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March 16, 2008 

Seven Taliban militants killed in Afghanistan: officials
Sun Mar 16, 9:13 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Seven Taliban militants have been killed in Afghanistan at the weekend after two separate attacks on police posts in the south and east, officials said Sunday.

Afghan judges, factories end crime strike
Sun Mar 16, 3:29 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Judges and factory employees in the western Afghan city of Herat were back at work Saturday, ending a near week-long strike after the government pledged better security, representatives said.

Afghan urges "name and shame" war on graft, drugs
By Paul Taylor Sun Mar 16, 9:33 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Afghanistan is ready to launch a "name and shame" campaign against high-level corruption and drug trafficking if it gets international backing, a senior minister and ally of President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday.

NATO needs more troops to quell Afghan insurgency: Canada
Sun Mar 16, 9:00 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO must send more troops to southern Afghanistan if it is to quell a Taliban insurgency long-term, and stem the flow of recruits from Pakistan, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.

Poverty not biggest factor driving Afghan drug crop
By Jon Hemming Sat Mar 15, 3:56 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan poppy farmers are some of the richest in the country, so poverty is not a big factor driving drug production in Afghanistan which last year produced 93 percent of the world's opium, a United Nations report said.

Afghan brown heroin hits Sydney streets
John Kidman March 16, 2008 Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
BROWN heroin from the opium fields of Afghanistan has made its way onto Sydney's streets for the first time.

Weak government tops Afghanistan's ills
Taliban resurgent, drug trade thriving, corruption rampant amid leadership void
By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune  March 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The homes in the fancy Shirpoor neighborhood are a child's fantasy of mirrored columns, rainbow-colored tiles, green glass, imposing arches and high gates. They also are evidence of what has gone wrong with

Missile strike near Afghan border kills 20
March 16, 2008
By Bashirullah Khan - MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AP) — A missile strike near the Afghan border destroyed the house of a suspected militant leader today, killing at least 20 people, witnesses and state-run Pakistan Television said.

Canada confident on Afghan troops offer soon
Sun Mar 16, 2008
BRUSSELS, March 16 (Reuters) - Canada is confident NATO allies will come forward soon to supply the extra troops it has demanded as a condition for keeping its 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter Mackay said on Sunday.

AFGHANISTAN: Kabul's air pollution putting people's health at risk
16 Mar 2008 13:31:48 GMT
 KABUL, 16 March 2008 (IRIN) - Worsening air pollution in Kabul is "seriously" threatening the health and well-being of its estimated three million residents, Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) has said.

Protests erupt across Canada against Afghan mission: report
Sun Mar 16, 3:15 AM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Hundreds of people took to the streets across Canada on Saturday to protest its troop deployment to Afghanistan, media reports and organisers said, two days after parliament voted to extend the mission.

Thousands protest over Iraq, Afghanistan in London, Glasgow
Sat Mar 15, 3:35 PM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Thousands of protesters gathered in London and Glasgow Saturday ahead of the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, calling for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kandahar no longer most dangerous: general
Matthew Fisher,  Canwest News Service Saturday, March 15, 2008
KABUL - Kandahar, where Canadian forces are responsible for security, is no longer the most hazardous place in Afghanistan, according to a senior Afghan general.

Kandahar students back in class after Taliban torch brand new school
By James Mccarten And A.R. Khan THE CANADIAN PRESS March 16, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Students at a brand new high school on the outskirts of this nerve-racked city are back at their lessons after suspected Taliban insurgents accosted the night watchman and set the building on fire.

Official: Afghanistan expects first Olympic medal in Beijing
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-16
KABUL, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Despite all the difficulties as a lack of budget and training facilities, Afghanistan expects its first medal in the coming 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, said an official from Afghanistan National Olympic Committee (ANOC) on Sunday.

Afghan girl runs toward Olympics despite jeers, potential danger
By RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press / March 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The neighborhood boys shout at Mehboba Ahdyar when she leaves home. "Hero, hero! Look at the hero of our country," they yell at Ahdyar, one of Afghanistan's fastest female runners.

McCain wants rethink of UK Afghanistan policy
By Tim Shipman, with the McCain campaign in Springfield, Pennsylvania 16/03/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
John McCain has voiced criticism of British policy in Afghanistan, saying efforts to slow Taliban poppy production are "not working", allowing heroin to flood the streets of Europe.

Afghan refugees reluctant to return home
* Only 25 refugee families have returned from Jalozai Refugee Camp under UN programme
* Camp elders say refugees reluctant to return without assurances of proper shelter, facilities
By Daud Khattak Daily Times, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: So far only 25 families have moved back to Afghanistan from the Jalozai Refugee Camp under the United Nations Voluntary Repatriation Programme (UNVRP), camp elders and UN officials told Daily Times on Saturday.

BOOK REVIEW: India and Afghanistan by Khaled Ahmed
Daily Times, Pakistan
Pakistan is in the process of coming to grips with the new reality but is struggling with two minds, one scared of what it has been doing in the past two decades and the other thinking of solving the current crisis by doing more of what it has done.

Afghan police discover 4 suicide vests
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-15 19:47:38
KABUL, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province have discovered a weapon cache containing waist coats used in carrying out suicide attacks, a local official said Saturday.

11 suspected militants detained from Afghanistan's Khost
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-14 13:52:22
KABUL, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Eleven suspected militants have been detained from eastern Afghan province of Khost during a Afghan and Coalition forces joint operation, according to a Coalition statement issued here early Friday morning.

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Seven Taliban militants killed in Afghanistan: officials
Sun Mar 16, 9:13 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Seven Taliban militants have been killed in Afghanistan at the weekend after two separate attacks on police posts in the south and east, officials said Sunday.

In eastern Nangarhar province, four militants were killed in an exchange of fire early Sunday after attacking a police post near the border with Pakistan, provincial spokesman Noor Agha Zwak told AFP

Three others were killed on Saturday in the former Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala in restive Helmand province, police said.

"They attacked our police post. Our guys returned fire and three Taliban were killed," provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal told AFP.

Taliban rebels stormed and captured Musa Qala early last year, making it their biggest military base from where they directed attacks on Afghan and foreign troops across the war-ravaged country.

Afghan and NATO forces recaptured the remote town in a large-scale operation involving thousands of troops in December. Two NATO soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Elsewhere, the US-led coalition, which has thousands of troops fighting here alongside a 40,000-strong NATO-led force, said it had killed "several" militants on Friday in an operation in eastern Khost province.

"A number of armed militants were killed when they posed a credible threat to coalition forces," the military said in a statement. Five other militants were captured, it added.

The Taliban, ousted from government in 2001 in a US-led invasion, are waging an insurgency to topple the US-backed government in Kabul and oust tens of thousands of foreign troops based here to fight them back.

Last year was the deadliest of their campaign, with more than 8,000 people killed, according to a report delivered to the UN Security Council this month.

