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March 15, 2008 

Suicide attack kills two in Afghanistan
Kabul, March 15 (Xinhua) At least two civilians were killed and three injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden car into a foreign military vehicle Saturday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost, officials said.

Militants destroy another mobile telecom signal tower in Afghanistan
KABUL, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government have destroyed another mobile phone tower in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, a local official said Saturday.

Afghan woman who sang her way to top 3 of Afghanistan's version of 'American Idol' voted out
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Sat Mar 15, 7:10 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) An Afghan woman who sang her way to the top three of Afghanistan's version of "American Idol" has been voted out.

NATO says near deal on Russian Afghan help
By Mark John and Paul Taylor Sat Mar 15, 7:53 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Saturday it was nearing a deal to use Russian land and airspace to supply its security forces in Afghanistan, but Western diplomats denied any trade-off with Moscow to keep Ukraine and Georgia out of NATO.

INTERVIEW-New U.N. envoy seeks to coordinate Afghan efforts
By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO, March 15 (Reuters) - The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said on Saturday his top priority will be to better coordinate international development and aid efforts with the NATO-led military forces and Afghan authorities.

Protesters want Afghanistan mission ended
CTV.ca News March 15, 2008
Protesters plan to rally in 20 communities across Canada today against the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sweden to send more troops to Afghanistan
STOCKHOLM, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Sweden will send more soldiers to reinforce its troops in Afghanistan, a senior defense official said Saturday.

Iceland's foreign minister to travel to Kabul
Sat Mar 15, 7:46 AM ET
REYKJAVIK (AFP) - Iceland's foreign minister is to make an official visit to Afghanistan this month, a ministry spokeswoman said Friday, without specifying the date for security reasons.

Afghanistan fires 4 more missiles at Pak village
By Ali Afzal Afzaal The News International (Pakistan) March 15, 2008
PARACHINAR: Four more missiles fired from Afghanistan fell on the border village of Boraki in Kurram Agency on Friday evening, a day after a strong protest was lodged with the US-led coalition forces over the attack on a Pakistani village that had killed four persons.

Militants burns down school in Afghanistan's Kandahar
Xinhua / March 14, 2008
Unknown militants on early Friday morning set on fire a school for around 1,200 students in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar city and burned all facilities of the school, a provincial education official told Xinhua.

Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan summit
Press TV (Iran) Sat, 15 Mar 2008 16:13:22
A joint meeting between foreign ministers of Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan will be held in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on March 24-25.

Al-Qaeda steps up its battle in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 15, 2008
PESHAWAR, North-West Frontier Province - Al-Qaeda masterminded the deadly suicide attacks in Lahore this week at the offices of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Asia Times Online has learned. The attacks are part of al-Qaeda's

Bin Laden associate in US custody: Pentagon
March 14, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) The Pentagon Friday disclosed the capture of an Afghan national who helped arrange Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora in the mountains of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Turkmenistan extends agreement on electricity supply to Afghanistan until 2009
TURKMENISTAN.RU / March 13, 2008
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has signed a resolution authorizing the conclusion of accords in addition to previous contracts concluded on 7 March 2002 between the ministry of energy and industry of Turkmenistan

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Suicide attack kills two in Afghanistan
Kabul, March 15 (Xinhua) At least two civilians were killed and three injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden car into a foreign military vehicle Saturday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost, officials said.

The suicide car blast occurred at 11.15 a.m. in Ismal Khel district of Khost, said district chief Dulat Khan Qaumi, declining to give further information.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told Xinhua over phone from an unknown location that a Taliban fighter carried out the attack.

The bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a foreign military vehicle and two other vehicles were damaged in the blasts.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had no information yet on the attack.

Currently, around 43,000 international troops are deployed across Afghanistan for anti-insurgency operations.
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Militants destroy another mobile telecom signal tower in Afghanistan
KABUL, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government have destroyed another mobile phone tower in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, a local official said Saturday.

"The enemies of the country raided the room of guards of a mobile phone antenna late Friday night in Daman district of Kandahar and set on fire the switch board of the antenna, power generator and items inside the room," Mohammad Rasoul, police chief of the district, told Xinhua via phone.

He said that the militants tied the hands of the guards and abandoned them without harming in the area.

It is the 10th mobile phone tower that has been destroyed by the Taliban since the outfit gave ultimatum for mobile telecommunication companies to stop nighttime signals in southern Afghanistan's Taliban-held areas late last month.

