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March 20, 2008 

Cheney visits Afghanistan ahead of NATO summit
By Tabassum Zakaria
KABUL (Reuters) - Vice-President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan on Thursday and met President Hamid Karzai ahead of a NATO summit where Washington will urge its allies to send more troops to the war-torn country.

NATO's Afghan war not lost, but far from won
By David Brunnstrom
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - With the world marking five years since the invasion of Iraq, a NATO-led force of some 40 states is at pains to argue it is not losing a longer war in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

U.N. council extends Afghanistan mandate
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed on Thursday to extend the U.N. mandate in Afghanistan where NATO-led forces are struggling to overcome a surprisingly fierce Taliban insurgency.

NATO troops kills Afghan policeman
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 20, 6:56 AM ET
KANADAHAR, Afghanistan - NATO-led troops killed a police officer and wounded another in southern Afghanistan, a police chief said Thursday.

Afghanistan: Radio Free Afghanistan Names 'Person Of The Year'
By Sonia Winter RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Czech Republic
An Afghan governor has been named Radio Free Afghanistan's "Person Of The Year" for his role in keeping the peace and reconstructing his war-torn province.

Pakistan: Suicide car bomb kills 5 troops near Afghan border, military says
By SADAQAT JAN,Associated Press Writer AP - Friday, March 21
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A suicide car bomb killed five Pakistani soldiers Thursday near the Afghan border, the military said.

Canadian hockey stars play troops in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Canadian hockey stars took on soldiers involved in the fight against Taliban insurgents in morale-boosting friendlies at the biggest military base in southern Afghanistan Thursday.

Australian PM says he wants NATO to agree to a strategy for victory in Afghanistan
The Associated Press, March 19, 2008
CANBERRA, Australia: Australia will demand confirmation at a summit in Romania next month that NATO has a strategy with agreed benchmarks for victory in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday.

France to host Afghan donor conference
The Associated Press, March 18, 2008
PARIS: France will host an international donors conference for Afghanistan in June, the French foreign minister said Tuesday.

Afghanistan’s New Deal
By ZALMAY KHALILZAD March 20, 2008 Op-Ed Contributor
BAN KI-MOON, secretary general of the United Nations, has appointed a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, as his special representative to Afghanistan. Mr. Eide’s success will depend not only on his skills, but also on the friends

Same game, new rules in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online's
KARACHI - After more than six years, coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an all-out offensive against the Taliban centered on their safe havens straddling the border with Pakistan.

Turkish State Minister Hosts Dinner In Honor Of Afghan FM
TurkishPress.com - Mar 20 4:27 AM
ANKARA - Turkish State Minister Said Yazicioglu hosted a dinner in honor of Afghan FM Rangin Spanta in capital Ankara on Wednesday.

Longer Afghan missions eyed
MacKay says extending 6-month stints possible as manpower shortages hamper Afghan mission
Mar 20, 2008 04:30 AM Bruce Campion-Smith Allan Woods Toronto Star,  Canada
OTTAWA–Longer deployments for Canadian troops in Kandahar – perhaps as long as a year – are being considered as the military struggles to meet the manpower demands of a mission that has been extended by two years.

Turkish gov't, military split on dispatching troops to Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-20
ANKARA, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Turkish government and military are at odds over sending more combat troops to Afghanistan, local newspaper Turkish Daily News reported on Thursday.

"There is No Way for NATO to Win This War"
Afghanistan: A River Running Backward
By CONN HALLINAN March 18, 2008 CounterPunch
When historians look back on the war in Afghanistan, they may well point to last December's battle for Musa Qala, a scruffy town in the country's northern Helmand Province, as a turning point. In a war of shadows, remote ambushes

Helmand's new governor seeks talks with Taliban
Financial Times, UK By Jon Boone in Kabul  March 20 2008
The newly appointed governor of Helmand province has vowed to hold face-to-face meetings with Taliban fighters as part of a new strategy to quell the insurgency raging in Afghanistan's poppy belt.

Critics decry woman on Afghanistan's "American Idol"
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-20 17:54:11
BEIJING, March 20 (Xinhuanet) -- A woman from Afghanistan's conservative Pashtun tribe is one of the top three contenders in the country's version of "American Idol" and a lot of conservatives aren't happy.

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Cheney visits Afghanistan ahead of NATO summit
By Tabassum Zakaria
KABUL (Reuters) - Vice-President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan on Thursday and met President Hamid Karzai ahead of a NATO summit where Washington will urge its allies to send more troops to the war-torn country.

NATO's Afghan mission is one of the toughest challenges faced by the 59-year-old alliance and has led to open differences among allies over strategy and troop levels.

Cheney said the mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan would be high on the agenda of the summit in Bucharest in early April.

"ISAF has made a tremendous difference in the country and America will ask our NATO allies for an even stronger commitment for the future," Cheney told a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where he made an unannounced visit.

ISAF has some 43,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting Taliban militants, who have regrouped since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the hardline Islamist movement from power after the September 11, 2001 attacks and relaunched their insurgency two years ago.

U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops are engaged in the bulk of the fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan, while other NATO allies, notably France and Germany, have so far resisted U.S. pressure to allow their soldiers to operate outside the relative safety of the north of the country.

"The United States and the other members of the coalition need to have a sufficient force here to be able to ensure security to deal with the threat that's been represented by continuing activities by radicals and extremists, the likes of the Taliban and al Qaeda," Cheney said.

The vice president later traveled to Bagram base near Kabul where a suicide bomber killed 14 people, including a U.S. and a South Korean soldier, the last time he was there in February 2007.

