Serving you since 1998
March 2008 :   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

March 22, 2008 

Afghan Idol finale, Prophet protests show two faces of Afghanistan
The Associated Press via International Herald Tribune Saturday, March 22, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan-In a well-guarded hotel on top of a high hill, a lively audience of Afghans and American VIPs watched the season finale of Afghanistan's version of "American Idol." Singers performed on a star-shaped stage while

Afghans chant death to Danish and Dutch in protest
By Ahmad Masood March 21, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - Some 5,000 Afghans chanted "death to Denmark" and "death to the Netherlands" in Kabul on Friday, protesting against the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a Dutch film on the Koran.

Nicolas Sarkozy to bolster force in Afghanistan with 1,000 extra troops
The Times Francis Elliott and Michael Evans March 22, 2008
President Sarkozy of France will tell Gordon Brown next week that France plans to send an extra 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to bolster the battle against the Taleban. Senior ministers have told The Times that Mr Sarkozy wants to underline

Afghanistan launches the International Year of Sanitation
Source: United Nations Children's Fund By Roshan Khadivi
On World Water Day, 20 March 2008, UNICEF is focusing on the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reaching global goals for safe water. Here is one in a series of related reports.

New girls school in Afghanistan is part of NATO strategy
The Associated Press via International Herald Tribune March 21, 2008
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan
The girl flashed a shy smile from under her white head scarf and stepped to the front of the class when the headmaster asked who could find Afghanistan on the map of the world.

New shoes help needy Afghans walk tall
By Rabia Ali in Kheshki refugee village, Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 20 (UNHCR) – The students at the Islamabad International School have no problem imagining themselves in someone else's shoes. In fact, they are so good at it, they've put other people in their shoes.

'I restore murals in Afghanistan'
Financial Times, UK By Melanie Tringham March 22 2008
The worst thing about my work restoring ancient Buddhist cave murals at Bamiyan in Afghanistan is the fear of setting off landmines laid by the Taliban. The caves are in cliffs next to where the Taliban destroyed the two great Buddhas in 2001

Pakistani Authorites Close Three Radio Stations for Pro-Taliban Broadcasts
Voice of America News - War and Conflict By VOA News 21 March 2008
Pakistani troops shut down three FM radio stations Friday after the stations aired a speech by a pro-Taliban cleric.

Afghanistan: New Helmand Governor Confirms Desire For Talks With Taliban
Radio Free Europe Friday, March 21, 2008
The new governor of an embattled province in southern Afghanistan has confirmed his intention to negotiate with "second- and third-tier" Taliban to achieve greater security.

Fighting governments and guerrillas
What kind of military does the U.S. need -- one optimized for big wars against a nation like China, or built for smaller wars like Iraq and Afghanistan? Phillip Carter and Lawrence J. Korb discuss.
March 21, 2008 Los Angels Times
Today, Carter and Korb close their Dust-Up with a discussion on the kinds of conflicts the U.S. military can expect to fight in the future. Previously, they discussed congressional oversight of the armed forces,

The Taliban Among Us
In both Canada and the United States, radical polygamists live in open defiance of our laws, treating their young wives as property. In a new book, Daphne Bramham asks: How can our society permit this?
National Post - Today's Paper Daphne Bramham Saturday, March 22, 2008
In November, 2001, a month after the United States, Canada and a coalition of other countries attacked Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush talked about the kind of life women and children were leading

Back to Top
Afghan Idol finale, Prophet protests show two faces of Afghanistan
The Associated Press via International Herald Tribune Saturday, March 22, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan-In a well-guarded hotel on top of a high hill, a lively audience of Afghans and American VIPs watched the season finale of Afghanistan's version of "American Idol." Singers performed on a star-shaped stage while cutting-edge graphics flashed in the background.

Meanwhile, only a couple hundred meters (yards) down that hill, thousands of Afghans demonstrated Friday against the publication of Prophet Mohammad drawings in Denmark, yelling "Down with Denmark" and "Death to America."

The protesters burned flags of the Netherlands and Denmark and an effigy of a Dutch filmmaker and lawmaker.

Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, was among the VIPs watching the filming of "Afghan Star." But because of the protests outside, he couldn't leave the hotel when he had planned to. He took note of the irony.

"I love it, fabulous. Better than 'American Idol,'" Holbrooke said of the show. "It shows the two Afghanistans. The riots down there and the show up here."

Holbrooke skewered the way President George W. Bush's administration has handled the Afghan conflict, saying Washington "neglected" the country "and now we're playing catch-up."

He said any of the three remaining candidates for president — Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — would do better in Afghanistan than Bush.

"All three candidates will put more emphasis on it than President Bush," Holbrooke told The Associated Press in the hotel lobby. "The war in Afghanistan is going to go on longer than the war in Iraq, at a lower intensity."

But Holbrooke, a supporter and adviser to Hillary Clinton, said the Democratic candidates would phase out of Iraq faster than McCain and put more resources into Afghanistan. He said Clinton would like to increase support for agricultural programs to help create jobs in the country.

Inside the hotel's ballroom, Rafi Naabzada, a 19-year-old ethnic Tajik, was voted the winner of the third season of "Afghan Star," the country's most popular TV show. The two finalists - the other was Hameed Sakhizada, a 21-year-old ethnic Hazara - together received more than 300,000 text message votes.

