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March 5, 2008 

Commander: No spring offensive expected
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The top military commander in the Mideast says he does not expect Taliban forces in Afghanistan to launch a spring offensive this year.

Afghan protests against Dutch, Danish 'insult' spread
KABUL (AFP) - Protesters in Afghanistan burned Danish and Dutch flags Wednesday as they called on the government to censure The Netherlands and Denmark over cartoons and a film that they say insult Islam.

UN: Afghanistan should hit drug lords
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 5, 8:44 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government should target big drug traffickers — some with links to government officials — who are fueling the country's multibillion-dollar illicit drug trade, which has reached unprecedented levels

Taliban reportedly die in Afghanistan
Wed Mar 5, 7:02 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban insurgents and discovered cave complexes containing three car bombs and other explosive materials in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said Wednesday.

Commander: No Spring Offensive Expected
By ANNE FLAHERTY The Associated Press Wednesday, March 5, 2008; 12:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- The top military commander in the Mideast said Wednesday that he does not expect Taliban forces in Afghanistan to launch a spring offensive this year.

U.S. may be allowed to use Uzbek military base: NATO
Wed Mar 5, 5:40 AM ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Uzbekistan may let the United States use a military airbase for operations in Afghanistan after evicting U.S. troops in 2005, a NATO official and diplomats said on Wednesday.

NATO's Role in Afghanistan Strains Alliance
by Rob Gifford NPR
Morning Edition, March 5, 2008 · NATO was set up in 1949 to, as some put it, keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question became: What exactly is NATO for?

Afghanistan: Poor sanitation, bad toilets cause deaths, misery
ASADABAD, 5 March 2008 (IRIN) - Saliha still mourns the death of her three-year-old daughter, Halima, who died due to severe diarrhoea at a hospital in Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan, on 11 January.

Afghanistan: Maternal health biggest challenge facing women, says UN agency
New York, 5 March (AKI) . Some 24,000 Afghan women die every year while giving birth, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which is working with the Afghan government and other partners to reduce maternal

Canada seeks helicopters for Afghanistan transport
The Canadian Press March 5, 2008
Ottawa -- Canada is in the final stages of high-level talks with the United States to acquire six battlefield helicopters for operations in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

First PRT experts to leave for Afghanistan Thursday
Prague Daily Monitor - Mar 04 11:12 PM
Prague, March 4 (CTK) - The first civilian experts who are members of the Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the Afghan province of Logar will leave together with a group of soldiers for Afghanistan on Thursday

Iran refugee expulsions will harm Afghan stability
(AFP) 5 March 2008 via Khaleej Times
KABUL - Iran’s mass expulsion of illegal Afghan migrants will harm peace and stability in Afghanistan, which does not have the capacity to receive such large numbers, the foreign minister said Wednesday.

Taliban vows to continue war in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-05 21:01:07
KABUL, March 5 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants fighting Afghan government and international troops stationed in Afghanistan vowed Wednesday to continue fighting until the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Afghanistan mission the focus of NATO meeting
Canwest News Service Wednesday, March 05, 2008
BRUSSELS - Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier arrives here today for a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting where the troubled Afghanistan mission will be the hottest topic on the table.

Pakistan's New Frontier
The Wall Street Journal By JOSHUA T. WHITE March 4, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -The ouster of pro-Taliban Islamist parties in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province has sparked optimism that secular nationalism is replacing religious fanaticism in a troubled corner of the world. But the election

Global Progress, or Global Whack-a-Mole?
Washington Post, United States By William M. Arkin March 4, 2008
Over the past month, two al Qaeda commanders, in Pakistan and Somalia, have been killed by lurking missiles. Meanwhile, a top Hezbollah leader has been assassinated in Syria.

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Commander: No spring offensive expected
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The top military commander in the Mideast says he does not expect Taliban forces in Afghanistan to launch a spring offensive this year.

If anything, he said, he sees the momentum continuing to swing in direction of coalition forces.

Adm. William Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee that the spring offensive will be by coalition forces, as they move to take advantage of improved security.

The U.S. is sending an 3,200 more Marines to Afghanistan, in part to stave off any uptick in violence that might come with the warmer weather. Overall, Fallon said that while the situation in Afghanistan is not ideal, recent improvements have been encouraging.
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Afghan protests against Dutch, Danish 'insult' spread
KABUL (AFP) - Protesters in Afghanistan burned Danish and Dutch flags Wednesday as they called on the government to censure The Netherlands and Denmark over cartoons and a film that they say insult Islam.