The Taliban aim to wear down the will of NATO countries to carry on the fight in Afghanistan and force a withdrawal of foreign troops that would hand them a strategic victory.

U.S. SUPPORT "UNSHAKEABLE"
Already cracks are appearing in support for the war. Canada, with 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, wants NATO allies to provide another 1,000 soldiers to reinforce its combat forces as a condition for keeping its troops in the country.

Ordinary Afghans are also growing increasingly frustrated with the presence of foreign troops, the slow pace of development, official corruption and the lack of security.

U.S. commitment to Afghanistan was "firm and unshakeable," Cheney said.

"Having liberated this country, the United States and our coalition partners have no intention of allowing extremists to shoot their way back into power," he told U.S. troops at Bagram.

"We're going to get this job done right so that another generation of Americans doesn't have to come back and do it all over again," he said.

All sides agree the long-term key to stability is for the Afghan army and police to be able to provide security.

The Afghan army is relatively well-trained and has taken a much greater role in fighting the Taliban over the last year, but the police lag far behind, are poorly trained, notoriously corrupt and often flee in the face of Taliban attacks.

"The continuation of NATO in Afghanistan is very, very important," Karzai told the news conference alongside Cheney at the heavily guarded presidential palace. "As the Afghan National Army gets stronger, there will be less pressure and responsibility on the foreign security forces."

Afghanistan has in the past accused Pakistan of harboring militants along the neighbors' rugged mountainous border, but cooperation between the two has improved since last year and both countries are now targets of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

Cheney said he thought a coalition government agreed in Pakistan between Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would remain an ally of the United States.

"I expect they will be good and effective friends and allies of the United states just as the previous government has been," Cheney told the news conference.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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NATO's Afghan war not lost, but far from won
By David Brunnstrom
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - With the world marking five years since the invasion of Iraq, a NATO-led force of some 40 states is at pains to argue it is not losing a longer war in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.

But it stresses that conflict is far from won.

In a dusty mud-brick village in Afghanistan's far north, a girl of 11 starts her first day at a school funded by German aid and struggles to pinpoint her country on a world map.

NATO officials say building schools and repairing vital infrastructure in parallel to military efforts are the way ahead in Afghanistan more than six years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in pursuit of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

But in the run-up to a NATO summit in Romania next month, they worry the battle is not just for Afghan hearts and minds in the face of a relentless Taliban insurgency, but to clarify domestic perceptions as hazy as the little girl's geography.

NATO Supreme Commander General John Craddock, on a regular visit to Afghanistan this week, angrily rejected an assessment by veteran peacemaker Paddy Ashdown that the alliance was in disarray and could face defeat in Afghanistan.

"I think that is a profoundly incorrect statement," Craddock told reporters.

"ARE THE INSURGENTS WINNING THE WAR?"
But NATO itself is not shy of shock tactics, opening a briefing with visiting journalists by posing -- then countering -- the question: "Are the insurgents winning the war?"

Echoing remarks by his predecessor General James Jones, Craddock called for better coordination of security and reconstruction work, urged NATO nations to end restrictions on the use of their forces, and asked for more equipment and funds.

Jones warned in a report in January that NATO was in a strategic stalemate in Afghanistan and was "not winning the war." Urgent steps were needed to regain lost momentum.

"As an eternal optimist, I hope the deliverables match my expectations," Craddock said when asked about the April 2-4 Bucharest meeting.

"I would like to see a strong push ... to fill the gap between what we need and what we have. I would like to see continuing efforts to reduce constraints and restrictions."

Craddock also urged a clear vision statement that could be passed on to troops on the ground "to enable an understanding of intent ... and how it is success can be achieved."

He argued the Taliban and allied insurgents operated in the gap between the resources NATO has and what it should have.

"We take away that gap, we take away their operating space. If they don't have space to operate, they're ineffective and we should see significant enhancements in our security situation."

Craddock called for nations to provide more hardware such as helicopters and surveillance aircraft as well as troops, and trainers for the Afghan National Army (ANA), which NATO hopes eventually will take over all security duties.

While the Afghan army is now more than 50,000 strong, it is far from a target strength of more than 80,000 and short of equipment and trainers.

NATO has filled only 33 of 71 projected training teams and while it argues that the Afghan force is increasingly capable, a training exercise Craddock viewed in the northern province of Kunduz made its shortages of basic equipment painfully clear.

A unit puffing from the exertion of a mock pursuit of insurgents shambled to attention clutching ancient assault rifles and wearing an array of protective headgear inherited from successive foreign interventions in their country.

Craddock pointed to the success of employment-generating projects carried out by the United States in the east financed by $200 million of U.S. funding provided last year.

While acknowledging some states did not have deep pockets, he said such projects had helped steer young men away from insurgency, and added: "I think some countries need to scrutinize what their priorities are."

Polls have shown Afghan support for international troops remains high, despite a dip seen last year as civilian casualties in air strikes increased as fighting intensified.

INTERNATIONAL APPROACH QUESTIONED
But many Afghans have long questioned the approach of channeling funds through international organizations and contractors and some doubt the wisdom of pouring billions of dollars into a big foreign force to fight the insurgents.

Abdullah Amini, cultural adviser to the commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said the Afghan government had long argued for funding for a larger army.

"Right now if we had 100,000 ANA, we wouldn't need 40 or 50,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan," he said. "If we spend $100 on one U.S. or British soldier a day in Afghanistan, five dollars would be good enough for one Afghan soldier.

"Afghan people are going to fight a lot better than the international soldiers -- they know every mountain, every valley and they know their people -- who's the enemy and who's not.