The Taliban had warned all the mobile phone service firms operating in Afghanistan to shut down their signals from 5 p.m. to7 a.m. citing the ground that Afghan and foreign forces were using cellular phones signals to track down insurgents during nighttime.
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Afghan woman who sang her way to top 3 of Afghanistan's version of 'American Idol' voted out
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Sat Mar 15, 7:10 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) An Afghan woman who sang her way to the top three of Afghanistan's version of "American Idol" has been voted out.

Lima Sahar was the first Afghan woman to make it to the top three of the country's popular "Afghan Star" television show, which is now in its third year. Conservative critics had taken aim at the 20-year-old woman for singing in public in the conservative Muslim country.

Sahar, who comes from Afghanistan's most conservative tribe the Pashtuns, thanked everyone who had voted for her. She also reminded the audience that there had been very little music in Afghanistan in the last two decades, which have been mostly consumed with war.

Under the Taliban regime that was overthrown in 2001, women were not even allowed out of their homes unaccompanied, while music and television were banned.

"I am very happy to have come in third place," Sahar said on the show broadcast Friday night. "This is an honor for me that the people voted for me. I really thank them and I also congratulate them."

The country's conservative cleric's council has protested to President Hamid Karzai over "Afghan Star" and Indian dramas shown on Tolo TV, the country's most popular station. But younger Afghans say the show is helping women progress.

"Afghan Star" will pick its winner between the two remaining contestants next Friday.

The top three finishers this season each represented one of Afghanistan's major ethnic groups. The two finalists are Hameed Sakhizada, a 21-year-old Hazara with a mop of black hair, and Rafi Naabzada, a 19-year-old ethnic Tajik who often wears a white leather jacket.

The show follows the same format as "American Idol," although the two are not connected. it has become one of Afghanistan's most popular TV shows, gathering large crowds around TVs in restaurants and homes. About 2,000 hopefuls auditioned for the third season of the show.

The singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past winners have been given recording deals. A woman finished fifth in the show's first season, but no female has risen as high as Sahar.

The winner this year will take home around $5,000 a king's ransom in Afghanistan.

Daud Sadiqi, the show's host, said "Afghan Star" has been a runaway hit that shows the world the "peaceful face of Afghanistan."
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NATO says near deal on Russian Afghan help
By Mark John and Paul Taylor Sat Mar 15, 7:53 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Saturday it was nearing a deal to use Russian land and airspace to supply its security forces in Afghanistan, but Western diplomats denied any trade-off with Moscow to keep Ukraine and Georgia out of NATO.

A NATO spokesman said the alliance was negotiating accords on land and air corridors to transport troops and equipment, which could be announced when President Vladimir Putin attends a NATO summit next month.

Diplomats said a NATO-Russia council meeting on Monday would discuss a "package of deliverables" also including the possible leasing of Russian planes and trains, Russian training for Afghan helicopter pilots and counter-narcotics assistance at a centre near Moscow.

"Discussions are under way. There is no deal done. We are working towards an agreement at the Bucharest summit," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said of an April 2-4 meeting in the Romanian capital.

The U.S. secretaries of state and defense, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates, will visit Moscow on Tuesday to discuss with their Russian counterparts a wider package of issues including missile defense, conventional and nuclear arms control as well as cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran, the diplomats said.

NATO's 43,000-strong operation in Afghanistan is facing a severe challenge from resurgent Islamist Taliban fighters. The former Soviet Union intervened in the mountainous central Asian country in 1979 but was forced out after heavy losses in the 1980s inflicted by Islamist guerrillas partly armed by the West.

"We are negotiating land and air transit agreements plus the possibility of making more permanent our cooperation on counter-narcotics training," Appathurai said.

Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza said on Saturday that Russia's offer of help was made in the hope of persuading NATO allies not to admit Ukraine and Georgia to a Membership Action Plan -- a key stage on the road to joining the Western defense alliance.

DOOR OPEN
NATO diplomats said the summit was unlikely to give the two former Soviet republics MAP status because of reservations among some west European countries, especially Germany, about their readiness.

Critics point to the low level of public support in Ukraine for NATO membership, and Georgia's heavy-handed treatment of opposition protests last year, including the imposition of a state of emergency and closing down of a television station.