Several hundred people torched an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the eastern town of Sharan, Paktika province, against "insults" to Islam, police said.

"They were asking the Danish government to punish those who have drawn up and published the insulting cartoons of Prophet Mohammad," protester Abdullah Jan told AFP by telephone.

Seventeen members of the parliament in Nangahar province led dozens of people through the eastern city of Jalalabad for a demonstration in which they burned Dutch and Danish flags, an organiser said.

The protesters also called on the UN and Afghan government to isolate the European nations, Nangahar provincial council secretary Khan Mohammad said.

Another 400 to 500 people -- most of them youngsters -- marched in the town of Pul-i-Alam, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Kabul, said the deputy provincial police chief of Logar province, Abdul Majeed Latifi.

"They asked the government to put pressure through diplomatic channels on the Dutch and Danish governments to stop the printing of cartoons and punish the perpetrators," he said.

Wednesday's rallies came a day after parliament demanded Kabul summon the ambassadors of the two countries -- both key allies in the fight against the Taliban -- to issue a formal protest.

There have been protests in a few other Afghan centres since several Danish dailies recently reprinted a drawing featuring the Prophet Mohammed's head with a turban that looked like a bomb with a lit fuse.

Its first publication in early 2006 caused days of protests worldwide, including in Afghanistan where 11 people were killed.

A Dutch right-wing politician, Geert Wilders, is meanwhile said to be preparing to broadcast a film on the Internet this month that attacks Islam.

Afghanistan's extremist Taliban have warned it would step up attacks on Dutch soldiers if the film is released.

About 1,500 Dutch troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of a 40-nation NATO-led force helping the government battle an insurgency led by the Taliban, who were in government from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted in a US-led invasion.

Denmark has about 630 soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

UN spokesman in Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique, said the world body shared the Afghan people's concerns about the film and cartoons.

"We have always believed that the freedom of media entails full respect for the religious beliefs and the tenets of all religions, including the holy religion of Islam," he told reporters.

Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta reiterated a condemnation he first issued in Copenhagen Monday, saying that the cartoons and film were "inflaming animosity among civilisations."

"The religion and beliefs of people shall not be offended," he told reporters.

Those who printed the cartoons are "the vanguards of a cultural war," he said.
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UN: Afghanistan should hit drug lords
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 5, 8:44 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government should target big drug traffickers — some with links to government officials — who are fueling the country's multibillion-dollar illicit drug trade, which has reached unprecedented levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

Christian Gynna Oguz, country director for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium and heroin and that drug lords and corrupt government officials operate with impunity.

"Powerful individuals are able to compromise the justice system through bribes and corruption, as well as implicit and explicit threats," she said in a statement. "Such situations can no longer be tolerated if Afghans are to have the type of judicial system and functioning institutional structures that they deserve."

Afghanistan supplies 93 percent of the world's illicit opium, the main ingredient of heroin, and Taliban rebels fighting U.S.-led forces receive up to $100 million from the drug trade, U.N. officials have said.

"The illicit cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan has reached an unprecedented level," the U.N. drug office said in a statement.

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, it said.

"The government must therefore widen its effort to include the fight against drug traders who profit the most from the illicit opium industry and who collectively earn more than $4 billion," Gynna Oguz said.

Gynna Oguz also called on the government to stamp out "telephone justice, in which powerful individuals, inside or outside the government, improperly intervene in this process with a simple phone call."

"There are telephone calls being made to release suspects that have been arrested, and this 'telephone justice' ... is unacceptable because it undermines the trust in the government and its institutions and it must be stopped," she said.
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Taliban reportedly die in Afghanistan
Wed Mar 5, 7:02 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban insurgents and discovered cave complexes containing three car bombs and other explosive materials in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said Wednesday.

In southwestern Nimroz province, meanwhile, Taliban militants attacked a police checkpoint Tuesday night, and the ensuing two-hour gunbattle left three policemen dead, said provincial Gov. Ghulam Dastagir Azad.

In southern Helmand province, Afghan and coalition forces were patrolling northeast of Gereshk district when Taliban fighters fired on them Sunday with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, a coalition statement said.

The Afghan and coalition troops returned fire and called in airstrikes, killing "several insurgents," the statement said. It did not give further details.

In a separate operation late last week in the southern province of Zabul, Afghan and coalition troops searched compounds and caves where they discovered a large weapons cache, another coalition statement said.

It said the cache included bomb-making materials and three car bombs.