"Right now we have close to 60,000 ANA, but do we have even two helicopters?

"If the international community really want to save their soldiers and spend their money wisely, they have to support the Afghan security forces ... that would be more beneficial than sending more soldiers to the country."

Raymond Dubois, a former adviser to former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and now a senior analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the foreign commitment to Afghanistan must be long-term.

"If we get Afghanistan right ... there will be considerable benefits not only to Afghanistan but the region," he said after traveling to Afghanistan with Craddock.

"Just in a strategic, political, military sense, you don't walk away from this country."
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
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U.N. council extends Afghanistan mandate
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed on Thursday to extend the U.N. mandate in Afghanistan where NATO-led forces are struggling to overcome a surprisingly fierce Taliban insurgency.

All 15 council members voted in favor of a resolution extending the mandate for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA. It also called for what U.N. officials have described as a sharpened role for the United Nations' envoy.

The resolution referred to the council's "concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, in particular the increased violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, al Qaeda, illegally armed groups, criminals and ... the narcotics trade."

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to take over from Germany's Tom Koenigs as the top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan.

Western diplomats on the council said Eide would have to take on a more active role than Koenigs did in coordinating international civilian and military activities and in working with the Afghan government.

Top U.N. officials have described the Taliban insurgency as surprisingly resilient and ruthless and recommended increasing coordination between the international community, aid agencies, Afghan government and NATO-led ISAF forces, and expanding U.N. activities across Afghanistan.

The resolution calls for "more coherent support by the international community to the Afghan government," an expanded U.N. presence in Afghanistan, and asks UNAMA to "strengthen the cooperation with ISAF at all levels."
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Vicki Allen)
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NATO troops kills Afghan policeman
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 20, 6:56 AM ET
KANADAHAR, Afghanistan - NATO-led troops killed a police officer and wounded another in southern Afghanistan, a police chief said Thursday.

The policemen were patrolling in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, when NATO troops opened fire on them late on Wednesday, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

Shooting left one police dead and another wounded, Andiwal said.

"The police were doing their job and I do not know why this incident happened," Andiwal said. "We are trying to talk to NATO and get details," he said.

A NATO spokeswoman in Kandahar, who spoke under condition of anonymity following alliance's rule, said they are aware of the incident and are investigating it.

Most of the alliance's troops in Helmand province are British.
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Afghanistan: Radio Free Afghanistan Names 'Person Of The Year'
By Sonia Winter RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Czech Republic
An Afghan governor has been named Radio Free Afghanistan's "Person Of The Year" for his role in keeping the peace and reconstructing his war-torn province.

Listeners of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA) voted for Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of the eastern Nangarhar Province, in the first-ever nationwide "Person Of The Year" contest.
 
The award is given for advancing the cause of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and reconstruction.
 
Sherzai, a former governor of the Kandahar Province and former adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was credited with establishing the rule of law in the province, keeping the peace, eradicating poppy fields, and building an important highway between the capital Jalalabad and Torkham, on the border with Pakistan.
 
The announcement was made on air by RFA Director Akbar Ayazi to mark the beginning of the Afghan new year.

Sherzai, a blackbearded heavyset man with a commanding presence, is the son of a poor restaurant owner and ethnic Pashtun from the Kandahar Province.
 
He began calling himself Gul Agha as a mujahedin fighting the Soviet military in the 1970s. He later added Sherzai ("son of lion" in the Pashto language). Sherzai helped President Karzai drive the Taliban out of his native province and served as governor of Kandahar from 1992 to 1994.
 
After becoming governor of Nangarhar in 2004, Sherzai became known as "The Bulldozer," after he completed in record time daunting projects, including a network of roads, solar-powered street lights in the cities, and a historically accurate reconstruction of the presidential palace in Jalalabad.
 
In a 2007 interview to "The Sunday Times," Sherzai spoke about a project to turn the Tora Bora caves in Nangarhar, once Osama bin Laden's hideout, into a holiday resort. "Tora Bora is already a world-famous name but we want it to be known for tourism, not terrorism," Sherzai said.
 
Listener Votes

RFA Director Ayazi said that the 10 finalists were announced at the beginning of March and, in a two-week voting period, RFA received more than 400 calls a day from listeners.
 
"There was tremendous excitement about this among our listeners," Ayazi said, adding: "We were amazed by the response to our contest, our listeners participated in huge numbers. This is the first time Afghans could choose their own person of the year. Governor Sherzai was the clear choice of the people."
 
Ramazan Bashardost, an independent parliamentary deputy praised for his uncompromising stance against corruption, was awarded second place in the contest. A well-known women's rights activist and deputy Shokria Barikzai was also in the final running.
 
Told by RFE/RL that he was in line for the award, Sherzai said: "No matter what, I will continue to serve my people and help make Afghanistan a lawful and law-abiding country."
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Pakistan: Suicide car bomb kills 5 troops near Afghan border, military says
By SADAQAT JAN,Associated Press Writer AP - Friday, March 21
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A suicide car bomb killed five Pakistani soldiers Thursday near the Afghan border, the military said.

Another nine soldiers were wounded in the attack in South Waziristan's main town of Wana, Pakistan's military said in a statement.

Al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants are believed to operate in the remote tribal area near Afghanistan. Pakistani troops have fought intense battles there in recent years.

U.S.-led coalition forces based across the Afghan border have also launched attacks on militants in the area.

Two vehicles were also damaged in Thursday's suicide attack, the statement said. It gave no other details.

The bombing struck as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting neighboring Afghanistan, where he urged Pakistan to battle extremists in its border regions.

