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March 24, 2008 

Seven mine clearing staff shot dead in Afghanistan
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Gunmen shot dead seven Afghan staff of UN-funded mine clearing teams in northern Afghanistan, their organisations said Monday, in some of the deadliest attacks on non-government workers in months.

Talk of a Troop Surge for Afghanistan
By Anna Mulrine U.S. News & World Report - Mon Mar 24, 9:49 AM ET
As the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq fades from the front pages, analysts are turning their attention to what is often called the forgotten war. Many fear that progress in Afghanistan is stalled and that the country is in need of major

100 Afghan drug police killed last year
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Mon Mar 24, 6:38 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Around 100 police officers on Afghanistan's poppy eradication force were killed in the line of duty over the last year, an official said Monday.

Militants blow up tankers in Pakistan, 65 hurt: officials
Mon Mar 24, 3:08 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Up to 65 people were injured when Islamic militants in a Pakistani border town blew up dozens of tankers supplying fuel for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

Afghan settlements secret
March 24, 2008 Murray Brewster The Canadian Press
There have been at least eight instances in the last two years where the Canadian government has dipped into its pocket to compensate Afghan civilians or their families for accidental deaths or injuries.

Germany Won't Increase Troop Levels in Afghanistan, DPA Reports
By Nicholas Comfort
March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Germany won't announce an increase in the number of its soldiers deployed in Afghanistan at a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in Bucharest next month, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported.

No extra troops for Afghanistan, minister insists
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia March 25, 2008
THE Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, says there is no argument "whatsoever" for Australia to increase its troop commitment in Afghanistan, even after it withdraws more than 500 soldiers from southern Iraq in the middle of the year.

US vice president meets Turkish leaders amid protests
ANKARA, March 24, 2008 (AFP) — US Vice President Dick Cheney held talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Monday amid minor protests denouncing US policies in the Middle East, before wrapping up a nine-day overseas tour.

Air strikes, war on drugs drive Taliban
Insurgency's foot soldiers are motivated by loved ones lost to NATO planes and money lost to poppy-eradication programs
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com; Graeme Smith; Associated Press and The Canadian Press March 24, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The series
Running through this week, we will probe the heart of the Taliban
insurgency in Afghanistan in groundbreaking research by The Globe and Mail. Based on video-recorded interviews of 42 fighters connected with insurgent groups in Kandahar province, the research provides us with a glimpse of who they are

Younger leadership for Taliban in Afghanistan
24/03/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
The Taliban leadership in southern Afghanistan is passing into the hands of younger, more extreme insurgents as the relentless targeting of traditional commanders by British forces takes its toll.

'Hamid Karzai's diplomat expulsion move halted efforts to split Taliban'
The Telegraph (UK) March 24, 2008 By Damien McElroy in Musa Qala
Efforts to split the Taliban have ground to a halt since President Hamid Karzai rejected a foreign-led reconciliation effort, British commanders in southern Afghanistan claim.

Out of Guantanamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden
By Faiza Saleh Ambah Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, March 24, 2008; A08
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists' training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.

Afghan Cops Get An Upgrade
Strategy Page - Mar 24 2:31 AM
March 24, 2008: The U.S. has convinced the Afghan government that the traditional Afghan approach to policing won't work. In the past, cops were poorly paid, and recruited more as a make-work program, than as an attempt

Inside Afghanistan: Interview with Afghan VP Abdul Karim Khalili
24/03/2008 By Mohammed Al Shafey in Kabul Asharq Alawsat, UK
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the 2009 presidential elections be held as scheduled?
[Khalili] We are all endeavoring, God willing, to hold the elections as scheduled. If there were any obstructions or postponement, it might be for two or three months; if goodwill prevails, the elections will be held as scheduled.

Pakistan-Afghan chamber of commerce agreement sparks controversy
3/24/2008 7:48:16 Source ::: IANS via Peninsula On-line, Qatar
PESHAWAR • Signing of an agreement by the business communities of Pakistan and Afghanistan for setting up of a joint chamber of commerce and industry in the presence of a similar body has created controversy in the business circles.

Microloan products for Afghanistan
XPRESS (United Arab Emirates) March 24, 2008
A partnership between the Jumeirah Rotary Club, Dubai, PlaNet Finance UAE and Sunduq has been established to stimulate small rural businesses in Afghanistan and help families to fight the poverty cycle.

Seven mine clearing staff shot dead in Afghanistan
by Bronwen Roberts
KABUL (AFP) - Gunmen shot dead seven Afghan staff of UN-funded mine clearing teams in northern Afghanistan, their organisations said Monday, in some of the deadliest attacks on non-government workers in months.

In one incident, unknown attackers halted a convoy of deminers returning from work in the province of Jawzjan on Sunday and opened fire, killing five and wounding seven, Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) said.

The gunmen shot into the first vehicle and then opened fire on the others, which included an ambulance, as they turned around and sped off, director Kefayatullah Eblagh told AFP.

"Three people stopped the vehicle and started shooting at them without saying anything," he said.

Some of the men were able to use demining equipment to shield themselves from the barrage of bullets, Eblagh said.

It was the worst attack on the company in its 18 years of operations in Afghanistan, he said. "It was terrible."

Two more employees of a separate mine clearing team, the Mine Detection and Dog Centre (MDC), were shot dead in the northern province of Kunduz on Monday, their organisation and the United Nations said.

The men -- a deminer and a driver -- were gunned down after returning from a ceremony to hand over land they had cleared of mines to a community, MDC's deputy director, named only Enyatullah, told AFP.

After nearly three decades of war, Afghanistan is one of the world's most mined countries.

Several groups are working with UN and other international funding to rid the country of mines, which kill or maim scores of people every year.

Insurgents, mainly from the Taliban, have killed dozens of people associated with an internationally-funded drive to help Afghanistan rebuild, including non-government workers, doctors and teachers.

Most of the attacks take place in the south and east but there have been several incidents in the north, where factional rivalry, warlords and criminality also have a hand in the violence.

The head of a district in Jawzjan and a highway police commander in northern Kunduz were murdered over the weekend in incidents that the Taliban claimed to have carried out.

The Taliban reportedly denied involvement in the Jawzjan killngs, with a spokesman telling the Afghan Islamic Press news agency, "Taliban never kill deminers... Deminers always work for public welfare and Taliban always cooperate with such people."

In August last year the bullet-riddled bodies of three mine clearers were found dumped in a village in the southern province of Kandahar, which sees a lot of Taliban activity, after they had been missing for several days.

In April 2007, dozens of Taliban attacked a US-funded mine-clearing team in the south, killing three deminers, three guards and a woman passing by.

The UN mission in Afghanistan condemned the attacks on deminers.

"It is abhorrent that anyone would target individuals working to free the people of Afghanistan from the scourge of landmines," acting representative Bo Asplund said in a statement.

