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

March 7, 2008 

Norwegian named as new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan
By Patrick Worsnip Thu Mar 6, 8:09 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide on Thursday as his new envoy for Afghanistan, an appointment the West hopes will beef up the international presence in the war-torn country.

Sarkozy sets out France's Afghan stance to NATO: US official
Fri Mar 7, 3:34 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy has written to France's NATO allies to lay out Paris's position on Afghanistan ahead of an alliance summit, a US official said.

Clinton Says She Would Commit More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan
Kristin Jensen Thu Mar 6, 3:29 PM ET
March 6 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she would commit more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan and urge other countries to do so as well.

MISSING MANLEY’S BEST POINTS
by Arthur Kent for Policy Options March, 2008 http://www.irpp.org/po/index.htm
Afghanistan presents a tangled and thorny policy quandary. But there’s a quick reference tool available to gauge the deluded, self-defeating nature of the US-dominated Western intervention - that big-dollar, faint-hearted alliance

Russia fulfills obligations on Afghan debt - ambassador
MOSCOW.  March 7 (Interfax) - Russia has refuted reports that there are problems with the writing off of the Afghan state debt.

Baku to consider increasing peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan
BAKU.  March  7 (Interfax) - Azerbaijan may consider increasing the number of  its peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, if it receives such a proposal  from  the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), country's parliamentary

Afghan agency gets federal aid
By BILL KAUFMANN, CALGARY SUN Fri, March 7, 2008 Calgary Sun - Mar 07 1:03 AM
Facebook Digg Del.icio.us Google Stumble Upon Furl Newsvine Reddit Technorati Blinklist Feed Me Yahoo Socializer Ma.gnolia Raw Sugar Simpy Squidoo Spurl Blink Bits Rojo Blogmarks Shadows Netvouz Scuttle Co.mments

Afghan women showcase once-forbidden art
Alisa Tang, Associated Press Friday, March 7, 2008 via The San Francisco Chronicle
Kabul, Afghanistan -- Seven years ago, the Taliban would have torn these paintings to pieces.

Can women find unique ways out of war?
By Mark Sappenfield Fri Mar 7, 3:00 AM ET The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News
New Delhi - Sakena Yacoobi well knows the hardships of Afghan women, caught between a war and the hopelessness of poverty and illiteracy.

Czech Republic sends first civilian experts to Afghanistan
March 07, 2008 People's Daily
The Czech Republic Thursday sent first three civilian experts on agriculture, construction and geology to Afghanistan as part of its Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the central Logar province.

Court must block Afghan prisoner transfers, say rights groups
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canadian courts must step in and block any renewed transfers of military prisoners to local authorities in Afghanistan until there's better evidence they won't be mistreated, say two human rights groups.

Key Afghan district slow to recover despite 2-year Canadian security effort
The Canadian Press
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The sweet smell of life hangs over the bazaar in the centre of Panjwaii, a district that begins about 35 kilometres outside Kandahar city.

Russia may offer Afghan route for Nato
By James Blitz in London March 6 2008 Financial Times, UK
Russia is for the first time talking to western governments about the possibility of allowing goods destined for Nato’s military mission in Afghanistan to be transported across Russian territory.

ANALYSIS-UK focuses on "Harry's War", Afghan campaign drags on
Thu Mar 6, 2008 By Luke Baker
LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - A blaze of publicity for Prince Harry's front-line assignment in Afghanistan has briefly drawn Britons' attention to the conflict but touched little on the harsh realities of a struggling military campaign.

Danish aid helps re-open Afghan schools
By The Copenhagen Post
6 March 2008- Danish aid is helping schools to re-open in Afghanistan, but critics say the curriculum is based on fundamental Islam
An ordinary school day will soon become a reality for some of Musa Qala's school children, reports Politiken newspaper.

Afghanistan invites Kuwaiti investments
By Ben Garcia, Kuwait Times March 6, 2008
KUWAIT: "Things are getting better in Afghanistan and the security concern is improving daily," declared Dr Omar Zakhilwal, head of Afghan business delegation, as he wooed Kuwaiti businessmen during their visit to the Kuwait Chamber

Back to Top
Norwegian named as new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan
By Patrick Worsnip Thu Mar 6, 8:09 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide on Thursday as his new envoy for Afghanistan, an appointment the West hopes will beef up the international presence in the war-torn country.

Eide, a former Norwegian ambassador to NATO, replaces Tom Koenigs of Germany.