About 1,500 were civilians, it said. There were about 160 suicide attacks last year, up from 123 the previous year.
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Afghan judges, factories end crime strike
Sun Mar 16, 3:29 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Judges and factory employees in the western Afghan city of Herat were back at work Saturday, ending a near week-long strike after the government pledged better security, representatives said.

Hundreds of doctors, judges, factory workers and shopkeepers took part in the work stoppage to protest a wave of crime.

Health workers started the strike Saturday last week and were joined for various intervals by the others.

About 250 factories called off the action after authorities, notably the interior minister, promised better security, said Toryalai Raufi, deputy chairman of the city industrialists' union.

President Hamid Karzai sent Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel and other security officials to the city to address the concerns. Police have said there were 40 abductions there last year, many for ransom.

Raufi told AFP the agreement to end the strike was reached late Thursday, before the Friday weekend, and the factories were open again Saturday.

"We agreed to reopen our factories after the government promised to provide us protection. There will be police checkposts in the industrial park," he said.

About 100 judges had returned to their jobs for the same reasons, appeals court judge Abdul Qader Sa'yeem said. "The government promised security and also there were lots of cases that we had to address," he said.

Doctors in state hospitals returned to work mid-week, reportedly on the orders of the government, but some were still not doing private work, doctors' union head Nisar Ahmad Musadeq said.

The interior ministry said meanwhile that Minister Moqbel met tribal elders and other representatives of the city Saturday and listened to their concerns and demand for action, pledging to address matters.

Crime, including kidnapping for ransom, has soared in major cities since the fall of the hardline Taliban government in late 2001.

Herat is a major commercial centre because of its proximity to the border with Iran, a key trading partner.
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Afghan urges "name and shame" war on graft, drugs
By Paul Taylor Sun Mar 16, 9:33 AM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Afghanistan is ready to launch a "name and shame" campaign against high-level corruption and drug trafficking if it gets international backing, a senior minister and ally of President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday.

Education Minister Hanif Atmar said Karzai, a fellow ethnic Pashtun, was prepared to consider action against members of his own entourage if presented with evidence against them.

"We are ready to do that naming and shaming... Six years ago we didn't want to rock the boat, now it is time for a bold action like that," Atmar told a security conference in Brussels of the period after the 2001 ousting of the Taliban from power.

"It can certainly happen this year ... The president has said that if we talk about certain people in government, the president has to be provided with evidence and he will decide how to go about it," he told Reuters later.

Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium, is ranked 172 out of 180 countries on Transparency International's corruption perception index.

Karzai acknowledged last year that corruption among Afghan officials was rife. The United Nations has named graft as a factor behind the rise in opium production, which has in turn fuelled a violent, Taliban-led insurgency.

Atmar, a technocrat respected as an able administrator, called for international help to ensure full transparency and documentation as cases were investigated.

"We must make sure these people have their basic rights so that when the naming and shaming happens, it should be on the basis of solid evidence. They should not become victims of political rivalry," he said.

In an apparent reference to the United States' alliance with some tribal warlords to ease its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power, the minister said some of those who needed to be "named" were imposed on the Kabul government.

Efforts should also be made to arrest and prosecute suspects currently living outside Afghanistan, Atmar said.

"There must be due process to prosecute them no matter where they are, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Europe, in Britain. We should remove the sense of impunity."

(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Charles Dick)
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NATO needs more troops to quell Afghan insurgency: Canada
Sun Mar 16, 9:00 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - NATO must send more troops to southern Afghanistan if it is to quell a Taliban insurgency long-term, and stem the flow of recruits from Pakistan, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.

MacKay said the 1,000 extra troops that Canada has requested from its NATO allies to stay in Kandahar province is the minimum needed to confront the challenge the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) faces.

"One thousand troops is really seen as a minimum," he told reporters at the Brussels Forum conference in the Belgian capital.

"Other countries over the ensuing time period are also going to have to recognise ... that Kandahar province is the valve that the Taliban are using to bring in their insurgents," he said.

"This type of insurgency is not going to be with us a short time, I expect that this is going to be a very long and abiding challenge."

"Because of the recruitment proximity to some of the refugee camps in Pakistan, this is the source, this is the primary epicentre," he said. "If you have termites in your house, you have to find the nest."

ISAF has some 43,000 troops from 39 nations in conflict-torn Afghanistan trying to spread the rule of the weak central government and foster reconstruction.

But Canadian, British and US troops have suffered significant casualties in the south, and fighting is likely to grow more intense as the weather warms in coming weeks, allowing insurgents to cross the mountainous border more easily.

Despite this, Canada's parliament voted Thursday to extend the 2,500-strong military deployment in the south until 2011, but only if NATO sends 1,000 troops as reinforcements.

If not, it will withdraw next February when the current mandate ends.

MacKay expressed confidence that Canada's allies, many of whom have been reluctant to deploy near the Pakistani border, would step forward by the April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest.

"There have been some very high level discussions on this subject, and I would anticipate a decision fairly soon, if not just prior to Bucharest, then certainly at the summit itself," he said.

He acknowledged, but did not confirm, reports which suggest that France might provide troops and equipment, perhaps in the east of Afghanistan, freeing up US forces to move south.

"I don't believe that a final decision has been taken by the French," he said.

He also underlined that Canada would prefer just one partner to move south.

"The preference is for a single contribution, as opposed to bits and bobs," he said. "For logistics and strategic military purposes it's better to have a partner that is coming from a single country."
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Poverty not biggest factor driving Afghan drug crop
By Jon Hemming Sat Mar 15, 3:56 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan poppy farmers are some of the richest in the country, so poverty is not a big factor driving drug production in Afghanistan which last year produced 93 percent of the world's opium, a United Nations report said.

Despite millions of dollars spent to eradicate the crop and encourage farmers to turn to others, opium production has risen sharply since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban government in 2001.

But some of the poorest Afghan farmers do not grow the poppies from which opium is produced, while those on some of the richest farmland are the biggest producers of the drug which is processed to make heroin and exported to the West.

"Poverty does not appear to have been the main driving factor in the expansion of opium cultivation in recent years," said a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) received by Reuters on Saturday.

"There is no evidence that opium poppy cultivation is the choice of the poorest of the poor farmers," it said.

While it is difficult to measure income in Afghanistan, especially in the most insecure areas affected by the Taliban insurgency, the UNODC study looked at farmers' key assets.

The southern province of Helmand, which produces around 70 percent of Afghanistan's drug crop, has the country's highest level of car and motorcycle ownership and the second highest ownership of trucks, combine harvesters and tractors.

"It appears that the wealthier provinces were actually more likely to cultivate opium than the poorer ones," the report said.

The biggest factor in whether farmers grow opium is the level of Taliban insurgency.