Afghanistan, backed by some of the world's most powerful militaries, is battling to put down the Taliban insurgency, which was its deadliest last year with more than 8,000 people killed -- most of them rebels.

There have already been several bloody clashes this year. A dozen Taliban were killed Sunday in the southern province of Uruzgan where about 40 were killed a day earlier, police said Monday.

Four Afghan villagers were meanwhile killed Monday in Ghazni province when a Taliban weapons cache blew up.
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Talk of a Troop Surge for Afghanistan
By Anna Mulrine U.S. News & World Report - Mon Mar 24, 9:49 AM ET
As the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq fades from the front pages, analysts are turning their attention to what is often called the forgotten war. Many fear that progress in Afghanistan is stalled and that the country is in need of major new measures to reinvigorate the war effort against the Taliban and other extremist factions.

To that end, talk is increasingly turning to a troop surge for Afghanistan. The conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, which was instrumental in designing the current surge strategy in Iraq, in January convened an "Afghanistan Planning Group" that will shortly announce recommendations for an influx of troops into Afghanistan as well. "It's clear to everyone who looks at it that more troops are necessary in Afghanistan," says Frederick Kagan, an AEI fellow and an architect of the surge strategy in Iraq.

It is clear to U.S. military officials that efforts in Afghanistan are faltering and that more troops could help turn the tide. Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and now the deputy chairman of NATO's military committee, says that there is currently a shortage of maneuver and infantry forces in the country. What' s more, he adds, there are not enough troops to train the Afghan Army and police. "That's the greatest shortfall," he adds.

To that end, the U.S. is now sending some 3,200 marines into the country. Half of them will serve as trainers, and the other half will serve as combat troops backing up British troops in violent, drug-producing Helmand province.

But American soldiers--stretched to the limit in Iraq--are at a premium. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has repeatedly called on NATO member countries to contribute more troops to the troubled country. To date, these pleas have not inspired an overwhelming response among NATO partner countries.

But senior defense officials expect some announcements to come at next month's NATO summit in Bucharest, including a possible commitment by France to send as many as 700 additional troops (France currently has about 1,600 in the country, most stationed around the capital of Kabul).

The NATO summit is "high political stakes," says Eikenberry. "We think that the French will make an offer," adds a senior defense official. "If they make an offer, it's going to be to go into eastern or southern Afghanistan, the most troubled areas." The Canadian Parliament has agreed to extend its military mission of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2011, but only if NATO countries send 1,000 more troops to back them up in the violent Kandahar province.

France's contribution would enable U.S. military planners to shuffle American forces from the East and move them into the increasingly violent South where attacks tend to be concentrated, says the defense official. "The French fight very well; I'd be happy to see them there," adds Kagan.

In the meantime, Eikenberry says that he expects an increase in high-profile terrorist attacks from extremist Taliban forces. Moving troops into targeted troubled areas could help tamp down violence. Eikenberry points out that 70 percent of attacks in Afghanistan are concentrated in roughly 10 percent of the districts of Afghanistan.

Currently, a graph of monthly bomb attacks is trending upward. "It looks exactly the way you would want your stock portfolio to look," says one senior military official. "And that's exactly how you don't want IED trends to look."
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100 Afghan drug police killed last year
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Mon Mar 24, 6:38 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Around 100 police officers on Afghanistan's poppy eradication force were killed in the line of duty over the last year, an official said Monday.

Gen. Doud Doud, who heads the Interior Ministry's counter-narcotics police, also said that about 90 percent of the country's poppies are grown in dangerous regions where insurgents hold sway and the government has little reach.

"The main challenge for us is security," Doud told a news conference.

Police poppy eradication teams — whose work brings them to remote and dangerous areas of the country — are often attacked by insurgents or farmers angered that their profitable crop is being destroyed, leading to the force's high number of casualties.

The U.N. says that Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Tens of millions of dollars from the drug trade are believed to flow to Taliban fighters, who charge taxes on farmers and demand payment for safe passage through dangerous territory.

Farmers cultivated a record 477,000 acres of opium in 2007, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Total production, spurred by unusually high rainfall, increased even further, by 34 percent, the U.N. has said.

About 820 people were arrested over the last year for drug trafficking by the counter-narcotics police force, Doud said.

He said a new battalion of Afghan army soldiers — approximately 800 troops — were about to graduate from training and would be assigned to work alongside eradication forces.

Last year, 13 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces were poppy-free. Doud said the government hopes to raise that number to 22 this year.

Many farmers in poppy-free provinces have started planting marijuana. Doud said some government leaders have promised to tackle the marijuana problem as well.
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Militants blow up tankers in Pakistan, 65 hurt: officials
Mon Mar 24, 3:08 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Up to 65 people were injured when Islamic militants in a Pakistani border town blew up dozens of tankers supplying fuel for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The rebels late Sunday destroyed 36 tankers which were parked in Landikotal, the main town of the troubled Khyber tribal district where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents have carried out a series of attacks.

"An improvised explosive device planted underneath a tanker went off, triggering a massive fire injuring up to 65 people and completely gutting 36 tankers," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

More than 80 tankers were parked in the town when the explosion took place.

"We believe that pro-Taliban militants are behind the attack," the official said, adding that 12 people sustained serious burn injuries.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

It was one of the worst attacks of its kind since June last year, when militants blew up at least 13 oil tankers supplying fuel to US bases in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
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Afghan settlements secret
March 24, 2008 Murray Brewster The Canadian Press
There have been at least eight instances in the last two years where the Canadian government has dipped into its pocket to compensate Afghan civilians or their families for accidental deaths or injuries.

But the figures and details of the settlements remain a closely held secret, despite calls in the Manley commission report for the Conservative government to be more open and forthright.

The Justice Department, which shares responsibility with the Defence Department for ex gratia payments, refused to release any details.

A recent access to information request by The Canadian Press was returned almost entirely censored.

Federal officials refused a subsequent request to release a global figure of what has been paid out since Canadian troops deployed to Kandahar in early 2006.

Opposition parties say the information is being suppressed for political reasons because the notion of civilian casualties -- however inadvertent -- is embarrassing to a government that made helping Afghans the central pillar of its strategy to extend the mission to 2011.

"We have no problem if they blank out the names and some of the details, but c'mon, this is taxpayers' money,'' Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said.

"The public should know at least -- at the very least -- how much we have spent and what (the) criteria is for compensation . . . even if it's only a few thousand dollars, it shouldn't be a secret.''

New Democrat defence critic Dawn Black accused the Tories of trying to keep the truth from the public.

"They don't want Canadians to know what's happening in the war in Afghanistan,'' she said.

A call to Justice Minister Rob Nicolson's office last week was not returned. Over a two-day period, Justice officials were asked to respond to questions about ex gratia payments, but the queries were eventually sent to National Defence. The military said it wasn't able to respond.