A female singer from the most conservative Afghan tribe, the Pashtuns, was voted out last week, finishing in third place. She had drawn the ire of conservative clerics in Afghanistan, who said women should not be singing on TV.

Saad Mohseni, the founder of Tolo TV, which produces "Afghan Star," said the show is helping bring about social change in Afghanistan.

"Not just in music, but in the way people voted, the way they lined up in an orderly manner (outside the show) ... the way the losers are gracious. No one is threatening violence. That's a huge change," Mohseni said.

He estimates that 11 million Afghans watch "Afghan Star." The country's population is around 30 million.

At the bottom of the hill, thousands of Afghans chanted and held signs against Denmark, where newspapers recently reprinted drawings of the Prophet Mohammad, and the Netherlands, where Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders plans to release a film criticizing the Quran this month.

"We want to say to America and the European Union, this is not freedom of speech. It's barbaric, and they must stop the film's release," a cleric told the crowd.

The cleric also called for Danish troops in Afghanistan to leave. Denmark has 600 troops in Afghanistan serving under NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in an audiotape released this week, warned of a "severe" reaction to European publication of the cartoons. His message raised concerns al-Qaida was plotting new attacks in Europe.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghans chant death to Danish and Dutch in protest
By Ahmad Masood March 21, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) - Some 5,000 Afghans chanted "death to Denmark" and "death to the Netherlands" in Kabul on Friday, protesting against the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a Dutch film on the Koran.

Sporadic demonstrations have sprung up across the deeply conservative country in recent weeks against the cartoons and the film with protesters demanding Danish and Dutch troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan and their embassies shut down.

Protesters gathered around a mosque in the west of the Afghan capital after Friday prayers chanting "death to Denmark," "death to the Netherlands, "death to America" and "death to Jews."

Demonstrators burned Danish and Dutch flags and also an effigy of Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, who is due to release a film thought to be critical of the Koran later this month. Wilders has given few details of the film, but in the past he has called Islam's holy text a "fascist" book that "incites violence."

One unidentified speaker addressing the angry crowd through a megaphone from the back of a truck said the Afghan government should expel Danish and Dutch troops and close their embassies within two days or "we will take action."

The Netherlands has some 1,650 troops, mainly in southern Afghanistan and 14 Dutch soldiers have been killed fighting Taliban militants. Denmark, meanwhile, has 550 troops in northern and southern Afghanistan and 11 of its soldiers have been killed.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden this week warned that Europe would be punished for the cartoons, first published by a Danish paper in September 2005. The images ignited violent protests across the world, including in Afghanistan, when newspapers around the world reprinted them the following year.

Last month, some Danish newspapers reprinted one of the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plans to kill him, sparking more anger.

Many Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.

Resentment is growing against the presence of more than 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan are frustrated at poor security and the slow pace of development more than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban after the hardline Islamist movement refused to hand over bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alex Richardson)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Nicolas Sarkozy to bolster force in Afghanistan with 1,000 extra troops
The Times Francis Elliott and Michael Evans March 22, 2008
President Sarkozy of France will tell Gordon Brown next week that France plans to send an extra 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to bolster the battle against the Taleban. Senior ministers have told The Times that Mr Sarkozy wants to underline his commitment to the alliance during his state visit to Britain.

The Ministry of Defence has made a working assumption that President Sarkozy will announce a deployment of “slightly more than 1,000 troops to the eastern region”, one said.
The deployment would deliver a significant fillip to the military operation in Afghanistan, ensuring that other countries such as Canada remain engaged. It would also provide concrete evidence that France was keen to forge a new relationship with Nato.

Mr Sarkozy, who begins a two-day state visit to London on Wednesday, is expected to brief Mr Brown fully on his plans during his trip. The formal announcement of the deployment may not be made until the Nato summit in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, at the start of next month.

France already has 1,900 soldiers in Afghanistan. President Sarkozy hinted at stepping up his engagement during a surprise visit shortly before Christmas. “There is a war going on here, a war against terrorism, against fanaticism, that we cannot and will not lose,” he said at the time.

French diplomatic sources in London insisted last night that no final decision had been made.

President Sarkozy is said to be still deciding whether the extra troops should be sent to the south to fight alongside the Canadians or east to the border with Pakistan. In the latter scenario, the presence of French troops would allow the US troops currently policing the border to be sent south.

Canada, which has 2,500 troops operating in Kandahar province in the south, had said that it would pull out next year unless another Nato country offered to send at least 1,000 soldiers to back them up.
However, even the United States, which has criticised its European allies for failing to come up with more combat units, has some sympathisers within its ranks for Europe’s difficulties.

Victoria Nuland, the US Ambassador to Nato, told The Times in an exclusive interview: “One of the problems is that European defence budgets are going down. When you look at the alliance, you don’t see 30,000 troops sitting in a parking lot with nothing to do and waiting to be sent somewhere. Everyone is stretched. There are some countries that could do more but one of the reasons why alliance members are not chipping in with troops and equipment for Afghanistan is that they haven’t hardened their helicopters to be able to fight in the desert and they haven’t had counter-insurgency training in the desert.”