At a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Cheney said the Pakistani government, like Karzai's, was a target for al-Qaida and other extremists. "They have as big a stake as anyone else," he said.

Cheney also called for increased cooperation between the U.S. and its NATO allies in their fight against militants in Afghanistan.

A string of militant attacks _ many of them suicide bombings _ have hit Pakistan in recent months. The violence has killed more than 600 people since beginning of the year.

Authorities blame the attacks on militants operating in the tribal regions along Afghanistan.
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Canadian hockey stars play troops in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Canadian hockey stars took on soldiers involved in the fight against Taliban insurgents in morale-boosting friendlies at the biggest military base in southern Afghanistan Thursday.

Canadian performers Blue Rodeo, Lori Anna Reid and Jonas Tomalty were also at the Kandahar Air Field for a concert for the 2,500 Canadian soldiers in a NATO-led force in the hostile south, organisers said.

The hockey players, who include National Hockey League star Michael Alfred Gartner, will play a series of matches -- on concrete -- against Canadian and US soldiers ahead of a final game due on Saturday.

Hockey's top prize, the Stanley Cup, has also been on display at the base. "In Canada, there are only three sports: hockey, hockey and hockey," one soldier quipped to AFP.

Canada is among about a dozen countries with soldiers in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban extremist group is active.

Canada's parliament voted on Thursday to extend its deployment in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, as long as NATO allies back them up.

The country has suffered 80 fatalities since joining the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in 2002. There are about 47,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations in ISAF.
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Australian PM says he wants NATO to agree to a strategy for victory in Afghanistan
The Associated Press, March 19, 2008
CANBERRA, Australia: Australia will demand confirmation at a summit in Romania next month that NATO has a strategy with agreed benchmarks for victory in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday.

Rudd will become the first Australian prime minister to attend a NATO summit when the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meet in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, on April 2-4 to discuss their engagement in Afghanistan.

Australia has 1,000 troops in the restive central Asian country, the largest contribution from a country outside NATO, and it argues some European countries are not doing enough to defeat insurgents in their southern strongholds. Rudd said Australia's commitment to Afghanistan is long-term, but not unconditional.

"I believe that it's only responsible to remain militarily engaged in a conflict where you're putting our men and women in uniform on the line if you believe it is winnable," Rudd said the national capital, Canberra.
"I want to be confident that NATO collectively and the European contributors to it have embarked upon a long-term strategy to secure success in Afghanistan and against fixed benchmarks," he added.

Rudd said one of the criteria for success was ensuring a "sustainable, successful civilian government in Kabul with effective control over the bulk of the country."

"If there's one criticism which I think all are agreed on, it's been a failure so far to effectively integrate the military arm of the operation with the civilian arm of the operation to ensure that there is a total strategy for Afghanistan," Rudd said.

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion, Rudd said that the Iraq war, which he opposed, underscored the dangers of inadequate planning.

"If you're going to embark upon a war like that, have it very clearly in mind from Day One what your exit strategy is to be and what your mission statement is to be, and I think that's been one of the problems which the Operation Iraq has confronted from day one," Rudd said.

Australia sent 2,000 troops to support U.S. and British forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion and around 1,600 Australian troops remain in the region.

Rudd, who came to power in elections in November, will keep an election pledge by withdrawing 550 combat troops from Iraq by mid 2008.
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France to host Afghan donor conference
The Associated Press, March 18, 2008
PARIS: France will host an international donors conference for Afghanistan in June, the French foreign minister said Tuesday.

Bernard Kouchner said he and other conference organizers plan to travel to Afghanistan before the event, which will be held June 12 or 17.

Germany and France are working together to organize the conference, which Kouchner said was aimed at bringing in donations to rebuild Afghanistan and reaching "a common strategy" within the international community for Afghanistan.

"We do not want it to be simply, 'Raise your hand and how much are you giving?' We are hoping for more," he said. He would not give a target sum for international donations at the conference.

France is considering a greater military presence in Afghanistan, and President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to make an announcement on new deployments at a NATO meeting early next month in Bucharest.
France has 1,500 troops in and around Kabul, providing security and training Afghan troops as part of the NATO mission. Another 400 are in the separate, U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, an effort to battle the Taliban and al-Qaida.
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Afghanistan’s New Deal
By ZALMAY KHALILZAD March 20, 2008 Op-Ed Contributor
BAN KI-MOON, secretary general of the United Nations, has appointed a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, as his special representative to Afghanistan. Mr. Eide’s success will depend not only on his skills, but also on the friends of Afghanistan at the United Nations providing him with the proper mission, mandate and resources.

The most important task for the new special representative is to form a trusting, collaborative relationship with President Hamid Karzai, enabling them to agree on Afghanistan’s key challenges and on how aid money and military assistance can best be used. Today in New York, the Security Council is scheduled to extend the mandate of the United Nations’ Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for another year — the perfect chance to provide a clear set of priorities.

This resolution rightly gives Mr. Eide the powers to directly coordinate all of the support provided by international donors. As things stand, more than 30 national embassies and bilateral development agencies, several United Nations agencies, four development banks and international financial institutions, and about 2,000 nongovernmental organizations and contractors are involved in rebuilding in Afghanistan.

However, because of a lack of coordination among these donors, reconstruction resources often fail to arrive in a timely way after areas have been cleared of the enemy. Hundreds of projects are undertaken by allies and nongovernmental groups without coordination with the Afghan government, leading to cases of “ghost” schools or health clinics that are built but sit idle because they cannot be staffed or equipped.