Airstrikes were used to destroy the complex and ammunition storage areas, the statement said.

It said seven insurgents were arrested.

Last year Afghanistan experienced its deadliest violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 6,500 people — mostly militants — were killed in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count.
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Commander: No Spring Offensive Expected
By ANNE FLAHERTY The Associated Press Wednesday, March 5, 2008; 12:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- The top military commander in the Mideast said Wednesday that he does not expect Taliban forces in Afghanistan to launch a spring offensive this year.

If anything, he said, he sees the momentum continuing to swing in the direction of coalition forces.

"The spring offensive is going to be by our people, as they move out and take advantage of the situation that they helped create through their good works there in the fall of last year," Adm. William Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. is sending another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, in part to stave off any uptick in violence that might come with the warmer weather.

Fallon said the influx will give Gen. Dan McNeil, the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, the "shot in the arm he needs to really go after the security, particularly in the south, where he intends to deploy those forces."

Overall, Fallon said that while the situation in Afghanistan is not ideal, recent improvements have been encouraging.
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U.S. may be allowed to use Uzbek military base: NATO
Wed Mar 5, 5:40 AM ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Uzbekistan may let the United States use a military airbase for operations in Afghanistan after evicting U.S. troops in 2005, a NATO official and diplomats said on Wednesday.

Any move by Washington to tiptoe back into Uzbekistan is certain to enrage Russia, which has accused NATO of triggering a new arms race by beefing up its military presence around Russia.

Once an ally in the U.S.-declared war against terrorism, Uzbekistan evicted U.S. troops from Karshi-Khanabad airbase in 2005 when the West condemned it for firing on protesters in the town of Andizhan.

Robert Simmons, NATO's special envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was quoted as saying in Moscow that Tashkent was now willing to let the United States use Termez, another Uzbek airbase operated by Germany.

"We welcome the fact Uzbekistan has shown readiness to allow other countries to use this airbase," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "As far as I understand, the United States is beginning to use this facility."

Uzbekistan's government, accused in the West of suppressing basic freedoms and tolerating no dissent, has made no public statements pointing to a shift in its position on U.S. troops.

The Unites States set up its base, known as K2, in 2001 for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Germany, the only other Western nation operating a military airbase in Uzbekistan, was allowed to keep its forces after 2005.

A Western diplomat in Tashkent said the deal involved allowing U.S. military personnel to use the Termez base, not K2, as a refueling point on their way to Afghanistan and back.

"I understand...U.S. soldiers will be able to fly via Termez but only aboard German aircraft," the diplomat said. "I don't know if there are any similar agreements with other nations."

The West has stepped up contacts with Uzbekistan over the past year, hoping dialogue would lead the nation towards more democracy. U.S. Admiral William Fallon visited Tashkent in January in a first high-level attempt to mend ties since 2005.

In Andizhan, witnesses said hundreds of people were killed when troops opened fire on a demonstration in 2005.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov blamed the violence on Islamist rebels and put the number of dead at 187, saying most were "terrorists" or security forces.

(Additional reporting by Shamil Baigin in Tashkent; Writing by Maria Golovnina in Moscow; Editing by Charles Dick)
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NATO's Role in Afghanistan Strains Alliance
by Rob Gifford NPR
Morning Edition, March 5, 2008 · NATO was set up in 1949 to, as some put it, keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question became: What exactly is NATO for?

Its intervention in Kosovo marked one turning point, and the Sept. 11 attacks an even bigger one, as NATO troops were sent thousands of miles away to Afghanistan. That move has created strains within the alliance in Europe.

In a snow-covered forest in central Norway, the debate about the new role of NATO comes into sharp focus. A squad of six Norwegian soldiers in full combat fatigues comes under attack from a mock enemy. As this exercise shows, the front line of the new NATO training is not to combat Soviet forces to the east, but to fight the resurgent Taliban in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan

Lt. Lars Janson of the Norwegian Army has just returned from his third tour in Afghanistan.

"I think there [have] to be military forces in Afghanistan ... if there's going to be any hope for Afghanistan at all," he says.

Not everyone in Norway agrees with Janson. Norwegian troops are largely in the north of Afghanistan. Some do have a combat role, but many are involved only in reconstruction. Even that is controversial for some members of the Norwegian government.

'Building for More War'

"I am against NATO, I always [have] been," says Hallgeir Langeland, a member of parliament and the Socialist Left Party, which is part of Norway's ruling coalition. Langeland says the alliance has been "very much ruled by" President Bush and his interests, "and NATO is an organization who is building for more war."

