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June 3, 2008 

US general takes over NATO command in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. general who led American troops into Iraq took command Tuesday of the 40-nation NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

NATO: 10 militants killed in Afghan battle
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Jun 2, 3:37 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - NATO military aircraft supported Afghan police in a 12-hour firefight in western Afghanistan that killed at least 10 militants, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Monday.

Canadian soldier shot to death in Afghanistan
OTTAWA (AFP) - A Canadian soldier on a foot patrol in southern Afghanistan was killed Tuesday in a melee with insurgents in the volatile Panjwai district, the military said.

Gates wins no promises on Asia trip for help on Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Tue Jun 3, 9:10 AM ET
SEOUL, South Korea - Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Asia trip produced no public commitment from other nations to help the U.S. in the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan.

Militants assassinate local intelligence chief in E Afghanistan
KABUL, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Militants fighting Afghan government gunned down a local intelligence chief in the country's eastern Khost province on Tuesday, provincial administration's spokesman Khyber Pashtun said.

Afghan govt must fight graft, help people-World Bank
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, June 3 (Reuters) - The World Bank is committed to building a "prosperous and stable" Afghanistan, but Afghans themselves must fight corruption and provide better services for citizens, a top bank official said on Tuesday.

Stark reality for Afghan football
By Chris Wang in Colombo Al Jazeera / June 3, 2008
Coaching a national football team to glory, or at least up to the standards expected by fervent fans, can be tough at the best of times. Just ask former England manager Steve McClaren, or former China coach Zhu Guanghu.

Afghanistan: Export restrictions, insecurity delay food aid delivery
KABUL, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - Five months after a joint appeal by the UN and the Afghan government for US$77 million to provide emergency food assistance to 2.55 million Afghans affected by soaring food prices, relief has reached only

US terror drive stalled in political quagmire
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 31, 2008
KARACHI - Anti-American sentiment in the South Asian "war on terror" theater is on the rise, leaving Washington in a dilemma over how to intervene and preserve its interests.

Hopes Dashed for Afghan Journalist’s Release
Confusion and anger as judge orders indefinite postponement in blasphemy trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 02-Jun-08)
The mood was almost festive at the start of the latest appeal hearing in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who has spent over seven months in prison facing execution on a charge of defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.

U.S. Reports Gains Against Taliban Fighters
The New York Times - World By CARLOTTA GALL June 3, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan-Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan are fleeing to the Pakistani border after being routed in recent operations by the United States Marines, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.

Pagan sect at Pakistan border lives amid conservative Muslims
By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers June 2, 2008
BATRIK, Pakistan — On the northwest tip of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan's Nuristan province, the inaccessible Chitral district has long been thought to be a possible refuge for Osama bin Laden. With the high peaks of the Hindu Kush

Over to you in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 03/06/2008
The welcome news from Afghanistan that British forces have reached a "tipping point" in their campaign to subjugate the Taliban is a testament to the skill and determination of our Armed Forces in tackling a fierce and determined enemy.

Ex-Afghan president tells US to reign in ISI
Written by www.quqnoos.com Monday, 02 June 2008
Pakistan’s secret service supports terrorism, Mujaddedi says
A FORMER Afghan president has urged America to reign in Pakistan’s secret intelligence service in order to save the world from terrorism, according to an Indian news agency.

Karzai's Assurances Fail to Win Freedom for Afghani Journalist
Bloomberg - Muse RSS By Jeremy Gerard June 3, 2008
The air of victory and celebration in a Kabul courtroom on Monday darkened into one of suspicion, confusion and anger as a judge indefinitely adjourned the appeal of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, according to a witness.

The US is repeating the Soviets’ mistakes in Afghanistan, plus showing remarkable creativity in the horrors department
Online Journal By Eric Walberg Online Journal Contributing Writer Jun 3, 2008, 00:28
Twenty years ago last week, the Soviet Union began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, eight and a half years after it was invited by the desperate People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had degenerated into intra-party

Afghan children paying family debts
Al Jazeera June 2, 2008
Al Jazeera has discovered that thousands of children, some as young as aged four, are being forced to work in brick factories in Afghanistan.

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US general takes over NATO command in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. general who led American troops into Iraq took command Tuesday of the 40-nation NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan took charge of the 51,000-member International Security Assistance Force from Gen. Dan McNeill, who will retire from the U.S. Army after 40 years.

Addressing a change of command ceremony Tuesday, McKiernan said he was "honored to walk alongside our Afghan brothers."

"While today marks a transition in commanders, the mission must continue without missing a beat," he said, listing security, reconstruction and development as the types of support that Afghanistan deserves. "Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way of that mission will be dealt with."

In the latest violence, three ISAF soldiers were killed in attacks, including two in eastern Afghanistan, where most of the forces are American. About 15 others — insurgents and Afghan police — also died in violence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed McKiernan to the country.

"Your task will not be easy," Karzai warned. "But I'm sure as good a soldier as you are, you will serve it well, together with Afghan officers and the Ministry of Defense."

He asked McKiernan and other military commanders to continue to equip and train Afghan security forces so the country can eventually stand on its own.

McKiernan, whose previous assignment was as commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, inherits the largest ISAF force since the international military partnership was created in 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

He takes command during a period of heightened violence and a spiraling opium poppy heroin trade in Afghanistan. More than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks in the country last year, the most since the 2001 invasion.

But McKiernan will also have more Afghan army troops and police — about 130,000 — working alongside ISAF forces than any previous commander.

As a three-star general in 2003, McKiernan commanded the U.S. land forces during the invasion of Iraq.

Around the country, three ISAF soldiers, three policemen, a private security guard and at least 10 Taliban were killed in Afghanistan's latest violence.

• Two ISAF soldiers were killed while on patrol in the east. NATO did not release any additional information. Most soldiers in the east are American. One soldier was also wounded.

• A third ISAF soldier died in the south from wounds suffered from a battle. NATO released no other information.

• In the Murja district of Helmand province, Taliban fighters attacked a police patrol Monday and killed one policeman, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. Police counterattacked, killing eight Taliban.

• In the eastern province of Khost, gunmen assassinated a district intelligence Tuesday, said Mujib Rahman, the district chief of Alishar.

• In the southern Zabul province, Taliban fighters ambushed a NATO logistics convoy and killed one private security guard, said provincial police chief Saridullah Khan.

• U.S.-led coalition forces killed "several" militants during an operation in the Garmser district of Helmand province Monday, the coalition said. Militants attacked the coalition troops while they were searching a compound, and the troops responded with gunfire, mortars and air strikes, killing the militants, the coalition statement said.

U.S. Marines moved into Garmser in early May, and NATO officials say that militants who used to operate there are starting to flee the region.

• In Herat province's Ghoryan district, Taliban attacked a police checkpoint, killing one officer and kidnapping six, said Haji Raouf Ahmadi, police spokesman for western Afghanistan.
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NATO: 10 militants killed in Afghan battle
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Jun 2, 3:37 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - NATO military aircraft supported Afghan police in a 12-hour firefight in western Afghanistan that killed at least 10 militants, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Monday.