Diplomats said Eide was expected to take a more prominent role in coordinating international efforts to guide reconstruction of Afghanistan in the face of a growing Taliban insurgency.

In a letter distributed to reporters at the United Nations, Ban notified the Security Council of his intention to appoint Eide. The appointment is formally subject to council approval but in practice takes effect if there are no objections.

Eide, who at one time worked as a U.N. envoy in the Balkans, will coordinate humanitarian work with the NATO-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

He became one of a handful of candidates for the sensitive post after President Hamid Karzai rejected British candidate Paddy Ashdown.

A source close to former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, who had been viewed as another leading candidate, said Manley had spoken to Ban late last week to say he did not wish to be considered for the position.

The United States and other nations have for months sought to appoint a heavyweight diplomat to boost coordination of the international community's reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, where NATO is fighting a Taliban insurgency seven years after the militant Islamic group was ousted from power.

BROADER MANDATE?
Ashdown had sought a broader mandate for the post than Koenigs had, but Karzai turned him down following international media speculation about the extent of his powers.

Eide, 59, is known as an effective diplomat with experience in nation-building and dealing with NATO, but until now did not have a high public profile, even in Norway.

"We welcome the appointment of Kai Eide as the new U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan," Kate Starr, White House National Security Council spokeswoman, said.

"We look forward to working with him and the U.N. mission there, as he partners with President Karzai and coordinates the international community's efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild," she said.

A diplomat from a Security Council member country said the Western powers wanted Koenigs replaced by someone who could coordinate the work of the United Nations, NATO and various other international, charity and nongovernmental organizations.

Western powers also want Eide to extend the presence of the United Nations throughout the country and to play more of an international role, communicating not only with the Afghan government but also sometimes with neighbors like Pakistan, the diplomat said.

Stein Toennesson, director of the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute, said Eide would not tread softly in what he called "one of the world's most challenging jobs."

"If someone expects Eide to be modest in his approach, I think they will be disappointed," Toennesson told Reuters.

NATO member Norway has 500 troops in Afghanistan. Toennesson said Eide could be undermined if they became more directly involved in fighting. So far the Norwegian forces have remained in relatively peaceful northern Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in the United Nations, Tabassum Zakaria in Washington, Alister Doyle and Wojciech Moskwa in Oslo, Mark John in Brussels and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Todd Eastham)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Sarkozy sets out France's Afghan stance to NATO: US official
Fri Mar 7, 3:34 AM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy has written to France's NATO allies to lay out Paris's position on Afghanistan ahead of an alliance summit, a US official said.

The alliance is drawing up a plan to link the military, political and development aspects of its most challenging mission, amid complaints that some countries are not pulling their weight and warnings of failure.

"Sarkozy sent a letter about long term commitment, comprehensive approach, Afghans in the lead and the importance of the Afghan-Pakistan relationship," the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"I think you will see that reflected -- we all agreed on these things -- in the official statement, if we get it right," the official said, referring to the planned announcement at NATO's summit in Bucharest April 2-4.

The "comprehensive approach" is NATO jargon for a plan linking NATO's security efforts with the political and humanitarian work of the United Nations, European Union and non-governmental organisations.

"We are working on this vision statement which is designed to ensure that we are all explaining the why, the what and the when of Afghanistan to our publics the same way," the US official said.

The aim is "to reaffirm why it was that NATO decided that our security and our values had to be protected in Afghanistan."

Sarkozy's letter is said to have arrived in Washington last Friday.

"It was a great letter," the official said.

Earlier on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged NATO countries to foster good relations with the new government in Pakistan and to encourage its ties with Afghanistan.

"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 had been expected to nominate Pakistan's new prime minister to lead a parliament that could decide the fate of President Pervez Musharraf, but a decision was delayed.

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.

NATO has some 43,000 troops in the International Security Assistance Force 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.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Clinton Says She Would Commit More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan
Kristin Jensen Thu Mar 6, 3:29 PM ET
March 6 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she would commit more U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan and urge other countries to do so as well.

Clinton, 60, a New York senator, used a news conference in Washington today to release a plan for Afghanistan. Surrounded by current and retired military officers who are supporting her, Clinton said President George W. Bush hasn't done enough.

``Those front lines are still largely forgotten,'' Clinton said. She said she would also redouble efforts to quash the drug trade in Afghanistan and help the country rebuild by encouraging international investments in education, infrastructure and other needs.