Coderre said the question of how payments are handled is vital because Afghan civilians, who are accidentally injured or killed by Canadian soldiers, have no legal right to compensation.

Instead, restitution depends upon an obscure claims process that provides payments under "moral considerations.''

The waiver was signed in December 2005 by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and remained secret for six months. It became public through an access to information request filed by The Canadian Press in 2006.

Over 30 pages of information on ex gratia payments made since February 2006 were released by the Justice Department after a followup access to information request.

The records are almost entirely censored, but indicate at least eight payments were made between March 2006 and the end of 2007.

The agreement signed by Hillier states "Canadian personnel will not be liable for any damages to private or government property.''

Under the arrangement, civilians can submit damage claims and lawyers deployed with the troops are allowed to make payments up to $2,000.

"Any higher amount must be approved by the deputy minister,'' said an undated Defence Department note. "In most circumstances, ex gratia payments should not be made.''

Part of the secrecy involves a genuine concern for the safety of Afghan families being compensated.

In the spring of 2006 the family of an Afghan man, mistakenly shot dead by a Canadian soldier at police checkpoint, received a settlement. But the officer commanding the mission at the time -- Brig.-Gen. David Fraser -- warned that revealing compensation details would potentially make the family targets of bandits.
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Germany Won't Increase Troop Levels in Afghanistan, DPA Reports
By Nicholas Comfort
March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Germany won't announce an increase in the number of its soldiers deployed in Afghanistan at a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in Bucharest next month, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported.

Chancellor Angela Merkel isn't going to bring a ``bag of presents'' for other NATO members, the German news agency said, citing deputy Defense Minister Christian Schmidt.

Separately, Rainer Arnold, the co-ruling Social Democratic Party's defense spokesman in parliament, wants a debate on a step- by-step withdrawal from Afghanistan, DPA reported. Germany should begin withdrawing its forces in five years, Deutsche Presse Agentur cited him as saying.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicholas Comfort in Frankfurt at ncomfort1@bloomberg.net
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No extra troops for Afghanistan, minister insists
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia March 25, 2008
THE Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, says there is no argument "whatsoever" for Australia to increase its troop commitment in Afghanistan, even after it withdraws more than 500 soldiers from southern Iraq in the middle of the year.

His comments come before next week's NATO summit, at which European and North American nations will forge a new strategy for securing Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are resurgent and violence is at levels not seen since the 2001 invasion.

Both Mr Fitzgibbon and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will attend the summit in Bucharest and have made it clear they want a substantial increase in troop contributions from NATO countries.

That, in turn, will put pressure on Australia to do likewise.

But Mr Fitzgibbon said Australia - with just over 1000 military personnel in the volatile southern province of Oruzgan - is not well placed to increase troops.

"Really, would an extra 5 or 10 per cent Australian contribution make any difference to the long-term result in Afghanistan? I don't think so," Mr Fitzgibbon told the Herald.

"As the 10th-largest contributor overall and the biggest non-NATO country, I just don't think there's an argument whatsoever for us increasing our contribution."

There has been speculation that Australia will boost its presence in Afghanistan once the 515 military personnel based at Tallil in southern Iraq return home, but Mr Fitzgibbon said the Defence Force would "remain overstretched" after their withdrawal.

Given the continuing unrest in Australia's immediate region, the Rudd Government wants more troops based here for any crises that may flare closer to home.

Even after the withdrawal from Iraq, about 1000 Australian personnel will be assisting there, including an Anzac-class frigate patrolling the Persian Gulf, C-130 and P-3 Orion aircraft and crews, and a security detachment based in Baghdad that protects Australian government officials.

As well as the 1000 Australians in Afghanistan, a similar number are deployed in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Australian forces, unlike those of many other nations in Afghanistan, have been deployed in one of the country's most violent areas, a fact reinforced by bloody action over the weekend. A Taliban ambush of a coalition and Afghan patrol sparked a furious confrontation that resulted in up to 40 Taliban being killed from the ensuing air strikes and ground battle. It is understood no Australians were involved in the battle.

Mr Fitzgibbon said "progress is slow, at best" in Afghanistan and "in some areas we are even going backwards".

He said only a substantial increase in forces by NATO nations would make a difference, saying the 10 per cent increase foreshadowed by the NATO secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, earlier this month would almost certainly be inadequate.

There are about 43,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, plus 13,000 American personnel operating under their own command.

"I find it hard to accept that a 10 per cent, 15 per cent increase is enough," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He added that gaining more co-operation from Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders directing the insurgency in Afghanistan are based, was critical to success.

Mr Fitzgibbon ruled out negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban's leadership, as suggested by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, last year.
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US vice president meets Turkish leaders amid protests
ANKARA, March 24, 2008 (AFP) — US Vice President Dick Cheney held talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Monday amid minor protests denouncing US policies in the Middle East, before wrapping up a nine-day overseas tour.

Cheney, who flew in from Israel, held a meeting with President Abdullah Gul shortly after landing at Ankara's Esenboga airport amid heavy security. No statements were made after the talks.

The US vice president is set to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and chief of general staff, General Yasar Buyukanit. His itinerary does not include any press conferences.

As Cheney arrived for his talks with Gul, dozens of protesters from a minor Turkish party demonstrated at the gates of the presidential complex, chanting slogans against the United States and the Turkish government.

Watched by riot police, the protesters burned an effigy of Cheney, the NTV news channel reported.

Several non-governmental organizations held a separate protest at a square five kilometres (three miles) away, denouncing Cheney's visit and US policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, the Anatolia news agency reported.

"Cheney get out of Turkey! US get out of Iraq!" read one of their banners.

"We have a question for the (Turkish) government: What are you discussing with war criminals? Is it not clear what they have done in Afghanistan, Iraq?" said the groups' spokesman, reading out their declarations.

The crowd dispersed peacefully.

Cheney is expected to discuss Turkish army operations against rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) holed up in northern Iraq, following a major week-long ground offensive by Turkey last month.

Iraq condemned the operation as a violation of its sovereignty, but Washington, which considers the PKK a terrorist organisation along with much of the international community, provides Turkey with intelligence on rebel movements and is believed to back Turkish strikes.

The Turkish army said earlier this month it may conduct more strikes against PKK militants who use the north of Iraq as a base in their 23-year armed separatist campaign against Turkey.

Monday's talks are also expected to focus on US demands for NATO allies to send more troops and equipment to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, especially in the south where the rebels are most active.

Last week, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Ankara will soon decide on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, a day after army chief Yasar Buyukanit opposed the idea, saying that his forces were already busy fighting Kurdish rebels.

Turkey, which twice led the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has 1,150 soldiers stationed in Kabul.

US efforts to curb Iran's regional influence and its nuclear programme, as well as faltering peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, are also expected to be on the agenda of Cheney's Ankara talks.

