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March 6, 2008 

Norwegian to be U.N. envoy to Afghanistan-radio
06 Mar 2008 13:38:53 GMT
OSLO, March 6 (Reuters) - A senior Norwegian Foreign Ministry official will be named the U.N.'s new envoy to Afghanistan, Norway's NRK radio said on Thursday.

U.S. urges support for Canada in Afghan south
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States increased pressure on NATO allies to support Canadian troops battling Taliban insurgents in south Afghanistan, and France said on Thursday it was still considering such a move.

US optimistic about Afghanistan reinforcements: Rice
Thu Mar 6, 12:50 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed optimism Wednesday that NATO can find enough troops for Afghanistan to meet Canadian demands for a better response to the Taliban-led insurgency.

Cartoon and Koran film part of "Crusader war:" Taliban
By Sayed Salahuddin Thu Mar 6, 9:27 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan Taliban militants have branded the reprinting of a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a film on the Koran by a Dutch politician as part of a "Crusader war" against Muslims.

Britain urges NATO allies to help new Pakistan government
Thu Mar 6, 6:34 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged NATO countries Thursday to foster good relations with the new government in Pakistan and to encourage its ties with Afghanistan.

Official: Afghan police strength reaches 74,000
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-06 15:55:22
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhua) -- The strength of Afghan National Police (ANP) has risen to 74,000, a senior official with the Afghan Interior Ministry said Thursday.

NATO to discuss Balkans, Afghanistan
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 6, 5:15 AM ET
BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO foreign ministers met Thursday to discuss plans to offer membership to three Balkan nations and closer ties to others in an effort to promote stability in the region in the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Afghan police seize 670 kg opium in Helmand
New Kerala - Mar 06 6:26 AM
Kabul, March 6 : Afghan police have captured 670 kg of opium in the southern province of Helmand, a centre of illicit poppy culture, the Afghan interior ministry said Thursday.

Militants attack 3rd mobile telecom signal tower in S. Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-06 18:26:28
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants attacked a signal tower of a mobile telecommunication service company in Zabul province of southern Afghanistan, destroying a guards room near the tower, the police said Thursday.

Al Qaeda in Afghanistan calls for foreign recruits
(Reuters) 6 March 2008 via Khaleej Times
DUBAI - The leader of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has urged more Muslims to join and finance the group’s war there, saying Western troops are close to defeat.

Afghan MPs implore Canada to stay the course
MURRAY BREWSTER The Canadian Press March 5, 2008 at 8:19 PM EST
OTTAWA — Afghan parliamentarians implored Canadians not to abandon them as the House of Commons argued Wednesday over the timing of a vote on the future of the mission in the war-torn region.

NATO may ask Russians for logistics help in Afghanistan
Peter O’Neil, Canwest News Service Wednesday, March 05, 2008
BRUSSELS -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, meeting today to consider new strategies to bring development and peace to increasingly violent Afghanistan, is looking to its old Cold War rival for help.

The burden of being Afghan
By Mariam Mardam / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 6 March 2008
Like many a foreign national in Prague, 17-year-old Moska travelled over the winter holidays to visit family abroad – in this case, her father in the US. But Moska carried a burden not shared with her peers: an Afghan passport.

Afghan women face 'violence rise'
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 6 March 2008, 17:56 GMT
Afghanistan's independent human rights commission says violence against women has increased over the past year.

Afghanistan holds rare exhibit of work by female artists in Kabul
The Canadian Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven years ago, the Taliban would have torn these paintings to pieces.

Afghan women face harsh male attitudes
by Bronwen Roberts Thu Mar 6, 2:19 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Farida Tarana's music video is nothing like the raunchy Bollywood or Central Asian ones regularly shown on Afghan television, albeit with bare female arms, shoulders and cleavage smudged out.

Troop depression on rise in Afghanistan
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. troop morale improved in Iraq last year, but soldiers fighting in Afghanistan suffered more depression as violence there worsened, according to an Army mental health report.

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Norwegian to be U.N. envoy to Afghanistan-radio
06 Mar 2008 13:38:53 GMT
OSLO, March 6 (Reuters) - A senior Norwegian Foreign Ministry official will be named the U.N.'s new envoy to Afghanistan, Norway's NRK radio said on Thursday.

It said that Kai Eide, a former Norwegian ambassador to NATO who has also worked a special U.N. envoy in the Balkans, would be appointed to the job to coordinate humanitarian work with a NATO-led military campaign.

"Eide will today be named as the new U.N. envoy to Kabul," NRK said in an unsourced report. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry declined comment, saying any announcement about the post would be from the United Nations.

Eide, 59 has been seen a front-runner for the post along with former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley -- Manley was considered a favourite despite saying he was not seeking the job.