Clinton is increasingly stressing her national security credentials as she tries to cut the lead held by rival Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination. Political analysts said her wins in the Texas and Ohio primaries this week were due in part to her focus on the issue and an ad she ran depicting a phone ringing in the White House at 3 a.m. and asking voters to consider which candidate was best ready to cope.

``The first and most solemn duty of the president of the United States is to protect and defend our nation,'' Clinton said today. ``And when that phone rings, whether it's 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. in the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training.''

Iraq Vote

Obama, 46, an Illinois senator, has won many converts among Democrats because of his early opposition to the war in Iraq, expressed in a 2002 speech. Clinton that same year voted to give Bush the authorization for the war, and Obama has attacked her vote as a lapse in judgment.

Clinton today told reporters that she has proven herself equal to taking on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain on the issue of national security. McCain, 71, an Arizona senator, is a veteran and former prisoner of war during Vietnam.

``Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign; I will bring a lifetime of experience,'' Clinton said. ``Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002. I think that is a significant difference.''

Clinton also called for more troops in Afghanistan last year after visiting the region. In January 2007, she held a press conference at the Capitol to oppose Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, saying, ``our priorities are upside down.''

Delegate Count

Obama is leading in the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. Obama has at least 1,309.5 pledged delegates, compared with 1,198.5 for Clinton, according to The Green Papers, a nonpartisan Web site that is tracking the campaign. A candidate needs 2,025 to win.

Even so, neither Clinton nor Obama will likely get enough delegates allocated by elections to become the nominee. Instead, they will need to win over a majority of the 795 superdelegates - - Democratic Party officials and lawmakers who aren't bound by the results of primaries and caucuses.

The close race has many Democrats worried that the fight may last all the way to the August convention. Because of that, more attention is being paid to the results in Florida and Michigan, which were punished by the Democratic National Committee for moving their primaries ahead of the sanctioned schedule.

All the Democrats agreed not to campaign in the two states and Clinton won both primaries. Now, she's saying their delegates should be seated at the convention. Asked if she would support new contests, such as caucuses, she demurred today.

``I'm going to let the leadership of both states see what they think is the best approach,'' she said. Even so, she stressed that the record turnout in Florida showed people there ``clearly believed that their votes would count.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristin Jensen in Washington at kjensen@bloomberg.net
Back to Top

Back to Top
MISSING MANLEY’S BEST POINTS
by Arthur Kent for Policy Options March, 2008 http://www.irpp.org/po/index.htm
Afghanistan presents a tangled and thorny policy quandary. But there’s a quick reference tool available to gauge the deluded, self-defeating nature of the US-dominated Western intervention - that big-dollar, faint-hearted alliance that has found itself lost and groping for landmarks in a land where warfare has reigned uninterrupted for a full 30 years, since the outbreak of civil war in April, 1978.

Just go to the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s website at www.usdoj.gov/dea and click on Major International Fugitives. See any Afghan faces, the big Khans of global heroin trafficking? No, it’s mostly just coke-pushing Columbians. Don’t bother clicking on Captured Fugitives, either:  the heroin Khans are nowhere in evidence.
   
So it is that we’re led to believe that with all the resources deployed in Afghanistan by the United States military, its intelligence services, and the State and Justice departments (including one of the DEA’s largest overseas operations), there are simply no leads on the ringleaders of the industry that accounts for 93 per-cent of the world’s heroin trafficking - the mother of all mother-loads of raw drug stock, opium, a crop so immense that by the State Department’s own reckoning, Afghanistan’s 2006 harvest, if all the poppy resin were refined into heroin, would produce a commodity worth $38 billion.
   
“Of course we know who the big men are in heroin,” says one weary agent of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. “The Americans, too – we discuss the structure of these gangs, the people who handle the drugs and those in high office who protect them.
   
“But we cannot act. The heroin culture is our power structure, it’s that simple. It is our curse, our downfall.”
   
Onto this landscape of corruption and official denial lands the Manley panel’s Independent Review of Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, followed swiftly by even bleaker assessments by US, European and United Nations inquiries. All speak of a global initiative that is failing.

Worse, the NATO governments confronted by these assessments appear unequal to the task of tackling the key contributing factors of the crisis. Having deceived themselves and their respective publics for so many years, they are unable to devise new strategies to rescue the Afghan project from spiralling further into the abyss.