Afghan officials claimed a much higher death toll, saying dozens of militants were killed.

A spokesman for the police in western Afghanistan, Haji Raouf Ahmedi, said 150 militants attacked a police checkpoint Sunday, triggering the daylong battle in Murghab district, near the border with Turkmenistan.

Ahmedi said 46 militants were killed and 30 wounded, though he said police recovered the bodies of only five militants. Asked how he knew 46 were killed, Ahmedi replied, "We have reports."

Ahmedi said one policeman was also killed.

The governor of Badghis province, Ashraf Nasery, said 49 militants were killed and 35 wounded. He attributed the death toll to "intelligence reports."

He labeled the militants "the enemies of Afghanistan" but offered no more clues as to who they were.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said the alliance had reports of 10 militants killed in the battle. He said ISAF media rules prevented him from giving his name.

It was not possible to get independent confirmation of the toll at the remote battle site. Afghan officials have on occasions in the past exaggerated militant death tolls.

It was the second time in two days that Afghan officials made claims of large numbers of militant deaths. On Sunday, the Interior Ministry said Afghan forces had killed more than 100 militants in a three-day fight in Farah province, but no officials could say how they reached that toll and two admitted that no bodies were left on the battlefield to count.

But the fighting in the two remote areas of the country — in Badghis and Farah — could signal a new strategy by militants to attack areas where NATO and U.S. forces have little presence.

The majority of NATO's fighting forces are centered in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, far from the attacks in Badghis and Farah. NATO and U.S. troops are in the country to battle Taliban militants trying to bring down the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Militant fighters the last two years have stepped up attacks on the country's fledgling police, who have little training and weaponry. Last year more than 900 police were killed in militant attacks.
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Associated Press reporter Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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Canadian soldier shot to death in Afghanistan
OTTAWA (AFP) - A Canadian soldier on a foot patrol in southern Afghanistan was killed Tuesday in a melee with insurgents in the volatile Panjwai district, the military said.

"The incident occurred during a dismounted security patrol with our Afghan partners" at about 9:30 am, a military spokesman told a press conference at Canada's base in Kandahar City, broadcast live in Canada.

"The patrol came under small arms fire," he said. "The soldiers returned fire and under Captain (Steve) Leary's leadership repositioned when he was struck."

Following a prolonged engagement with the insurgents, a wounded Captain Steve Leary was evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility at Kandahar Airfield, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, "air support was called in and the insurgents were defeated."

Leary's death brings the Canadian death toll in Afghanistan since 2002 to 84 soldiers and a senior diplomat.
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Gates wins no promises on Asia trip for help on Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Tue Jun 3, 9:10 AM ET
SEOUL, South Korea - Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Asia trip produced no public commitment from other nations to help the U.S. in the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan.

With many countries under pressure at home to withdraw troops out of harm's way, Gates was forced to change strategies from a similar trip he took a year ago. This time his appeal was more subtle and delivered in private.

At meetings with Asian leaders, during an international security conference in Singapore and in visits to Thailand and Korea, Gates floated some ideas: Maybe the French could send special operations forces, or others could send trainers or medical aid.

"As best I can recall I asked everybody," Gates said, describing his message as "for those who are already engaged, can you do more? And for those who are not engaged, think about what you might be able to do."

Gates has had only mixed results in what has been an 18-month quest to rally more troops, equipment, transportation and other support for the effort in Afghanistan. For much of last year he hammered NATO allies to pony up more resources for the Afghan war and to reduce the restrictions many nations put on the fighting forces they do have there.

Limited progress has come in fits and starts — a few helicopters from one, some trainers from another, or Japan's agreement to reconsider its move to halt refueling and logistical support to U.S.-led forces in the Indian Ocean.

As a result, Gates sent more than 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan to help fight insurgents in the volatile south. And President Bush has said the U.S. will add several thousand more troops some time next year.

So, as Gates returned Tuesday from his weeklong travel to Asia, there was little indication he had come away with any additional commitments.

Many of the leaders he met with talked about the political situations at home. Gates likened the situation to a NATO meeting, in that the defense ministers didn't have the unilateral power to offer any commitments.

Still, "some of them are going to go back to their governments and see if there are possibilities for doing more," Gates said hopefully.

None, it seemed, were inclined to bring up Gates' own political backdrop or the deep divisions on the military — particularly in Iraq — being aired in the contentious U.S. presidential campaign.

But Gates brought it up himself.

He used the widely attended Shangri-la conference to reassure leaders that America will not abandon the fight against global terrorism, no matter who is elected president.

From the podium and in public comments later, Gates insisted the next commander in chief — whether Republican or Democrat — will not be complacent about terrorism threats with memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks still strong.

"Whoever is elected president will continued a very aggressive effort to deal with al-Qaida around the world and other extremist networks," Gates told reporters after meetings with his counterparts at an international security conference. "Now, they may use different terminology, they may approach it in a different way, but no American president can afford not to be aggressive in dealing with a potential threat to the United States and to our friends caused by these violent extremists."

Gates also was cautiously upbeat about the situation in Iraq, where U.S. casualties dropped to a four-year low last month, with about 21 troops killed, including four in non-hostile incidents.

"Everybody is leery about being optimistic, but it does seem to be developing in a very positive way," Gates told reporters during a break in his Singapore meetings. "We've still got a distance to go, but I think that the lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress that has been made."

That progress includes long-awaited improvements in the Iraqi security forces, who have been slowly taking greater control of their own combat operations, with U.S. help.

Neither Gates nor Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would predict further troop withdrawals beyond those planned through July. By then, there will be 15 U.S. combat brigades remaining in Iraq — five fewer than the peak after Bush ordered the buildup of troops early last year.

"I think we need to get to the fall to see where we are, to see what the decisions will be," Mullen said. "But we're on a pretty good track right now."
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Militants assassinate local intelligence chief in E Afghanistan
KABUL, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Militants fighting Afghan government gunned down a local intelligence chief in the country's eastern Khost province on Tuesday, provincial administration's spokesman Khyber Pashtun said.

"The chief of intelligence department of Alishir district was on way to office at around 8:30 a.m. local time when the armed Taliban insurgents opened fire on his car killing him on the spot," Pashtun told Xinhua.

Militants by targeting officials want to terrify government employees to leave their jobs and destabilize security in the country, he further said.

Taliban militants that in the past attacked government interests and servicemen including teachers and pro-government religious leaders have not made comments so far.
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Afghan govt must fight graft, help people-World Bank
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, June 3 (Reuters) - The World Bank is committed to building a "prosperous and stable" Afghanistan, but Afghans themselves must fight corruption and provide better services for citizens, a top bank official said on Tuesday.

Poor security, corruption and the lack of good governance are some of the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan, more than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban.