Ministries are often hamstrung by having to comply with the varying procurement and accounting rules of dozens of foreign agencies, many of which are not consistent with Afghan law. This puts the international community at cross purposes with our goal of helping Afghanistan build coherent national systems for education, health and other services.

There is only one way to end the confusion: the United Nations must take on the primary coordination role, and donors must show a willingness to be coordinated. The new resolution allows this to happen in a number of ways.

First, Mr. Eide will need to oversee the coordination of civilian assistance with military efforts of the two military organizations operating in Afghanistan, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. While it’s promising that those two organizations are meeting in Bucharest, Romania, next month to discuss better integrating their efforts, success against the insurgency will require efforts to ensure that military actions to secure areas from the enemy are coordinated with civilian efforts to establish good governance and economic development.

Second, Mr. Eide must coordinate the efforts of the international community to support the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year plan agreed upon in 2006 by the government of Afghanistan, the United Nations and the international community that requires Afghan leaders to take steps in reform and institution-building in exchange for commitments of sustained support. The United Nations must have a stronger role in overseeing the increasing capacity of Afghan ministries and their anti-corruption efforts.

Third, the new United Nations special representative should help the leaders and people of key donor countries understand achievements and challenges. This is the only way that the friends of Afghanistan can fully appreciate the return on their investments.

Last, Mr. Eide will have a mandate to engage Afghanistan’s neighbors to help stabilize the country. In the aftermath of 9/11, regional powers came together to support the so-called Bonn agreement, which enabled Afghans to freely choose their own government. Reclaiming the spirit of Bonn must be a priority.

The United States is fully behind the United Nations in the mission. Afghanistan is important not only because it was the origin of the attacks of 9/11 but also because it is the keystone of the geopolitical stability of Central and South Asia. Moreover, success in Afghanistan will be a major step in helping to create security, stability and progress in the broader Middle East, which is the defining challenge of our time.

Zalmay Khalilzad is the United States permanent representative to the United Nations.
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Same game, new rules in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online's
KARACHI - After more than six years, coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an all-out offensive against the Taliban centered on their safe havens straddling the border with Pakistan.

This, allied with intensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US operations already this year, has led to much speculation on whether the Taliban will launch their annual spring offensive, with even senior NATO officials suggesting the Taliban will instead bunker down in a war of attrition, much as they did during a rough phase in 2004.

This will not be the case, according to Asia Times Online's interaction with Taliban guerrillas over the past few weeks. But instead of taking on foreign forces in direct battle in the traditional hot spots, the Taliban plan to open new fronts as they are aware they cannot win head-on against the might of the US-led war machine.

The efforts of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its 47,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations will focus on specific areas that include the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies in Pakistan, as well as South and North Waziristan in that country, and Nooristan, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. The ISAF is complemented by the separate US-led coalition of about 20,000, the majority being US soldiers. This does not include a contingent of 3,600 US Marine Corps who this week started arriving in southern Afghanistan. They will work under the command of the ISAF.

For their part, the Taliban, according to Asia Times Online contacts, will open new fronts in Khyber Agency in Pakistan and Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan and its capital Jalalabad.

This move follows a meeting of important Taliban commanders of Pakistani and Afghan origin held for the first time in the Tera Valley bordering the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan. (Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders famously evaded US-led forces in the Tora Bora soon after the invasion in 2001.)

Pakistan's Khyber Agency has never been a part of the Taliban's domain. The majority of the population there follows the Brelvi school of thought, which is bitterly opposed to the hardline Taliban and the Salafi brand of Islam. The adjacent Afghan province of Nangarhar has also been a relatively peaceful area.

Conversely, the historic belt starting from Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province and running through Khyber Agency to Nangarhar is NATO's life line - 80% of its supplies pass through it. From Nangarhar, the capital Kabul is only six hours away by road.

Over the past year, the Taliban have worked hard at winning over the population in this region and have installed a new commander, Ustad Yasir, to open up the front in Nangarhar.

New dimensions to the Afghan struggle
After seven years of the "war on terror" and the Iraqi experience, both "sides" have become more pragmatic. Slogans such as "shock and awe", "crusade" against Islamic extremism and "intifada" catch the headlines, but they are not getting the job done. Both sides have refined their approach aimed at achieving specific goals and targets. If NATO has acquired excellent knowledge of the Taliban's network, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have also excelled in gathering information on NATO and its allies.

Al-Qaeda has evolved from an organization that generally only allowed in Arabs and its ideology now accommodates indigenous factors. Today, Pakistani non-Pashtuns, popularly known as Punjabis, are the Pakistani franchise of al-Qaeda. They receive macro policies from the al-Qaeda shura (council) comprising Arabs, but are independent in the implementation of these policies - although an Arab in still in overall charge.

The same goes in Iraq, where al-Qaeda is now a local organization with its hub spread between Mosul, Diyala and Baquba.

At the same time, the "war on terror" extends beyond US-British dominance. Although there are several disagreements at the operation level within NATO in Afghanistan, some partners, such as France, cognizant of the revival of the enemy's strength, have greatly enhanced their input into intelligence resources.

French intelligence is directly involved in fresh moves to track the most wanted targets, including Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yaldeshiv, besides bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

New funds have been allocated for clandestine operations by French intelligence in Pakistan's North and South Waziristan regions, as well as in Balochistan province, to track high-profile targets with the aim of assassinating them. This is being done in coordination with NATO forces in Afghanistan.

According to Asia Times Online investigations, French intelligence has infiltrated a network of donors who had been arranging money for the Iraqi resistance and the Taliban.