It's not just in Norway that strains are emerging within the alliance. NATO now includes 26 member countries. The Dutch and the British have sent troops to the combat zones in the south of Afghanistan, with the Americans and the Canadians. Other countries, such as Germany and Norway, have sent fewer combat troops and not to the more dangerous south.

German troops are on display whenever a foreign dignitary visits Berlin, but for obvious historical reasons, the Germans do not flout their military might. When U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested last month that NATO was in danger of evolving into a two-tier alliance, it ruffled some feathers in Berlin.

A Test for Germany's Military Role

"We are the third-largest contingent in Afghanistan, after the Americans and the British," notes Karsten Voigt, the coordinator for German-American cooperation at the German Foreign Ministry. "But if we are pressured, we get stubborn and obviously it has a very counterproductive effect."

For others, though, more NATO involvement, even as far away as Afghanistan, is a necessary part of Germany's emergence as a normal, mature European power.

"Without the alliance, we would have no German unity at all," or a unified Germany under communist rule, says Gen. Harald Kujat, the former chief of defense of the German armed forces.

"So I think now that we have benefited from this very specific situation, we should pay back and be among the exporters of security."

An Alliance of Values

That exporting of security already has been shown in how NATO has helped former Eastern European and Soviet states be integrated into a broader Europe. Countries like Poland and the Baltic States are all now members of NATO and the European Union, and the transition has been amazingly smooth.

Lithuanian Undersecretary of Defense Renatas Norkus says that NATO's soft power has become as important as its hard military power.

"It is very important for Lithuania, I believe, as for other European countries as a backbone of Western values — liberal democracy and the rule of law," Norkus says. "Why [are] Georgia and Ukraine ... so eager to get into [the] alliance one day? Because it is an alliance that cherishes the universal liberal democracy values."

The problem is that in Eastern Europe and the Baltics those benefits are visible and tangible. Those countries have been incorporated into a broader Europe without the shedding of blood.

Afghanistan is a different story. The mix of soft and hard power that NATO is trying to bring to a tribal, non-European society is proving a lot more difficult. Whether NATO can resolve its differences and succeed in Afghanistan will be a sign of whether its new mission in the world can continue beyond the borders of Europe.
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Afghanistan: Poor sanitation, bad toilets cause deaths, misery
ASADABAD, 5 March 2008 (IRIN) - Saliha still mourns the death of her three-year-old daughter, Halima, who died due to severe diarrhoea at a hospital in Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan, on 11 January.

The child had drunk contaminated water which Saliha's family collects from a nearby river and uses for all purposes, including drinking, cooking and washing.

About 200 metres away from where households in Spinkay village, Asmar District, collect water, is a mosque built across the river where dozens of men gather for prayer five times a day. Men who come to the mosque often perform their ablutions (washing their hands, arms, face, head and feet) with river water. Some even urinate and/or defecate near the riverbanks, and refresh afterwards with the river water.

It is not always a surprise for locals to see human faeces, sputum and even animal dung floating in the running water. There is a consensus among some residents in Spinkay village, and indeed many other rural communities across Afghanistan, that "flowing water" is always clean, unless the colour, smell and taste is changed.

However, not only was Saliha's daughter killed by the "flowing" river water but many other children also suffer various water-borne diseases, according to medical experts in Asadabad, provincial capital of Kunar Province.

Preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and pneumonia kill about 600 under-five Afghan children every day, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

About 25 percent of under-five children in Afghanistan are affected annually by diseases originating from poor and/or bad sanitation.

World's worst toilets

According to the State of the World's Toilets 2007 report, about 92 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million population do not have access to proper sanitation. This has placed the country at the top of the list of "the worst places in the world for sanitation".

UNICEF statistics show that 34 percent of Afghans (urban 49 percent, rural 29 percent) are using adequate sanitation facilities.

Others also highlight the problem: "The sanitation status of Afghanistan, where 60 percent of the population lives in unplanned shantytowns and where there are growing inequalities in cities in terms of sanitation, is not satisfactory," Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of New Delhi-based Sulabh International, a sanitation and social services organisation, told IRIN.

Open defecation is prevalent, causing social, health, environmental and development problems.

In the past six years the government of Afghanistan and the international aid community has spent a lot of development money on projects that have improved access to drinking water, while sanitation issues have received little or no funding, according to the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

As poor sanitation hurts communities throughout the country, killing thousands of children, there are hopes that the issue of sanitation will be brought into the development process.

