preserve. So, Bamiyan's Buddhas present a conundrum. Brutal though it may have been, the Taliban legacy is an important part of Afghanistan's recent past. The empty niches of Bamiyan are testament to a ruthlessness that should not be forgotten — rebuilding the Buddhas would be a kind of erasure. "The present condition of the buddhas is in itself an expression of our history," says Abassy. "No matter how good or bad the Taliban were, we cannot tear that page from the book."

Governor Sorabi sees a Solomonic compromise that both respects Afghanistan's recent history while celebrating its ancient culture. "We have many empty niches to be reminders of the dark parts of our history," she says. "If we rebuild one Buddha, we can leave the other as it is."

—With reporting by Ali Safi/Bamiyan
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Aid promise prompts IDPs to return
MAZAR-I SHARIF, 26 June 2008 (IRIN) - An estimated 9,000 people who abandoned their homes in the Alburz District of Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan, over a month ago and camped near Mazar-i Sharif have now agreed to go back to their homes, UN agencies and provincial officials said.

Agreement was achieved after aid agencies and provincial government bodies assured the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that aid and support would be delivered to them when they returned to home.

"The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development will deliver drinking water to Alburz residents by water tankers and food aid will be distributed to the neediest families," Asif Khairkhwah, president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in Balkh, told IRIN on 26 June.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it would deliver 50 tonnes of mixed food aid to 1,000 families in Alburz District.

"We are currently doing a registration of IDPs who are willing to return," said Khairkhwah, adding that free transport would be provided for returning families.

Up to 1,800 families - an estimated 9,000 individuals - have been displaced from Alburz and surrounding areas due to drought and food insecurity, the provincial authorities said.

However, WFP said its assessments indicated that "the reason behind their displacement is more related to land ownership issues than to distress caused by the drought".

Preventing "culture of displacement"

IDP representatives said the displaced families had not received any humanitarian assistance in the more than one month since they set up tents in the Cheshme Shifa area, in the outskirts of Mazar City.

The wretched living conditions of the IDPs did, however, attract communal sympathy and local donations, including cooked food portions from merchants and private foundations.

Balkh Province officials said government and ARCS humanitarian aid had not been offered to the Alburz IDPs because it could have prompted other vulnerable communities across the drought-affected province to seek assistance through displacement.

"We want to prevent a culture of displacement where people abandon their homes and livelihoods in search of free aid in urban areas," the ARCS's Khairkhwah said.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that there are over 130,000 IDPs in Afghanistan, mainly living in camp-like situations and in need of assistance and protection.

About one million people were displaced across the country immediately after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 - mainly Pashtuns from northern areas.

Since 2002 the UNHCR has assisted over 489,000 IDPs to return to their home areas and some 450,000 others have gone back to their homes without external assistance.

Insecurity, land disputes, tribal rivalries, natural disasters and food-insecurity are the main factors which have led to the displacement of vulnerable communities, according to government officials and aid workers.
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Afghanistan's attorney general: Training crucial
Salt Lake Tribune, United States By Matthew D. LaPlante The Salt Lake Tribune 06/27/2008
Afghanistan's top lawyer, in Salt Lake City to meet with 16 prosecutors from his country who are studying at the University of Utah, said Thursday that three decades of war in his nation have destroyed a once-thriving judicial system.

Now, said Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit, most prosecutors in Afghanistan are laymen, many parts of the country do not have access to the court system and corruption is rampant.

But Sabit, who stood out among his fellow attorneys with his thick white beard and wild silver hair, also struck optimistic notes about the future of the judicial system in his still war-torn country.

The American-trained lawyer, who left Afghanistan in the 1970s and returned in 2002, following the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime, said that with proper training and increasing stability, his nation might return to having a robust judicial system.

"The most important thing," said Sabit, "is to have judges and prosecutors trained."

To that end, Sabit applauded a program at the U.'s S.J. Quinney College of Law, in which 16 Afghan attorneys are participating in an intensive three-week course in prosecutorial techniques ranging from initial investigations to incarceration.

The Global Justice Program is the first project of the U.S. State Department's Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan.

In Sabit's view, reform and education go hand in hand.
"The 30-year war we have had in Afghanistan has destroyed everything," he said. "Our judicial system is one of the things it has destroyed . . . the educated judges and the educated prosecutors we had are not with us any longer."