Canadians, for example, are led to believe that the biggest urgency revealed by the Manley report is the need to muster another 1,000 troops. Meanwhile the Harper government takes no steps whatsoever to address the real weaknesses:  the misguided US command and control effort; chaos and corruption in the Western-sponsored Karzai regime; and the Taliban leaderships’ continuing holiday in the borderlands of Pakistan, from where they coolly and efficiently plot the killings of Afghan civilians – and Canadian soldiers.

Certainly the Manley report has levelled a good deal of blistering criticism on these fronts. The US-dominated NATO/ISAF command suffers “damaging shortfalls,” notably a “top heavy command structure,” which displays “an absence of a comprehensive strategy…” In the Western-sponsored Karzai regime, “Corruption is widespread,” and its workings are “characterized by cronyism, bribery and a variety of shakedown enterprises managed by government officials.”
   
The regime’s corruption is “undermining not only the hope for an Afghan solution but also support for the Western forces sacrificing their lives…” On Pakistan, the panel emphasizes a grim truth which has been concealed by President Bush, Prime Minister Harper and other Western leaders: “Taliban commanders who are responsible for the violence in Afghanistan are directing it primarily from sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

At the same time, the review process is critically flawed – though not by its own conduct or content, but by the political atmosphere into which it falls. Debate in Ottawa over the Afghanistan mission distracts the nation with the crass, ill-informed parry and thrust of party politics at its lowest. Consequently, even while the Manley pages cry out for better communications and a greater emphasis on reconstruction, the ruling elite in Ottawa actively disinforms the public by directing its parliamentary paroxysms squarely on the combat mission – and a perversely mischaracterized version of that undertaking to boot.

Contributing to the confusion are Canada’s leading newspapers, news agencies and networks, whose managements stubbornly refuse to staff and report the Kabul regime or Pakistan sanctuaries stories. One scribe recently returned from Kandahar comments:  “Forget the larger picture, we’re not even staffing the Canadian Forces story properly. Just count the number of reporters and photographers on the ground at KAF (Kandahar Air Field). They’re down from last year, way down.”

As a result, Canadians hear and see the Afghanistan story mainly in the context of parliamentary debates, those confusing tangles of hyperbole that have done so much to sap understanding of our country’s Afghan mission. Meantime, scant attention has been paid in Canada to the Karzai regime’s continuing lurch towards disintegration – despite the increasing frequency of President Karzai’s public meltdowns and tantrums.

Especially with his obdurate refusal to accept British diplomat Paddy Ashdown as the UN’s new Afghan envoy (a slap in the face for the Harper government, which backed Ashdown), Karzai has lost his fashionista’s aura, that image, carefully crafted by his US sponsors, of a valiant statesman struggling to realize his peoples’ destiny. He now resembles little more than the evidence on the ground in Kabul has long suggested: a weak and unimaginative leader, succumbing to the bilious corruption of many of his closest allies and appointees; a small man who is not only losing his grip on power, but on reality, too.

This became alarmingly obvious in Karzai’s emotional outbursts in January over the Ashdown appointment. For months previous, Karzai had been at odds with London over British attempts to woo Taliban commanders off the battlefield in Helmand province. Sources close to the president’s US advisors point to a much larger fear on Karzai’s part – that the arrival in Kabul of a policy pragmatist of Ashdown’s stature would mark the beginning of the end of the Karzai family’s hold on power. That threat haunts not only Hamid, but also his brashly acquisitive brothers Qayuum, Mahmood and Ahmed Wali – three men who have latched on to the internationally-financed aid initiative and turned it into Afghanistan’s foremost family enterprise of wealth creation and influence peddling.

Ashdown, for his part, has been darkly philosophical about Karzai’s stance. After all, the Afghan leader is a politician facing an election campaign next year.  Ashdown commented: ?"I suppose he must have calculated that beating up on Britain -- an ex-imperial power -- beating up on the United States, was not going to do him any harm in a proud Afghanistan amongst the Pashtun vote.”

That ethnic Pashtun voting block, the same community preyed upon by the Taliban for support in the south, is the unwieldy burden weighing down the caravan of ill-conceived stratagems that constitutes the US-led campaign in Afghanistan. Washington and its allies have consistently promoted Pashtun notables, stacking Karzai’s cabinet and ministries with them. But too many of these scoundrels have served only their personal interests, following the lead of expat Afghan entrepreneurs more focused on building bank accounts in Dubai, rather than assisting the reconstruction of their homeland.