The United Nations is looking for someone to replace Britain's Paddy Ashdown, whose appointment was vetoed last month by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (Editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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U.S. urges support for Canada in Afghan south
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States increased pressure on NATO allies to support Canadian troops battling Taliban insurgents in south Afghanistan, and France said on Thursday it was still considering such a move.

In what would be a major blow to the 43,000-strong NATO-led force, Canada has said it will pull its 2,500 troops out of the southern province of Kandahar next year unless allies come forward with an extra 1,000 soldiers to support it.

"The Canadians have made it clear they desire a partner in the south and we believe that the alliance has an obligation to deliver on that because this is a NATO mission," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a news conference after talks at NATO headquarters.

France, whose 1,900 troops are primarily in the capital Kabul, indicated last month it could be ready to help Canada although alliance sources said subsequently it could send hundreds of ground troops to east Afghanistan instead.

"The choice has not been made between the east and Kandahar," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters.

"We are aware both of the needs of Kandahar in the south and of the east." The final decision will lie with President Nicolas Sarkozy and the army.

While the east is regarded as more dangerous than the relatively calm capital Kabul, the fiercest battles have been in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand.

Washington is heading a campaign for what it calls a fairer sharing of the burden in the fight against Taliban insurgents. Britain, Canada, Poland and others have backed the U.S. demand and want to see decisions by a NATO summit in April.

In an apparent criticism of Germany, Rice said nations needed to do not just rebuilding and rule of law programs but also be involved in the fighting.

"We also have to win against the insurgents," said Rice.

A senior U.S. official said later: "You can't have some allies talking about how they are developers and some talking about how they are fighters. We all have to be both."

"We have been out there and beaten the trees and urged people to dig deep for long enough that people are focusing on what they need to do," the official added.

One option being discussed is for the deployment of French soldiers to the east to free up U.S. forces there to go and help Canadian troops in the south. The United States has not said publicly whether such a possibility is feasible.

Alliance sources say Poland is keen to take on more responsibility in the east, perhaps raising its presence by several hundred to 1,600, while Britain is understood to be considering raising its presence by up to 600.

(Reporting by Mark John and Sue Pleming; Editing by Charles Dick)
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US optimistic about Afghanistan reinforcements: Rice
Thu Mar 6, 12:50 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed optimism Wednesday that NATO can find enough troops for Afghanistan to meet Canadian demands for a better response to the Taliban-led insurgency.

"People have obviously been working very hard on this issue," Rice told reporters travelling with her to Brussels, where she will meet with her NATO counterparts on Thursday, with Afghanistan high on the agenda.

"I think people have made progress and I think we are hopeful that NATO is going to meet the commitment that it needs to meet," she said.

"The Canadian contribution is highly valued and so we need very much to be able to meet the circumstances that would allow Canada to continue," she said, en route to Europe from Jerusalem.

Canada plans to end the mandate of its troops in Afghanistan in 2011 but has threatened to leave in a year if NATO does not send reinforcements, medium lift helicopters and drones soon.

Some 2,500 Canadian troops are deployed in Afghanistan's volatile south as part of the 43,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Like a dozen countries represented in the south, where opium cultivation is flourishing, Canada is taking heavy casualties that are feeding public dissatisfaction at home.

Since 2002, 79 Canadian soldiers and a senior diplomat have died in roadside bombings and in melees with the insurgents.
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Cartoon and Koran film part of "Crusader war:" Taliban
By Sayed Salahuddin Thu Mar 6, 9:27 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan Taliban militants have branded the reprinting of a satirical cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers and a film on the Koran by a Dutch politician as part of a "Crusader war" against Muslims.

The Islamic movement, which is leading an insurgency in Afghanistan against Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the United States, also called for aid for the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

"We see the publication of cartoons and insult of the Holy Koran as part of the Crusaders' war," the Taliban said in a statement posted on the group's Web site.

The cartoon -- one of 12 that prompted riots in many Muslim countries in 2006 -- was republished by a number of Danish papers last month to show solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill him.

Many Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet offensive.

Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders is expected to release his film, thought to be critical of the Koran, later this month. Wilders has given few details, but in the past he has called the Koran a "fascist" book that incites violence.

The reprinting of the cartoon and the planned release of the film coincide with recent incursions by Israel into Gaza, where more than 120 Palestinian civilians have been killed.

The developments have angered many in the Muslim world and prompted a series of protests in Afghanistan, where demonstrators have demanded the expulsion of Danish and Dutch troops serving under NATO's command.

The largest protest was held on Wednesday, when participants called on the Muslim world to provide arms and funds for the Palestinians. Some even indirectly threatened to join the Taliban insurgents, who were ousted from power in 2001 but remain active in the south and east of the country.