Helmand is a largely desert province intersected by a broad river running from mountains in the north which feeds a strip of lush farmland, once Afghanistan's breadbasket but now a region that alone grows nearly half the world's opium.

Afghan and mostly British forces are engaged in almost daily battles trying to wrest control of the string of towns and villages along Helmand's fertile strip from Taliban insurgents.

Forty-four percent of Helmand households said their economic situation had improved in the last year, compared to 27 percent nationwide, the UNODC said.

More than 6,000 people were killed in Afghanistan last year as the Taliban fought a guerrilla war against Afghan and international troops and launched some 140 suicide bombs attacks across the country in their campaign to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces.

Taliban militants tax both farmers and drug traffickers to help fund their insurgency and are set for another windfall this year from an opium crop the UN estimates that at best will be only slightly lower than last year's record breaking harvest.

"Today, the most significant factor affecting the scale of cultivation among opium poppy farmers appears to be the security situation," the UNODC said.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)
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Afghan brown heroin hits Sydney streets
John Kidman March 16, 2008 Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
BROWN heroin from the opium fields of Afghanistan has made its way onto Sydney's streets for the first time.

The director of Sydney's Medically Supervised Injecting Centre Dr Ingrid van Beek said some use of brown heroin had been seen at the centre sporadically over the past nine months.

Inner-city heroin overdoses are also on the rise, with about one a day coming into the emergency department at St Vincent's Hospital. Experts are unclear why overdoses have increased.

Dr van Beek said there was sometimes confusion between acidic impure white heroin, which appeared brown in colour, and genuine Afghan heroin. But she said the limited demand for acidifiers to use with the drug indicated it was brown heroin.

Dr van Beek said the presence of Afghan heroin in Australia did not mean it was likely to "flood" the local market - the Australian market is simply too small and too far from the Middle East. And its arrival has not been linked to any surge in use, following a seven-year "drought" in which the common Asian strain of the deadly narcotic was superseded by ice.

The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre reports heroin use among its clients is generally at an all-time low. However, inner-city heroin overdoses are inexplicably on the rise, says Dr Gordian Fulde from St Vincent's Hospital's emergency department.

"Whereas we were seeing virtually none up until 18 months ago, we are now receiving about one overdose a day," Dr Fulde said. "It's not an 'Oh my God, it's the end of the world'-type thing at this stage. It's early days and the numbers are still small. I can't give you a trail of how or where or why but it's happening and it's not going away."

The spike is not matched in Sydney's south-west, where overdoses in and around Cabramatta were once common but are now "virtually unseen", said Liverpool Hospital's emergency director, Dr Richard Cracknell.

Australia-wide, the price of heroin is reportedly falling while customs and police seizures rose 30 per cent between 2006 and last year.
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Weak government tops Afghanistan's ills
Taliban resurgent, drug trade thriving, corruption rampant amid leadership void
By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune  March 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The homes in the fancy Shirpoor neighborhood are a child's fantasy of mirrored columns, rainbow-colored tiles, green glass, imposing arches and high gates. They also are evidence of what has gone wrong with Afghanistan, almost seven years after the Taliban was chased from power into the mountains.

The residents of the newly built mansions are reputed warlords, drug lords -- and some top government officials.

Just outside the gates, the problems of Afghanistan are everywhere. Electricity is intermittent. The rutted dirt roads are barely passable without four-wheel drive. Most people live in mud-brick rooms or Soviet-era concrete apartments. Suicide bombs occasionally explode. Men with guns can be seen on street corners, even though they are not police or army, and even though many are loyal to one of the country's most infamous warlords.

Billions of dollars into the U.S.-led effort to keep the country from again becoming a haven for terrorists, Afghanistan is in a stalemate -- and the biggest challenge is not necessarily Taliban-led insurgents, problems with the NATO alliance nor the slow pace of reconstruction.

Instead, it is the U.S.-backed Afghan government, which analysts and some government officials say is not only weak but rife with corruption, from local police in the remote provinces to high-level ministers in Kabul. The central government appears unable or unwilling to stem corruption and the drug trade or to establish rule of law, causing some people in the south to turn to the strict Taliban for justice instead of the slow-moving and often corrupt judiciary.

"What kind of proof in this country do we need to say there are problems?" asked Daoud Sultanzoy, a parliament member who until recently was an ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "It is not the strength of the Taliban that has won over people and hundreds of villages in this country. It is the weakness of the government."

'The mayor of Kabul'

While the Democrats in the U.S. presidential campaign often touch on whether the Bush administration diverted too much attention from Afghanistan after the invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials have largely supported Karzai and talked about progress in the country, torn apart by almost 30 years of war.

At the same time, an increasingly unpopular Karzai -- often described by many Afghans as a U.S. puppet -- has tried to curry favor at home by pushing back against Western powers, even spurning the favorite Western candidate to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan in January and rejecting a bid to expand the envoy's power.

Recently, several U.S. officials and think tanks have warned that the young democracy is in danger. U.S. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said last month in Washington that the resurgent Taliban now controls about 10 percent of the country and Karzai's government controls only about 30 percent. The rest is under tribal control, which often means warlords.

Although the Afghan government disputes those figures, several analysts say the government has failed to extend its reach much outside of the capital. Karzai often is derided by many Afghans as "the mayor of Kabul."

In January, a report by former NATO commander and retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones concluded that "urgent changes" were required to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state. The independent study, co-written by former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering, also said Afghanistan risked becoming the forgotten war.

The report said "international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country."

The Afghan government points to achievements such as the soon-to-be-completed "ring road," which will connect the country's major cities, and the Afghan army, praised by international forces for the gains it has made in recent years. Although officials acknowledge problems with corruption, they say the Afghan democracy is young and rebuilding a war-torn country is difficult.

"I think the overall majority of Afghans find this government the only alternative, so they are supporting us," said Humayun Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman. "They just have some unmet expectations."

The challenges are daunting: Afghanistan now produces more heroin and opium than the world consumes, the Taliban is able to carry out spectacular suicide attacks regularly, and more Afghans have become disillusioned with both the government and foreign troops.

Last year was the deadliest since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, with more than 6,500 people killed in militant-related violence, mostly Taliban fighters, according to an Associated Press tally. Insurgents aren't capable of beating NATO-led forces in combat, but suicide attacks and road mines have managed to give the world and many Afghans the impression that militants are winning, analysts and Afghans say.

Drug-terror nexus

Poppies also are feeding the insurgency -- up to 40 percent of the money fueling terrorism in the country is from the heroin and opium trade, said U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, in a March 9 interview.

There are not enough foreign troops here, and self-imposed restrictions by different countries in the NATO alliance on where and how they operate are hampering the coalition, analysts and some NATO officials say.