She added: “After the Cold War ended, everyone thought we would be able to focus on soft security, but now we find we have to do hard security. The UK has one of the best militaries in the world and is good at recruiting but the entire alliance structure has shrunk. Nato is stretched to find 60,000 troops to deploy. In Afghanistan we’re now in a hump period between fighting the Taleban and training the Afghans. In three or four years’ time we hope that we’ll be doing more on training and less on fighting. But during this hump period it’s hard for the alliance that had never fired a shot in anger before in a ground war. In Kosovo it was an air war; now in Afghanistan it’s a full-scale counter-insurgency war.”

Commanders in Afghanistan have been saying for some time that they are three battalions short of what is required in Regional Command South, which covers Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where British and Canadian troops are fighting.

The Americans are in the process of sending 2,200 Marines to the south. They will be used in special operations along the border and in places such as Musa Qala in Helmand. Another 1,000 US Marines will embed with the Afghan police. The Marines will be fully supported and have their own fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

“But it’s tough on the Marines,” Mrs Nuland said. “This is the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It’s an enormous sacrifice for them. They have already been to Iraq twice and they should be having a rest. We’re asking a lot of the soldiers.”

Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy are also expected to announce a deal to build a new generation of power stations during the state visits. It was reported that the two countries would work in partnership to sell nuclear power stations to other countries.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan launches the International Year of Sanitation
Source: United Nations Children's Fund By Roshan Khadivi
On World Water Day, 20 March 2008, UNICEF is focusing on the importance of sanitation and hygiene in reaching global goals for safe water. Here is one in a series of related reports.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 20 March 2008 – Afghanistan has launched the International Year of Sanitation to advance cooperation among policymakers, humanitarian partners and communities on improving sanitation and increasing access to safe water around the country.

UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue helped launch the campaign, focusing on the impact of sanitation on education.

'We at UNICEF believe improvement in school water, sanitation and hygiene education not only promotes a healthy physical and learning environment,' said Ms. Mbengue. 'It also increases girls' enrolment and creates links between schools and communities, resulting in support for children's rights.'

Healthier schools and communities

Since 2004, the Healthy School Initiative (HIS), organized jointly by UN agencies and the Government of Afghanistan, has been implemented in 500 schools across 10 provinces.

The initiative, which is being expanded throughout the country, aims to provide children with quality education in a healthy environment – including access to safe water and separate latrines for girls and boys. HIS also conducts de-worming campaigns for schoolchildren and offers hygiene education for teachers and students.

Beyond school sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF and its partners in Afghanistan have constructed more than 11,000 wells and 59 pipe schemes for water networks, as well as building or rehabilitating over 1,700 reservoirs that serve a total of some 3.8 million people. And last year, UNICEF supported the construction of more than 23,000 latrines either in houses or in schools, benefiting 200,000 people – most of them children.

'But still, with the current rate of progress, we will not reach our MDG (Millennium Development Goal) target on sanitation, and we need to do more to reach every community,' said Ms. Mbengue.

Differing urban and rural needs

The target set forth by the Government of Afghanistan is to halve, by 2020, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

It is estimated that only 23 per cent of households in Afghanistan have access to safe water – with 43 per cent having access in urban centres and 18 per cent in rural areas.

Sanitation needs differ depending upon location. In rural areas, the focus is on hygiene education and improved latrines. In cities, there is more of a need for functioning sewage systems.

Key messages on hygiene

The rural water and sanitation programme of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, together with the country's ongoing water-supply and sanitation projects, aim to achieve Afghanistan's long-term goals.

'We hope that the UN declaration of the year 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation will bring more collaboration between the UN agencies, Afghan institutions and NGOs, and mobilize resources to assist our compatriots in the development of rural areas and elimination of this problem,' President Hamid Karzai said in a message he sent for last week's launch event.

To celebrate World Water Day today, UNICEF is distributing an informational booklet that includes key messages on hygiene and sanitation in local languages throughout the country. Meanwhile, one village in each province has been selected to showcase how a community can participate in ensuring that all its families adopt key sanitation and hygiene practices.
Back to Top

Back to Top
New girls school in Afghanistan is part of NATO strategy
The Associated Press via International Herald Tribune March 21, 2008
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan
The girl flashed a shy smile from under her white head scarf and stepped to the front of the class when the headmaster asked who could find Afghanistan on the map of the world.

After a little hesitation, 11-year-old Pashtun pointed to her homeland, making a successful start to her first day at school.

Pashtun — a common first name in ethnic Pashtun areas — and her classmates are the face of Afghanistan that NATO wants the world to see. It's a stark contrast to the surge in violence that made last year the bloodiest since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban in late 2001.

German and Scandinavian troops provided security and German aid workers supplied the funds to build the new yellow-and-white schoolhouse for 600 girls from Deh Hassan and nearby villages.

Development projects like this school complement NATO's combat and security operations in Afghanistan, an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Afghans and show them that the alliance is committed to helping the government. Under the Taliban regime, it was a crime to teach females.

Der Hassan, a village of camel herders and almond farmers, sits in a strip of desert separating the mountains of central Afghanistan from the northern border with Uzbekistan.

NATO troops are welcome in this region far from the southern battlefields.

"It's all calm and serene here," says district Governor Alhaj Sayed Abrar. "Each step NATO takes for the reconstruction of the country is positive."

Over a lunch of palao rice, lamb and the famed local pomegranates, Abrar heaped praise on the German troops and development officials. He blamed the continued violence on foreign militants mainly from Pakistan who exploit the Islamic conservatism of Afghan southerners to whip up extremism.