Violence in the country has surged over the last two years and Western politicians and think-tanks have this year warned the the country risks becoming a failed state and sliding into anarchy.

World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, ending a three-day visit, called for the international community to continue its support but stressed the need for Afghans to take the lead.

"Only Afghans can develop Afghanistan," she said in a statement.

"They must rise to the challenge and tackle the difficult issues of building institutions, fighting corruption and improving service delivery to ordinary citizens."

The comments come ahead of a conference to be held in Paris on June 12 where the Afghan government will ask for more than $50 million from international donors to implement its new national development strategy.

Afghanistan depends on aid for 90 percent of its spending. A UN special envoy to Afghanistan said on Monday that the Afghan government should be given a much bigger role in distributing the aid. At present the Afghan government has control of only one-third of the money that has been pledged or spent by donors according to government officials and president Karzai has expressed the readiness of his government to be held to account for any aid channeled through it. But official corruption has made international donors reluctant to channel their money through the Afghan government and has undermined the public's faith in their own leaders. Afghans are also disappointed with the slow pace of development.

Despite much being achieved in Afghanistan, enormous challenges remained and an "aggressive attack" on corruption was needed, said Okonjo-Iweala.

"Government must be, and be seen, to be accountable for service delivery," she said.

Since resuming operations in Afghanistan in 2002, the World Bank has committed around $1.66 billion to the country. (Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Stark reality for Afghan football
By Chris Wang in Colombo Al Jazeera / June 3, 2008
Coaching a national football team to glory, or at least up to the standards expected by fervent fans, can be tough at the best of times. Just ask former England manager Steve McClaren, or former China coach Zhu Guanghu.

Both McClaren and Zhu were sacked from their respective positions in 2007 after failing with their teams, no doubt having worked with elite players, state of the art facilities, and with healthy budgets.

Spare a thought then for Klaus Stark.

The German has been coach of the Afghanistan national team for three years, and he loves his job.

Stark was in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo ahead of the 2008 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, where his side were drawn in Group B alongside Bangladesh, Bhutan, and co-hosts Sri Lanka.

The 54-year-old spoke with Al Jazeera about his experience of coaching a team with a Fifa ranking of 196th in the world.

"You know, in Afghanistan it is very difficult to prepare a football team," Stark said.

"In Kabul at the moment we do not have any football pitch. All of them are destroyed.

"Our stadium is undergoing renovation, so we went to Jalalabad with the team for some short training camps."

Stark has worked for the German Football Federation (DFB) since 2001. He is one of about 20 coaches that the DFB send across the globe to help develop "third world" footballing nations.

European style

"We try to give our experience and knowledge to them. I love this job because I'm always working with footballers," he said.

"We have the same aim - we want to improve football.

"I have helped football federations in eight countries, but in Afghanistan it is a difficult job."

Some of Stark's previous employers include Lebanon, Mongolia and Pakistan. Hardly budding World Cup winners, but that doesn't bother the German.

He has spent the last four years working with the Afghanistan Football Federation, the past three as national coach, and says Afghan players have a style like those in southern Europe.

"They can handle the ball, but they have problems in the tactical side. We have to teach them how to play football… modern football," Stark said.

"Because of the lack of games they have, it is a long road to develop them."

Youthful success

Football, like many sports, was discouraged when the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001, and Afghanistan did not play any international matches between 1984 and 2003. They have attempted to qualify for the Olympics just twice since 1948, and have only participated in World Cup qualifying since Germany 2006.

"Three years ago we started at zero. With nothing. But now we can compete in these South Asian tournaments, and the Challenge Cup," said Stark, who spends six to eight months of the year in Afghanistan.

"So I think that's a compliment to the players that they are learning quickly.

"We help the federation in all areas of football - coaching department, referees, youth football, women's football, all the national teams.

"We have three football schools with 600 children playing football every day, and so the improvement at the youth level is faster than at the adult level."

Two weeks ago the Afghanistan Under-14 national team returned from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-14 Festival of Football in Tehran with the bronze medal. It was an achievement that Stark hoped would help raise government funding for football.

"It was another success, and we were invited by the Vice President, Mr Massoud [Ahmad Zia Massoud], and he was very happy about football," Stark said.

"So I hope in the future the government will give more support to football in Afghanistan."

Part of the family

The German program in Afghanistan has been running for almost five years, and with Stark and his team soon to hand the reins over to the national federation it remains to be seen what they can achieve without external help.

"Such a program is usually planned for four years, but Afghanistan is a special situation so we are there for five years. But after five years our work is done," Stark explained.

"We give everything we have to them, and then the Afghans must work with it."

Afghanistan have made two appearances at SAFF championships, exiting the tournament in the first round on both occasions in 2003 and 2005, having lost five of six matches played.

However Stark and his team of coaches have given Afghan football more hope and expectation than it has had in a long time, with this tournament just a steppingstone to bigger things.

"We would be very happy if we could reach the semi-finals. It is possible… it is a long and hard way for us," he said.

"But the most important thing is that Afghanistan are ready to participate.

"We are back in the football family."
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Afghanistan: Export restrictions, insecurity delay food aid delivery
KABUL, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - Five months after a joint appeal by the UN and the Afghan government for US$77 million to provide emergency food assistance to 2.55 million Afghans affected by soaring food prices, relief has reached only about 38 percent of the targeted population, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN.

The Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=76400] was launched on 24 January. WFP requested the funds to purchase and distribute 88,000 metric tonnes (MT) of food aid from February to mid-2008.

Donors have contributed more than 90 percent of the requested funds to date, according to WFP Afghanistan [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77739].

"The plan was for 88,000MT and so far 28,000MT have been dispatched, with 20,000MT distributed to beneficiaries," said Rick Corsino, WFP country representative. Of the 2.55 million targeted beneficiaries, 970,000 have been assisted thus far, he added.

A steep rise in food prices has pushed millions of already vulnerable Afghans into "high-risk" food-insecurity, aid agencies have reported.

In an effort to avert a humanitarian tragedy resulting from increasing problems in accessing food, the UN and Afghan government had planned in January to provide an emergency "safety net" for more than 2.5 million most vulnerable people until the harvest season in August. However, the plan has not gone as expected. Impediments

One of the main reasons why food aid has not yet reached even half the targeted communities is procurement and logistical hurdles.

Initially it was decided that wheat and other food items would be procured from markets in neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, which traditionally supplies Afghan food markets.

However, rising prices have prompted Pakistani authorities to impose a strict ban on food exports, hitting WFP's operation in Afghanistan.

"Because we have been unable to obtain much of the food in the region owing to export restrictions imposed by neighbouring countries, we have had to procure from other parts of the world. Delivery times are therefore much greater than we would have wanted," Corsino said.

The Pakistan government has not yet responded to WFP's requests to purchase 100,000MT of wheat from Pakistani markets, Corsino said.