Underlying these efforts is the belief that the war cannot be won through the use of naked violence alone. The militant camps have reached a similar conclusion: their actions now are much more nuanced and calibrated and they realize there will be no quick victory.

A smooth supply of money and arms from various sources as well as thousands of new recruits have rejuvenated their cause and allowed the militants to better plan their operations and carefully select their targets. They have established good rapport within the security forces at an individual level and use these contacts whenever it is essential.

Italian job
Last weekend's attack on an Italian restaurant in the Pakistani capital Islamabad shows how deeply al-Qaeda has made inroads into the Pakistani security agencies and as a result is receiving first-hand information.

The al-Qaeda attack injured, through a time bomb, four US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, including a senior official of counter-terrorism coordination with the Pakistani Special Intelligence Agency.

The restaurant is co-owned by an Italian woman who is the wife of a man believed to be the main financial backer of anti-Taliban Shi'ites in the northern areas of Pakistan.

More such attacks are expected.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
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Turkish State Minister Hosts Dinner In Honor Of Afghan FM
TurkishPress.com - Mar 20 4:27 AM
ANKARA - Turkish State Minister Said Yazicioglu hosted a dinner in honor of Afghan FM Rangin Spanta in capital Ankara on Wednesday.

"Turkey has been beside Afghanistan in its hard times," Yazicioglu told during the dinner.

Yazicioglu said Turkey will continue to support Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Spanta thanked Turkey for its support for its development and for solution of its recent problems.

"We are happy to be friends with a country like Turkey," he also said.
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Longer Afghan missions eyed
MacKay says extending 6-month stints possible as manpower shortages hamper Afghan mission
Mar 20, 2008 04:30 AM Bruce Campion-Smith Allan Woods Toronto Star,  Canada
OTTAWA–Longer deployments for Canadian troops in Kandahar – perhaps as long as a year – are being considered as the military struggles to meet the manpower demands of a mission that has been extended by two years.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday from Kandahar he is not ruling it out, but added the decision rests with senior commanders.

"I rely very heavily on the military assessment of that," MacKay said yesterday as he wrapped up his visit. "We're not ruling anything out, but of course these are operational decisions where I'll take that up with the chief of defence staff."

Retired general Lewis MacKenzie said the forces could have to introduce longer deployments to meet the demands of keeping 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan at a time, through to 2011.

"It's a matter of resources. ... I think they're going to have to look at it," MacKenzie said yesterday. "It's a pretty frequent subject of discussion because they are facing the dilemma of just not enough troops."

MacKenzie said the army has an effective infantry corps of about 5,000, once leaves, injuries and other absences are accounted for.

Out of Canada's 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan at a time, typically 800 to 1,000 are front-line infantry corps.

MacKenzie said the force should consider deployments of nine months, even a year.

Front-line Canadian troops now serve a six-month rotation with typically a three-week vacation; headquarters staff are sent for between nine months and a year.

Senior U.S. commanders have said the six-month rotations could be an impediment to NATO success in Afghanistan.

American soldiers serve 15-month deployments, though the Pentagon is reducing that to 12 months to ease the strain on overburdened soldiers.

"What does 15 months mean? The American soldier ... develops a relationship with the terrain, with the indigenous people and their leadership, and with the enemy. And they have sufficient time to exploit that relationship to their advantage," said top NATO commander Gen. Dan McNeill, an American.

Each new Canadian deployment is accompanied by a period of "instability" as the new troops get used to the local geography and dangers, said Brian MacDonald of the Conference of Defence Associations.

"If it takes them one month to do that, then you have one month at less than 100 per cent effectiveness followed by five months of effectiveness," he said.

"If you're able to do a nine-month rotation, you have one month of stability followed by eight months of solid performance."

MacDonald said extending deployments was a "logical move." But the other side of the argument is the effect on soldiers' morale, as well as their physical and mental health if they spend too long in the conflict zone.

"You always have a trade-off between troop exhaustion if you go beyond six months," said Kenneth Calder, a deputy minister of defence from 1991 to 2006.

Fears that the Canadian Forces might be stretched too thin were bolstered with the statistic that one in five soldiers being deployed to Kandahar was a reservist.

MacDonald said that figure has jumped to between 25 per cent and 30 per cent with the most recent deployment. Part-time soldiers leave the military at a higher rate than professional soldiers, taking with them valuable training and experience.

A year ago, Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, said the six-month tour lengths are "about right."

But MacKenzie said the rotation lengths are a holdover from United Nations peacekeeping missions.

"Everybody that did a lot of peacekeeping got into this routine of six-month rotations, which is really quite inefficient when it comes to an operational theatre," he said.

The Canadian military has made it no secret that the prolonged Afghan mission, already extended once by two years, is straining its resources.

For example, it has been deploying sailors and air force personnel to Afghanistan to help bolster the ground forces.

And it has meant that the pledge by then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor to limit combat troops to one deployment in Afghanistan to avoid wearing them out has gone out the window as well.

Canada's latest casualty – Sgt. Jason Boyes, killed in a bomb blast on Sunday – was on his third tour in Afghanistan.

"You just can't sustain that for very long," MacKenzie said about the repeat tours.

He said the idea of longer deployment has surprising support among families, despite the hardship of the longer absences.

Some families say the current practice of having a soldier return home on vacation in the middle of a tour can bring its own troubles.

"They said it's really disruptive. He's gone for a month, then he comes home and then he goes back again. It disrupts life at home," MacKenzie said.

Longer deployments would mean a greater financial reward, since troops enjoy generous tax benefits for the time they are deployed.

But the change would upset the whole cycle of the military in Canada, meaning significant changes to things like training schedules, post-deployment postings and career courses.