Reconstruction also has been slower than expected. Of every $1 in aid, only 10 cents goes to the Afghan people, studies show. The capital, Kabul, still does not have 24-hour electricity, and many of the unpaved roads here leave passengers aching as if they've been hit with baseball bats. The countryside, in many places, has a 12th-Century feel.

The pillars of government are so shaky that Karzai basically ignores the cantankerous parliament, which passes laws and resolutions that never seem to go anywhere. Last year, members gave a vote of no confidence to the country's foreign minister, but he remains in office.

Corruption seems ubiquitous. Police shake down drivers for small tips or shirini -- the Dari word for sweets -- at traffic circles in Kabul and collect bribes from drug traffickers in the provinces. Parliament members and analysts allege that many high-level officials or relatives of high-level officials are involved in the illicit drug trade.

Instead of calling the fancy neighborhood in Kabul "Shirpoor," which means "child of a lion," Afghans now call it "Shirchoor," which means "looted by lions." English speakers describe the architecture style as "narco-tecture."

Hilaluddin Hilal, the former deputy interior minister and now the head of the security commission in parliament, said drug lords and organized criminals also served in government positions.

"Every year, it is getting worse and worse," Hilal said. "We are facing more challenges. Unfortunately, this weak government of Karzai puts the international community in a very bad position. They are now seen as being with a bad government and opposed to the people of Afghanistan. There is no clear definition of who is the real enemy in Afghanistan anymore."
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Missile strike near Afghan border kills 20
March 16, 2008
By Bashirullah Khan - MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AP) — A missile strike near the Afghan border destroyed the house of a suspected militant leader today, killing at least 20 people, witnesses and state-run Pakistan Television said.

Seven missiles were fired in the strike in the tribal area of South Waziristan, the television report said. The Pakistani military said five or six explosions were heard near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

Local tribesman Rahim Khan told the Associated Press missiles were fired by an unmanned drone. At least two hit and destroyed the home of a local militant leader and Taliban sympathizer who goes by the single name Noorullah, Khan said.

Only U.S.-led coalition forces are known to have unmanned drones operating in the region. Coalition forces based in neighboring Afghanistan have also launched attacks inside the Pakistani border in the past.

Khan said the house — a huge, fortress-like compound — was known as a hub for visiting foreign militants. Four of those killed were not locals, he said without elaborating, and seven other people were wounded in the attack. Taliban supporters immediately surrounded the area.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials in the area, both speaking on condition of anonymity because of the nature of their work, said another house nearby was also destroyed. Arab and Uzbek militants had been staying in the house, which belongs to a tribesman named Safraz Khan, the officials said.

Eight to ten people were killed in the second house, they said.

Maj. Chris Belcher, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, said coalition forces conducted an operation today in Paktika province, which lies just across the border from South Waziristan. But he said he had no information about the Pakistan strike and doubted the two incidents were related.

Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out somewhere in the rugged, lawless tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Pakistan has been battling Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban in its border regions and the U.S. considers the country's effort vital to the war on terrorism.

In January, a U.S. missile strike on a house killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al Qaeda militant, near Miran Shah, the main town of neighboring North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials said they found the remains of satellite phones and a computer in that wreckage.

Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mehsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan, Alisa Tang contributed from Kabul and Lauren Frayer, Zarar Khan and Sadaqat Jan contributed from Islamabad.
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Canada confident on Afghan troops offer soon
Sun Mar 16, 2008
BRUSSELS, March 16 (Reuters) - Canada is confident NATO allies will come forward soon to supply the extra troops it has demanded as a condition for keeping its 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter Mackay said on Sunday.

Mackay said there had been high-level contacts among NATO allies, including between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and that a decision could be made before or during an April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest.

"We feel 1,000 troops (as a reinforcement) is a minimum...I am confident we will have that," he told a security and foreign policy conference in Brussels.

Canadian troops are based in the southern province of Kandahar and have seen some of the highest casualties as NATO's 43,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) battles against a Taliban-led insurgency.

France said last month it was considering an offer of support to the Canadians but since then alliance sources say Paris is also mulling a re-deployment of forces currently based in the capital Kabul to east Afghanistan by the Pakistan border.

U.S. officials told Reuters last week they wanted France to put its troops directly in the south, but would agree to a deployment in the east that could subsequently allow U.S. troops to shift to the south and meet Canada's request.

Such a rotation would be part of a wider effort to reinforce ISAF, with Britain mulling an extra 600 troops in neighbouring Helmand province and Poland ready to take on more responsibility in the east and add some 500 troops, alliances sources said.

Canada's mission in Afghanistan is currently due to end in February 2009, but the government has agreed to remain until 2011 if another NATO country agrees to supply the added troops Ottawa says are needed for the mission to succeed.

Eighty Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan and polls show the public is split on the mission.

Mackay said he believed Canadians were coming round to the view that the Afghan mission was winnable and worthwhile, but played down any prospect of a fast exit of NATO troops or withdrawal of the international presence in Afghanistan.

"Exit strategies are useful for domestic political consumption but this is going to take a consistent long-term international effort," he told reporters at the event hosted by the German Marshall Fund thinktank. (Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Matthew Jones)
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AFGHANISTAN: Kabul's air pollution putting people's health at risk
16 Mar 2008 13:31:48 GMT
 KABUL, 16 March 2008 (IRIN) - Worsening air pollution in Kabul is "seriously" threatening the health and well-being of its estimated three million residents, Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) has said.

"In terms of air pollution we are facing a crisis in Kabul," Dad Mohammad Baheer, the deputy director of NEPA, told IRIN.

"Over 70 percent of diseases in Kabul are linked to air pollution, unclean water and solid waste," he said, adding that children were particularly susceptible to various diseases originating from toxic pollutants in the air.

Severe air pollution causes respiratory disorders, eye and nasal problems, and is one of the major causes of lung cancer, public health experts say.

"Over the past few years diagnosed cases of cancer, mainly among children, have increased considerably," Baheer said.

A short stroll in Kabul during the daytime leads to clear evidence – when one blows one's nose on a handkerchief - of the polluted atmosphere.

Kabul has also lost over 70 percent of its greenery, particularly trees, over the past two decades, NEPA's findings show.

Polluting vehicles

Vehicle emissions are considered a major contributor to air pollution: Every month Kabul's one million vehicles are added to by over 8,000 new vehicles registered with the Kabul traffic department, officials said. Most vehicles in Kabul are over 10 years old and more polluting than modern ones.

"The problem in Kabul is compounded by the widespread use of substandard car fuel and old engines," Baheer said.

Power cuts and the absence a national natural gas grid mean that many households use wood, coal and heating oil for cooking and heating.

Moreover, some brick factories, public baths and small businesses burn old tyres, plastic and combustible waste to run their businesses more cheaply. Toxic pollutants, sulfur oxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide are emitted, NEPA experts say.

"Poor waste management – both solid and otherwise - is yet another major problem in Kabul which also damages the air quality," Baheer said.