Worsening insecurity in south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan is another obstacle. WFP has lost about 1,000MT of food, valued at $800,000, in almost 40 separate attacks on food aid convoys in the past 18 months [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=78440].

The UN has repeatedly condemned armed attacks on food aid convoys and has called on all warring parties to allow their safe passage throughout the country.

"Food is stolen from those people who need it most," Kai Eide, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told the media in Kabul on 22 May.

"It has been condemned by the international community, but I want to see this condemned by others also. I would like to see the Taliban, the insurgency, condemn such attacks," Eide said.

Programme extended

WFP says its emergency food aid programme has helped many poor families across Afghanistan and has also contributed to easing food prices in many locations.

Despite delays in getting all the required food, WFP says it is committed to distributing the planned food aid.

"The food [aid] needs continue in many areas, so we are confident that even though the food will only reach beneficiaries in July/August, it will still be very much needed," said Corsino.
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US terror drive stalled in political quagmire
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 31, 2008
KARACHI - Anti-American sentiment in the South Asian "war on terror" theater is on the rise, leaving Washington in a dilemma over how to intervene and preserve its interests.

A speech by former premier Nawaz Sharif on Youm-e-Takbeer (the 10th anniversary of Pakistan's testing of a nuclear device on May 28, 1998) illustrates how anti-Americanism has become a tool of politicians to mobilize the masses. He stated:

"I will not absolve [President Pervez] Musharraf from the accusations against him of devastating the country by selling it to foreign powers, carrying out the Lal Masjid massacre, incarcerating nuclear scientist Dr [Abdul Qadeer] Khan and superior court judges and handing over innocent Pakistanis to American agencies in return for dollars."

Sharif was referring to Musharraf signing onto the US-led "war on terror" after September 11, 2001, initiating the military raid on the pro-Taliban radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad last year, imprisoning Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb program, and last year sacking judges opposed to Musharraf continuing his presidency.

Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), clearly does not want Musharraf to quietly fade away. He wants him accountable for his years in power after staging a military coup in 1999. The PML-N helped form a coalition government following February's elections, with the dominant Pakistan People's Party (PPP), but since then it has had an uneasy relationship with its new political partner.

Sharif's speech came ahead of a scheduled visit to Pakistan by Richard Boucher, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs. Boucher was due to coordinate with the PPP-led government, the presidency and the military over a better strategy in the "war on terror".

However, Boucher's trip was put on hold by the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, because of the high anti-American sentiment in the streets and the PML-N's plan to stage demonstrations on his arrival - this could have been embarrassing for Pakistan-US relations.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a series of telephone interviews by Khan, who is under house arrest, was aired recently by selected local television networks. Khan lambasted the US, as well as Musharraf, over his detention. In January 2004, Khan confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He was pardoned by Musharraf, but placed under house arrest.

Khan now denies leaking atomic secrets, according to the British Broadcasting Corp, citing a telephone interview with the scientist whose details were published on Thursday. Khan said pressure was put on him to accept the charges "in the national interest", the BBC said on its website. "These are false allegations," he told the broadcaster's Urdu service. When asked why he was put under pressure to confess, Khan said: "If one person takes responsibility, you save the country."

Earlier, in a little-noticed move, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official, retired Squadron Leader Khalid Khawaja, applied to register a police case against Musharraf, General Tariq Majeed, the then-Corps Commander Rawalpindi and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, as well as other civilian officials, in connection with killings during the storming of the Lal Masjid.

Khalid was once friendly with Osama bin Laden and helped set up Sharif's many meetings with the al-Qaeda leader in an attempt to topple Benazir Bhutto's government in 1989. (See The pawns who pay as powers play Asia Times Online, June 22, 2005.) After many denials, Sharif finally admitted to those meetings in a recent television show, saying that at the time even the Americans were meeting with bin Laden.

Khalid also applied for the registration of several other cases in connection with abductions - people suspected of al-Qaeda and Taliban links detained by the security forces without any police case being laid against them.

Musharraf was cited in these cases and should he resign from the presidency the cases against him will immediately be activated and could lead to his arrest and trial, which is what Sharif hinted at in his Youm-e-Takbeer speech. Rumors have been circulating in Pakistan over the past few days that Musharraf is about to step down.

Another showdown involves retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI. A number of retired military officers plan to lay siege around President's Lodge on June 10, demanding that Musharraf vacate the house and resign as president. Formerly known as Army House, the Rawalpindi residence was renamed President's Lodge after Musharraf quit as army chief last November and decided to continue living there for security reasons.

On June 12, lawyers say they will restart a movement for the restoration of the judiciary, and Sharif has declared that he will be beside them.

Mystery over Musharraf

Rumors over Musharraf's possible resignation were heightened this week when a former army chief, retired General Aslam Beg - a self-proclaimed Islamist - claimed that the military had already taken Musharraf into safe custody and that he would soon present his resignation and arrange for exile in either Turkey, the US or Britain. (Beg later retracted the statement.)

This uncertainty has placed the country's pro-American allies in the country - the PPP-led government, Musharraf himself and the military - under immense pressure and effectively stalled any moves they might want to make in line with regional US policies.

Crucially, this coincides with the Taliban's offensive in Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Taliban shot down a US helicopter in Khost province's Yakoobia area, with several Afghan soldiers killed, and they launched several attacks in Farah, Herat province, the capital Kabul and in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces.

Hamstrung with its internal problems, the Pakistan government does not have any option but to retain its peace deals with Taliban in the country's tribal regions, which allows them to freely go into Afghanistan.

Asia Times Online has received information that Pakistani pro-Taliban tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud - against whom a case has been registered in connection with the assassination of Bhutto last December - will be given compensation money to be distrubted among tribals who lost property and men during recent battles with Pakistani security forces. The money is likely to be delivered next week, after which an agreement will be formally signed between Pakistan and Baitullah Behsud.

Even if Musharraf does resign, it is likely there will be a showdown between the PML-N and the lawyers' movement on the one side and the PPP on the other, again reducing the country's ability to cooperate in the "war on terror".

In another development in Afghanistan, the Taliban and leaders of the Afghan National Front led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president and mujahideen chief and now opposition leader, have admitted to holding negotiations. Warlords associated with Rabbani's group have always felt sidelined under President Hamid Karzai's government and are looking for a new role.

As in Pakistan, domestic developments in Afghanistan are taking on a life of their own beyond the dictates of the US and its local allies.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Hopes Dashed for Afghan Journalist’s Release
Confusion and anger as judge orders indefinite postponement in blasphemy trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 02-Jun-08)
The mood was almost festive at the start of the latest appeal hearing in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who has spent over seven months in prison facing execution on a charge of defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.

A large sign in English proclaimed “This Way” with arrows pointing to the courtroom, and the large group of observers had simultaneous translation into English laid on, complete with special interpreting equipment.