"It would not be impossible, but it would certainly be challenging," MacKenzie said.

- With files from The Canadian Press
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Turkish gov't, military split on dispatching troops to Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-20
ANKARA, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Turkish government and military are at odds over sending more combat troops to Afghanistan, local newspaper Turkish Daily News reported on Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said the government might consider sending more combat troops to Afghanistan.

"Turkey has its own terrorism problem but on the other hand it has responsibilities of being a NATO member when fighting against terrorism," Babacan said during a joint press conference with the visiting Afghan FM Rengin Spanta on Wednesday.

"The general tendency is to support Afghanistan in all ways, including military ones," he added.

Spanta said that he had asked for Turkey's support in fighting against Afghanistan's terrorism problem. "Their response was positive."

However, a day earlier, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit said that the military would not dispatch even a single troop to the southern region of Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban.

"Our troops in Kabul are under the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), which has no mission to fight against terrorism. Our troops are not there for this purpose," said Buyukanit.

NATO and the United States are pressuring allies to do more for the 42,000-strong mission in Afghanistan. NATO will discuss the Afghanistan mission in the upcoming NATO summit that will take place in April in Bucharest, Romania.
Editor: Bi Mingxin 
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"There is No Way for NATO to Win This War"
Afghanistan: A River Running Backward
By CONN HALLINAN March 18, 2008 CounterPunch
When historians look back on the war in Afghanistan, they may well point to last December's battle for Musa Qala, a scruffy town in the country's northern Helmand Province, as a turning point. In a war of shadows, remote ambushes, and anonymous roadside bombs, Musa Qala was an exception: a standup fight.

On one side was the Afghan National Army, the U.S. 82nd Airborne, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On the other the Taliban. When the fight was over, the U.S.-led coalition had "won." What they had "won" was a town shattered by B-1 and B-52s bombers, A-10 attack planes, Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships, and artillery barrages.

According to NATO, "Operation Snake" killed hundreds of Taliban. According to the London Times, British mop-up forces found one dead insurgent. No one knows how many civilians died in Musa Qala. NATO claims none were killed. The locals say more than 40 died.

A Taliban spokesperson, Qari Ypousuf Ahmadi dismissed the significance of the battle: "Losing Musa Qala doesn't mean that we will stop fighting."

Indeed, it has not. Last year was the deadliest since the 2001 invasion, with more than 6,200 Afghan deaths. Suicide bombs have increased eight fold, roadside bombs are up 24 percent, and diplomats are warned not to dine out in the country's capital, Kabul.

"The number of districts in which the Taliban operates exploded last year," says John McCreary, former senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. " This is the first year they have managed to sustain over 100 attacks per month for a whole year since they started to climb back. One hundred attacks per month used to be a surge figure. Now it is the new norm."

In fact the number of attacks are averaging 548 a month. According to the United Nations, it is too risky to send aid teams into one fifth of the country. "The river appears to be running backward," one analyst told the Financial Times.

What happened at Musa Qala happens in virtually every province in the country: The insurgents move in, hand out money skimmed from the lucrative opium trade, drive out or intimidate local government forces, and through roadside bombs, midnight mortar attacks and ambushes, force NATO troops to bunker down in fortified camps.

When the U.S. or NATO finally go on the offensive, the coalition's lack of troops means they must rely on artillery and air power, which translates into a greater number of civilian casualties. Louise Arbour, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that civilian casualties caused by military activity has reached "alarming levels" this past year. " These not only breach international law but are eroding support among the Afghan community for the government and the international presence, as well as public support in contributing states for continued engagement in Afghanistan."

That erosion is accelerating. Polls indicate that the British and Australian public wants their troops out, and in Canada, only the minority Conservatives support the war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel-her eyes on polls indicating widespread antipathy for the war-recently said she has "absolutely no time" to consider redeploying Germany's troops to the war-torn south.

Only the French and the U.S. have agreed to send more troops, the former just a handful, and the latter 3,200. According to the U.S.'s counterinsurgency doctrine, Afghanistan would require 400,000 troops to pacify, although the country's history suggests that even that number is probably wildly optimistic. The U.S. and NATO currently have 43,000 troops in Afghanistan.

In a blow to the current push for more troops, the Netherlands decided it would withdraw all its soldiers by 2010. " The Dutch decision," says the German newspaper Der Spiegel, "may set a precedent, raising concerns among NATO military leaders over a possible domino effect. If only one major NATO country yields to domestic pressure and decides to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, it could set off an avalanche."

The possibility of an "avalanche" has so panicked the Bush Administration that it sent Gates to Europe. "I am concerned that many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European Security," said Gates in arguing for more troops.

But Afghanistan was sold to the allies not as a war, but an international aid mission. "We are in the south [of Afghanistan] to help and protect the Afghan people reconstruct their own economy and democracy," former British Defense Secretary John Reid told the Financial Times back in 2006.

However, according to the aid organization Oxfam, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is "comparable with sub-Saharan Africa," and U.S. and NATO troops find themselves in the middle of a war with a significant section of the population.

"The Taliban is growing and creating new alliances not because its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because it is the only available umbrella for national liberation," says Pakistani historian and political commentator Tariq Ali. "As the British and the Soviets discovered to their cost in the preceding two centuries, Afghans never like being occupied."

Certainly that is the message the Taliban is putting out. "We're fighting to free our country," says Mullah Mohammad Omar, "We are not a threat to the world."