However, just 75 miles east of Deh Hassan, German army commanders in the city of Kunduz say their previously calm sector has seen a spate of attacks since last summer. The German government has reinforced the mission by sending in paratroopers.

"There's hardly any week, any day, when there is not a rocket attack," said Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich.

Underscoring the complexity of their task, NATO commanders are unsure if the attacks are coming from Taliban who have infiltrated the region or drug runners eager to maintain lawlessness on a key route into Central Asia.

Germany has 3,200 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the north — a small percentage of the roughly 42,000 NATO troops in the country. The refusal of key European allies such as Germany, Italy and Spain to send forces to join the British, Americans, Canadians and Dutch who are leading the fight in the south has led to months of ugly infighting within NATO.

The demands for more troops are expected to resume when President Bush joins the other allied leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a NATO summit next month in Bucharest, Romania.

An expected announcement that France will send up to hundreds of extra combat troops will partly meet the need. However, it's not yet clear whether the French soldiers will be sent to the south in response to Canada's threat to pull out of dangerous Kandahar province unless NATO finds 1,000 reinforcements for its beleaguered troops there.

NATO diplomats hope the leaders will agree that their soldiers have to be both "warriors and well diggers" in Afghanistan — fighting to achieve security, then following up with speedy development to win over the local population.

To do that, they will need more money as well as more troops. NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, says American forces in eastern Afghanistan have made great strides undermining the Taliban threat in their region through generous development handouts.

"If you go to the east you see all these paved roads and you see logging trucks moving back and forth and new fields of fruit trees so the farmers can get the produce back and forth," Craddock told reporters in Kabul.

"In some parts of this country more than others, a little money goes a long way — you can buy a lot of projects," Craddock said. The school in Deh Hassan cost the German government $67,000, he noted, "the cost of a reasonably low-cost luxury car in Europe."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Special Forces have Afghan drug lords in sights
Telegraph.co.uk - UK 22/03/2008
British Special Forces are conducting covert operations against drug smugglers in southern Afghanistan for the first time.

The operations represent a shift from the British military's long-held opposition to direct involvement in Afghanistan's drugs war. British Special Forces in Helmand province had previously been limited to targeting members of the Taliban leadership.

The operations are being conducted at night with members of Battalion 333, a secretive unit from the elite Afghan counter-narcotics police.

Nato commanders have long been resistant to taking a direct role in the drugs war, arguing that it would undermine the central plank of the alliance's counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan: the need to win the support of the Afghan populace.

However, this position has faced increasing pressure from Afghan and Western counter-narcotics officials as well as the United Nations, all of whom argue that the interests of the Taliban insurgency and narcotics criminals are inextricably entwined in Helmand.

The dangers in the new British strategy have already been highlighted by the killing of an alleged drug smuggler and his six-year-old son in Helmand last week in an operation believed to have been undertaken by the Special Boat Service.

The incident was not reported by the Ministry of Defence.

The deaths occurred in Nad Ali, one of the few areas of relative government support in the province, and led to widespread protests and anger against British forces.

The Daily Telegraph interviewed members of the man's family and local community elders as they waited to lodge a formal complaint with Gen Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, the Helmand police chief. "All people of Nad Ali hate the British because of this cruel act," shouted Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, the leader of the tribal delegation, which demanded that the British soldier they blamed for the death be tried in an Afghan court.

They named the dead as Noor Ali, a farmer, and his son Juma Khan, six. Around 9lb of opium was in their house, neighbours said - a relatively small quantity by local standards.

The man's eldest son, Hoday Nazar, 10, described how British soldiers smashed into their house before dawn.

"They blew up the front door. They were yelling. They had torches on the end of their guns. My father was shouting tujeman (translator). We couldn't understand them. They shot him and he fell to the ground. When my brother sat up in the bed, they shot him too."

Col Simon Millar, a spokesman for the British military in Helmand, said: "An operation took place involving UK forces against known narcotics individuals. The man was told to put his hands up in Dari, Pashto and English.

"He did not and made a movement for what was believed to be a gun. He was shot twice and one bullet went through his body and hit a child. We do not target innocent civilians, we regret taking any life and recompense has been paid."

The opium harvest this year is expected to be approximately the same as last year's record crop. Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed on British streets. Western officials estimate that the Taliban were able to finance the insurgency by about £25 million last year through their activities connected with the illegal drugs trade.

This was through a combination of donations by drug smugglers, taxation of opium farmers, control of the movement of drugs along smuggling routes, and through control of pre-cursor chemicals used for the refinement of opium into heroin.front line
Back to Top

Back to Top
New shoes help needy Afghans walk tall
By Rabia Ali in Kheshki refugee village, Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 20 (UNHCR) – The students at the Islamabad International School have no problem imagining themselves in someone else's shoes. In fact, they are so good at it, they've put other people in their shoes.

Inspired by a book about the plight of Afghan refugee children, these students have donated shoes and socks to hundreds of needy Afghans in north-western Pakistan.

"It all started when Khadra Mohammed, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Centre in the United States, came to the school last year to do a reading of her book, 'Four Feet, Two Sandals'," said Connie Turner, the elementary school principal at the Islamabad International School in the Pakistani capital.

"The story about friendship and sacrifice between two Afghan girls really touched the kids. They couldn't bear the idea of refugee kids going through winter in their bare feet," she added. As a result, the students started a shoe drive and collected hundreds of pairs of shoes and socks. Their parents pitched in by sorting the shoes into different sizes.