In the Ghor Province in central Afghanistan, for example, are 74 prosecutors working for the Department of Justice.

"Among them there are only four lawyers," Sabit said. "The rest are laymen the same is true with many other provinces."

Law school dean Hiram Chodosh said a great responsibility is riding on the shoulders of lawyers like Sabit and the group of young prosecutors he addressed Thursday.

"If the criminal justice system in Afghanistan does not succeed, our entire objective - our Afghanistan strategy, our NATO strategy, our U.S. strategy will have failed," Chodosh said. "It is a daunting challenge."
mlaplante@sltrib.com
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Ex-Taliban fighter tells of training, cash, orders from Pakistani military
The Canadian Press 06/26/2008
KANDAHAR-A former Taliban fighter has provided a gripping first-hand account of being secretly trained by members of the Pakistani military, paid $500 a month and ordered to kill foreigners in Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammed Zaher offered a vivid description of a bomb-making apprenticeship at a Pakistani army compound where he says he learned to blow up NATO convoys.

He's one of three former Taliban fighters introduced to The Canadian Press by an Afghan government agency that works at getting rebels to renounce the insurgency.

Zaher insists he was neither forced to go public with his story nor coached by Afghan officials, whose routine response to terrorism on their soil is to blame neighbouring Pakistan.

Pakistan officially sides with the West against the insurgents and vigorously denies mounting accusations that it is a two-faced participant in the war on terror.

A report produced for the Pentagon and released this month by the Rand Corp., a U.S. think-tank, claims individuals in the Pakistani government are involved in helping the insurgents.

An illiterate, career warrior, Zaher has not seen the 177-page report. But he made a series of claims in a 90-minute interview that supported its broad conclusions - and offered a deluge of new details.

He described how men in khaki army fatigues housed, fed, paid and finally threatened insurgents into carrying out attacks on foreign troops.

Perhaps most startling of all was his description of the repeated warning from Pakistani soldiers about where trainees would be sent if they refused to fight: Guantanamo Bay.

He said there was an inside joke among insurgents whenever the Pakistanis turned over a high-profile rebel to the Americans for detention at the U.S.-run prison camp in Cuba.

"Whenever we heard on the news that Pakistan caught a Taliban commander, we used to say: 'He stopped obeying them'," Zaher said through a Pashto-language interpreter.

Two other former insurgents interviewed by The Canadian Press said they were aware of colleagues being trained in Pakistan, but said such fighters were part of an elite minority.

Mullah Janan said he heard that some of his Taliban comrades had received training in Pakistan, with many more receiving shelter or medical treatment across the border.

When infighting broke out between Taliban factions, Janan said, mediators from Pakistan even came across the border to help settle the dispute.

Zaher said he was among the elite.

He said he arrived in 2003 for his first of several training sessions at a walled military compound in the Nawakilli area outside Quetta, Pakistan.

He said he was greeted warmly by men in military fatigues, introduced to his fellow trainees and taken to a single-storey white building where for the next 20 days he would eat, sleep and learn the finer points of waging jihad.

On his first day there he quietly sipped tea and gobbled down a hearty meal of chicken curry, and said he was brought to a classroom the next morning.

He said he remembers only the last name of the man in the khaki uniform, Khattak, who presided over the orientation session.

The man told his pupils their homeland had been invaded again by non-Muslims, just as it had been by the Soviets in the 20th century and the British in the 19th.
 
Zaher said the group was told that the infidels had been stopped before and they must be stopped again.

"You are supposed to get good training here - and you are supposed to go and kill them there," Zaher recalled being told.

"We have to kick their asses out of Afghanistan and send them back to their own country ... We have to fix mines for them, destroy them and get them out of Afghanistan."

Zaher said he learned to produce a variety of explosives. They ranged from a crude bomb with wiring and fertilizer stuffed into a plastic jug, to more sophisticated remote-contolled devices.

"I can even make a bomb by buying stuff at the bazaar - for $10."

Zaher said he attended three sessions at the compound, lasting from 20 days to two months.

A half-dozen trainees would sleep on the floor in a common dormitory in the single-storey white building, he said.