"UNICEF wants to pay greater attention to sanitation and the government has also increasingly realised the importance of sanitation," said Nadarjah Moorthy, head of the water and environmental sanitation unit with UNICEF in Kabul.

Poor waste management

Officials in Kabul Municipality estimate that the over three million people living there produce at least 1,500 cubic metres of solid waste every day. However, due to lack of resources and a limited capacity, the municipality does not collect more than half of the waste from open locations in and around Kabul city.

"We collect 700-800 cubic metres of solid waste in Kabul city on a daily basis, except Fridays," said Payenda Mohammad, an official at the department of waste management in the municipality.

Some of the remaining solid waste is either consumed by grazing animals in some parts of the city and/or collected by destitute children.

"When it rains a lot of waste mixes with rainwater and often reaches drinking-water sources, which causes different diseases," Nasrullah Habibi, a specialist on sanitation with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Kabul, told IRIN.

The traditional dry vault toilet system - a specially-shaped dry vault that separately collects solid and liquid waste and which is commonly used in Afghanistan - is also considered a major health and sanitation problem.

Septic tanks and sewerage (whereby solid and liquid waste is collected near the home for disposal elsewhere) are two other widely used toilet systems, particularly in urban areas, both of which are not "safe" or "eco-friendly", according to Pathak of Sulabh International.

Sulabh has constructed five public toilets in Kabul city "with biogas digesters for recycling human waste into biogas, which can be used for lighting and electricity generation".

"The Sulabh two-pit-pour-flush toilet system is an appropriate and affordable solution to the crisis of dry vault toilets in Afghanistan," said Habibi of UN-HABITAT.

Boosting public awareness

The UN General Assembly has named 2008 the Year of Sanitation and has asked member states to improve their citizens' access to adequate sanitation.

UNICEF, in partnership with government bodies, plans to boost public awareness on personal hygiene and sanitation and save thousands of lives. "We will nominate 'model villages' to encourage communities to improve sanitation," said Nadarjah Moorthy, UNICEF's sanitation expert in Kabul. "It requires government, donors and communities' support," he added.

Personal hygiene

Apart from the widespread lack of a proper toilet system, experts such as Moorthy are concerned about very poor personal and family hygiene practices among Afghans.

"Hygiene practices need to change," said Moorthy. Improving sanitation and hygiene practices often requires behavioural change and takes a long time, he added.

A compelling reason for parents to improve their hygiene practices and sanitation is the very safety and well-being of their children: "I would have protected my daughter from all unclean things and would never have given her the river water, if I had known that that would kill her," said Saliha, the bereaved mother of Halima.
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Afghanistan: Maternal health biggest challenge facing women, says UN agency
New York, 5 March (AKI) . Some 24,000 Afghan women die every year while giving birth, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which is working with the Afghan government and other partners to reduce maternal mortality and improve the overall health of women and girls in the war-torn nation.

“The biggest challenge that Afghan women face is maternal health and high maternal mortality,” Ramesh Penumaka, UNFPA Country Representative in Afghanistan, told journalists in Kabul on Tuesday.

Penumaka noted that 1,600 out of every 100,000 women that give birth die in the process. “That is a staggering 24,000 a year, about 25 times the number of people dying of security-related violent incidents,” he stated.

The reasons why so many Afghan women die while giving birth range from early marriage – more than half the girls are married before they are 18 – and lack of health facilities and skilled birth attendants to lack of education.

Noting some of the progress made in recent years, Penumaka said that there are today 16,000 community health workers and a sizeable increase in the number of institutions training local midwives.

Last year, 30 percent of pregnant women received some kind of attention from a health professional, up from only 4 percent in 2001. And while only 6 percent of deliveries were conducted by a skilled attendant in 2001, that number was 80 percent last year.

“The progress made is significant but nowhere near sufficient,” he stated, noting that 40 percent of mothers do not have access to an emergency obstetric care service and not all women have access to skilled birth attendants.

UNFPA is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on a joint programme for maternal mortality reduction. It is also helping the Ministry of Public Health to develop action plans for maternal health and emergency obstetric care, increase the number of skilled birth attendants, and train doctors and midwives.

As the problems relating to maternal health cannot be tackled by women alone, UNFPA is also working with men who have a vital role to play in ensuring the health and well-being of their mothers, sisters and wives.