The 320 pairs of shoes and sandals, together with 750 pairs of new socks, were recently distributed in Kheshki refugee village in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). With only 127 Afghan families and 678 individuals, Kheshki is among the smallest refugee settlements around, but its needs are great as the refugees have limited employment opportunities in the area.

"I am really thankful to those children who donated these shoes and socks," said Salima, a widow and mother of four. "It gives me a good feeling that children who have not met us have thought about us and helped us through their donation."

Families with six or fewer members were given one pair of socks per family member, one pair of shoes per family and one pack of high protein biscuits donated by UNHCR. Female-headed families and those with more than six members were given an additional pair of shoes and a pack of biscuits. An additional 36 pairs of shoes and 48 packs of biscuits were given to children below five years of age who were present at the distribution site.

Raiza Gul, a four-year-old with a bright smile on her face, was very happy to get a sandal of her choice. "I know it is big and does not fit me now, but I will wait for another year and will wear it on Eid," she said, referring to the Muslim holy festival.

Seven-year-old Shafi Muhammad was equally excited to get a brand new pair of sports shoes: "I cannot wait to wear them and run. I would love to show them to my friends who will envy me."

Kheshki refugee village was established in 1988. The majority of its residents are ethnic Pashtuns hailing from Kunar, Logar and Kunduz provinces of Afghanistan. There are more than 2 million registered Afghans in Pakistan today, less than half of them living in 85 refugee villages – mostly in NWFP and Balochistan.
Back to Top

Back to Top
'I restore murals in Afghanistan'
Financial Times, UK By Melanie Tringham March 22 2008
The worst thing about my work restoring ancient Buddhist cave murals at Bamiyan in Afghanistan is the fear of setting off landmines laid by the Taliban. The caves are in cliffs next to where the Taliban destroyed the two great Buddhas in 2001, and when it rains or the snow melts the mines can come tumbling down the cliffs.

I'm part of a team helping to conserve three caves painted with Buddhist murals, some of which date back to the mid-seventh century AD. We hope that Afghan experts will one day be able to take over and restore the other painted caves at Bamiyan.

When the Taliban bombed the area many of the cave paintings became detached from the cave walls and disintegrated. We're trying to stop the remaining paintings from collapsing, but even more damage has been done by looting and vandalism. We compiled a database of thousands of fragments, and then conserved the remaining paintings. We've made edgings for the damaged paintings because if water comes into the caves there's a risk that the painting will detach, so we're trying to close these exposed parts.

The three caves are quite different. One cave used to have a statue of a sitting Buddha, but this has been completely destroyed. The walls of the second cave have been painted with a thousand buddhas - they're very small, and painted very high up - but are covered with black soot-like deposits that prevent us from seeing the paintings properly. The third cave we're working on has a vaulted ceiling that is also covered with black deposits.

The caves were painted over a period of 500 years, so there are many influences - some of the murals show signs of ancient Persian traditions, while others are closer to art in central Asia or India. As well as the Buddha paintings, important events in Bamiyan are also depicted - the area used to be a small kingdom, so there are pictures of rulers being crowned, for example Working in the caves is difficult. One of them is high up the cliff and hard to reach, so we had to put up some serious scaffolding to get there. The cliffs are fragile and unstable anyway because they're composed of weak sediment.

We hire mine-clearing teams before we go in, but even then you might still have land mines. When it rains you don't know if, or where, mines have landed further down - we just have to follow what the clearance team says. If they say a path has been cleared, we have to trust them. Of course it is very scary but there is nothing we can do.

It is getting harder for foreigners in Afghanistan. Right now the Japanese government, which is funding our work for Unesco, has pulled us out of Afghanistan because Taliban attacks are escalating. It's frustrating because we only need six weeks to finish our project.

Part of the problem is that Bamiyan is a religious monument in an Islamic country, which is dangerous because of the prohibition on religious statues. But we're doing this for the Afghan people. We're not sure if they think about religion when they think of Bamiyan. Maybe they will see commercial potential if the site attracts tourists once the cave paintings are preserved.

It took time for Afghans to take us seriously. At first they didn't want to discuss things with us, as most of us are female and not that old. They were a bit suspicious of us, but when they realised we were serious about our work, they began to accept us. Now, the Afghans who help us on site are very motivated - they all turn up on time, and even insist on looking after the tools when we go for lunch.
As told to Melanie Tringham.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Pakistani Authorites Close Three Radio Stations for Pro-Taliban Broadcasts
Voice of America News - War and Conflict By VOA News 21 March 2008
Pakistani troops shut down three FM radio stations Friday after the stations aired a speech by a pro-Taliban cleric.

The military said it confiscated a large quantity of illegal arms, ammunition, audio cassettes, and what it described as "provocative literature." At least seven suspected militants who worked at the stations were arrested.

The raids took place in Pakistan's Swat Valley, a restive resort area in Pakistan's northwest.

On Thursday, the stations had broadcast a recording of a fiery speech by Maulana Fazlullah, a radical Muslim cleric who has tried to enforce Taliban-style Islam in Swat.

Pakistan's security forces have been battling Fazlullah's supporters since last year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan: New Helmand Governor Confirms Desire For Talks With Taliban
Radio Free Europe Friday, March 21, 2008
The new governor of an embattled province in southern Afghanistan has confirmed his intention to negotiate with "second- and third-tier" Taliban to achieve greater security.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Helmand Province Governor Golab Mangal insisted that his call for talks enjoy the support of President Hamid Karzai.