The Afghan and international press corps, representatives of foreign embassies and human rights groups, civil society activists including a long row of brightly dressed and very intense Afghan women had turned out in force at the Kabul Appeals Court for what everyone expected would be the last chapter in a long and dismal saga.

Two previous sessions had ended in adjournment – the first, on May 18, because there was no defence lawyer present, and the second, on May 25, because Kambakhsh complained of ill health.

Everyone was sure this would be the last time the court needed to gather.

The rumour mill had been working overtime, confidently predicting that Kambakhsh would be released at the June 1 session.

The speculation had turned from the case to Kambakhsh’s future - would he be able to stay in Afghanistan, or was the risk of reprisals by religious fundamentalists too great? Was there a country prepared to receive him? Were plans already in train?

But it soon became clear the defendant was not going anywhere.

A thin, pale Kambakhsh was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. He smiled for the dozens of cameras, and politely extended his hands to have his shackles removed. He wore a leather jacket over his prison-issue, black-on-white Afghan clothes, a long tunic over baggy pants.

The secretary of the court conducted a 30-minute recitation of the text that Kambakhsh was accused of having downloaded.

When it came time for the defence to present its case, Kambakhsh stood and recited verses from the Koran to indicate that he was and remains an observant Muslim. He then replied to the court’s questions about his health, saying that he was prepared to continue his case.

His lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nooristani, then introduced a motion asking for a medical examination to support Kambakhsh’s claim that he had been tortured.

After a short adjournment, the presiding judge, Abdul Salam Qazizada, ruled that Kambakhsh should be handed over to forensic doctors, who would then inform the court as to the validity of his allegations. In contrast to previous sessions, no date was set for continuing the appeal.

While the delay seemed to be at the behest of the defence, those close to Kambakhsh maintain that it was in fact a ploy by the court – and by extension the government – to keep him under wraps for the next few weeks.

“The lawyer introduced the motion to have Parwez examined one week ago, but the judge would not consider it,” said Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, who has worked as a journalist with IWPR for the past five years. “He said the motion had to be read in open court.”

Ibrahimi appeared stunned by the turn of events. Along with his father, Sayed Ahmad, who was present but not inside the courtroom, he had expected to be able to take his brother home.

“We expected that he would be released, but now I don’t know what will happen,” said Ibrahimi. “I think the court just wants to kill time.”

Kambakhsh’s ordeal began on October 27, 2007, when he was arrested in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, for allegedly downloading and circulating a text that harshly criticised Islam.

The incriminating document, authored by an Iranian exile who writes under the penname Arrash Bekhoda (“Arrash the Godless”), casts doubt upon the character and behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad, particularly as regards his multiple wives.

Bekhoda also criticises, at times quite harshly, the Koran’s strictures on women. For example, in courts of law the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man; a woman is entitled to only half the inheritance that males get. Men are allowed multiple wives, but women cannot have more than one husband. Bekhoda repeatedly states that these restrictions violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Kambakhsh has denied the charges against him, despite a signed confession that he says was coerced.

At the time of his arrest, Kambakhsh told relatives that he had been psychologically pressured into admitting that he had been behind the dissemination of the downloaded text.

Only recently have allegations of physical mistreatment surfaced. Kambakhsh told the court on May 18 that he had been tortured, and has since explained that his nose and left hand were broken as officers from the National Security Directorate attempted to obtain his signature on the confession.

The case has been plagued with procedural difficulties from the start. At the initial trial in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, Kambakhsh had no legal representation and was given no opportunity to defend himself. The trial was also closed to observers. Kambakhsh was simply summoned into a room and handed a death sentence.

Relatives and supporters spent two months trying to get the case moved from Balkh to the Afghan capital Kabul, where they felt Kambakhsh would have a better chance of a fair trial.

During that time, the family tried without success to find a lawyer willing to take the case on. Some agreed, only to quit after a few days.

“We’ve gone through at least ten lawyers,” said Ibrahimi.

That accounted for Kambakhsh’s lack of representation on May 18. At that session, he made a stab at representing himself, but his speech was emotional and unfocused, leading family and friends to fear for his psychological welfare.

“He was not okay,” said Ibrahimi. “He is under pressure.”

In the past seven months, this young student from an educated family has been in no fewer than six jails, has mixed with criminals of every stripe, and has become the centre of world attention. It would not be surprising if he were showing the strain.

At the May 18 session, Judge Qazizada told Kambakhsh that he needed legal representation, and adjourned the hearing. A week later, once Nooristani was aboard, the trial resumed. But the lawyer had not been given sufficient time to prepare the case.

Kambakhsh complained that he was too ill to continue, and this second session was adjourned within minutes, with the date set for the following Sunday, June 1.

Observers who were present at the third session were divided in their assessment of proceedings.

“The judge is trying hard to ensure due process,” said one foreign diplomat. “And the torture allegations are the defence’s best chance.”

But another member of the foreign diplomatic community was indignant that the defence had not been given a chance to deny the charges.

“Anyone leaving the court today would assume that the charges were correct,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They should have been given the chance to read their defence statement.”

According to the defence team, the court required Nooristani to present his motion for a medical examination before being allowed to read the statement. Once the motion was introduced, the court quickly ruled on an adjournment.

“This trial has had a lot of legal problems,” said Lal Gul, head of the Afghan Human Rights Organisation, which has assisted Kambakhsh’s family in preparing for the trial. “There have been many violations of the law. According to Sharia [Islamic law], even if someone converts [to another faith], he has three days to repent. If he apologises, he is set free.”

According to the Afghan constitution, Sharia is the highest authority in the land.

The case may hit further snags along the way. Lawyer Nooristani has told friends and acquaintances that he has received threatening phone calls.

With all the confusion surrounding the case, Kambakhsh supporters are getting discouraged.

“It certainly seems that this case is politically motivated,” said the foreign diplomat quoted above. “The whole mood around the case is changing.”

Jean MacKenzie is IWPR Afghanistan programme director.
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U.S. Reports Gains Against Taliban Fighters
The New York Times - World By CARLOTTA GALL June 3, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan-Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan are fleeing to the Pakistani border after being routed in recent operations by the United States Marines, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said on Monday.

Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been clearing Taliban and foreign fighters from the district of Garmser, in southern Helmand Province, an important infiltration and drug trafficking route used by the Taliban to supply insurgents farther north.

“The insurgents, after experiencing these several weeks of pressure below Garmser, are trying to flee to the south, perhaps to go back to the sanctuaries in another country,” said the NATO commander, Gen. Dan K. McNeill.

He did not name Pakistan, but Helmand Province shares a border with Pakistan, and the Taliban and drug traffickers have long used refugee camps across the border as a sanctuary from American firepower.
The governor of the province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, also spoke of the rout of the Taliban.

“For the last two days we have information that Taliban are escaping to the border areas,” he said.

The insurgents, including numbers of foreign fighters, were said to be fleeing to Girdi Jungle, an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and the border town of Baramcha, as well as the southernmost towns of Dishu and Khaneshin, which sit on the edge of the desert and offer quick access to the border.