In addition, in cooperation with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other agencies, UNFPA is working to eliminate violence against women, which affects 80 percent of women at some time in their lives, according to Penumaka. “This is a major challenge that all of us need to confront, and especially those of us who are men.”

Ziad Sheikh, Deputy Director at UNIFEM Afghanistan, drew attention to the recent establishment of a special fund for the elimination of violence against women, an initiative undertaken in partnership with UN partner agencies, the donor community and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The special fund will be formally launched on 8 March, which is observed annually as International Women’s Day.

In a related development, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has received a 13 million dollar grant from Japan to help improve literacy in Afghanistan, which has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.

The grant will enable UNESCO to help almost 600,000 Afghans in 18 provinces who cannot read or write through its Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) programme.
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Canada seeks helicopters for Afghanistan transport
The Canadian Press March 5, 2008
Ottawa -- Canada is in the final stages of high-level talks with the United States to acquire six battlefield helicopters for operations in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.

Supplying air transport to get soldiers off the bomb-strewn highways of Kandahar was one of the major conditions set down by the Manley panel for Canada's continued military involvement in the war-torn country.

Mr. MacKay said the Defence Department has been pursuing three options -- all of them involving variants of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift aircraft: Persuading the U.S. Army to let Canada's air force slip ahead in the production line; leasing older, refurbished Chinooks under a U.S. Army program until an existing Canadian order is filled; or leasing helicopters from another country.
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First PRT experts to leave for Afghanistan Thursday
Prague Daily Monitor - Mar 04 11:12 PM
Prague, March 4 (CTK) - The first civilian experts who are members of the Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the Afghan province of Logar will leave together with a group of soldiers for Afghanistan on Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The Czech PRT is to comprise around 200 soldiers and ten civilian experts in farming, construction and water management.

The first group of about 100 soldiers left for Logar in February.

The Czech team is to stay in Logar for approximately three years.

Its mission is not of a typical combat character but focuses mainly on aid to local residents.

The main task of the Czech team is to contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan, the ministry said.

The reconstruction projects may, however, be hampered by bad infrastructure and lack of electricity, diplomats say.

Following Lithuania and Hungary, the Czech Republic is the third of the new NATO members to have its own PRT.

In the past Czech soldiers were part of a Czech-German reconstruction team in the Afghan province of Badakhshan. The mission has been ended due to the deployment in Logar.

Besides the PRT, Czechs operate a field hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
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Iran refugee expulsions will harm Afghan stability
(AFP) 5 March 2008 via Khaleej Times
KABUL - Iran’s mass expulsion of illegal Afghan migrants will harm peace and stability in Afghanistan, which does not have the capacity to receive such large numbers, the foreign minister said Wednesday.


Teheran has vowed to send back as soon as possible about 1.5 million Afghans who are within its borders without papers. Many have gone there to work, with unemployment high in destitute Afghanistan.

‘I’m extremely sad over this issue,’ Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told reporters in Kabul.

‘Afghanistan does not have the capacity to receive and reintegrate into social life this many refugees. The forced repatriation of refugees in mass numbers ... would effect stability and peace in Afghanistan,’ he said.

Kabul has repeatedly urged Teheran to halt the expulsions, which have at times seen more than 1,500 people a day forced back across the border.

Decades of conflict and drought has cost Afghanistan its basic infrastructure, and the country relies on international aid to function.

A growing insurgency by the extremist Taleban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, has stretched Afghanistan’s government even more.

Concern about the mass expulsions, which began nearly a year ago, prompted the Afghan parliament to fire the country’s refugees minister and foreign minister Spanta. President Hamid Karzai blocked Spanta’s removal.

Afghans began fleeing their country in the 1970s and about eight million were in exile in the 1990s, with most settling in Iran and Pakistan.

Since 2002, about four million refugees have returned home. There are about 900,000 registered refugees in Iran and two million in Pakistan.
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Taliban vows to continue war in Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-05 21:01:07
KABUL, March 5 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants fighting Afghan government and international troops stationed in Afghanistan vowed Wednesday to continue fighting until the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

In a statement read out to media outlets in south Afghanistan through cellular phone, outfit's purported spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi stressed that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (former name of the outfit's ousted hierarchy) would continue war against the United States and its allies in the post-Taliban nation.

It also termed the U.S. forces as an occupation one and called on Afghans to join the militants in fight against the United States and allies in Afghanistan.

In the statement, the outfit also called on NATO to pull out its troops from Afghanistan.

It also stressed that Taliban wants to have friendly relations with all countries of the world.