Unlike some other capital cities, Kabul has the added problem of its arid and mountainous landscape and lack of nearby woodlands, according to NEPA.

Fledging environmental protection agency

Kabul faces numerous environmental problems: a virtually non-existent sewage and sanitation system, burgeoning slums, crumbling infrastructure and rapid population growth. The fledging environmental protection agency will have an uphill struggle in improving air quality.

"We have to act fast and execute a series of projects such as the rehabilitation of forests and promotion of greenery, ban the import and use of substandard fuel, improve waste management... and build and strengthen our own institutional capacity," NEPA's deputy director said.

NEPA is looking forward to receiving its first ever assistance from a donor: The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has pledged about US$500,000, Baheer said.
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Protests erupt across Canada against Afghan mission: report
Sun Mar 16, 3:15 AM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Hundreds of people took to the streets across Canada on Saturday to protest its troop deployment to Afghanistan, media reports and organisers said, two days after parliament voted to extend the mission.

The Canadian Peace Alliance said demonstrations were planned in eight towns as part of a global day of action organized ahead of the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 20.

About 1,000 people marched through Toronto, protesting against the extension of the 2,500-strong Afghan mission and calling for Canadian troops to pull out, according to local television.

In Ottawa, protesters gathered near the US embassy, accusing the United States of putting its strategic interests above the needs of ordinary people, according to the Canadian Peace Alliance.

In Montreal, about 50 people demonstrated against both Canada's involvement in Afghanistan and the Iraq war, an AFP journalist said.

Protests were also reported in the eastern town of Halifax, while further action was planned in towns in western Canada, media reports said.

Parliament voted Thursday to extend Canada's military deployment in volatile southern Afghanistan until 2011, provided NATO sends reinforcements. Otherwise, Canada will withdraw next year when its current mandate ends.

Christine Jones, co-chairwoman of the Canadian Peace Alliance, said the vote was misguided, arguing: "Afghanistan is worse off because of the military occupation and Canadians are more opposed to the war than ever before."

Jack Laydon, leader of the opposition NPD party which opposed extending the Afghan mission, said Friday that Canada must withdraw from the combat mission and instead lead peaceful efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan.

Eighty Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Ottawa began its deployment there as part of a NATO-led mission in 2002.
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Thousands protest over Iraq, Afghanistan in London, Glasgow
Sat Mar 15, 3:35 PM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Thousands of protesters gathered in London and Glasgow Saturday ahead of the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, calling for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the capital, activists rallied at Trafalgar Square before marching the short distance to parliament while in Glasgow, demonstrators walked from the city centre to the Glasgow Green park on the banks of the River Clyde.

Police in London said there were 10,000 on the streets but organisers the Stop the War Coalition put the crowds at between 30,000 to 40,000.

In Glasgow, Strathclyde Police told AFP that there were between 1,000 to 1,500 protesters at the height of the march there.

A number of demonstrations are taking place around the world as the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 20 approaches.

In London, where an estimated one million people marched through the streets about a month before the war in 2003, there were also calls against attacking Iran over its disputed nuclear programme and for an end to the "siege" of Gaza.

The veteran left-winger and former Labour Party lawmaker, Tony Benn, said Britain's involvement in Iraq, where the country has 4,100 troops, and Afghanistan, where it has 7,800, had caused "devastation".

The Green Party's member of the European Parliament, Caroline Lucas, called for former British prime minister Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown to be prosecuted for war crimes.

"They need to know you cannot bomb your way to peace," she said.

In Glasgow, protesters were joined by the mother of a British soldier who was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq, left-wing groups and trade unions.

The Foreign Office described the protesters' claims as "simply not accurate", pointing to the "steady progress, particularly in terms of security" being made in Iraq and said the government had learnt from mistakes.

It argued that the NATO coalition in Afghanistan was winning the fight against the Taliban, with improvements made in education and eradication of opium crops while diplomatic efforts were ongoing to resolve the stand-off with Iran.

"No one is under any illusion that these are easy challenges but we are absolutely committed to making further progress," a spokesman said.
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Kandahar no longer most dangerous: general
Matthew Fisher,  Canwest News Service Saturday, March 15, 2008
KABUL - Kandahar, where Canadian forces are responsible for security, is no longer the most hazardous place in Afghanistan, according to a senior Afghan general.

"It is now Helmand that is the most dangerous, not Kandahar," said General Zahir Azimi in an interview over lunch this week in the Afghan capital.

"This is because Canadian troops have done a great job in their area. They have changed Kandahar from being the most volatile place to the second most volatile place."

The general, dressed in a sharp business suit rather than the green battle fatigues favoured by most Afghan commanders, said with a smile that such an improvement might not sound like much to outsiders, but "this is real progress. The Taliban had control of Panjwaii, Zhari and Arghandab districts [in Kandahar], but that changed after Operation Medusa and the situation continues to improve."

Medusa was the code name for a bloody, large-scale combat operation against the Taliban to the west of Kandahar City in the late summer and fall of 2006. It was mostly led by a battle group from the Royal Canadian Regiment, which replaced a similar group from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry when they rotated back to Canada early in the battle.

The general, who fought the Soviet Union during the 1980s and is now senior spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said the simplest way to defeat the Taliban is "to heighten the capacity of the Afghan army."

He cited a recent Washington Post opinion piece in which U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman said the cost of having one foreign soldier in Afghanistan was 60 to 70 times higher than the cost of one Afghan soldier.

"What is needed is for the international community to agree on the size of the Afghan National Army required to defend the country," Gen. Azimi said. The general believes 200,000 is "a very realistic number." That's about 120,000 more troops than the current

intended size of the Afghan force which, Mr. Lieberman wrote, was "nowhere near the numbers to secure [Afghanistan] against an increasingly sophisticated insurgency."

While a staunch supporter of NATO, Gen. Azimi was politely critical of some aspects of Western policy towards Afghanistan, such as the quality of the weapons supplied to Afghan government forces from the arsenals of Korea and the former East Germany.

Turning to the question of narcotics, which are believed to provide the Taliban with much of its funding, Gen. Azimi complained that the international community was "like an ostrich" that had failed to understand the problem because it "tried to make this a political issue when it is an issue that should be dealt with directly."

Afghanistan's drug problem has several aspects, he said. While Afghans grow the poppies, "they don't supply the chemicals, they don't transport it and they are not the market for the product, so don't only pressure us to do something about this," he said.

"If it is best to eradicate poppies, hundreds of thousands of farmers will align themselves with the Taliban, unless they have another means of livelihood or subsidized alternative crops to cultivate and market, such as cotton or tomatoes or potatoes."

As for corruption, "this is as big a problem as the problems of security and poppy."

But the general wondered again why only Afghans were accused of being corrupt when, in his view, "the international community legalizes corruption" by allowing foreign contractors to be preferential bidders on huge projects from their own countries.