However the diplomats insisted neither the United States nor European allies would give Moscow a veto over countries joining the alliance, and the Bucharest summit was likely to give them some lesser upgrade and stress NATO's door remains open.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists at a Brussels Forum on transatlantic relations: "We are in favor of sending a strong and positive signal to both Ukraine and Georgia. We are currently discussing how we can do that in the most appropriate way. We have not yet concluded how."

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, asked about the Gazeta Wyborcza report, told reporters: "Russia could play a positive role to facilitate logistics of NATO operations in Afghanistan. That would be welcome. But I would not link that to the policy of an open door for Ukraine and Georgia."

NATO and Russia already cooperate in training Afghan and central Asian counter-narcotics officials as part of efforts to contain Afghanistan's huge opium trade.

Russia's then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said early last year that Russia was ready to offer more help in Afghanistan, saying at a NATO meeting in Spain that Moscow had a "vital, visceral interest" in restoring stability to Afghanistan.

But NATO-Russia cooperation has proven difficult and been overshadowed by disputes over a planned U.S. missile shield in central Europe and Moscow's decision last year to freeze its compliance with a European conventional arms treaty.

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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INTERVIEW-New U.N. envoy seeks to coordinate Afghan efforts
By Wojciech Moskwa
OSLO, March 15 (Reuters) - The new United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said on Saturday his top priority will be to better coordinate international development and aid efforts with the NATO-led military forces and Afghan authorities.

The Norwegian diplomat said more security in southern and eastern Afghanistan was needed to foster economic and social development, but that the solution to the war-torn state's problems was political, not military.

"We have seen for a long time that the international community is not coordinating efforts well enough -- the pieces do not fit together well as a result, and it's the Afghans who suffer first," Eide told Reuters in an interview.

Eide said he was encouraged by a U.N. focus on coordinating relief and nation-building efforts and expected "flexibility" from all players "to make the pieces fit together better".

"We all know that the solution to the challenges we face in Afghanistan cannot be a military one. The security component is important, but the solution must ultimately be political," said Eide from his corner office in Norway's foreign ministry. Known as a behind-the-scenes deal maker without a high public profile, Eide was chosen for the post after Afghan President Hamid Karzai vetoed British Paddy Ashdown's appointment following media speculation about the extent of his powers and possible influence over the Afghan government.

But soft-talking, bespectacled Eide made clear he expected the Afghan side to do its part. "It is the Afghan authorities that have to take the leadership... Afghan ownership is important and there is Afghan ownership in this process."

"Our goal is to shape our development assistance in a way that engages Afghans in sustaining such efforts and gradually taking them over," said Eide, a former ambassador to NATO and the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE).

KARZAI'S PARTNER
Besides humanitarian efforts and development projects, Eide said he will also focus on helping build up Afghan institutions and their scope, facilitating political reconciliation and making every effort for scheduled elections to be held in 2009.

Eide saw his role as a "partner in dialogue" for Karzai and his government, reflecting their concerns to the international community and the world's to the Afghan authorities.

The United Nations have said the Taliban insurgency, six years after the U.S. invasion and despite 43,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan under NATO command, was much worse than expected. Eide also stressed the need for increased security.

"Stabilisation of the situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan is an important challenge if we are to see development, either economic or social," he said. "The security situation can only be improved by the right mix of political, developmental, humanitarian and security measures."

A top U.N. official said this week a sharper mandate was needed if stabilisation efforts were to succeed and called Afghan institutions fragile and its officials corrupt.

"It is not difficult to point to the problems we face in Afghanistan -- we are all aware of them on the security side, on the drugs side and many others," Eide said. "But I also believe we tend to underestimate the progress that has been made." (Editing by Sami Aboudi)
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Protesters want Afghanistan mission ended
CTV.ca News March 15, 2008
Protesters plan to rally in 20 communities across Canada today against the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This war has nothing to do with the defense of democracy or women's rights in Afghanistan and everything to do with advancing U.S. strategic interests in the region," wrote the Canadian Peace Alliance in a news release.

"We reject sending our youth to serve as cannon fodder in Afghanistan, where 78 Canadians soldiers have now died, with hundreds wounded, and even more psychologically damaged in an unjust, illegal war."

Protests are scheduled for Saturday in St. John's, N.L.; Charlottetown; Fredericton; Montreal; Ottawa; Toronto; Guelph, Ont.; London, Ont.; Mississauga, Ont.; Sarnia, Ont.; Windsor, Ont.; Winnipeg; Edmonton; Calgary; Castlegar, B.C.; Grand Forks, B.C.; Nelson, B.C.; Vancouver; Victoria and Whistler, B.C..