"From the authority point of view, I can say that I'm the representative of President Karzai in the province and the highest-ranking official," Mangal said. "What I do in Helmand is always according to the guidance of President Karzai and the independent regional organ. Under the law, there is no problem regarding [my] authority [to conduct such talks]."

The central government in Kabul has at times struggled to reconcile its stated desire to rehabilitate militants who disavow armed resistance with its effort to counter terrorism and deliver stability to beleaguered regions.

Mangal stressed that the invitation to talks excludes what he called top-tier Taliban, whom he described as "foreign-affiliated" and Al-Qaeda militants.

Helmand is among the country's most violent provinces, and lies in what is frequently referred to as a "poppy belt" that contributes to Afghanistan's massive opium trade.

Mullah Abdul Rahim Taliban, a Taliban militant who also claims to be the rightful governor of Helmand, insisted to Radio Free Afghanistan that the central government is divided over its approach to negotiations.

Abdul Rahim Taliban cited a difference of views between Karzai's closest political allies, on one hand, and officials with strong links to former mujahedin allied under the former United Front (aka Northern Alliance).

"As the respected governor of Helmand says that they are ready to conciliate with moderate or second- and third-ranking Taliban, I would like to say that we are one group, we have one leader and one voice," he said. "On the other side, they have no authority to negotiate freely with us. Even inside the government, they are separated in two groups -- one is Northern Alliance and the other is Karzai group. The Northern Alliance is absolutely opposed to talks with Taliban."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Fighting governments and guerrillas
What kind of military does the U.S. need -- one optimized for big wars against a nation like China, or built for smaller wars like Iraq and Afghanistan? Phillip Carter and Lawrence J. Korb discuss.
March 21, 2008 Los Angels Times
Today, Carter and Korb close their Dust-Up with a discussion on the kinds of conflicts the U.S. military can expect to fight in the future. Previously, they discussed congressional oversight of the armed forces, Adm. William J. Fallon's public disagreement with the administration, the use of evidence gleaned from torture and the Air Force tanker contract.
A military that can handle all kinds of war
By Phillip Carter
Larry,

America has an awful track record of studying history, predicting future patterns in warfare and then developing a military that will be ready for the next war. Perhaps the only example I can readily think of is the Persian Gulf War, in which a U.S. military built to fight the Soviet Union in Europe turned out to be pretty good at desert warfare too, not least because the Army's premier training center sits in the California desert. For nearly every other conflict -- both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and now Iraq -- we incorrectly judged the future of warfare and then sent the wrong kind of military to fight.

Within the Army and the broader defense community, there is a debate raging today over two basic questions: What the next war will look like? And how should the military train, equip and organize itself to fight it?

I am going to punt on the first question, partly because I don't feel qualified to answer it, and partly because I think the world is such an uncertain place that we cannot predict (at least, not with any fidelity) what future wars will look like. Pentagon strategy documents chart every current and emerging threat out there, from rising peer competitors such as China to global terror networks to natural disasters and the scarcity of resources. The only common denominator these scenarios share is uncertainty.

Assuming that uncertainty, how then should the military prepare? As someone who has served and who continues to work on military manpower and procurement issues, this is the more interesting debate for me.

Historically, the Army has trained for big wars and thought of small wars as lesser kinds of conflict, hoping that the skills for major combat operations would trickle down well to things such as counterinsurgency. Our fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, particularly during their first few years, illustrates the folly of this idea. To paraphrase Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, one of this generation's leading defense intellectuals, counterinsurgency is the graduate level of warfare. It involves a fundamentally different approach, in which the use of force is highly constrained and the support of the local population is the objective (as opposed to the capture of terrain or destruction of the enemy). A military trained for combat operations cannot easily adjust to this modus operandi. The military must rethink its approach to training, organizing and equipping for warfare, and abandon the one-size-fits-all approach.

I think the answer is to develop a "full spectrum" capability -- and not just for the military, but more broadly for the United States government. A great deal of attention has been paid to the Army's new counterinsurgency manual and its new doctrine, which gives equal weight to the importance of counterinsurgency and major combat operations. But the Army cannot go it alone -- it needs support from the other military services and government agencies, including the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security and the Central Intelligence Agency. We need to develop an integrated vision for how the United States (not just the Army or Marines) will act in future wars, and then develop the doctrine and organizations to do so.

Critical here will be developing flexible organizations that can handle situations on the spectrum ranging from peace to war. In the procurement arena, this means investing in the kinds of "dual-use" or "multi-use" gear that support both counterinsurgency and combat operations. The Army and Marines will still need armored vehicles, but it may not need as many artillery cannons. Similarly, the Air Force will still need fighter aircraft to maintain air superiority, but it may need a lot more transport aircraft to deliver troops and supplies, as well as air and space surveillance capabilities that enable commanders to see whatever is facing them.

There is some risk in overlearning the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some critics compare the U.S. military with the Israeli military, charging that the latter overlearned from its experiences patrolling the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving itself unprepared to launch an offensive campaign against Hezbollah in 2006. There are serious problems (PDF) with this argument, but I think it's worthwhile asking how we should balance readiness for counterinsurgency with readiness for war against a large nation such as China. The only way to ensure that we're ready for the next war is to build a military that can flexibly respond to different kinds of conflict.