Using a $500-million road project as an example, he said the winning foreign bidder would hire out subcontractors to do the work for $300-million, pocketing the difference. These subcontractors would in turn farm the work out to even smaller companies for smaller sums, once again pocketing the difference.

"Only maybe $150-million of a $500-million road project will actually be spent on construction," he said and Afghan companies, which are at the bottom of this long food chain, are left with a very small piece of the pie.

Despite these criticisms, Gen. Azimi said Afghans much preferred having NATO in the country than the Soviet Union.

"The Russians were invaders. NATO is here on a mandate. The Russians came to Afghanistan for their country and killed all who opposed them. NATO comes to help. These are two different things."
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Kandahar students back in class after Taliban torch brand new school
By James Mccarten And A.R. Khan THE CANADIAN PRESS March 16, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Students at a brand new high school on the outskirts of this nerve-racked city are back at their lessons after suspected Taliban insurgents accosted the night watchman and set the building on fire.

Gasoline-fuelled flames destroyed books and desks and blackened the walls of the Mia Abdul Hakim high school in the city's west end, which opened its doors only three weeks ago.

The vandals, however, failed to destroy the spirits of the school's students, many of whom were back in class the very next day.

"When I heard my school was burned by (the) Taliban, I was shocked and my parents told me, 'Do not go to school,' said Fatima, a 12-year-old Grade 4 student who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name.

"I came because I am missing my lessons and classmates. I love school and my teachers. I will keep coming to my school."

Abdul Hakim, the school's principal, said a group of five or six armed men confronted the janitor early Friday, bound his hands and threatened him with death while they set about burning down the facility.

"I experienced a slap on my face along with bad words," janitor Muhammad Hussain said as he described opening the door to a group of men at about 2 a.m. Friday morning.

"They (tied) my hands and ordered (me) not to move, if try would be killed . . . . The flame burst out from the windows, (and) thick black smoke erupted which clouded the skies as if a big tornado hit the area."

Two warehouses used to store supplies and equipment were destroyed, as was the school's main office, Hakim said. Several classrooms were badly damaged, the floors littered with the scorched remnants of books and furniture.

"Every individual has the due right to get education, but the enemy of education, the enemies of the country, (are) always trying to put us in dark," Hakim said.

"Our people believe (and) are strong, and they won't step backwards. (They) will actually step forward to defeat the enemy's bad intentions."

Building schools and educating young Afghans, most notably girls - their attendance at class was strictly forbidden under Taliban rule, and women in Afghanistan have a literacy rate of just 16 per cent - is a major component of coalition rebuilding efforts.

The school currently has about 1,370 students - 1,200 boys and 170 girls, said Muhammad Anwar, Kandahar province's director of education.

"Burning schools means burning the salvation, burning schools means burning the humanity," Anwar said.

"The enemies aim to put Afghans in dark lives, make them ignorant."

There are some 360 schools in Kandahar province, which is where most of the Canadian contingent of NATO's International Security Assistance Force is based. Of those, 224 are open and functioning, while the rest are currently closed due to the ever-present perils that are a daily reality in southern Afghanistan, Anwar said.

"If my home was burned it would not have hurt my feeling as (much)as being hurt by school burning," said Shakira, an 11-year-old Grade 4 student.

"This is the work of the enemy of our nation, the enemy of education and the enemy of our people, against knowledge."

"I was very happy that the building of the school (was) completed because before we didn't have a classroom like this," said Hikmatullah, a 19-year-old Grade 7 student.

"When I learned that the school was burned by armed men, it was the saddest moment for me - you see the books, chairs, table, tents, biscuits and cooking oils all are burned to ashes.

"Who are they? Why they are burning our books and classrooms? We are learning here, we are not dancing or doing bad things. This is not the work of Muslims."
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Official: Afghanistan expects first Olympic medal in Beijing
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-16
KABUL, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Despite all the difficulties as a lack of budget and training facilities, Afghanistan expects its first medal in the coming 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, said an official from Afghanistan National Olympic Committee (ANOC) on Sunday.

Sayed Mahamood Zia Dashti, vice president of ANOC told Xinhua there are currently three players already qualified for the grand event and two others still fighting for wild cards which seems very hopefully to be obtained.

"Since our taekwondo player Nesar Ahmad Bahawi got the first ever silver medal in an international taekwondo event in Beijing in 2007, we have enough reason to expect the first ever Olympic medal especially on taekwondo for cheering up people in this war-torn country," Dashti said.

He added that all the five Olympic players have been now training or attending competitions abroad for the next five months.

Moreover, the ANOC official confirmed that a fresh budget of four million U.S. dollars has been approved by government for improving training conditions all over the country, especially in the aspects of playground, facilities, trainer and food.

ANOC was established in 1934 and has attended Olympic events since 1936. Due to the civil war and the harsh Taliban regime, Afghanistan missed two Olympic Games, respectively in 1992 and 2000.
Editor: Mu Xuequan 
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Afghan girl runs toward Olympics despite jeers, potential danger
By RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press / March 16, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The neighborhood boys shout at Mehboba Ahdyar when she leaves home. "Hero, hero! Look at the hero of our country," they yell at Ahdyar, one of Afghanistan's fastest female runners.

But the boys are not saluting a top athlete. Their sarcastic jabs are meant to poke fun at a teenage girl trying to realize Olympic-sized dreams.

Ahdyar, a 19-year-old middle-distance runner, is the only female on Afghanistan's four-member Olympic team.

"I feel bad about all these things that happen to me every day, but I'll still march forward," Ahdyar told the AP Wednesday. "I never show weakness. I'll fight through these challenges."

Afghanistan, which has never won an Olympic medal, was banned from the 2000 Games in Sydney because the Taliban regime outlawed women from taking part in sports. The country participated in the Atlanta Games in 1996, before the Taliban came to power, and the Athens Games in 2004.

Ahdyar faces an uphill battle for Olympic success. Practice facilities are Spartan at best in Afghanistan, which is still fighting its way through a violent Taliban insurgency six years after the hard-line regime's ouster.

Although women's rights have improved dramatically since 2001, women here are still second-class citizens. Most wear the all-covering burqa in public and would need male family members' permission before tackling anything remotely as ambitious as trying to become an Olympic athlete.

More ominously, Ahdyar's mother worries about the security situation in the country. Taliban militants often target organizations and individuals who champion women's issues, and the taunting by neighborhood boys _ a mere nuisance in other societies _ could draw the attention of militant suicide bombers.

"We are scared, really scared about the security situation in our country, and of the people who have negative views about my family," her mother, Moha Jan, said. But she added: "These problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."

During practice _ held inside Kabul's main sports stadium, where the Taliban used to carry out public executions _ Ahdyar wears a headscarf, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, keeping in the tradition of the modest dress of women here.