Cheney is set to fly to Istanbul later Monday before leaving Turkey on Tuesday, wrapping up a regional tour that has taken him to Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
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Air strikes, war on drugs drive Taliban
Insurgency's foot soldiers are motivated by loved ones lost to NATO planes and money lost to poppy-eradication programs
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com; Graeme Smith; Associated Press and The Canadian Press March 24, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The series
Running through this week, we will probe the heart of the Taliban

insurgency in Afghanistan in groundbreaking research by The Globe and Mail. Based on video-recorded interviews of 42 fighters connected with insurgent groups in Kandahar province, the research provides us with a glimpse of who they are, their motivation and goals.

On globeandmail.com

Graeme Smith's introduction to the project, and a GlobeDocs

documentary to accompany each of the stories in his six-part series.

Raw footage of 42 video recordings of the Taliban fighters

with translation.

An interactive graphic that explains the history of the Taliban,

from its beginnings to the present.

Maps and graphics detailing tribal boundaries in Kandahar, data

on air strikes and suicide bombings, plus areas of poppy cultivation.

Links to leave comment on the series.

In The Globe and Mail

TODAY What motivates the Taliban

TOMORROW The tribal clash underlying the conflict

WEDNESDAY The Taliban and Pakistan

THURSDAY What the Taliban know about the outside world

FRIDAY Why the Taliban are embracing suicide bombing

***

Air strikes and drug eradication are feeding the insurgency in southern Afghanistan, as those actions convince some villagers that their lives and livelihoods are under attack.

In a unique survey, The Globe and Mail interviewed 42 ordinary Taliban foot soldiers in Kandahar and discovered 12 fighters who said their family members had died in air strikes, and 21 who said their poppy fields had been targeted for destruction by anti-drug teams.

The results suggest an unusual concentration of first-hand experience with bombing deaths and opium eradication among the insurgents, analysts say. Despite the violence and expensive counter-narcotics campaigns in Afghanistan, most villagers have not been touched by these events themselves, and their prevalence among the Taliban highlights two important motives for the insurgency.

"This is very interesting," said Sarah Chayes, an American author who lives in Kandahar.

The Taliban may exaggerate their claims of civilians killed in air strikes, she said, "but I do think civilian deaths, and the cultivated impression of civilian deaths, is playing an increasing role."

Some analysts have described senior Taliban leaders reaping large profits from the opium industry, but Ms. Chayes said the ordinary fighters are simply trying to protect a meagre source of income in a place where other jobs are scarce.

"It's not profit motive at these guys' level - it's bare livelihood," she said. "Anybody would defend that."

Aerial bombings and civilian deaths have both increased: the United Nations estimates that more than 1,500 civilians were killed last year.

That figure as compares to the 900 to 1,000 civilian deaths counted by two studies of the previous year. An analysis of the first nine months of 2007 found the number of air strikes was already 50-per-cent higher than the total for 2006.

Civilian bombings emerged as a major theme of the war last year. President Hamid Karzai shed tears in public as he spoke about civilian deaths. In June, a coalition of Afghan aid agencies published a controversial report suggesting that the rate of civilian casualties had doubled from the previous year, and that international forces were starting to rival the Taliban as the greatest source of civilian deaths.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization disputed the aid groups' figures, but quietly took action to reduce the likelihood of killing civilians. A report from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month said international forces had reviewed standard operating procedures for aerial engagement with a view to reducing collateral deaths caused from the air.

Still, some countries, such as the United States, have been reluctant to curtail their use of air power.

"The United States views this as the tragic but bearable cost of a successful operation against insurgents, without understanding that the Taliban has deliberately traded the lives of a few dozen guerrilla fighters in order to cost the American forces the permanent loyalty of that [bombed] village," wrote Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in California, in an academic paper last year.

The Taliban are usually reluctant to admit that they're fighting for any causes other than religion, but they have recently embraced civilian deaths as a rallying point. Insurgents have helped journalists arrange interviews with victims in the aftermath of air strikes in southern Afghanistan, and NATO soldiers have repeatedly witnessed the Taliban forcing civilians into dangerous situations in hopes of getting them killed by foreign troops, thus evoking the wrath of the village.

The Globe and Mail's survey was not scientific, but it offers a sample of the insurgents' views on the topic. Asked specifically about bombings by foreign troops, almost a third of respondents said their family members had died in such incidents during the current war.

Some insurgents complained about bombings by Russian aircraft in the 1980s in addition to recent air strikes under the Karzai government, suggesting that memories of the Soviet invasion fuel some of the current opposition to U.S. and NATO troops.

Even those who have not lost relatives in the bombings clearly identify themselves as defending Afghanistan against such attacks. In response to the question, "Has your family been bombed by foreigners?" four fighters offered fatalistic responses such as: "No, not yet." Two others gave variations on a declaration of solidarity. "No," one fighter said. "But the families of my friends have been bombed, and other Muslims are like my own family." Others described the air strikes hitting closer to home: "No, but our neighbours and relatives have been bombed."

About half of those who cited bombing deaths in their family said they joined the Taliban after the killings occurred: six joined afterwards, five joined before and one was not asked.

Those for whom the bombings was a trigger for joining the Taliban generally fell into two categories: young men replacing older relatives who died fighting in the Taliban ranks ("call-ups"); and men who took up arms against the government after their civilian relatives were killed.

An example of the call-up mechanism was the case of a 25-year-old farm worker who said three older members of his family were killed in air strikes. He specified that all of his slain relatives were Taliban fighters, and that it was his duty to replace them.

"All of them were with the Taliban and when one of them was killed in war, after that another was killed and then the third one was also killed," he said. "So after that I decided to join the Taliban."

"But what is your goal? Do you want to take revenge or what?" he was asked.

"No, no, no," the fighter said. "I would never fight to take revenge for my family or something else. I am fighting only to remove the non-Muslims from my country because they are here to destroy our religion."

Others did not dwell on the rhetoric of jihad. A 22-year-old farmer initially said he abandoned his farm work because foreign troops arrived in his area, but later specified that three of his relatives - two elders and a child - had been killed in an aerial bombing in the previous year, and that he joined the Taliban after the bombing.

"Are you fighting because of that bombing?" he was asked. "Yes," he said. "Because of the bombing, and also because the foreigners are here."

Bombing was the only reason given when an older farmer, perhaps in his 40s, described his motives: "The non-Muslims are unjust and have killed our people and children by bombing them, and that's why I started jihad against them," he said. He said his family was bombed several times. "They have killed hundreds of our people, and that's why I want to fight against them."

International troops sometimes complain that they're fighting three wars in Afghanistan: the war on terrorism, a war against insurgents, and a war on drugs. The first two conflicts are viewed as inescapable, but the counter-narcotics campaign is often seen as hurting the rest of the war effort.

With opium production soaring to record levels, however, many Western politicians are pushing for a new crackdown on poppy farmers. The International Crisis Group predicted in February that such an effort would be disastrous: "Insurgents would exploit local alienation to recruit more soldiers," the ICG report said.