In the statement, the militants also condemned the recently adopted UN Security Council resolution against Iran and Israel's attacks against Palestine in Gaza stripe.

The fundamentalist outfit also denounced the publication of the cartoon of Islam prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by a Danish newspaper and making film on the prophet by a Dutch company and called on the Muslims of the world to strongly condemn it.
Editor: Yao Siyan 
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Afghanistan mission the focus of NATO meeting
Canwest News Service Wednesday, March 05, 2008
BRUSSELS - Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier arrives here today for a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting where the troubled Afghanistan mission will be the hottest topic on the table.

NATO foreign ministers are gathering to discuss the framework for a coherent plan to bring development and peace to a country facing an increasingly aggressive Taliban insurgency.

They will also be confronted with one of many examples of flagging public support for the mission - Canada's ultimatum that it will withdraw its 2,500 troops from the dangerous Kandahar region unless NATO finds substantial reinforcements.

The gathering sets the stage for a NATO summit next month in Bucharest, Romania, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to find out if his diplomatic gambit will yield fruit.

One diplomatic source praised Canada's efforts, saying France is profoundly aware of Canada's position, even as it contemplates sending hundreds of new troops to the east rather than the southern Kandahar region.

He said a French move to the east is logical because troops will be closer to Kabul, the Afghanistan capital, where most of France's equipment and 2,000 troops are located. But that move would free up American soldiers in the east, near the volatile Pakistan border, to head south to help the Canadians.
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Pakistan's New Frontier
The Wall Street Journal By JOSHUA T. WHITE March 4, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -The ouster of pro-Taliban Islamist parties in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province has sparked optimism that secular nationalism is replacing religious fanaticism in a troubled corner of the world. But the election results are best viewed as another phase in Pakistan's cyclical politics rather than a revolution in attitudes about Islamic governance. The United States, taking the long view, would be wise to engage both the winners and the losers in the province's new political order. The losers are likely to wield influence in the region again.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) religious alliance that had swept to power in 2002 in the province was roundly crushed this time around, scraping together no more than a few seats in the national assembly and 2% of the popular vote nationwide. Derided by many as corrupt, regressive and incompetent, most of its leaders consequently lost by large margins. In its place, the secular Awami National Party (ANP) regained much of its traditional strength in the region, along with the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

As optimists suggest, part of the anti-MMA vote can be attributed to concerns about its ineffectual response to the creeping influence of a new generation of Taliban militants into the so-called "settled" areas of the province. Rifts within the alliance over the extent of its cooperation with the military government further diminished the ability of the religious parties to defend a common platform.

But the MMA's defeat also fits into a broader historical pattern that defies simplistic religious versus secular categorization: Incumbency has always been a major disadvantage. The MMA's undoing was in large part its perceived failure to deliver on education, health and clean government -- the same things that brought down its predecessors. That the Islamists raised expectations by promising to be righteous and incorruptible simply reinforced voter disenchantment with their rule.

Since the Northwest Frontier has emerged as the front line in the struggle against Islamic militancy, and the political trends we see there should color America's overall approach to post-election Pakistan. While Washington ought to welcome the moderate policies of the ANP and PPP, the religious parties are not a spent force. In the Northwest Frontier Province, they still control 10% of the seats in the provincial assembly -- significant, even if off their pre-election high of 50%. And the cyclical nature of politics in the province means these parties are highly likely to regain some of their former influence.

The key to dealing with the religious parties is to continue their integration into the mainstream political process. The good news here is that "democratic Islamists" like the MMA were never quite as dangerous as prophesied. Faced with the stark realities of governance, they watered down their Shariah agenda, crafted a development program that bent to the wishes of international donors, and began more forcefully to disassociate themselves from militancy. One of the governing parties, Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam (JUI) moderated so significantly during its five-year tenure that it found itself both criticized from the left for its illiberal Islamism, and out-flanked on the right by the politically rejectionist neo-Taliban.

The trick, then, will be to continue that moderating process even now that such parties are out of power. Close observers of Northwest Frontier politics had for this reason been quietly hoping that JUI would join the new governing coalition as a minor player. Although for now JUI has announced that it won't, that could change in the coming days. Its core leadership is already deeply invested in traditional politics, but it is the party's fringe -- scores of young madrassa graduates and disaffected clerics -- that needs to be kept engaged. They are the ones who, critically, sit on the blurred boundary between formal politics and militancy.