Though she has won competitions in Afghanistan, she has never competed outside the country. She and Afghan sprinter Masoud Azizi will soon travel to Malaysia for five months to train before the Beijing Games in September.

Her times are not exactly world-class. Ahdyar runs 1,500 meters in about four minutes and 50 seconds, a full minute slower than the Olympic record. Her 800 meter times are not much stronger, but Afghan officials say they do not expect the country's athletes to win any medals.

"The presence of Afghan athletes is more important for us than bringing home medals," said Mohmood Zia Dashti, the Afghan National Olympic committee's vice president.

Ahdyar may draw the neighborhood kids' scorn, but she is a champion in her own home.

"I admire my daughter. She is a hero and a very good athlete," her mother said. "My wish is that she comes back with a good result for Afghanistan."

Ahdyar's family of eight lives in a mud brick house in one of the poorest parts of the capital, Kabul. In a sign of the potential dangers Ahdyar's family might face in this conservative country, Jan said she was concerned neighbors might think the family was operating a brothel because she was hosting a group of male journalists at home.

Afghanistan's first female runner to participate in the Olympics was Robina Muqimyar, who ran in the 2004 Athens games wearing a T-shirt and long green track pants. Ahdyar said she would not run in Beijing if organizers force her to wear tight-fitting track clothing.

Another of Afghanistan's Olympic athletes is Azizi, a 20-year-old male sprinter who competed in Athens. Azizi said he has been training hard the last four years and hopes to win a medal in the 100 meters in Beijing, though that might not be likely. His best time is 10.90 seconds, about a second off the world record.

Still, the country's athletes might even be inspiring Ahdyar's name-calling neighborhood boys to give sports a second look. After Ahdyar won US$1,000 (?642) by coming in first place at a track event held in Afghanistan, Ahdyar said she overheard some of her neighborhood detractors wonder aloud if they shouldn't lace up their running shoes.

"Look at that girl, she won (US$1,000) from running," Ahdyar recalled a boy saying. "Why are we sitting here doing nothing? Let's start running."
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McCain wants rethink of UK Afghanistan policy
By Tim Shipman, with the McCain campaign in Springfield, Pennsylvania 16/03/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
John McCain has voiced criticism of British policy in Afghanistan, saying efforts to slow Taliban poppy production are "not working", allowing heroin to flood the streets of Europe.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Republican nominee signalled that as president he will overhaul Nato tactics designed to prevent Taliban warlords cashing in on the drugs trade. Britain has responsibility for developing Nato's counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan.

But poppy cultivation shot up 45 per cent in British controlled Helmand province last year. Senator McCain, who is visiting Britain this week for talks with Gordon Brown and David Cameron, said that he will use the first months of his presidency to overhaul Afghan policy with a sweeping reassessment of which policies are failing.

"We need to look at what's working and at what isn't working," he said. "There is the issue of the poppy crops. That's not working. And there's corruption. That's something we need to fix.

"If I'm the president of the United States, obviously I will come back and talk about many of these important challenges we face." He said: "I think it's very difficult in Afghanistan. We have a very difficult challenge there, there's no doubt about that."

Mr McCain has previously suggested that American troops might have to stay in Iraq for up to 100 years. Asked if both Britain and America should prepare for a similar long-term commitment in Afghanistan, he replied: "I think so. I think so."

But he stressed that his words have been "twisted" by critics and that he only means a military presence along the lines of those peacetime garrisons in "South Korea, in Japan, in Germany".

His comments come after the senator from Arizona voiced criticisms to the Daily Telegraph of the British withdrawal from the Iraqi city of Basra, leaving it in the hands of militia factions.

Mr McCain also indicated that he will take a strong stand against the regime in Iran, voicing doubts about a US intelligence estimate that the Islamic state has suspended its nuclear weapons programme.

"I don't believe that Iran is no longer a threat," he said. "We still have the most lethal explosive devices coming across the border from Iran into Iraq."

Despite his tough line on terror, Sen McCain pledged to strike a different tone from President Bush, working with allies to solve problems. Of his trip to London, he said: "I think there are a lot of areas we can increase our cooperation. I don't intend to come over there and lecture to our friends."

He added: "I understand how difficult the Iraq issue is for the British people as well as the American people. I want to express my gratitude to the British government and people for the enormous contribution they've made in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's one of my goals here."

He said his talks with Mr Brown will encompass "Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and cooperation on defence acquisition."

Mr McCain and the Prime Minister have yet to meet, though the senator said that he views Mr Brown as "a very fine leader" - not a view shared by the White House.

In addition to meeting Mr Brown and Mr Cameron, the senator will hold a $1,000 a head fundraising lunch for his campaign on Thursday at Spencer House, the London residence built by Lord Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Polls show the Republican standard bearer in a statistical tie with either of his likely Democratic rivals in November's election. He dismissed claims that he will find it impossible to run against them without being branded a racist or sexist charges flying between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "I don't have any concerns with that whatsoever."

He said he would act quickly to sack anyone making derogatory racial remarks about Mr Obama, as Hillary Clinton's fundraiser Geraldine Ferraro did last week. "I will repudiate those in my own party if they say things like that concerning both Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama.

You will not see that in this campaign. "I have for many years conducted a respectful debate with my opponents. I look forward to a spirited and vigorous but respectful debate."

Mr McCain did distance himself on policy from the Democrats, who have unnerved politicians in Britain and Europe by calling for protectionist trade measures. "I am a free trader," he said. "I know that protectionism and isolationism has harmed America in the past."

Mr McCain spoke ahead of an appearance in Springfield Pennsylvania, where he marked the 35th anniversary of his release from five and a half years of torture and solitary confinement in Vietnam's Hanoi Hilton PoW prison.

He made headlines by telling the crowd that he fears al Qaeda will launch attacks in a bid to derail the success of the surge in Iraq and his chances of the White House.

"I worry about it a great deal. They may be able to carry out some spectacular suicide attacks. I know they pay attention because the intercepts we have of their communications."

When one woman announced that she was the mother of a current naval aviator, Mr McCain, a navy pilot whose incarceration began when he was shot down, joked: "I'm sure he is better than I was."

But he also spoke emotionally of what the experience still means to him. "It's pretty understandable that when you are deprived of America, you love it more. That's when I really learned to love this country. That day I was released I didn't anticipate that I would be standing here before you today."

He told The Sunday Telegraph: "It's exciting and invigorating. A guy that stood fifth from bottom of his class at the naval academy could be president. That shows that in America, anything is possible."
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Afghan refugees reluctant to return home
* Only 25 refugee families have returned from Jalozai Refugee Camp under UN programme
* Camp elders say refugees reluctant to return without assurances of proper shelter, facilities
By Daud Khattak Daily Times, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: So far only 25 families have moved back to Afghanistan from the Jalozai Refugee Camp under the United Nations Voluntary Repatriation Programme (UNVRP), camp elders and UN officials told Daily Times on Saturday.