Most of the insurgents in the Globe survey admitted a personal role in the opium industry, with more than 80 per cent of respondents saying they farm poppies themselves and a similar percentage saying the plant is farmed by their family or friends.

Those numbers aren't surprising in rural Kandahar, where poppies rank among the most common crops. The more significant number, in the view of some analysts, was that half those surveyed said their fields had been targeted by government eradication efforts, sometimes more than once.

Eradication was not widespread in Kandahar in the years before the survey was conducted; it appears the Taliban either exaggerate the government's counter-narcotics program, or there is a connection between farmers who face crop eradication and those who join the insurgency.

The Taliban did not seem inclined to admit an economic rationale for the war, saying it's a secondary reason for fighting after the primary concept of religious war, but a few described the connection bluntly: "Previously they were cutting them [poppies] down, but now those areas are controlled by mujahedeen and now they cannot cut them down," said a 26-year-old who described himself as a former religious student.

Under the previous Taliban regime, Afghanistan briefly witnessed one of the world's most successful anti-drug campaigns when Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar declared that growing poppies is un-Islamic. Some historians say the Taliban cynically cut production to increase the values of their own stockpiles, but the effects in the fields was dramatic: a year's crop was almost entirely wiped out.

The idea of opium as a religiously forbidden product has lingered in Afghanistan, and is often reinforced by the current government. But many of the Taliban in the survey gave a new rationale when asked to explain why they have reinvented themselves as protectors of the drug trade.

"We grow it because it damages the non-Muslims," one fighter said, repeating the line used by many others, sometimes parroting the phrase verbatim.

"Before this drug reaches the non-Muslims, won't it destroy our own people first?" he was asked by the Afghan researcher, expressing concern about Afghanistan's growing population of drug addicts.

But the fighter shrugged off this argument, saying the opium is mostly consumed in foreign countries.

"Islam says that it isn't permitted," the fighter conceded. "But we don't care whether it is permitted or forbidden. But we are only saying that we will grow poppies against non-Muslims."

A private security consultant in Kabul who reviewed the videos of the Taliban who were surveyed said the recurrence of this argument among the fighters seems to suggest an indoctrination campaign by Taliban leaders.

"If you read between the lines, some higher commanders have figured out a good excuse to cultivate poppy," the consultant said. "Those farmers are quite well brainwashed."

Taliban funding

The Taliban revealed very little about their financing when asked by The Globe and Mail's researcher. Other sources suggest that their biggest cash inflows arrive from supporters in Pakistan, sometimes originally from donors in the Middle East, but the front-line insurgents didn't seem to know much about those transactions, or else kept them secret.

"All the Muslims give us money, whether they are Afghans or from Saudi Arabia or somewhere else," one fighter said.

Other insurgents described voluntary payments by ordinary Afghans and implied that the insurgents get a cut of the local drug trade. Such payments were always couched in the language of traditional Islamic payments to charity, usually in two forms: usher and zakat.

Usher literally means one-tenth, but can refer to any portion of agricultural crop that is set aside as a donation. Zakat is another kind of obligatory charity, usually 2.5 per cent of annual profits from business.

These payments are regularly shared with the Taliban in southern Afghanistan; farmers sometimes give half their donations to the insurgents and the other half to the local mullah for charitable causes.

Prominent local drug dealers and businessmen in Kandahar are known to make donations beyond the requirements of zakat and usher, sometimes in the form of cash, opium, vehicles, cellphone-recharge card numbers, or even warm clothing in winter.

Graeme Smith

Latest developments

Afghan and NATO forces killed more than 40 insurgents in an air and ground battle in southern Afghanistan, a security official said yesterday.

Troops seized dozens of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, after Saturday's battle in Dihrawud, a district in Uruzgan province, the Afghan Defence Ministry said in a statement, adding many militants were killed, including a commander, but provided no figures. An official at the ministry put the number of dead at more than 40.

U.S.-led coalition troops hit a roadside bomb in Kandahar province Saturday as they were conducting a security patrol with Afghan troops, the coalition said in a statement. Two soldiers died, it said. Coalition officials say the dead are not Canadians but their nationalities have not yet been released.

There have been at least eight instances in the past two years in which the Canadian government has dipped into its own pocket to compensate Afghan civilians or their families for accidental deaths or injuries. But the figures and details of the settlements remain a closely held secret, despite calls in the Manley commission report for the Conservative government to be more open and forthright.

The Justice Department, which shares responsibility with the Defence Department for ex-gratia payments, refused to release any details. The payments ranged from $1,971 to $31,584.

Under the arrangement, civilians can submit damage claims and lawyers deployed with the troops are allowed to make payments up to $2,000.

Twenty-five trucks carrying fuel to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have been destroyed in a possible bomb attack on the Pakistani border. Officials say that dozens of people have been injured.

Mohammed Sadiq Khan, a local government official, said that the explosions and blaze occurred on the Pakistani side of the Torkham customs post late yesterday. At least 50 people were injured, eight of them seriously.

Fida Mohammed, the commander of a paramilitary force that helps provide security at the crossing, said 25 trucks carrying fuel to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan were destroyed.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency said it had arrested a 14-year-old Pakistani boy who was planning a suicide car bombing in the eastern city of Khost. The teenager was arrested Thursday, Khost province deputy intelligence chief Mira Jan said. A car fixed with bombs was also found.

Associated Press

and The Canadian Press
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Younger leadership for Taliban in Afghanistan
24/03/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
The Taliban leadership in southern Afghanistan is passing into the hands of younger, more extreme insurgents as the relentless targeting of traditional commanders by British forces takes its toll.

In a week spent in Helmand province, The Daily Telegraph has found widespread evidence that special forces operations are degrading the Taliban's leadership and its ability to co-ordinate operations.
 
But there are also indications of increasing radicalisation within the Taliban as more extreme fighters, many of them al-Qa'eda-linked foreign militants, fill the gaps left when experienced Taliban leaders are killed.

Western military officials say privately that approximately 200 medium and high-level Taliban commanders were killed countrywide in targeted bombings or assassinations by American and British special forces last year, and a further 100 captured.

Using local intermediaries, the Telegraph was able to meet two mid-level Taliban commanders in the provincial capital Lashkargar. Both claimed that the Taliban was increasingly recruited from outside Helmand and that its hierarchies were becoming far less clear cut.

"There are a lot of small commanders now," said one, a veteran of several years of fighting but still in his 20s. He said that changes had come since the death of Mullah Dadullah, the high-profile overall commander in southern Afghanistan who was killed by the Special Boat Service last May.

"Now, after Dadullah's death, we have a motto that everyone has become a Dadullah," he added, speaking softly with the Arabic-accented speech characteristic of Taliban fighters trained in Pakistani madrassahs (religious seminaries).

advertisementHe predicted victory in Afghanistan before the Taliban focused on imposing sharia in Pakistan. "There can be no negotiation with the West. This is a global jihad," he warned.