Governor Mangal said hundreds of foreign fighters had joined the Taliban in their fight against marines in Garmser in recent weeks.

But he said they had suffered heavy losses.

Nineteen bodies of foreign fighters were found in one location, he said.

General McNeill, who hands over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan this week after 16 months in the post, said that if the Taliban and foreign insurgents continued to enjoy free sanctuary outside Afghanistan, their numbers would continue to grow.

He also seemed to warn Pakistan to contain the threat emanating from its land.

“If there are insurgencies in places that are not in Afghanistan, but very close by, and security forces are not taking them on, I don’t think that bodes well for the whole region,” General McNeill said.

Despite the rout of Taliban forces, the general warned that they were not the only problem in Helmand Province and that the enormous opium crop and the powerful drug business posed a comparable threat to Afghanistan’s stability.

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar.
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Pagan sect at Pakistan border lives amid conservative Muslims
By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers June 2, 2008
BATRIK, Pakistan — On the northwest tip of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan's Nuristan province, the inaccessible Chitral district has long been thought to be a possible refuge for Osama bin Laden. With the high peaks of the Hindu Kush range and its narrow valleys, it's easy to dodge through secret mountain routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Chitral is also the home of the Kalasha, a unique pagan civilization that's lived in the area for 2,000 years or more, now boxed in by an increasingly militant Islam. Thinly populated, Chitral covers 5,800 square miles, with war-torn Afghanistan to the north and west and the extremist strongholds of Swat and Dir to the south.

According to locals, bin Laden lived with a Kalasha family in Chitral for some time during his first Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. With his now much more severe ideology, the al Qaida leader wouldn't be able to easily live among these polytheistic people, whose men and women mix freely.

Last month, the Kalasha celebrated their spring festival, Joshi, with a verve and passion that few cultures could match, ancient or modern. Men and women danced tirelessly to a pounding, primeval drumbeat, haunting singing and rituals so old that their meaning is almost lost.

The Kalasha women wear long black dresses with vividly coloured embroidery, their hair in long plaits and regal headdresses decorated with shells. Garish belts and layers of brightly colored necklaces add to their exotic appearance. This isn't a special costume for Joshi; it's what they wear every day.

Dots and tattoos are painted on their cheeks. With improbably pale skin and piercing light eyes, a dozen girls at each festival gathering could adorn the cover of National Geographical magazine like the famous photo of the Afghan girl from 1985.

The Kalasha men are losing their customs more quickly. They no longer wear their age-old clothing of tight trousers and heavy knee-length coats. Instead they've adopted Pakistan's male uniform of the shalwar kameez, a loose-fitting long shirt and baggy trousers.

There are only about 3,000 Kalasha left now, pushed into three tiny valleys within Chitral by the advancing tide of settlers and spread of Islam. There, they struggle to keep their faith and way of life alive.

But May's Joshi showed that Kalasha traditions remain strong and utterly unlike anything in the rest of Pakistan, perhaps unlike any in the world.

"This is a religious ceremony; it celebrates spring. It is not a festival; it is much more than that. There is a spiritual meaning behind it," said Tach Sharakat, a Kalasha man who's one of the only members of his community to receive a foreign university education.

One legend has it that these are the descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, which invaded India in the third century B.C. No one really knows their origins. Their religion may be one of the early beliefs of the Indo-Persian area, embodying an early Hinduism and pre-Zoroastrian faith. They are known as the Kafirs — "infidels" — to most Pakistanis, but call themselves Kalasha or Kalash.

Sharakat thinks he's in his late 20s, but as the Kalasha don't record birth years, he and other members of his race can only guess at their ages.

They don't have a written language, so all knowledge has been handed down by word of mouth. That's why celebrations such as Joshi are so important to the Kalasha.

They're a way of passing on their culture to younger generations. While it's easy to by mesmerized by the joyous dancing, the important message of the dance is coming from within the circle, where old men in long golden coats sing and chant the Kalasha beliefs and narrate their history. The dancers then take up the song.

These are a people who love drinking wine — banned in Islam — and who can choose their husbands or wives freely, whereas arranged marriages are the norm in Pakistan. The women make no attempt to hide their faces and dance with gaiety in public, a sight now so rare in increasingly conservative Pakistan that it's shocking for most of their countrymen.

Bewildered Muslim tourists from other parts of the country, typically groups of men, stared at the recent Kalasha festivities, seemingly unable to fathom that this too is a religion. Islamic culture dominates Pakistan and religious minorities are few. It seemed that it was lurid tales of the Kalasha women that had brought them here, confusing the women's freedom for free love.

"We marry who we like," said Gul Shaheen, a young teacher. "And there are no class distinctions in the marriage match. It does not matter if you are rich or poor. If a girl is ill-treated, she can leave for another man."

The Kalasha dance is a curious sidestep, performed by groups of men or women who stand shoulder to shoulder, arms linked. They skip in a large circle around the storytellers. Loud catcalls and whistles punctuate the singing, as does a theatrical ha-ha-ha laughter. All the time, the hypnotic drums pound, the sound carrying across the valley and into the surrounding peaks of the Hindu Kush.

According to one account, the dance is meant to frighten away snow leopards; the mountains of Chitral are one of their last remaining habitats. The whistles chase off snakes, while the laughter is for keeping away bears.

Said an elderly Kalasha woman, Jansabi, who has only one name: "Before it (the dancing) was very beautiful. Now everyone just runs around."

The three-day festival moved from valley to valley, with the Kalasha gathering in one place each day for the singing and dancing. One reason the culture has been preserved is its geographical isolation.

This year, for the first time, Pakistan's tourism authority promoted Joshi, drawing unprecedented crowds. Although no more than a few hundred outsiders were present at any one time, the peering, leering crowd clearly made the Kalasha uneasy.

Much more serious disruption is to follow, from the opening of a simple land route into Chitral through the Lowari Tunnel, which should be complete by the end by next year.

"It would be a great pity to lose one more ancient tribe," said Athanasios Lerounis, a Greek aid worker whose nongovernmental organization has set up a museum for the Kalasha in Bumboret valley. "People must behave like visitors to an open, living museum. This is not just a place to have fun."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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Over to you in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 03/06/2008
The welcome news from Afghanistan that British forces have reached a "tipping point" in their campaign to subjugate the Taliban is a testament to the skill and determination of our Armed Forces in tackling a fierce and determined enemy.

Despite having to cope with serious shortages of both men and equipment - the enduring legacy of this Government's egregious underfunding of our Armed Forces - the British contingent has been so successful in crushing the Taliban that it is no longer able to constitute a serious military threat.

As our correspondent Thomas Harding, who is embedded with British troops on the front line in Afghanistan, has reported, an estimated 7,000 Taliban have been killed, and surgical strikes against insurgent leaders, with a combination of special forces and unmanned drone aircraft fitted with precision missiles, mean that it is now extremely difficult for the Taliban to prosecute its campaign against British and other Nato forces.