In the statement, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban also asked for help for the Palestinians.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants global institutions who preach democracy and human rights to the people of the world to condemn these atrocities of Israel and bring it to the International Criminal Court," it said.

Afghanistan's Western-backed government has called the republication of the cartoon an attack against Islam, and one official has warned it would feed the insurgents.

Several other Islamic countries have demanded that the release of Wilders' film should be stopped, and Pakistan's foreign ministry accused the Dutch politician of "propagating the politics of hate and promoting xenophobia."

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Dutch television on Sunday he was concerned about the repercussions Wilders' plans may have for troops serving in Afghanistan and for Dutch people and businesses elsewhere in the world.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Britain urges NATO allies to help new Pakistan government
Thu Mar 6, 6:34 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged NATO countries Thursday to foster good relations with the new government in Pakistan and to encourage its ties with Afghanistan.

"I'll be stressing ... the importance of good relations with the new Pakistani government because it is obviously vital (to have) stability on both sides of the Afghan and Pakistan border," he said.

"It will be important to take measures to build confidence with the new government in Pakistan and the government in Afghanistan," he told reporters ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was expected Thursday to nominate Pakistan's new prime minister to lead a parliament that could decide the fate of President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf has been a key ally in the US "war on terror", part of which is being fought across Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan, where a NATO-led force has struggled to overcome a Taliban-led insurgency.

The Taliban, ousted from power in Afghanistan in late 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network, have been using Pakistan's lawless tribal belt to stage attacks in Afghanistan.

A Pakistan-Afghan expert with the International Crisis Group said that many insurgent activities are being prepared in Pakistan, in cities like Quetta and Peshawar.

"There is of course some command and control in Afghanistan, but you're talking about some very powerful actors who are cross-border," Samina Ahmed told AFP on Wednesday.

She said the April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest, where the alliance will lay out a comprehensive political-military plan to guide its operations in Afghanistan, would be a good time to enter into a new dialogue with Pakistan.

"Bucharest gives an opportunity to raise these issues with the new government in Pakistan, which is not sympathetic to the presence of operational command centres, but necessarily is not in a position to do anything about it right now," she said.

Miliband expressed optimism that NATO allies would find the extra troops and equipment demanded by Canada for it to keep a 2,500-strong contingent in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency has been at its worst.

"The Canadian contribution is very important," he said before the talks, which are not expected to produce any troop pledges.

"I'm confident that the nations of the coalition are going to stick together to ensure that we can all make maximum contribution in Afghanistan in an effective way."

Canada plans to end the mandate of its troops in 2011 but has threatened to leave in a year if helicopters, drones and reinforcements do not arrive soon.

Like a dozen countries represented in the south, where opium cultivation is flourishing, Canada is taking heavy casualties and this has fed public dissatisfaction at home.

Since 2002, 79 Canadian soldiers and a senior diplomat have died in roadside bombings and in melees with the insurgents.

"The Canadian contribution is highly valued and so we need very much to be able to meet the circumstances that would allow Canada to continue," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

NATO has some 43,000 troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) it has led since 2003, with the aim of spreading the rule of the weak central government and fostering reconstruction in the conflict-torn country.
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Official: Afghan police strength reaches 74,000 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-06 15:55:22
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhua) -- The strength of Afghan National Police (ANP) has risen to 74,000, a senior official with the Afghan Interior Ministry said Thursday.

"Currently, we have around 74,000-strong police to ensure stability in the country," Munir Mohammad Mangal, deputy to Afghaninterior minister, told a press conference here.

Afghanistan would have 82,000-strong new brand police force by the end of 2008, according to the target set up by the interior ministry.

Mangal said that the reform to improve police capability is going on and the country would have professional police in the future.

To achieve the goal, the official said that three months ago the interior ministry with the support of the Untied States launched two-week short term courses to increase police capacity and improve their ability.

"Those graduates of the courses would be deployed to different districts to ensure law and order," Mangal said.

So far 868 policemen have graduated from these courses while 630 others are under training, he added.

Mangal said the process of giving training to police would continue until all the policemen of the country become professional.
Editor: Du Guodong 
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NATO to discuss Balkans, Afghanistan
By PAUL AMES, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 6, 5:15 AM ET
BRUSSELS, Belgium - NATO foreign ministers met Thursday to discuss plans to offer membership to three Balkan nations and closer ties to others in an effort to promote stability in the region in the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The meeting was also expected to focus on Afghanistan, where ministers will review a "vision statement" to be adopted by NATO leaders at a summit next month. The statement is aimed at redefining the West's goals against the Taliban and strengthening Europe's flagging public support for the war.