The other Taliban commander, who we met separately, was older. He said Taliban commanders were wary of becoming "a big name" as it made them a target.

Western military sources report that Taliban attacks have become steadily less co-ordinated in recent months.

"The Taliban have lost so many commanders, but it is not like losing a British general with 30 years' experience," said Hajji Mohammad Anwar, of the provincial council of Helmand. "Anyone who just comes from the madrassahs, tomorrow they are a big commander."

British and Afghan forces only have significant influence in six of Helmand's 13 districts. Many local people believe security is better in the Taliban-held districts, thanks to the imposition of strict sharia punishments, such as cutting off the hands of robbers.

But there are signs that the hard-line views of the Taliban put them at odds with local people.

"If we are too harsh to the community then we find it is really hard for us to survive," admitted the older commander. He said that more pragmatic Taliban figures were pushing for schools to be opened and for reconstruction work.

But he said such efforts met resistance from the increasingly extreme fighters moving into Helmand

As seen with al-Qa'eda in Iraq, Islamist terror groups have a history of progressively alienating local support through radicalisation. "The new Taliban are really emotional. They are very impulsive. They are war-addicted," said the older commander.
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'Hamid Karzai's diplomat expulsion move halted efforts to split Taliban'
The Telegraph (UK) March 24, 2008 By Damien McElroy in Musa Qala
Efforts to split the Taliban have ground to a halt since President Hamid Karzai rejected a foreign-led reconciliation effort, British commanders in southern Afghanistan claim.

Progress against the Taliban was interrupted by Mr Karzai's decision in December to expel two diplomats - the EU's Michael Semple and the UN's Mervyn Patterson - who had led efforts to woo key Taliban commanders last year.

Brig Andrew Mackay, the commander of the British-dominated Nato force in Helmand, said: "We had indications that hundreds of Taliban were looking for reconciliation until Semple and Patterson's expulsion.

"What we thought we could embark on has come to a grinding halt as a result of a failure to distinguish between negotiating with the Taliban and reconciliation."

The impact on operations around Musa Qala is already being felt. Viewed as a model for Afghanistan by British officials, the town was recaptured in December after the Household Cavalry set up a cordon and Afghan troops moved on its streets for the first time in two years.

The diplomats played a crucial role in persuading Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam to transfer his loyalties to the government.

Critically, this included a proposal to employ thousands of former rebels as village guards. But Mr Karzai insisted on replacing the two envoys after local officials accused them of doing deals behind their backs.

Lt Col Ed Smyth Osbourne, the Household Cavalry officer in charge of operations in Musa Qala, said that efforts to secure Taliban areas were starting to unravel.

He said: "Recapturing territory and holding it means you can't afford to take your foot off the pedal. But unless we get this right there will be a decline and, I fear, we will face serious problems."

The lack of Afghan government backing for the British drew an ominous prediction from Musa Qala's head of police, Commander Koka.

He said: "I think the international forces will be here forever. The people are ready to get away from war but they are afraid of the Taliban. They need their government on their side."
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Out of Guantanamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden
By Faiza Saleh Ambah Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, March 24, 2008; A08
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists' training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.

Hubayshi, 32, a Saudi native, was among the Arab fighters dug in with bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora during the U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan in 2001. He later spent time in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in a Saudi jail.

He was released in 2006 into a world radically altered by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Muslim fighters were no longer viewed in Arab countries as larger-than-life heroes, and clerics had stopped urging young Muslims to fulfill their religious duties by fighting on behalf of their brethren.

Hubayshi had also changed. He had grown disillusioned with bin Laden, whose initial idealism had turned into terrorism, he said, adding that his family, "not bin Laden," had suffered when he was at Guantanamo.

U.S. government documents and a series of interviews with Hubayshi provide a rare look into the mind and motivation of a man who trained for religious warfare, never fought in combat and now says he believes in the political process.

His life today in the city of Jiddah is comfortably routine. On most days, he wakes before dawn, drinks an espresso made by his wife and takes a 90-minute bus ride to his job as a controller at a utilities company. But "if the government had not helped me marry and get my job back," he said, "I might be in Iraq now."

In 1995, Hubayshi was a 19-year-old college student looking for more meaning in his life. Bin Laden was a hero to many Muslims, and aiding Muslims in distress seemed like the most admirable and altruistic route. He was initially inspired by a fiery taped sermon extolling the virtues of waging war against the enemies of Islam, but a series of videotapes produced by Arabs fighting in Bosnia completed his transformation.

The tapes showed Muslim women and children sprawled dead and bloodied in a market. One woman's head had been blown off. Muslim civilians with rifles were shown fighting the Serbian army, and the only ones helping them, Hubayshi said, were Arab fighters trained in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets.

"I couldn't sleep at night knowing that women were being raped and children slaughtered, just because they were Muslim," he said. "I had to do something."

By the time he got in touch with the Arabs fighting in Bosnia, the war was over. So Hubayshi took a five-week vacation from his new job at the utilities company and made his way to the southern Philippines, where he lived in wooden shacks in a humid jungle camp for Arab fighters. He said he slept well for the first time since seeing the Bosnia tapes.

But the Philippine separatists lay low most of the time he was there, and he soon felt restless and yearned for better training.

His contacts arranged for him to go to Afghanistan, and in 1997 he went to a camp in the southeastern city of Khost. He learned to fire antiaircraft missiles, antiaircraft machine guns, antitank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and became an expert in explosives.

By 1999, the fighting in Afghanistan had become mostly ethnic. He packed his bags to return to Saudi Arabia. "I was not there . . . to help Afghans fighting Afghans for political gain," he said. "If I was going to die, I wanted to die fighting for something meaningful."

As he was making his way home, he was arrested in Pakistan at the Peshawar airport and sent to prison.

Hubayshi said that he was released two months later but that the Pakistanis kept his passport. He traveled on a fake passport to Yemen and was smuggled into Saudi Arabia, where he returned to work at the utilities company.

Two years later, he learned that he was wanted for questioning by Saudi authorities. Not willing to risk jail, he left the country on a fake passport and returned to Afghanistan in May 2001, he said.

In the years that he had been away from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda's influence had spread and the organization had become more like a corporation, he said, with company cars and many safe houses. The Taliban, a radical Islamist militia that had taken control of most of the country by 1996, had also grown more powerful.

Hubayshi became adept at making remote-controlled explosive devices triggered by cellphones and light switches. Impressed by his skills, an associate of bin Laden's asked him to join al-Qaeda, or at least meet with bin Laden, he said.

In the summer of 2001, Hubayshi recalled, he spent half an hour with bin Laden at a converted military barracks near the city of Kandahar. The two sat on carpets in bin Laden's office and shared a fruit platter.