The military success enjoyed by British forces, however, is only half the story. The main reason Nato forces were deployed in strength to Afghanistan two years ago was to assist the democratically elected government of president Hamid Karzai with the challenging task of rebuilding the country after three decades of almost incessant conflict.

For this strategy to succeed, the Afghan government is supposed to fill the administrative "space" created by the Taliban's forced withdrawal, and help officials with the task of rebuilding their infrastructure.
The fact that Mr Karzai appears incapable of fulfilling his part of the bargain and establishing his authority over these newly liberated areas, is of serious concern, not least because it risks wasting all the hard-won gains of the past two years.
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Ex-Afghan president tells US to reign in ISI
Written by www.quqnoos.com Monday, 02 June 2008 
Pakistan’s secret service supports terrorism, Mujaddedi says
A FORMER Afghan president has urged America to reign in Pakistan’s secret intelligence service in order to save the world from terrorism, according to an Indian news agency.

Ex-President Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, now chairman of the Afghan Upper House, told the Press Trust Of India that the US should clip the wings of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency because it supported “terror groups”.

"It is their (US) duty to do so; to break the nexus between the ISI and the terror groups or otherwise the whole world will be engulfed by terrorism," Mujaddedi said in Delhi where he was attending a conference on anti-terrorism.

The 83-year-old, who heads up Afghanistan’s programme to woo back rebels into mainstream life, said the ISI operated independently from the Pakistani government, funding “terrorist” organisations in Pakistan and adding to the region’s insecurity.

"ISI is supporting various terror groups and has become a threat to the entire world and this needs to be checked," he said.

Almost 90% of terror activities and groups across the world can be traced back to Pakistan, which has become a “breeding ground” for terrorists, he said.

Mujaddedi acted as the interim president of the mujahideen’s Islamic Council between April and June of 1992, after the fall of the communist regime.

During the Russian invasion, Mujaddedi lead one of the seven Peshawar-based resistance groups.

At the time, he accused the ISI of telling western arms suppliers that his party, the moderate National Liberation Front of Afghanistan, was weak and undeserving of weapons.

In March 1989, he was made president of the Afghan Interim Government, a Peshawar-based rebel administration in exile.

He is now the chairman of the Upper House and the head of the National Reconciliation Commission, which aims to bring Afghanistan’s Taliban rebels in from the cold.
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Karzai's Assurances Fail to Win Freedom for Afghani Journalist
Bloomberg - Muse RSS By Jeremy Gerard June 3, 2008
The air of victory and celebration in a Kabul courtroom on Monday darkened into one of suspicion, confusion and anger as a judge indefinitely adjourned the appeal of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, according to a witness.

Kambakhsh, a young reporter and journalism student working in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, was condemned to death in January for distributing feminist criticism of Islam. Imprisoned since his arrest in October, Kambakhsh has vehemently denied the charge.

``Parwez is 23 and from a good family,'' Jean MacKenzie, a journalist and regional program director covering the trial for the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, said yesterday in a telephone interview from Kabul. ``Nothing in his life prepared him for this.''

Protests both inside Afghanistan and in the international human rights community closely followed Kambakhsh's arrest. As a result, the government of President Hamid Karzai moved his appeal to the capital.
Once he had been transferred out of the hands of regional warlords, it was widely assumed Kambakhsh would be released. But his freedom has not been so easily achieved.

On Monday, in a courtroom packed with international journalists, foreign diplomats, representatives from humans rights groups and Kambakhsh's family members, a court reporter spent over 30 minutes reading the entire tract that Kambakhsh had been accused of downloading from the Internet and distributing at Balkh University, where he is a student, according to MacKenzie.

Reading From The Koran
That was followed by Kambakhsh reading verses from the Koran to show, MacKenzie said, that he is a devout Muslim. MacKenzie said that the defendant looked ``pale and thin, and was fairly impassive'' during the appearance, and that he was behaving ``somewhat inappropriately,'' smiling for the cameras as if he was on a red carpet.

``The strain of the past seven months really showed,'' she added.

The Appeals Court Judge, Abdul Salam Qazizada, responded to an assertion by Kambakhsh's lawyer that he had been tortured while in jail, by adjourning the hearing until a full evaluation of his health had been made.

The lack of a specific date for the next hearing instantly turned the mood in the courtroom somber.

Manipulation of Defense
``There was a feeling that the defense had been manipulated into getting the postponement,'' Mackenzie said. One likely reason, she said, was that the government does not want Kambakhsh released before a June 12 conference in Paris, where Karzai will be seeking $50 billion in economic aid.

The theory, MacKenzie said, was that Karzai fears a backlash from fundamentalists if Kambakhsh is released -- a situation that could remind the world that Kabul does not control what happens in the mountainous provinces.

Asked why the writer's release wouldn't be seen as a goodwill gesture before the meeting, MacKenzie said, ``That's our question, too.

``Karzai has made it very clear,'' she said, ``that he doesn't want to go to one more international meeting where all people ask him is, `What about Kambakhsh?'''

To contact the writer on this story: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net. 
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The US is repeating the Soviets’ mistakes in Afghanistan, plus showing remarkable creativity in the horrors department
Online Journal By Eric Walberg Online Journal Contributing Writer Jun 3, 2008, 00:28
Twenty years ago last week, the Soviet Union began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, eight and a half years after it was invited by the desperate People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had degenerated into intra-party squabbling and was beset by Islamic rebels massively financed by the United States. The straw that broke the Soviets’ back was when the US began providing Stinger missiles to Osama bin Laden and his friends.

Now, after eight years of US/NATO occupation, the parallels -- and differences -- between the two occupation are many and stark, as confirmed by the current Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov.

“There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan,” Kabulov said. “Underestimation of the Afghan nation, the belief that we have superiority over Afghans, that they are inferior and cannot be trusted to run affairs in this country. A lack of knowledge of the social and ethnic structure of this country; a lack of sufficient understanding of traditions and religion.”

Not only that, but the country’s new patrons are making lots of new mistakes as well. “NATO soldiers and officers alienate themselves from Afghans -- they are not in touch in an everyday manner. They communicate with them from the barrels of guns in their bullet-proof Humvees.” As a career diplomat who was posted to Afghanistan in 1977, he sees some divine justice in the US’s current predicament. “But I am even more satisfied by not having Russian soldiers among ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] because I don’t want them to suffer the same results.”

Kabulov explains that things are even harder now than they were in the 1980s. “The structures of government then were very much there and our task was very much to support and to win loyalty -- if you will, hearts and minds -- but we had a working administration.” These are long gone, though, ironically, in Helmand province and elsewhere, NATO forces are fighting from military posts originally built by the Soviets.