Malik Azeem, who represents Afghan refugees from the South Eastern Paktia province, said residents of the camp were reluctant to return to Afghanistan without assurances of proper shelter and other facilities in Afghanistan from UN officials and the Afghan authorities. Azeem said the UN wanted to move the refugees to Afghanistan without first ensuring the provision of clean drinking water, health facilities, and schooling.

“This amounts to committing suicide for the refugees,” he said, adding that the allotted amount of $100 per head was nothing for the returnees who had to rehabilitate their families and re-establish their businesses in Afghanistan. Azeem said the settlers were being asked to move to Mianwali for an interim period of less than two years.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Field Officer Zille Usman told Daily Times that the refugees would have to return to Afghanistan, as their repatriation would not be stopped this time around. He admitted that only a few families had so far agreed to return to their country.

High hopes: When asked about the reason for the delay, Usman said the refugees were reluctant to return to their country because they had pinned high hopes on the new governments in the NWFP and at the Centre. He said the UNHCR had taken a delegation of Jalozai Camp elders to the site of the new camp in Mianwali where they were told about all the available facilities, and that they had expressed their satisfaction.

UN Spokesman Babar Baloch told Daily Times that the UN would provide transportation facilities to all those refugees who agreed to move to any of the three locations in Dir, Chitral or Mianwali. Some elders of the camp said that they had been assured by the Awami National Party (ANP) Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan that he would bring up the issue of their repatriation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. However, there is no official statement from any of the ANP media managers or the party’s secretariat in Peshawar.

Earlier all the private schools run by the Afghans at the camp were closed. However, the schools were reopened for the holding of examinations before the start of the repatriation process. Sher Ali, the principal of the Hijrat School, said the Afghan consulate in Peshawar had asked him to hold the examinations in March.previously, the examinations have been held in May every year.
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BOOK REVIEW: India and Afghanistan by Khaled Ahmed
Daily Times, Pakistan
Afghanistan: The Challenge;
Edited By K Warikoo; Manas
Pentagon Press 2007
Pp377; Price Rs Indian 995
Available in bookstores in Pakistan
Pakistan is in the process of coming to grips with the new reality but is struggling with two minds, one scared of what it has been doing in the past two decades and the other thinking of solving the current crisis by doing more of what it has done. The people of Pakistan are staying out of the moment of judgement

The book is an attempt by Indian scholars to analyse Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan and predictably examines the spinoff Pakistan has got in the shape of training guerrilla mujahideen militias for operations in Kashmir. The conflict that informed relations between the two states forced Pakistan to use Islamist proxies to fight the Indian aggression in Kashmir. Those groups have now come back to haunt Pakistan and also become a menace for the region as a whole.

The Indians got their chance after 9/11 when the Taliban were ousted from Afghanistan together with Pakistan and its strategic depth. The book details the economic penetration that India has effected in Afghanistan clearly with a view to not letting Pakistan repeat what it did after 1989.

Of course there is historical precedent of trade between India and Afghanistan. Celebrated text of Brhatsamhita by Varahamihira (6th century AD) refers to a group of people named Avagana (read Afghans) who sent raisin wines down to India. And Panini the grammarian who made Sanskrit into what it is today was an Afghan! President Karzai was the latter-day Panini who presided over the Indian penetration as it took place after the Taliban had been routed and Pakistan’s General Musharraf, who had announced his allegiance with the Pushtuns in 2000, nicely tamed in 2001.

In March 2003, a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) was signed between India and Afghanistan in New Delhi with India granting 50 to 100 percent tariff concession on 30 items and receiving the same on black tar pharmaceutical products, refined sugar and cement, etc. In 2002, India expanded its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan to a historic level by opening Consulates in southern, south-eastern, western and northern regions of the Afghanistan. Over the last five years, India’ exports to Afghanistan have shown a growth rate of 153 percent. When the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Kabul in 2005, it was the first top level visit after 1976.

India has committed $650 million of aid to Kabul, mostly going into the infrastructure, more effectively than the money committed by Pakistan that complains of Kabul giving better treatment to India, which should be natural given the fact that Kabul is rattled by the Taliban Shura of Quetta which Islamabad denies. India was to complete by 2007 the Zaranj-Dalaram road which will connect Afghanistan to Iran’s Chabahar port and save 1000 km of roundabout road to the sea and thus cut Pakistan out as Afghanistan’s outlet to the Indian Ocean. It is investing in Iran too but has got out of the Iranian pipeline deal in view if its residual suspicion of Pakistan.

India’s 400 buses are everywhere in Afghanistan. India has gifted three airbus aircraft, along with essential parts, to the Ariana Afghan Airlines whose staff is training in India.

Pakistan is in the process of coming to grips with the new reality but is struggling with two minds, one scared of what it has been doing in the past two decades and the other thinking of solving the current crisis by doing more of what it has done. The people of Pakistan are staying out of the moment of judgement. This tends to put a cap on the process of ‘self-correction’ begun under Musharraf. That is a matter of concern. *
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Afghan police discover 4 suicide vests
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-15 19:47:38
KABUL, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province have discovered a weapon cache containing waist coats used in carrying out suicide attacks, a local official said Saturday.

"During an operation against militants in Nawbahar district on Saturday police found a weapon cache containing four waist cost used by suicide bombers and huge quantity of arms and ammunitions including two rocket-propelled grenades," Zarif Khan the district chief of Nawbahar told Xinhua.

However, he did not say if any insurgents or government police were killed during the operation.

Taliban insurgents often use the waist coats containing explosive devices to carry out suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

More than 200 people mostly civilians have been killed in suicide attacks, car blast and roadside bombings so far this year in Afghanistan.
Editor: An lu
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11 suspected militants detained from Afghanistan's Khost
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-14 13:52:22
KABUL, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Eleven suspected militants have been detained from eastern Afghan province of Khost during a Afghan and Coalition forces joint operation, according to a Coalition statement issued here early Friday morning.

Afghan National Security Force and the U.S.-led Coalition forces on March 12 searched compounds in Tanai district "targeting militants linked to foreign fighter, improvised explosive device and weapons facilitation operations," and detained 11 individuals, it said.

The statement said the detained individuals will be questioned.

The combined force also discovered a number of improvised explosive device (IED) making materials, several hand grenades, small-arms, ammunition and ammunition vests, it added.

The multi-national Coalition forces, with majority a 16,000-strong U.S. troops, are deployed in Afghanistan for fighting militants and ensuring security.

In a latest wave of militant violence, the Taliban, fighting with the Afghan government and foreign troops since fall from power in 2001, launched a suicide car blast attack on a Coalition forces' convoy in the capital Kabul Thursday, killing six civilians and wounding four soldiers.
Editor: Du Guodong
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