The death toll in the undated news release is inaccurate. The toll is now 80 Canadian soldiers killed since 2002, along with one diplomat and a civilian aid worker.

The protest comes after Parliament voted 198-77 on Thursday to extend the Afghan mission until December 2011 but before the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, which will be marked on March 19.

In Canada, the governing Conservatives and Liberals -- the official opposition -- voted for the motion, while the NDP and Bloc Quebecois opposed the extension.

"Our position is clear: Canada needs to safely withdraw from the combat mission and lead a process for bringing about security, stability and improving the lives of the Afghan people by building a path toward peace," NDP Leader Jack Layton said in a statement issued Friday on his party's website.

Foreign troops have operated in Afghanistan since the fall of 2001. They helped push the Taliban from power for harbouring al Qaeda, the Islamist terror group whose members carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on U.S. soil.

Canada has 2,500 soldiers serving in southern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF).

They are operating the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar province, one of the most volatile and dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

More NATO help

Extending the Afghan mission is contingent upon NATO providing an additional 1,000-soldier battle group plus equipment like medium-lift helicopters and unmanned aerial drones.

The U.S. and other allies have suggested the additional help will be forthcoming.

NATO has a major meeting scheduled for April 2 in Bucharest, Romania. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be there to press Canada's case.

The additional troops and equipment were a key recommendation in the Manley panel's report on the future of the Afghan mission.

The peace alliance called that report a "manipulative attempt to justify and continue the occupation of Afghanistan, against the will of the majority of people in Canada, especially Québec."

Public opinion has generally run against Canada's participation in the conflict, according to polls.

A December poll conducted for the BBC and ABC News showed declining confidence among Afghans in the ability of NATO and U.S. forces to provide security.

Despite that, "71 percent of Afghans support the United States' presence in Afghanistan -- and where the U.S. is seen as strongest, its approval ratings peak," the poll found.

Gary Langer, ABC News' polling director, said this pointed to performance being the main issue, not presence.

"There's a flipside to these results -- the ill will that results from civilian casualties. Among Afghans who report shelling, bombing or civilian deaths in their area caused by U.S. or NATO forces, approval of U.S. efforts overall drops sharply, to 29 percent."

Some experts have suggested that a lack of "boots on the ground" means NATO troops have to rely on the firepower of artillery and air strikes to prevail in combat.

Others have noted the Taliban deliberately intermingle with civilians in such firefights, thus raising the risk of civilian deaths.

Last year was the worst for casualties since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001. More than 8,000 died, including 1,500 civilians, according to the UN.

UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon has recommended the Security Council extend the UN mission in Afghanistan for another year.
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Sweden to send more troops to Afghanistan
STOCKHOLM, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Sweden will send more soldiers to reinforce its troops in Afghanistan, a senior defense official said Saturday.

The Swedish military force in the war-torn Afghanistan is expected to be increased from 350 soldiers to 500 within a year, said lieutenant general Anders Lindstroem, who is currently inspecting the Swedish garrison in Afghanistan.

The Swedish government has not yet approved the reinforcements, but Lindstroem is counting on them doing so, the Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Radio (SR) reported.

Lindstroem hoped that the Swedish forces would stay in Afghanistan for a period of five to 15 years as some European countries usually stationed their troops in the Balkan region for 10-15 years.
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Iceland's foreign minister to travel to Kabul
Sat Mar 15, 7:46 AM ET
REYKJAVIK (AFP) - Iceland's foreign minister is to make an official visit to Afghanistan this month, a ministry spokeswoman said Friday, without specifying the date for security reasons.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir told AFP by telephone from Kabul that Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

She will check on 13 Icelandic civilians attached to a 60,000-strong, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the country.

Iceland does not have an army, but supplies civilian staff to several international missions.
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Afghanistan fires 4 more missiles at Pak village
By Ali Afzal Afzaal The News International (Pakistan) March 15, 2008
PARACHINAR: Four more missiles fired from Afghanistan fell on the border village of Boraki in Kurram Agency on Friday evening, a day after a strong protest was lodged with the US-led coalition forces over the attack on a Pakistani village that had killed four persons.

Official sources said the missiles fell near a checkpoint manned by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC). The troops, however, remained safe as none of the missiles exploded. A senior official of the political administration, while requesting anonymity, told The News that the missiles were fired from the neighbouring Paktia province of Afghanistan. He said they did not know who was the target of these missiles.