Phillip Carter practices government contracts law with McKenna Long & Aldridge in New York City. He previously served as an Army officer for nine years, deploying to Iraq in 2005-06 as an embedded advisor with the Iraqi police in Baqubah.

Building the world's first responder
By Lawrence J. Korb

After five years of war in Iraq and six-plus in Afghanistan, the United States military is facing a crisis not seen since the end of the Vietnam War. Equipment shortages, manpower shortfalls, recruiting and retention problems and misplaced budget priorities have resulted in a military barely able to meet the challenges America faces today and dangerously ill-prepared to handle the challenges of the future.

As operations in Iraq eventually draw to a close, we must plot a new strategic direction for our nation's military. Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College, has noted that the current crisis in Iraq presents the "opportunity to transform ourselves as we rebuild." As Phil points out, we have an awful track record of getting it right.

Moving forward, we must keep four things in mind.

First, we must not overestimate the utility of military force. In the wake of Iraq, the U.S. should undertake a much more cautious approach to international military engagements. We must recognize that using military force has consequences that are difficult to predict and even harder to manage. Too often, military force is pointed to as the first resort to deal with complex international problems rather than the last resort. We must adopt a more measured approach.

Second, however, our experiences of the last two decades indicate that America's military will not get much rest. Since the United States is still the sole global superpower, it will continue to be the guarantor of global security and will be frequently called upon to act, not just in a conventional military capacity but in the form of a global first responder.

Third, irregular or nontraditional conflicts are the fights we will most likely engage. Although the U.S. military must always be prepared to engage and defeat another military on the battlefield, our experiences since the end of the Cold War indicate that our armed forces are much more likely to engage in nontraditional operations, such as responding to the effects of tragic natural disasters, supporting peacekeeping and stability operations and striking at terrorist training camps.

Fourth, responding to crises and disasters will be a major function of our military in the future. Instead of resisting this role, we should embrace it. The role of a global first responder will not only help to alleviate suffering but will improve the global image of America and help the U.S. build better ties around the world.

The increasing effects of climate change will have a significant effect on our national security. Storms of a catastrophic nature, rising sea levels, increased drought and other natural calamities will become all the more frequent, facilitating refugee crises and regional instability.

An effective action can make a tremendous difference. Following the December 2003 tsunami, the U.S. eventually sent 15,000 troops, a carrier task force, a Marine expeditionary force and a flotilla of ships and aircraft to the affected regions in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The response to the tsunami disaster made a tremendous difference in alleviating the humanitarian crisis and assisting in the region's recovery. But it also had a tremendous effect on the United States' image. Following the disaster, according to the Pew Research Center, 79% of Indonesians said they had a more favorable view of the U.S.

To address these challenges, we must transform our armed forces by recognizing that our military is lopsided. While our troops combat insurgents who lack uniforms, our military is still spending the vast majority of its budget on programs that have little or no relevance to this reality. We must take the following three steps:

First, we must match our resources with our priorities -- cut outdated pre- 9/11 weapons systems and invest in expanding the size of our ground forces.

Second, we must seek to better integrate all elements of our national power, because addressing these challenges is just as much a diplomatic and foreign-assistance effort as it is a military effort. As we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, quality reconstruction and development programs can be vital to overall success, and we must do more to improve these efforts.

Finally, we must strengthen alliances and partnerships and look to develop global security networks. One example of an innovative military effort is the Navy's "1,000-ship Navy" concept. This idea would leverage the fleets of allied or friendly countries to create a network of navies to better police the world's oceans.

Phil and I agree that transforming our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century will be difficult. It will require a willingness to change and will demand leadership from the military, Congress and the president. To meet current challenges and future threats, it is vital that we build a new, modern force to ensure the safety, security and strength of the United States.

Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information.
Back to Top

Back to Top
The Taliban Among Us
In both Canada and the United States, radical polygamists live in open defiance of our laws, treating their young wives as property. In a new book, Daphne Bramham asks: How can our society permit this?
National Post - Today's Paper Daphne Bramham Saturday, March 22, 2008
In November, 2001, a month after the United States, Canada and a coalition of other countries attacked Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush talked about the kind of life women and children were leading under the tyranny of the Taliban.

"Women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education. Food sent to help starving people is stolen by their leaders. The religious monuments of other faiths are destroyed. Children are forbidden to fly kites, or sing songs," he said. "A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes."

A few weeks later, Laura Bush filled in for her husband on his weekly radio spot. "All of us have an obligation to speak out," she said. "We may come from different back-grounds and faiths -- but parents the world over love our children. We respect our mothers, our sisters and daughters. Fighting brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it is the acceptance of our common humanity."

The Bushes were referring to the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they might well have been talking about women and children in the United States and Canada living under the tyranny of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the largest polygamous sect in North America.

Until his imprisonment in 2007, Prophet Warren Jeffs controlled every aspect of the lives of more than 8,000 people, from where they live to whom and when they marry. Jeffs banned school, church, movies and television. He outlawed the colour red and even forbad his followers to use the word "fun." Along with his trusted councillors, Jeffs arranged and forced hundreds of marriages, some involving girls as young as 14 and men as old as or older than their fathers and grandfathers. Many of the brides have been transported across state borders as well as international borders with Canada and Mexico.