At least the Soviets were invited in, if only by one faction -- Parcham, by far the most benign one -- of the ruling PDPA. The US merely issued an ultimatum to the ruling Taliban to hand over their own erstwhile ally, Osama bin Laden, knowing full well no devout Muslim would turn a guest over to the enemy. The offer of the Taliban to send him to a neutral third country until proof of his masterminding of 9/11 was made was dismissed out of hand, and US and eventually NATO forces proceeded to illegally invade and depose the legitimate government, launching a merciless air attack, using depleted uranium “bunker busting” bombs, which makes the horrors of Vietnam and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan pale in comparison.

Another difference is that the US managed to con the world into supporting its invasion, while when the Soviet troops arrived in 1979, the US was already arming Islamic rebels with the most advanced military hardware, as Under Secretary of Defense Slocumbe said at the time, “sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.” The Americans made a point of maintaining the flow of arms, even after Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev made it clear the troops would be withdrawn, intending to use this golden opportunity to stick the knife as deep as possible into the now unravelling Soviet Union. On this basis alone, the current invasion should be miles ahead of where the Soviets were after eight years. But no.

Yet another contrast is that while the Soviets were providing massive aid, effectively dragging Afghanistan into the 20th century with universal education, equal rights for women, safe drinking water -- the standard communist fare -- the US/NATO strategy has been mostly to fight the remnants of the Taliban, with aid well down the list. As for the quality of the aid, while Soviet teachers and engineers earned not much more than locals, and were generally selected for their idealism, Western-backed aid is channelled almost exclusively through foreign NGOs, with Western professionals earning the bulk of the money and living in conditions that locals can only dream of, causing well-earned resentment.

It should be noted that from the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 until the US invasion in 2001, Afghanistan was mostly forgotten, with no Western programme of reconstruction. Russia, of course, had been bankrupt by then and there was nothing to be expected from it either. Ahmed Shah Ahmadzai, a mujahideen leader and prime minister in exile during the 1990s, admits the mujahideen failed in the years following the Soviet withdrawal. He is now an opponent of the government who stood against President Hamid Karzai in the last election. “To my opinion the ground situation is no different because the Soviets were imposing their Communist regime on us. The present forces -- they are imposing their so-called democracy on us. They were wrong then and the present NATO forces are doing wrong now by killing innocent people -- men, women and children.”

Given the huge advantages over the Soviet experience, and given the possibility to learn from Soviet mistakes, there really is no excuse for the current tragedy unfolding with no end in sight. But then, in carrying out their invasion of Iraq, the Americans apparently learned nothing from the British invasion of the 1920s, repeating to the letter all the horrors the Brits inflicted on the Iraqis.

Is it possible the chaos and murder is intentional? While the Taliban were no sweethearts, they did completely disarm the nation and wipe out the production of opium. Similarly, while Saddam Hussein would hardly be one’s favourite uncle, he presided over a stable welfare state where its many ethnic groups were at least not blowing each other up. In contrast, the US has destroyed the state structures in both countries, and made both into arms dumps. It has managed to turn the peoples of both countries against each other, with the likely prospect of civil war and disintegration into various malleable statelets.
All in keeping with Israeli plans first published in 1982 as “A Strategy for Israel,” a plan to ensure its “security” (read: expansion) with the Middle East a patchwork of small ethnically-based states which it could keep in order.

One brilliant innovation by the US, with Israel’s Haganah and Irgun as possible inspirations, is the use of private mercenaries to carry out murder and espionage that the NATO troops can’t do because of their “concern” for international law. This policy is already well known to Iraqis in the guise of Blackwater. Special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council Philip Alston referred to three such recent raids in south and east Afghanistan during a visit last month, clearly alluding to US intelligence agencies, though he didn’t dare state this publicly. Alston said the raids were part of a wider problem of unlawful killings of civilians and lack of accountability in Afghanistan. In one incident, two brothers were killed by troops operating out of an American Special Forces base in Kandahar. Another group, known as Shaheen, operates out of Nangahar, in eastern Afghanistan, where US forces are in charge. “Essentially, they are companies of Afghans but with a handful, at most, of international people directing them. I’m not aware that they fall under any command.”

A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. “The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on,” the official said. “They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used. The level of complacency in response to these killings is staggeringly high,” he said.

Yet another innovation -- the most frightening of all -- is the role of the US in allowing, perhaps even facilitating, the huge increase in opium production, which, as already mentioned, was wiped out by the Taliban, which will be discussed in Part II.

It is very hard to exaggerate the extent of the abyss that is Afghanistan under US/NATO occupation or to conceive of an honourable exit for the occupiers. Mercenaries, opium and who-knows-what, in a script written in Israel ’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at www.geocities.com/walberg2002.
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Afghan children paying family debts
Al Jazeera June 2, 2008
Al Jazeera has discovered that thousands of children, some as young as aged four, are being forced to work in brick factories in Afghanistan.

In the Sokhrod district in the east of the country, which is well known for producing bricks, there are about 38 factories and about 2,200 children are believed to be working in them.

"I don't want to do this with my life. I want to go to school, but I cannot because I am poor," 10-year-old Shafiq Ola told Al Jazeera.

"My family is in debt for $800 and I have to work."

Many of the children were forced into the brick factories after their parents became indebted to the owners.

"They are bonded labour, I am holding them," Mohamed Gul, the owner of one factory in the area near Jalalabad, said.

"They don't have any other option they have to, like a slave, work for me. Each family owes me thousands of aghanis [the Afghan currency]. They have to pay me with their work."

Money to survive
Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from Sokhrod, said that many of the families working at the brick factories find it difficult to pay off their crippling debts as they earn as little as $6 a day and need the money to survive.

The government has said that it is encouraging aid agencies and other non-governmental organisations to help free the indebted families from their bonds.

However, the workers at the brick factory expressed doubts that they would receive any government assistance.

"If we don't pay them [the factory owners], they won't let us go. They are powerful people, they have guns and they know powerful people in the government," Qari, a brick-maker, said.

"My life is destroyed, I'm worried about the future of my children."

The children work between eight and 12 hours a day, often in dangerous conditions.

Al Jazeera saw one boy injured during its short visit to a factory when a pile of bricks feel on him.

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) estimates that about 30 per cent of five to 14-year olds in Afghanistan are involved in some form of labour.

Education suffering
Despite a massive increase in school enrollment after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, almost half of the country's youth (15- to 24-year olds) are illiterate, according to Unicef.

This problem could be worsened as children miss out on education to help support their families.

"While we are in debt, we cannot study. I have to work to pay my family's debts and our expenses. But, one day, I want to be a teacher to teach others," 12-year-old Akhar Khan said.

Safia Siddiqi, an member of the Afghan parliament from the local province, told Al Jazeera that the government had "strictly forbidden" child labour across the country but that many still had to work because of the poor circumstances of their families.

"I think this is the responsibility of the government to take immediate action regarding the slavery which is going on in the district," she said.

"The poverty rate is very high in Afghanistan we should provide something for the families, for the mothers, for the parents to feed the children and send them to school."
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