Flying into Brussels Wednesday before the talks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested an announcement was close on the nomination of an international envoy for Afghanistan to coordinate military and civilian efforts to support the Afghan government.

The idea, supported by the U.S. and European allies, has been on hold since the Afghans rejected the proposed nomination of British diplomat Lord Paddy Ashdown.

Diplomats at NATO headquarters said there was broad support for the membership bids by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, but warned the plan could be sunk by continued Greek objections to Macedonia's name.

Greece says the name of the republic that broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991 implies a claim on its northern region also called Macedonia. Athens has threatened to veto Macedonia's NATO aspirations and U.N.-led talks are under way to find a solution.

Rice was cautious on the prospects of nations seeking closer ties with NATO.

"When countries are ready for these various stages ... NATO ought to have an open door to them," she told reporters traveling with her to Brussels from the Middle East. "We're going to take a decision with our allies at the summit."

The governments of Ukraine and Georgia also are hoping next month's Bucharest summit will offer them a road map to NATO membership, despite strong Russian opposition. NATO spokesman James Appathurai stressed Russia did not have the right to veto any expansion of the alliance to include its former Soviet neighbors.

"Everybody is well aware of the regional context of the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine, but ... no outside party will have an influence on that process," Appathurai told reporters.

However, several NATO allies are wary such a move will lead to a further deterioration of relations with Moscow that already are strained by differences over Kosovo, missile defense plans and arms control in Europe.

Senior NATO diplomats said they expected NATO to delay any decision on opening up to Ukraine and Georgia, especially since they are hoping talks with President Vladimir Putin in Bucharest could help smooth over differences with Moscow.

On Afghanistan, the strategy document is expected to set out plans for better coordinating the military action by NATO's 43,000 troops and civilian efforts to rebuild the country and support the government of President Hamid Karzai. He is expected to attend the summit

By setting out clear objectives and stressing the importance of preventing a revival of the Taliban that could again turn Afghanistan into a haven for international terrorism, NATO is hoping to boost flagging public support for the military mission, particularly in Europe.

NATO planners hope that will make it easier for European governments to commit troops to the operation, easing disputes between the United States, Canada, Britain and other nations with combat units on the front lines and those like Germany, France and Turkey, which have limited their deployment to more peaceful parts of the country.

Rice said she was "hopeful" that allies will contribute the 1,000 additional troops Canada has demanded to help it in southern Afghanistan.
___

Associated Press writer Anne Gearan contributed to his report.
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Afghan police seize 670 kg opium in Helmand
New Kerala - Mar 06 6:26 AM
Kabul, March 6 : Afghan police have captured 670 kg of opium in the southern province of Helmand, a centre of illicit poppy culture, the Afghan interior ministry said Thursday.

The drug was recovered Wednesday from a car in Washir district of the province, a known hotbed of Taliban militancy, and three people with suspected links to drug trafficking were arrested, it added.

In 2007, some 193,000 hectares in Afghanistan were devoted to the illicit cultivation of poppy, and the Central Asian nation now supplies an estimated 93 percent of world's opiates, according to a report issued Wednesday by International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an anti-drug organisation under the UN.

"Afghanistan must do more to address its escalating drug problem," the INCB said.
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Militants attack 3rd mobile telecom signal tower in S. Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-06 18:26:28
KABUL, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants attacked a signal tower of a mobile telecommunication service company in Zabul province of southern Afghanistan, destroying a guards room near the tower, the police said Thursday.

"Armed Taliban insurgents attacked the tower and the guards room of Areeba, a mobile phone service company, in Shar-e-Safa district of Zabul Wednesday night, destroying the room and power generator, but failed to damage the antenna," provincial police chief Mohammad yaqub told Xinhua via phone.

It is the third time over the past two weeks that the anti-government insurgents have been attacking mobile phone towers in south Afghanistan since giving ultimatum to shut down signaling during nighttime.

Armed personnel attacked and destroyed on March 1 two signal towers of Roshan, another mobile telecommunication service firm, separately in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Taliban militants in a blatant warning to mobile companies on Feb. 25 asked them to stop operation from 5 p.m. till 7 a.m. in Taliban-held areas, saying Afghan and foreign forces can track down militants through mobile phone signals.
Editor: Pliny Han 
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Al Qaeda in Afghanistan calls for foreign recruits
(Reuters) 6 March 2008 via Khaleej Times
DUBAI - The leader of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has urged more Muslims to join and finance the group’s war there, saying Western troops are close to defeat.

‘Your brothers in Afghanistan are waiting for you and longing to (welcome) you,’ Mustafa Abu Al Yazid said in an audio recording posted on an Islamist Web site.

‘The time for reaping the fruit of victory and empowerment has come ... The infidel enemy has been badly wounded at the hands of your brothers and is close to its demise so assist your brothers to slaughter him,’ added the militant leader, speaking with an Egyptian-sounding accent.