On a typical day, they had breakfast at 10 a.m., lunch at 2 p.m., and spent every other waking hour learning how to kill foreigners.

Zaher said he doesn't know how many soldiers died from the bombs he planted on roads in Zhari, Panjwaii, Khakrez and Maywand districts of Kandahar province. And he said he has no idea whether the vehicles he blew up were Canadian, American or British.

He showed no remorse.

On the contrary, his dark eyes softened, his smile sparkled and his nasally voice quivered with excitement as he listed the places where he had ended enemies' lives.

"Sure, I've killed many foreigners," he said. "I was very happy when I killed people. That was supposed to be my task - and it made me very happy."

Zaher said he doesn't know much about Canada except that it's a foreign country.

The Canadian military began moving operations from Kabul to Kandahar in August 2005, initially establishing a provincial reconstruction team. By February 2006, some 2,000 Canadian troops had arrived and taken charge of security in Kandahar province.

Zaher said he left the insurgency about two-and-a-half years ago - around the time the Canadians entered Kandahar in force.

He wanted to come back home.

Upon being offered amnesty under the Afghan government's reconciliation program, he crammed his family and a few possessions into their Mazda minivan, rolled out of Pakistan in the middle of the night and moved into Kandahar city's District Six.

Zaher has since trimmed his once-bountiful beard and turfed his turban in favour of a white skull cap.

But he eagerly showed off old pictures of himself holding rocket launchers, AK-47 assault rifles and dressed in trademark Taliban garb.

Zaher said he was a district commander outside the capital under the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. After the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led forces in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, he returned to Kandahar and struggled to adapt to the changed life.

He said he grew tired of being harassed, threatened and extorted by corrupt officials in the new Afghan government.

Like many of his friends, he fled to Pakistan in 2003.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Quetta, he said he received phone calls from his old allies offering him a lucrative opportunity to work with the Pakistanis.

He called them generous employers.

They gave him a motorbike and later upgraded it to the minivan. He said he lived in a rent-free house in Quetta big enough to accommodate him, his wife and their 10 children.

And he said he could ask anytime for an advance of up to three months on his salary.

Because he was illiterate, Zaher said the soldier who handed over the cash accepted an ink thumbprint as proof of payment.

But the generosity came with strings attached.

He was expected to spend about half the year fighting in Afghanistan.

If he wanted to see his family in Pakistan, he had to find someone to replace him in Afghanistan. It was like shift work. "He would come from Pakistan, replace me, and I would go home to Quetta. It was very important for me to find a replacement."

There was another catch.

Each time he received his payment, and every time he went for training, soldiers would remind him about what happened to trainees who refused to fight in Afghanistan.

"'If you don't go there, you will go to Guantanamo'," Zaher said.

"People who were saying they didn't want to do the training ... they were sent to Guantanamo. They were accused of being Talibs and they're getting punished over there."

The Pakistani government has strongly denied allegations that hardline Islamist factions within its security forces have been helping the Taliban.

How could the army possibly be aiding the insurgency, Pakistani officials argue, when pro-Taliban rebels have killed far more soldiers from Pakistan than any other country?

The Rand Corp. report offered several possible reasons why certain elements in the Pakistani government would support the Taliban.

Islamic militancy is only one of those factors, wrote Seth Jones, the report's author.

His report said Pakistanis want to continue exerting more influence in Afghanistan than their arch-nemesis, India - an emerging economic superpower that has helped bankroll a number of construction projects including Afghanistan's new parliament building.

Jones suggested some people in Pakistan may want to hedge their bets in Afghanistan in case of a NATO defeat, maintaining close ties to the rebels as a backup plan.

Finally, Jones said they want to keep Pakistan's Pashtun population loyal - an unstable Afghanistan next door will solidify their sense of belonging to Pakistan.

Among former insurgents, Pakistan's involvement is described as a matter of fact.

Mullah Mirza Akhun said he met some of his old friends two months ago when he travelled to Quetta to get medical treatment for his mother.

"I met some Taliban there - and they offered me a job," said the Kandahar resident, a self-described former Taliban commander.

"I was told by some of my friends that the Pakistani government can give you training to destroy Afghanistan."

"But I refused."
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