"We have informed senior government functionaries of the firing of missiles from across the border," said the official. He said the missiles fell about 500 meters inside Pakistani territory and frightened the soldiers and residents of the adjoining villages.

The official said senior military officials based in Parachinar, the regional headquarters of Kurram Agency, also visited the border village and took the missiles into possession. Top military spokesman and DG ISPR Maj Gen Athar Abbas, when reached by telephone, told The News he, too, had received similar reports but the local military officials in the area could not confirm the same. "It cannot be confirmed whether these were missiles or mortar shells and also there were no details about reports that these missiles were fired from across the border," explained the DG ISPR. He said the attack didn't cause any casualty.

It may be mentioned here that four people, including two minor girls and two women, were killed in North Waziristan Agency a few days back when five artillery shells fired from across the border by the US-led coalition forces hit a home in the border town of Lawara Mandai. The government for the first time admitted foreign aggression and lodged a strong protest with the military representatives of the coalition forces based in Islamabad.
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Militants burns down school in Afghanistan's Kandahar
Xinhua / March 14, 2008
Unknown militants on early Friday morning set on fire a school for around 1,200 students in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar city and burned all facilities of the school, a provincial education official told Xinhua.
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Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan summit
Press TV (Iran) Sat, 15 Mar 2008 16:13:22
A joint meeting between foreign ministers of Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan will be held in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on March 24-25.

The ministers will discuss ways to expand economic and cultural cooperation, launch a Persian-language satellite and plan and set the date for a summit which will be held among the Iranian, Afghan and Tajik Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Karzai and Emomali Rakhmon on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in June.

The tripartite foreign ministerial meeting will be held at the invitation of Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi.
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Al-Qaeda steps up its battle in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 15, 2008
PESHAWAR, North-West Frontier Province - Al-Qaeda masterminded the deadly suicide attacks in Lahore this week at the offices of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Asia Times Online has learned. The attacks are part of al-Qaeda's broader plan to undermine recent Pakistan-United States joint efforts to eradicate al-Qaeda's growing influence in Pakistan society.

Two massive car bombs ripped through the regional headquarters of the FIA and an office of an advertising agency in Lahore on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people, including 16 FIA officials, and injuring more than 200.

However, according to Asia Times Online's investigations, the real target, an undercover office of the Special Investigation Authority (SIA), was missed as the suicide attacker hit the advertising agency.

The SIA is a joint initiative of US and Pakistani planners set up to eliminate the strong roots of radicalization in Punjab province which could easily be transformed into very strong al-Qaeda connections. The SIA will remain a target in Lahore as well as other parts of Punjab, including Multan.

Al-Qaeda's plan

At the root of al-Qaeda's strategy is the belief in the powerful ideology of Takfir, which deems all non-practicing Muslims infidels. This, al-Qaeda believes, fuels anti-Western forces in Muslim societies.

From Pakistan's perspective, the tribal insurgencies in North-West Frontier Province are a thorn in the side of coalition troops in Afghanistan as the area is used as a staging ground for Taliban attacks into that country. But Islamabad believes these can at least be controlled, even if not tamed.

The real concern is the radicalization of Punjab, the largest Pakistani province and comprising more than half the country's population, through banned militant organizations.

Thousands of activists are known to be affiliated with banned militant organizations in Punjab. Many were initially trained by Pakistani security agencies to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.

However, after September 11, 2001, Pakistan, as a new partner in the "war on terror", was forced by the Americans to shelve its support of the Kashmiri insurgency. As a result, militant training camps were shut down and militants left their parent organizations in the thousands.

These young jihadis are obviously committed fighters and have been kicking their heels for several years now. The fear is that if they fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, they could significantly escalate unrest in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Iraq. Segments of these Punjab-based militant organizations have already been cultivated by the Takfiris, resulting in a new source of suicide bombers.

It was specifically to confront this threat that the SIA was formed. A retired colonel who had served in the Pakistani Special Services Group and President Pervez Musharraf head the organization.

In the first phase, the SIA coordinated with banned militant organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-i-Mohammed (JM) to compile a list of people who had broken away. Although these organizations are officially banned in Pakistan, they operate under various names and are still to a large extent under the influence of Pakistani security agencies.

In the second phase, the authorities established separate desks to exclusively deal with the mindset of each particular sect.