US and NATO troops are fighting a fierce insurgency by Al Qaeda and its Taleban allies in Afghanistan. A top Al Qaeda commander there was killed in a suspected US missile strike in neighbouring Pakistan in January.

In the recording, Abu Al Yazid said Muslim men must not look for permission from ‘apostate leaders’ to join others fighting in countries such as Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Somalia, Algeria and Iraq.

He argued that joining and financing jihad, or holy war, was a binding duty for every able Muslim man after ‘infidels’ invaded Islamic land.

‘Only a loser ... who ridicules himself, disobeys God, and loves the lower life would let jihad down,’ he said, adding that the fighters needed doctors and electronics specialists in particular.

Thousands of Arab Muslims, including Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to help eject the troops of the former Soviet Union and then bring the Taleban to power.

The United States led a coalition that invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taleban after Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on US cities, when Taleban leaders refused to hand over bin Laden and his top lieutenants to Washington for trial.
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Afghan MPs implore Canada to stay the course
MURRAY BREWSTER The Canadian Press March 5, 2008 at 8:19 PM EST
OTTAWA — Afghan parliamentarians implored Canadians not to abandon them as the House of Commons argued Wednesday over the timing of a vote on the future of the mission in the war-torn region.

Fawzia Koofi, among six lower house Afghan MPs visiting Canada, insisted that important progress has been made in her country even though the security situation in general has deteriorated.

“We need to provide security and justice to the people and we cannot do it alone,” said Ms. Koofi, who represents the Badakhshan district in the northeastern part of the country.

“This message needs to be clearly given to your public.”

The comments were made as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives sought unanimous consent among the opposition parties to hold a Commons vote on March 13 to determine the future of the mission. Government House Leader Peter Van Loan didn't get that approval, but talks among the various parties will continue.

The Tories offered to extend the sitting hours of the Commons so more MPs could have their say, but the attempt was blocked by the Liberals, who wanted some procedural clarification.

The government wants the vote held before Parliament breaks for a two-week Easter recess so that Harper can go to the NATO leaders summit in Bucharest, Romania, with a clear mandate.

The government's motion calls on Canada to keep a military contingent in Kandahar until 2011, as long as alliance members provide 1,000 more troops. The position is based on a recommendation by the Manley commission, which also said Ottawa's aid efforts must have a higher profile.

Safia Sediqi, who represents the Nangarhar region in the Afghan lower house, says the Afghan people are well aware of the contributions.

“The flag of Canada is not the many projects (which you fund), but the many people who work in the (national reconciliation program), in microfinance or security, obviously they know the people of Canada assisted the people of Afghanistan and they will be remembered,” said Ms. Sediqi, who at one time worked in the Afghan department of reconstruction and rural redevelopment.

Both Afghan politicians, while repeatedly praising the Canadian contribution, acknowledged more has to be accomplished in aid and reconstruction, particularly when it comes to infrastructure.

“There's a saying in Afghanistan: where the road ends, the Taliban begin,” said Ms. Sediqi.

Ms. Koofi was among the survivors of a Parliamentary delegation that was attacked by a suicide bomber last November in Baghlan, killing at least 26 people, including a leading opposition figure.

She says Canada's contribution is particularly important when it comes to training female police officers, whom she credits with a growing awareness in the country of domestic violence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly reached out to moderate elements of the Taliban, not only to fracture the insurgency but to promote national reconciliation after three decades of war.

Ms. Sediqi wouldn't say whether she thought the effort was succeeding, but insisted the effort must continue.
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NATO may ask Russians for logistics help in Afghanistan
Peter O’Neil, Canwest News Service Wednesday, March 05, 2008
BRUSSELS -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, meeting today to consider new strategies to bring development and peace to increasingly violent Afghanistan, is looking to its old Cold War rival for help.

NATO is seeking assistance from Russia even though Afghans on both sides of the current struggle have bitter memories of the old Soviet Union's brutal 1979 invasion and decade-long occupation that ended in a humiliating withdrawal of troops by Moscow.

The transatlantic alliance will stop short of asking for Russian troops or the dreaded attack helicopters used in Afghanistan during the 1980s, since that would represent a huge propaganda coup for the Taliban insurgents.

But NATO is interested in Russian help in transporting equipment and troops into Afghanistan through Russian territory, officials said Wednesday.

The Russian government could make contributions that would include "regular use of Russian transport means to get supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan [and] possible Russian contributions to the re-equipment of the Afghan army," said Robert Simmons, NATO's special envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, who arrived here Wednesday for a meeting with European Union officials to discuss Canada-EU trade as well as the Afghanistan mission, was not immediately available for comment on the matter.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been particularly cool towards Russia, not sending a congratulatory message this week to newly elected President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Harper government twice last year issued sternly worded official statements questioning Moscow's slippery slide away from democracy under former president Vladamir Putin, who hand-picked Medvedev as his successor.