It is in the interests of Pakistan and the U.S. to see these pragmatic mullahs continue to be co-opted into the formal political process. This means deepening interaction with JUI-affiliated madrassa leaders without appearing to dictate a Western agenda for religious education. And it means selectively engaging the religious parties as interlocutors -- flawed as they are -- to the militants in the tribal areas.

No one should have any illusions: Islamist discourse and strict Shariah are corrupting to liberal democracy in Pakistan. But the democratic Islamists are not a monolith. They adapt, they compromise, and they absorb a vast pool of young activists who might otherwise turn toward violence. Left alone on the margins, they may more readily adopt a vigorous politics of agitation, protesting progressive social policies and state action against hardline clerics.

This is a particular threat because, despite the MMA's defeat, the broader political winds are still at its back. Anti-Americanism and frustration with the war in Afghanistan remain high. Furthermore, the ANP's secular and pro-Hamid Karzai orientations -- both of which are out of step with the broader Pashtun population in the Frontier -- are likely to limit its influence in precisely those places that present the greatest governance and security challenges to the Pakistani state.

This election was not so definitive a rejection of religious politics as it might seem. The religious parties are not going away, and now more than ever the U.S. must learn to engage with the entire spectrum of religious and political actors in the Frontier. Sometimes it's the losers who matter most of all.

Mr. White is a research fellow with the Council on Faith & International Affairs, and took part in the recent U.S.-sponsored election observer delegation to Pakistan.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.   
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Global Progress, or Global Whack-a-Mole?
Washington Post, United States By William M. Arkin March 4, 2008
Over the past month, two al Qaeda commanders, in Pakistan and Somalia, have been killed by lurking missiles. Meanwhile, a top Hezbollah leader has been assassinated in Syria.

In Iraq, there now seems universal agreement -- at least on the military side -- that the surge has brought unprecedented stability, with "al Qaeda" in Iraq on the run or near collapse. In eastern Afghanistan, January showed the first decline in violence in two years, according to the Pentagon.

After months of difficult wrangling, the United States has also moved Predator hunter-killer drones into Jacobabad, Pakistan for the first time since 2002. An Africa Command is also forming to increase counter-terrorism on that volatile continent.

Is progress finally being made around the globe in counter-terrorism? Or is this just the never-ending rhythm of whack-a-mole, with no coherent unifying strategy?

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in Pakistan again this week, his second trip in less than a month, the latest in a cavalcade of high-ranking officers and U.S. officials to visit the epicenter of terror to cajole and push Islamabad to do more against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mullen's trip comes amid calls by Pakistan's newly elected parliamentary leaders for talks with Pakistani Taliban and local leaders. The United States views this type of political accommodation in the border areas as a lost cause: the 2006 and early 2008 "ceasefires" negotiated by President Pervez Musharraf with tribal leaders, analysts say, have actually allowed al Qaeda and other extremists an opportunity to regroup and strengthen.

Suicide and violent attacks are also on the increase right at a time that democracy is returning to the country. "We are anxious to assist. Tell us where you need assistance," Mullen said of his message to Pakistan's military.

Across the border in Afghanistan, despite pessimism expressed last week by retired Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, that large chunks of territory remain under Taliban control, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that January was the first month in two years where the level of violence has declined in the eastern region. "The counterinsurgency's going very well there," he says.
Gates continues to insist that the only way to sustain the military momentum in Afghanistan is by making economic and non-military gains as well. As in Iraq, the goal is "more and more of the effort gradually shifting to the Afghans," he says.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, writing in The Post today, calls for NATO to add combat troops and for a renewed American investment in Afghanistan's forces. Lieberman is almost exclusively focused on bolstering the Afghan army and police, insisting that the solution is more manpower. "Long-term success depends on the emergence of a large number of well-equipped, effective Afghan troops," he says.

All this seeming progress, of course, has to be balanced against a Kabul government that is extremely weak and drug cultivation and influence that is on the rise. Pakistan is far from stable, and Somalia has no functioning government. And Iraq -- well, the jury's still out on what will happen there even if the United States military stays.

We keep talking about doing more than just the military mission in the "war" against terror. But the truth is that the resources of the military, and its hyper-competence when it focuses its attention, skews the battle. "Success" in the form of missile strikes against al Qaeda and terrorist "leaders" also leaves the impression of accumulated progress and purpose, thus encouraging even more head-hunting.

Pakistan's new leaders are right in at least seeking dialogue -- and I hope Mullen isn't in the country to cleave a gulf between the military and the political. Otherwise, we are just condemning ourselves to a never-ending treadmill.
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