"What are my duties toward you, and what are your duties toward me, if I join with you?" Hubayshi said he asked.

"That you don't betray us and we don't betray you," bin Laden responded, and offered him a plot of land, Hubayshi said.

But bin Laden's "fight had changed from defending Muslims to attacking the United States. I wasn't convinced of his ideology. And I wanted to be independent, not just another minion in this big group."

On Sept. 11, 2001, Hubayshi said, he was training Chechen fighters in explosives in the eastern city of Jalalabad. In October, when the first U.S. airstrikes hit Jalalabad, the Afghans "blamed us . . . and forced us out of the city at night. We slept by the river for two weeks."

Weeks later, an associate of bin Laden came seeking experienced fighters, and those without families left for Tora Bora. In the trenches there, the fighters ate and slept and cleaned their weapons, surrounded by the distant sounds of bombardments.

"Bin Laden was convinced the Americans would come down and fight. We spent five weeks like that, manning our positions in case the Americans landed," he said.

As the airstrikes moved closer, and with the United States' Afghan allies advancing, bin Laden decided to retreat and left one morning. His aides told 300 Arab fighters to make their way to Pakistan and surrender to their embassies.

Pakistani authorities stopped the fighters near the border and handed them over to the U.S. military, which sent them to Guantanamo Bay.

Hubayshi remains bitter about what he considers bin Laden's betrayal: calling the fighters to Tora Bora and then abandoning them there. "The whole way to Cuba, I prayed the plane would fall," he said. "There was no dignity in what he made us do."

Hubayshi said he is sorry that Muslims carried out the Sept. 11 attacks because they targeted civilians: "That was wrong. Jihad is fighting soldier to soldier."

His wife of one year said she had been looking for a husband who did not take drugs or drink alcohol, who was polite and had a kind mother. "He is a very good husband," the 26-year-old said on condition that her name not be published. Some segments of Saudi society follow strict social codes that deem it shameful for a woman's name to be made public.

In all the years he spent trying to help Muslims, Hubayshi said, he regrets he did not do more.

"My dream was that I would fight when there was fighting, and teach children when there was peace," he said. "I'm sorry we left Afghanistan with so much war and death. I wish we had built hospitals or schools."
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Afghan Cops Get An Upgrade
Strategy Page - Mar 24 2:31 AM
March 24, 2008: The U.S. has convinced the Afghan government that the traditional Afghan approach to policing won't work. In the past, cops were poorly paid, and recruited more as a make-work program, than as an attempt to get the best qualified people. These cops were used more as a paramilitary militia, to enforce the will of the provincial government, than to serve and protect the population. The new program will recruit more carefully, pay more, and train the new police to do traditional policing (keep the peace and protect the people.) The new program will be implemented in a few of the more troublesome (Taliban ridden) districts of southern Afghanistan. If it works, the program will take a generation or two to implement throughout the rest of the country. And that's only if the government comes up with the money, and maintains the independence and honesty of the new force. That's a long shot.
 
The problems in Afghanistan are common in poor and undeveloped nations. Policing, in the Western sense, is a relatively new concept, and has been around for only about a century.
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Inside Afghanistan: Interview with Afghan VP Abdul Karim Khalili
24/03/2008 By Mohammed Al Shafey in Kabul Asharq Alawsat, UK
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the 2009 presidential elections be held as scheduled?

[Khalili] We are all endeavoring, God willing, to hold the elections as scheduled. If there were any obstructions or postponement, it might be for two or three months; if goodwill prevails, the elections will be held as scheduled.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you going to stand by President Karzai at the next presidential elections, or you have another option?

[Khalili] I have not made my mind up yet, I shall decide when the time comes. The important thing is that the election be held next year.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What have you done for the central regions of the Shiaa, given that you are their representative at the presidential level?

[Khalili] Afghanistan is a very poor country; it has been through three decades of continuous war and it is one of the poorest countries in the Islamic world. Moreover, Afghanistan has been destroyed over the past 30 years. It needs strong government institutions and it needs a huge reconstruction process; and that takes time. The regions with a concentration of Shiites, such as Mazar-e Sharif and Bamian, have been suffering from poverty and marginalization for years. According to official statistics, more than 6 million Afghanis live below the poverty line. We are trying to alleviate the people's sufferings as a whole. However, thank God, the people were victorious, in spite of all the pressure they came under, in driving the Russians out and in precipitating the fall of the Soviet Union. They have also succeeded in defeating the Taliban. The Shiaa has at present a political stake that it did not have before, and I am a vice-president. Many efforts have been made to alleviate the sufferings of the Shiaa. There is the road between Kabul and Bamian, and there is another road between Bamian and Mazar- e Sharif; work on the latter road will begin shortly. We have also built schools, hospitals, and health centers in cities and villages that have been suffering from poverty and marginalization, and we are looking forward to more and better things for our people as a whole, not just for the Shiaa.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you happy with the present situation on the streets of Afghanistan?

[Khalili] No, not entirely; but an effort is being made thanks to the aid of the international community, which has not left Afghanistan in the lurch.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] According to published figures $45 billion has been spent on security and stability in Afghanistan in the last five years, yet what we see on the ground is entirely different.

[Khalili] As far as I am aware, most of the financial aid that has come from the coalition states has not been delivered to the government. We have received only a small amount and we are not responsible for the sources of expenditure, so we do not know how that money has been spent.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where do the Taliban draw their strength from?

[Khalili] I took part in the jihad war against the Russians. Even though they were a superpower, they found it difficult to defeat the mojahedin in 14 years, and that is because we waged a guerrilla war against them. And sure enough, the mojahedin managed to defeat the Russians in the end and to drive them out of Afghanistan. The Taliban today are a small splinter group and they will vanish, God permitting. They take shelter among unarmed civilians and bring ruin and destruction down on them. Regarding the Taliban's health, it is attributable to the fact that they receive finance and training from outside Afghanistan; not from states, but from groups in neighboring countries.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the foreign forces will one day leave Afghanistan?

[Khalili] Once security and stability prevail, and the terrorist flames of war and sedition have been extinguished, the foreign forces will have no excuse for staying on in our country.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you comment on allegations that state Afghanistan is in the grip of the worst administrative corruption?

[Khalili] Administrative corruption is present in every country in the world, but I have to admit that the degree of administrative corruption in Afghanistan is high. I believe that the ongoing and widespread administrative corruption in the corridors of government is giving the Taliban a new lease on life. However, the government is determined to fight this plague by all possible means. It will take some time to eradicate the corrupt on earth, because some of them occupy high places in government.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your thoughts regarding a US intelligence report claiming that President Karzai's government controls only 30% of Afghanistan?

[Khalili] I have heard about this report, but I believe it to be untrue.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] If President Hamid Karzai were to run for another term in the next presidential elections, do you think he would win?