NATO foreign ministers, led by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will be confronted today by one of the many examples of flagging public support for the Afghanistan mission -- Canada's ultimatum that it will withdraw its 2,500 troops from the dangerous Kandahar region unless NATO finds substantial reinforcements.

Bernier plans to reiterate once again to colleagues that Canada will follow through on its threat unless it gets a 1,000-troop reinforcement and better equipment such as transport helicopters.

The gathering sets the stage for a NATO summit in Bucharest next month at which Harper is expected to find out if his diplomatic gambit will yield fruit.

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

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, he noted.
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The burden of being Afghan
By Mariam Mardam / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 6 March 2008
Like many a foreign national in Prague, 17-year-old Moska travelled over the winter holidays to visit family abroad – in this case, her father in the US. But Moska carried a burden not shared with her peers: an Afghan passport. When she handed it to officials at Los Angeles International Airport, she was detained for 24 hours.

"When I gave my passport to the person at the counter, he checked my passport for a long time, and I got nervous because it was my first time travelling alone," she says. "I got afraid because no one in those 24 hours informed me what was going on."

Other Afghans in Prague have similar stories to tell. With their country a source of much of the world's heroin and a reputed haven for al-Qaeda, simply being from Afghanistan can make international travel difficult.

"I travel to Germany almost every week, but I have to expect an hour delay at the border because I have an Afghan passport," says Wahid, a young Prague-based businessman, who was interviewed before the Czech Republic joined the Schengen zone. (Like other Afghans interviewed for this story, he asked that his full name not be used.)

During 30 years of constant war many Afghans have tried to escape to live in more peaceful states, some illegally, further heightening suspicions raised by the country's links to drugs and jihadism.

Afghanistan is now a leading source of opium, production of which has soared since the American invasion in 2001. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that 75% of the world's heroin, obtained from opium poppies, comes from Afghanistan. According to Europol, 257 terrorism suspects were arrested in 2006 in EU countries.

The Czech Statistical Office lists 370 Afghans with legal permanent residence in this country. Accession to the border-free Schengen zone in December has lessened the problems they face travelling throughout much of Europe, but obstacles remain for non-Schengen travel. Salma, a Prague high school student, recently opted out of a two-week class trip to London.

"I feel very uncomfortable when I travel with my class and the whole class has to wait for me while they check my passport and luggage properly," she said. "I think our embassy is the only organisation which can do something to make travelling easier for Afghans."

But the task is difficult even for diplomats, says an official at the Afghan Embassy. "Afghanistan's status in international relations has been hurt so badly that we are not capable to help our citizens in such situations, because unfortunately there have been many cases of justly suspected people," says the diplomat, who also requested anonymity. "But it is important to keep in mind that the officers at the airport or border police are just doing their job."

For Nahid, who works in a Prague bank and is a naturalised Czech, confronting those officers means hiding her true national origin.

"I have Czech citizenship but I don’t consider myself Czech," she says. "But I will never say to the border police that I am an Afghan."
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Afghan women face 'violence rise'
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kabul Thursday, 6 March 2008, 17:56 GMT
Afghanistan's independent human rights commission says violence against women has increased over the past year.

The commission says it has recorded 265 cases of forced marriage and 165 cases of self-immolation, where women deliberately set fire to themselves.

In both cases the numbers are higher than those recorded previously.

The new Afghan constitution drawn up after the fall of the Taleban in 2001 is supposed to protect women but millions still face discrimination.

Wealthier men

The rights commission says that even as many people in the country are faced with a worsening security situation, women are having to deal with increased cases of domestic violence.

It says that many continue to be forced into marriages against their will.

Last year it recorded 265 such cases, an increase from the previous year.

The commission says that more than half of the women in question are married under the legal age of 18-years-old.

Experts say poverty often drives families to marry off their daughters to older, wealthier men.

In some instances, women are handed over to resolve a community dispute.

To escape this situation many women commit suicide by burning themselves.

The commissioners recorded 165 cases of self-immolation in 2007.

Although these are nationwide figures, it says the actual numbers could be higher.

A new law against domestic violence and forced marriage has been drafted and is to be debated in parliament.

But previous steps such as laws to fight discrimination and under-age marriage have done little to stop the trend, especially in the villages.
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Afghanistan holds rare exhibit of work by female artists in Kabul
The Canadian Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Seven years ago, the Taliban would have torn these paintings to pieces.

The 93 works show the emotions and images of a war-torn country in which women are still deeply oppressed. They depict war and weaponry, violence, entrapment, hopelessness - and hope.