Some of our allies are also beginning to question the Bush Administration's one dimensional portrayal of the Taliban as a tightly disciplined, international terrorist organization. " There is a hard core of Islamic extremists of varied ethnic and national origin, but the great majority of people we are engaged against are those who are fighting with the Taliban for financial, social and tribal reasons," says British army chief, General Sir Richard Dannatt," We will need to deal with and eventually reconcile the elected government with the majority of these people."

That approach has found little resonance in Washington, where a "victory" in Afghanistan is seen as central to the war on terrorism. "What is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq," intones the Atlantic Council of the United States.

While some NATO countries are hedging their bets in Afghanistan, the U.S. is already going "beyond its borders" and launching attacks into Pakistan. Unmanned Predator aircraft have killed several Taliban leaders, along with scores of civilians, and the U.S. is squeezing the Pakistani government to move its military into the Tribal Areas and Northwest Frontier to pacify Taliban forces.

Fred Kagen of the influential American Enterprise Institute recently urged the Bush Administration to surge troops into Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan with air strikes.

Rather than suppressing the Taliban, however, this stepped up militarism has unified the Pushtuns-the heart of the Taliban-on both sides of the border, and local tribes have inflicted thousands of casualties on the Pakistani Army, rocketed the provincial capital of Peshawar, and spread the insurgency into the rich Swat Valley.

"There is no way for NATO to win this war," says Tariq Ali bluntly.

That conclusion should hardly come as a surprise. As British correspondent Ronan Thomas notes, "Strategic success in Afghanistan has often been envisaged by outside powers-British, Soviet and now Coalition forces-but rarely if ever achieved."

Conn Hallinan is an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a winner of a Project Censored Award, and did his PhD dissertation on the history of insurrectionary organizations in Ireland.
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Helmand's new governor seeks talks with Taliban
Financial Times, UK By Jon Boone in Kabul  March 20 2008
The newly appointed governor of Helmand province has vowed to hold face-to-face meetings with Taliban fighters as part of a new strategy to quell the insurgency raging in Afghanistan's poppy belt.

Gulab Mangal takes up what is perhaps one of the toughest jobs in Afghanistan next week when he will fly to a province that is both the country's most violent and its biggest opium producer.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the wellregarded former governor of Laghman province said one of his first tasks would be to set up traditional Afghan jirgas - councils or meetings - with "second and third-tier" fighters. He said he hoped to prove to insurgents, and to ordinary Afghans, that only the government could deliver schools, roads and social services.

The issue of talking to the Taliban sparked a diplomatic crisis in December when President Hamid Karzai expelled two foreign diplomats involved in reconciliation projects in Helmand. But Mr Mangal will have the full support of the president, who appointed him.

Mr Mangal said that he believed fighters who were not ideologically tied to the extremist movement could be won over.

Second and third-tier fighters tend to be either hired guns who fight for pay or bored youths who have drifted into fighting and have been alienated from local government because of corrupt officials.

Tier-one Taliban, the movement's ideological hard core, which has been heavily influenced by al-Qaeda, are generally considered to be irreconcilable.

Afghan officials say that they have struggled to find a new governor to take over the poisoned chalice of Helmand from Asadullah Wafa, an elderly businessman who has been heavily criticised for failing to tackle the province's drug mafia.

Governors are regarded as crucial to the success of provinces. Earlier this year Mr Karzai blamed the removal of Sher Mohammed Akhunzada at British behest for letting the Taliban back into Helmand.
Both of Mr Mangal's predecessors were from Helmand, and Mr Akhunzada retains great influence within the province.

Mr Mangal's roots in the eastern Paktika province - where he has also served as governor - and lack of tribal ties to Helmand could undermine his efforts to gain the support of the public there. But he said his outsider status could help him win allies across tribal divides.

He had also received personal reassurances from the UK and US ambassadors in Kabul that Nato troops in Helmand would co-operate with him.

Tackling corruption, eradicating booming poppy crops and increasing co-ordination with Nato forces would be crucial for turning round the situation in Helmand, Mr Mangal said.

But he expressed doubts about a multi-million dollar US-led programme, dubbed Focused District Development, which would remove badly equipped and paid police from their provinces for eight weeks of intensive training.

Mr Mangal said that corruption within the Helmand police was so deep-rooted that retraining would make little difference.

Instead, police forces should be brought in from other parts of the country.

He said eradication would play an important part in the battle against poppy producers in the province but that progress would have to be gradual and that farmers should be persuaded to switch to legal crops.
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Critics decry woman on Afghanistan's "American Idol" 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-20 17:54:11
BEIJING, March 20 (Xinhuanet) -- A woman from Afghanistan's conservative Pashtun tribe is one of the top three contenders in the country's version of "American Idol" and a lot of conservatives aren't happy.

Detractors decry the fact an Afghan woman has found success singing on television, while others — younger Afghans — say the show is helping women progress. 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.

With her hair tucked under a wispy blue headscarf, Lima Sahar brushes off her critics, saying there can be no progress for women without upsetting the status quo. Sahar says she's just the latest in a long tradition of Afghan artists — albeit in a more modern form.

"Artists are historical and cultural in our country. Artists have been around a long time," Sahar told a news conference this week. "I came by the vote of the people of Afghanistan."

Sahar beat out 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third season of "Afghan Star." On Friday, the six-month-long TV show will name the final two contestants, based on votes sent in from viewers via text message. The format is the same as "American Idol," although the shows are not connected.

Afghanistan'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.

"In the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don't need a woman singer. We don't need ‘Afghan Star.' We are in need of a good economy, good education," said Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the council. "If Lima Sahar wins 'Afghan Star,' how can she help the poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people."

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 other two finalists are men.
Editor: Gareth Dodd 
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