[Khalili] I believe that he would win, because he is popular and because the people love him.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your comment on the fact that the Afghans abstained from growing opium after the fatwa issued by Mullah Omar during Taliban rule banning the crop; while at present, the heroin produced in Helmand province alone amounts to almost 50% of the world's overall production of heroin?

[Khalili] This is a very complicated matter: There are farmers who could not find an alternative; there is terrorism and the drug mafia, both of which help drug smuggling to flourish; and there are shared interests between the latter and the Taliban, who benefit from the growing of opium and from the trade in heroin. Yes, they did prohibit the growing of opium when they were in government, but today they are the main beneficiaries from drug smuggling. I can assure you that I am telling the truth when I say that the war on drugs and the war on terrorism are two sides of the same coin. And as long as terrorism continues to threaten our lives, opium growing will continue. For hundreds of years irrigation canals used to bring water to the fields and orchards and to produce a profitable agricultural harvest, but the irrigation system has fallen apart as a result of the conflict.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you happy with the coalition forces' performance in Afghanistan?

[Khalili] The Afghan forces and the coalition forces are working toward a shared goal, which is the restoration of peace and security in the country. Under the Taliban the people suffered from cruelty and from hardship, and life became more difficult as they prohibited education for girls and the means for living a respectable life. I have to say that the foreign forces are taking part in the reconstruction and restoration of security and stability to the Afghan streets. There are more than 6 million pupils in school. There is development, and there is a joint effort to restore security to our country, which is the crucial issue on which we are focusing. The foreign forces' mission is to give prominence to the values of stability and security; to provide assistance in the long-term reconstruction of the country; and to contain the opium industry, working in conjunction with the Afghan forces that they are helping to develop; as well as training the Afghan police force.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Before I entered your office to conduct this interview, I learned that the education minister was in your office. Could you tell us how many schools the Taliban have burned?

[Khalili] The Taliban have burned hundreds of schools in the towns and villages of the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. It is a form of pressure that they practice against unarmed civilians. They want to put the clock back in time.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a message that you would like to send to the Islamic world?

[Khalili] Both we and the Islamic world are busy coping with problems and with disasters. We call on the Muslim world to be of one mind and one word regarding the circumstances that it is experiencing. If we united our world, we could resolve many of the problems facing us on the international level. I call on the Arab world to be attentive to what is going on in Afghanistan. We are satisfied with what they are offering their brothers in religion, but we still need more in the field of health, of the economy, and of education. There is a great deal of poverty in most provinces. There is a report in the council of ministers, that tells us that 13 provinces are suffering from problems with public life and from a high poverty rate: provinces such as, Badakhshan, Bamian Faryab, Badghish, and Zabol. At the same time, we strongly desire to enjoy better relations with our Arab brothers; and this, for a whole host of reasons: Our religion is one, our values are one, and we are brothers with the same aspirations. The Arabs in general and Saudi Arabia in particular are especially esteemed in Afghanistan, since the heart of Islam is in Saudi Arabia. The Afghan people's feelings of love, of kindness, and of affection toward their Arab and Muslim brothers, especially toward our brothers in Saudi Arabia, are feelings that are a product of centuries of common faith and belief.
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Pakistan-Afghan chamber of commerce agreement sparks controversy
3/24/2008 7:48:16 Source ::: IANS via Peninsula On-line, Qatar
PESHAWAR • Signing of an agreement by the business communities of Pakistan and Afghanistan for setting up of a joint chamber of commerce and industry in the presence of a similar body has created controversy in the business circles.

A memorandum of understanding for setting up the Pakistan-Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry was signed on March 15 at the regional office of Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) here.

FPCCI former vice president Faiz Rasool Khan and Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Hamidullah Farooqi signed the agreement on behalf of their respective organisations.

The body, as per the agreement, would be governed through a 30-member executive committee having equal representation from both the countries. The president of the chamber will be elected for two years on rotation basis, as first one will be from Pakistan.

However, existence of a similar body with the same objectives and goals is causing confusion about the legality of the new body.

The accord for a same kind of joint chamber of commerce was signed on March 23 last year by Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC).

The-then SCCI President Liaqat Ahmad Khan and AICC Chairman Azarakhsh Hafizi had signed the agreement on behalf of their chambers.

The APCCI, having main secretariat at SCCI, have an executive committee comprising 12 members each from Pakistan and Afghanistan besides an equally represented general assembly of 48 members.

Businessman Forum leader Senator Ilays Ahmad Bilour is the founding chairman and Azarakhsh Hafizi of AICC is co-chairman of the body.

The terms of references of the two bodies outline similar objectives, as they are supposed to help exchange of information pertaining to government policies, rules and regulations concerning trade, investment and other allied areas between the two countries.

Two different bodies with same goals have raised questions about the validity of each body, as both the sides claimed of being on the right side.

FPCCI former president Faiz Rasool Khan said the joint chamber for which he had signed an agreement with Afghan counterpart last week was legal one as the body formed earlier had no official backing of the two governments.

According to him, only FPCCI was the appropriate forum to form joint bodies with other countries as it was not the prerogative of the SCCI.

He clarified that decision for establishment of a joint chamber was taken some three months ago in a meeting of Joint Business Council, which also have officials of various ministries from Pakistan and Afghanistan as its members.

Afghan President Hamid Karazai would formally announce the establishment of the body in his visit to Pakistan scheduled for April 26, he said.

On the other hand, SCCI former president Liaqat Ahmad Khan, who had signed earlier agreement on behalf of the chamber, has different story to tell. He said the joint chamber, which has its headquarters at SCCI, was formed with the consent of Afghan President Hamid Karazai.

He argued that Afghan representatives in the joint chamber, headed by Bilour, were reputed and leading businessmen with official recognition.
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Microloan products for Afghanistan
XPRESS (United Arab Emirates) March 24, 2008
A partnership between the Jumeirah Rotary Club, Dubai, PlaNet Finance UAE and Sunduq has been established to stimulate small rural businesses in Afghanistan and help families to fight the poverty cycle.

The project will aim to reduce poverty in Afghanistan by developing sustainable agriculture through the creation of a microfund.

Funded by the Jumeirah Rotary Club, Dubai, the project will see Sunduq, a microfinance institution in Jalalabad, disburse new loan products to Afghan farmers in order for them to develop new cultivations.

The microloan products do not exist in Afghanistan but are urgently required to help the rural micro-entrepreneurs diversify their activities and stay away from poppy cultivation. The new loans will help them to generate and increase their income activities and will help to improve the conditions of living standards for their families.

The microfund, managed by PlaNet Finance UAE, will start in April with $35,000 donated by the Jumeirah Rotary Club of Dubai.

“This is only the beginning,” said Hussain Al Jaziri, President of the Jumeirah Dubai Rotarians.

“The aim is in fact to collect more funds in order to increase the size of the microfund to $300,000, meaning that more than 1,500 micro-entrepreneurs will be helped every year.”
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