But the Taliban would have been most offended because the artists are all women.

Twenty-three young artists displayed their work at an eight-day show in Kabul attended by some 3,000 people, according to event organizer Rahraw Omarzad. The show, which ended Monday, now travels to the western city of Herat.

Under the hardline Taliban regime, women were forbidden from leaving home without a male relative as an escort and girls were not allowed to go to school. Figurative art was banned and even destroyed.

"I couldn't paint during the Taliban regime because I didn't have enough material, and I wasn't allowed to go out and buy paint," said 22-year-old Maryam Formuli.

Echoing the frustration, Fareha Ghezal, 19, added, "I was young and couldn't go to the art centre to learn because as a girl, I wasn't allowed to go to school."

The artists, who ranged in age from seven to 26, guided visitors around the gymnasium of a Kabul high school, describing their work and taking photographs with the viewers.

"It was like a wedding party. There were a lot of people enjoying it," said 23-year-old Maliha Hashemi, dressed in the artists' uniform for the exhibit, a black knee-length jacket and a red, green and black scarf, the colours of the Afghan flag.

"Before the exhibition, we were afraid that the visitors wouldn't be satisfied with our work, but when it opened, all the visitors were encouraging and impressed," Hashemi said.

Several paintings depicted women shrouded in the all-encompassing burka that many Afghan women are forced to wear to protect them from the eyes of men who are not related to them.

One woman described her work - a grid of woven string with a tangled knot in the middle - as the impeccable order of the world outside Afghanistan, and the chaos those outside forces have caused within the country.

One extraordinary aspect about the show was the conversation the works sparked among strangers in a society in which men and women who aren't related rarely talk to each other.

One conversation illustrated how Afghan men and women can give remarkably different interpretations of a painting - and a woman's place in society.

Khadija Hashemi, 21, asked one man what he thought of her painting depicting an enormous caravan of women wearing blue burkas and riding donkeys into the desert horizon, with men accompanying them on foot.

The visitor said to her that the painting showed how much respect these men have for the women, letting them ride comfortably on the donkeys as the men suffered on foot on the difficult trek.

Not quite, she said.

"They don't have any role in the selection of the path. They don't have the choice to change the path. Instead they just have to keep on moving where the donkeys are led by the men," she said.

-Nargis Nemat contributed to this report.
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Afghan women face harsh male attitudes
by Bronwen Roberts Thu Mar 6, 2:19 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Farida Tarana's music video is nothing like the raunchy Bollywood or Central Asian ones regularly shown on Afghan television, albeit with bare female arms, shoulders and cleavage smudged out.

The 25-year-old is conservatively dressed and stands almost still as she sings her first single, Qalbam Fedayat (My heart belongs to you).

But the performance is daring in its own way: Tarana does not wear a headscarf, making her the first Afghan woman inside the country to record a music video with her hair uncovered since the Taliban regime fell six years ago.

"It was a big step," she told AFP nervously around the time the song was released mid-February. "Someone had to do it."

"People like my mother prefer to wear a headscarf but the new generation -- if they had the freedom, they would give it up."

There were threats, said Tarana. "They were calling to tell me they would kill me, that they would put a bomb in my car or home," she said.

Two weeks after the release of her single, she left the country, saying from her parents' home in Iran that she was afraid.

Choosing whether to wear a headscarf does not top the mountain of hardships facing Afghan women, who have the second-highest chance in the world of dying giving birth and also face forced marriages and violence.

Indeed most women wear a face-covering burqa when in public. But Tarana's decision, and the sharp reaction, reflect attitudes towards Afghan women in a society juggling religious fundamentalism as it nudges towards modernity.

As countries mark International Women's Day on Saturday, such issues also illustrate their efforts to assert themselves in a conservative society.

Government employee Lailuma Sadid, one of a handful of women in Kabul who usually does not cover her hair, said she brushes off insults about her dress.

In the most recent incident, a man told her in the city centre, "If you stand here for another minute, I will put a bullet in your head and drag your body on the road tied to a car," she recounted.

"If we take things like this seriously, then we better not leave the house," Sadid said.

Afghan women are trapped by a "backward society, ignorance, illiteracy and cultural retardation," she said. Most are treated as property once they are married and few enjoy equal rights in the post-Taliban constitution.

But there have been improvements since the hardline Taliban were ejected.

"Women can work, go to school, leave home without a male relative. We have women represented in the cabinet -- maybe not enough, we have women in the parliament."

The biggest challenge remains maternal mortality, said Ramesh Penumaka, country representative for UN Population Fund.

About 24,000 women die around childbirth a year, he told reporters this week. The figure is about 25 times the number of civilians being killed in violence linked to a Taliban-led insurgency.