The roots of the FLDS are in Mormonism, although the name itself is a recent one. When the mainstream church renounced polygamy in 1890, dissidents splintered off and continued to practise plural marriage. The fundamentalists believe they are the only true Mormons because they continue to hold to founder Joseph Smith's revelation that men must have multiple wives to enter the highest realm of heaven. There, in the "celestial kingdom," they will become gods, and their wives goddesses --albeit goddesses who must serve at the table of their gods for all eternity.

Polygamy has been illegal in Canada and the United States since 1890. But fundamentalist Mormonism is thriving in Utah, Ariz., Texas and British Columbia. There are dozens of different groups and thousands of so-called independents, which makes it impossible to know how many fundamentalists there are. Estimates range from 37,000 to 1-million across the continent, yet politicians have been loath to do anything about the people who call themselves Saints.

Politicians have not just looked the other way, they have in many instances made it easier for the Saints' leaders to intimidate, control and abuse their followers. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Bountiful, B.C., and in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

In 1992, the B.C. government refused to enforce Canada's law by charging the bishop of Bountiful, Winston Blackmore, with polygamy. Citing studies by several leading legal experts, the B.C. government said the law would not withstand a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of religion and association.

Those rights, however, are not unlimited. Twice since its decision not to prosecute polygamy, the B.C. government has successfully gone to court to force children of Jehovah's Witnesses to submit to blood transfusions, even though that goes against their beliefs. The government's argument: Religious belief cannot override a child's right to health. Since the 1992 decision to effectively legalize polygamy in B.C., Bountiful's population has more than tripled.

Unlike Christians, who believe that the soul comes to the body at birth and leaves the body at death, the Saints believe in both a pre-mortal existence and the "lifting up" of the earthly body into heaven. They believe millions of spirits are waiting to be born into earthly bodies. And, as God's Chosen People, they believe they have a responsibility to bring as many of those spirits as possible into the world as Mormons -- rather than as something less worthy. As Joseph Smith's friend and apostle Orson Pratt wrote, "The Lord has not kept [the spirits] in store for five or six thousand years past and kept them waiting for their bodies all this time to send them among the Hottentots, the African negroes, the idolatrous Hindoos or any other fallen nations that dwell upon the face of the Earth."

Emboldened by the failure of governments to prosecute,
Canadian polygamist Winston Blackmore no longer hides. A second-generation leader and one of North America's best-known and wealthiest polygamists, Blackmore makes no secret of the fact that he has many wives. How many, he won't say. But some of his wives, those who have left him, say that he has been married 26 times and has more than 100 children.

On at least two occasions, Blackmore -- a spiritual leader, superintendent of a government-supported school and respected businessman -- has publicly confessed to having sex with girls who were only 15 and 16 years old. That's a criminal offence in Canada. His first admission was in 2005 at a "polygamy summit" organized by his wives in Creston, B.C. Nobody said or did anything when he said he'd married "very young girls" because God and the prophet had told him to. Blackmore has yet to be charged.

Blackmore repeated his confession in 2006, during an interview on CNN with Larry King. Blackmore said he hadn't realized that one of his wives was only 15 when they'd married. She had lied about her age, Blackmore said. But all women do that, don't they? he asked King.

Girls may well lie about their age; middle-aged, balding men often do as well. But that's why there are laws to protect children. It's our society's shame that the laws are not always enforced.

After George and Laura Bush spoke out against the human rights abuses in Afghanistan, Utah's Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, recognized the parallels and began calling the FLDS "North America's Taliban." After more than 100 years of his state allowing them to hide in plain sight, he has promised to do something. Arizona's Attorney General, Terry Goddard, also has promised to end the theocracy that exists on his state's border. Both states began by laying charges against Jeffs, first in Arizona and then in Utah. .

A handful of men loyal to Jeffs have recently been convicted for having sex with minors. Several Hildale police officers, more loyal to the prophet than to the laws of the state and country, have been stripped of their badges. A Utah court -- at the request of the states of Utah and Arizona -- has placed the FLDS trust fund in receivership.

In British Columbia, by contrast, the RCMP spent nearly three years investigating Bountiful. Lawyers in the attorney general's ministry recommended that no charges be laid because they didn't believe there was a substantial likelihood of conviction. Attorney General Wally Oppal didn't like that recommendation and hired a special prosecutor, who after two months recommended that the polygamy law be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal, where justices could rule on whether the law would withstand a constitutional challenge.

Oppal didn't like that answer either. A former Court of Appeal justice himself, Oppal believes it's not something the courts should do. So, he hired another special prosecutor -- more of a pit bull -- to give him the answer he wants. Charge one or more of them with polygamy, and send them to trial.

Meanwhile, Blackmore continues to direct and control almost every aspect of his followers' lives. He has moved many of his followers to Idaho and has made numerous trips to fundamentalist communities across the United States and Mexico to gather more faithful to his flock.

Girls are still being forced into marriages. Boys are still driven out to make the polygamous arithmetic work for the older men. Neither boys nor girls are getting an adequate education in either country. And Arizona's attorney general admits that reintegrating the communities into the mainstream after years of isolation and theocratic rule is still years away.

How is it that two nations, so clear-sighted in recognizing human rights atrocities in other countries and so fearless in taking on tyrannical rulers on the other side of the world, have been so blind to the human rights violations committed against their own women and children?
Back to Top


 Back to News Archirves of 2008
 
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).