Under this program, dozens of former members of LeT and JM were arrested, mainly from Bawalpur and Multan, on the information provided by their former organizations. They were taken to security facilities in Lahore and presented with the following questionnaire.

1. Reasons why you consider Musharraf an infidel.

2. Have you read Sheikh Essa's book Al-Wala Wal Wabara (Enmity and Friendship). (Egyptian Essa is a hardline al-Qaeda ideologue.)

3. Are you familiar with the ideology of Takfir?

Through these questions, interrogators tried to get inside the mindset of the militants. The process of detention was two-pronged: it aimed first to re-educate the militants, and then to learn their networks.

The SIA officers engaged in lengthy debate with the detainees, all the time questioning their loyalties, whether they were Salafis or whether they belonged to the Deobandi school of thought, and contradictions that might arise as a result if they supported the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden.

However, according to Asia Times Online contacts, the detainees are also tortured, and at least one is said to have died as a result.

Tuesday's attacks are significant, therefore, in that the establishment's most secret underground offices are now on the militants' radar, and more attacks are anticipated.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Bin Laden associate in US custody: Pentagon
March 14, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) The Pentagon Friday disclosed the capture of an Afghan national who helped arrange Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora in the mountains of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Muhammed Rahim, described as one of Bin Laden's most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists, was turned over to the military by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said Rahim was detained in mid-2007 and eventually turned over to US custody and placed in the CIA's interrogation program.

"Rahim is perhaps best known in counter-terror circles as a personal facilitator and translator for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders," Hayden said in a message to CIA employees.

"In 2001, as the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout. When Al-Qaeda had to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too," he said.

Bin Laden was believed to have been trapped in the mountain hideout near the Pakistani border, but eluded capture by slipping through a cordon of US and Afghan forces.

Rahim was the second detainee to be transferred to the military by the CIA since September 2006, when President George W. Bush confirmed the existence of a secret CIA overseas detention and interrogation program.

At the time, Bush said all the high value prisoners in CIA detention, including the alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had been transferred to Guantanamo.

The first sign that the secret detention program had resumed was the CIA's transfer to Guantanamo in April 2007 of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Al-Qaeda commander who had allegedly plotted the assassination of Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf.

Al-Iraqi was captured in late 2006 after Bush's announcement, a US intelligence official said.

"The detention program remains an available tool to fight terrorism," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Apart from its secrecy, the overseas detention program had come under fire because of charges that harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA amounted to torture.

Hayden has acknowledged that three detainees were subjected to water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, but has said the practice no longer is used.

In a related development, Amnesty International said it had interviewed a Yemeni national, Khaled al-Maqtari, who says he was held for 28 months in secret CIA detention centers after being taken into custody in Iraq.

He was turned over to Yemen in around August 2006 and released in May of the following year, Amnesty said.

The London-based human rights organization said al-Maqtari alleged he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including prolonged isolation, repeated beatings, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, as well as sensory deprivation and overload with bright lighting and loud music or repeated sound effects.

Hayden, meanwhile, said Rahim's detention was "a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militias."

US officials said Rahim worked with al-Iraqi to try to recruit Afghans with access to coalition military facilities,

"He had knowledge of or was involved in Al-Qaeda attacks and plans against coalition forces in Afghanistan," Whitman said.

"At the time of his capture he was providing support to anti-coalition militias and groups allied with Al-Qaeda," he said.

An Afghan national from the country's eastern Nangarhar province, Rahim reportedly was educated at a madrassa in Pakistan and fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the mid-1980s.

He began working with Al-Qaeda in the mid-1990s, first as a supplier and later as a courier between top leaders of the network, according to the Pentagon.

"He carried messages for UBL (Osama bin Laden) in early 2002. He met with chief financial officer Shayleh Said al-Masri in 2004," Whitman said.

Before 2002, he procured chemicals for an Al-Qaeda plot against coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. Whitman would provide no details on the plot.
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Turkmenistan extends agreement on electricity supply to Afghanistan until 2009
TURKMENISTAN.RU / March 13, 2008
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has signed a resolution authorizing the conclusion of accords in addition to previous contracts concluded on 7 March 2002 between the ministry of energy and industry of Turkmenistan and the ministry of water and energy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the supply of electricity from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, the Ashgabat correspondent of Turkmenistan.ru reports.

According to information obtained by a Turkmenistan.ru correspondent from the press service of the Turkmen president, the head of state's resolution extends these accords up to 2009.
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