"It's because girls are married very young. More than half the girls are married before they are 18 years, some as young as eight years," he said, adding 87 percent of cases were preventable.

But Penumaka also noted developments. Four percent of pregnant women were seen by a health professional in 2001; this rose to 30 percent last year.

Only six percent of deliveries were conducted by a skilled birth attendant in 2001, but last year it was 18 percent.

Cook and cleaner Mahjan Sultani says she is definitely happier.

"I can work now. Under Taliban I could not. Life was difficult," said the Kabul resident. "My life is getting better."

But conservative cultural attitudes mean many "families will not permit female members to go to school, or work and be an equal member of the family like men are," she said.

"Women better do more fundamental work to change their lives than looking at clothes and headscarves," Sultani said.

The head of Afghanistan's first women's led political party -- National Need, launched mid-February -- agreed.

Afghan women are oppressed by "indecent traditions and customs," parliamentarian Fatima Nazari told AFP.

"To be able to carry out jobs and meet our goals, it's better to behave as required by society so we are not forced to stop as Farida was."
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Troop depression on rise in Afghanistan
By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - U.S. troop morale improved in Iraq last year, but soldiers fighting in Afghanistan suffered more depression as violence there worsened, according to an Army mental health report.

And in a recurring theme for a force strained by its seventh year at war, the annual battlefield study released Thursday found once again that soldiers on their third and fourth tours of duty had sharply greater rates of mental health problems than those on their first or second deployments.

The repositioning of troops closer to the Iraqi population last year, part of counterinsurgency tactics, made it harder for soldiers to get mental health treatment, the study found.

The report recommended longer home time between deployments, more focused suicide-prevention training and sending civilian psychologists and other mental health professionals to the warfront to add to the uniformed corps there. Officials said they've had some civilian volunteers.

The report was drawn from the work of a team of mental health experts who traveled to the wars last fall and surveyed more than 2,200 soldiers in Iraq and nearly 900 in Afghanistan. In the fifth such effort, the team also gathered information from more than 400 medical professionals, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers serving with the troops — coming away with statistics on a range of issues such as marital problems, mental illness and troop ethics.

"They do show the effects of a long war," Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, said of the data.

Officials said they found rates of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-combat stress were similar to those found the previous year in Iraq. That is, 27 percent of those on their third or fourth tour screened positive for a problem, compared with 12 percent of those on their first tour.

It found suicide rates "remained elevated" in both. Officials found earlier that as many as 121 Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007, an increase of about 20 percent over the year before. The preliminary figures released in January said there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 deaths that were suspected suicides and still under investigation.

Soldiers in Afghanistan had rates of mental health problems similar to those in Iraq in 2007 with the exception of depression, officials said the new study showed. The percentage reporting depression in Afghanistan was higher than that in Iraq, and mental health problems in general were higher than they had previously been in Afghanistan. It said the adjusted rate last year for depression in Afghanistan was 11.4 percent, compared with 7.6 percent in Iraq.

Though U.S. troops suffered their highest level of casualties in both campaigns last year, that came as violence was decreasing in the five-year-old Iraq conflict and increasing in Afghanistan, now in its seventh year.

Troops' mental health problems are linked directly to the amount of exposure they have to combat, and officials said that the level of violence last year was more pronounced in some places of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq. Some 83 percent of soldiers in Afghanistan reported being exposed to mortar fire and similar action as fighting heated up against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, compared with 72 percent in Iraq, according to the study.

Having troops spread out and more isolated over the rugged terrain in a less developed Afghanistan occasionally made it necessary to bring soldiers in by helicopter when they needed mental health care, one official said. After the survey was taken, mental health professionals were dispersed more to put them nearer to the forces they serve, he said.

Other report findings included:

_Soldiers who underwent special "Battlemind" training reported fewer problems than those who did not. The program teaches troops and families what to expect before soldiers leave for the wars and what common problems to look for when readjusting to home life after deployment.

_Progress was made toward reducing the fear and embarrassment that keeps soldiers from asking for help with mental health problems. In 2007, 29 percent of those surveyed in Iraq said they feared seeking treatment would hurt their careers, down from 34 percent the previous year.

_Eleven percent of those polled in Iraq said their unit's morale was high or very high, compared with 7 percent the previous year. Individual morale was reported high or very high among 20 percent, compared with 18 percent the previous year.

Sending mental health advisory teams to do extensive surveys and focus groups in the combat theater of operations was a groundbreaking effort when it started in 2003, the year the U.S. invaded Iraq. The goal is to assess how troops are doing at the warfront and how well behavioral health services provided by the military are working for the force.

Extensive reports have been produced after each survey and they have led directly to changes in the way services are delivered in the combat theater.
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