A dangerous political backlash to this US-fostered imbalance is gathering momentum in the form of the United Front, dominated by non-Pushtun former guerrilla communities, notably the northern Tajik followers of Ahmed Shah Massoud. While the Lion of the Panjshir is nearly seven years dead, murdered by al Qaeda suicide bombers, the beacon of his dream of a united, nationalist Afghanistan still burns fiercely in the hearts of his people. While the United Front remains, itself, a deeply fractious entity, something much more threatening has accompanied its emergence: the re-arming, by its constituent elements, of private militias across the north of Afghanistan.
   
Half a world away, the Karzai regime’s richest sponsor sleep-walks towards oblivion. The Bush administration continues to encourage public ignorance of Afghanistan:  most Americans still believe Hamid Karzai is that neat guy in the lambswool hat and cloak who speaks good English. Occasionally the Republican and Democratic hopefuls make a side-reference to Afghanistan, but only to slight the accident-prone incumbent. This 2008 campaign confirms once again that creating understanding just doesn’t cut it on US election trails.

Contrast that with the advice of DC’s straight talkers. An assessment co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former UN Ambassador Thomas has stated that Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state and a forgotten war. The review cited weakening international resolve and a mounting scepticism among Afghans about their country’s future.

Was this report, released just a week after the Manley document, a much-needed wake up call? Perhaps, but few if any decision makers in American governance - or the media - appear to be stirring. Witness the latest incredible chapter in the saga of Zalmay Khalilzad, the undisputed Khan of policy blowback in Afghanistan, a man entirely deserving of his reputation among experienced observers as Washington’s man with the molten gun.

This past January, when Hamid Karzai went ballistic at the Davos summit over the Paddy Ashdown appointment, the diplomatic rumour mill began grinding out an astonishing prospect:  that the smooth-talking Afghan-American academic-turned-statesman, “King Zal” Khalilzad, the Bush administration’s former ambassador to Kabul and Baghdad, and currently its representative to the UN, was considering standing for the office of president of Afghanistan in 2009.

Leading US newspapers and magazines duly reported the story, and managed to do it straight-faced. Newsweek, for example, stated: “Khalilzad had a successful stint as U.S. ambassador to Kabul after the Taliban fell, helping to form the Karzai government and working with then Maj. Gen. David Barno, commander of U.S. forces, to pacify the country.”

Successful? Pacify? What about the assessment made, in early February, by US Marine Corps chief Gen. James Conway, that violence in Afghanistan has escalated because the Pentagon lacks a clear picture of Afghanistan. “It is a bit confusing at this point,” Conway stated, “because we as a department need to see it the same way and quite frankly, at this point in time, we just don't." So where was the administration’s chief Afghan diplomat as this confusion persisted? Still actively involved from his post in New York, according to European officials familiar with the US command structure.

Regarding Khalilzad’s past, Newsweek was not alone in failing to recount the salient facts. Specifically, that when the record is searched for US officials who supported the most suspect Afghan commanders of the 1980’s – those who’ve become the leading anti-American militants of today - Khalilzad tops the list. As well, he helped deepen Washington’s reliance on Pakistan’s notoriously self-serving military intelligence service, the ISI, which nurtured and continues to support the Taliban. Khalilzad advocated US recognition of the Taliban regime in the 1990’s while helping to promote UNOCAL’s trans-Afghan oil pipeline project. And as the Bush administration’s ambassador to Kabul, he stacked the Karzai cabinet with ethnic Pashtuns, marginalizing Tajiks to the extent that even at Karzai’s presidential palace, one insider condemns Khalilzad as “an ethnic fascist.”

Good presidential material? Hardly. As for Khalilzad’s management of the Afghan reconstruction effort, his record of advancing the careers of grasping Afghan Americans loyal to the Bush administration speaks volumes (please see Policy Options from November, 2007, “Cashing In On Karzai & Co.”) According to one Western diplomatic source with years of experience in Kabul: “A few of us have been asking one another if we know of a more divisive or domineering figure on the political scene hereabouts. The only names we came up with are big militia leaders, or religious or ethnic supremacists.

“Even a lot of Pashtuns laugh at the suggestion of Zal as a candidate for elected office here. After all, the country now faces the real threat of disintegration along ethnic and regional lines. Khalilzad helped strengthen those fault lines, not ease them.”

Aid specialists point to today’s alarmingly ineffective global assistance effort as further evidence of the drawbacks of the Bush administration’s domineering style. The group ActionAid accuses donor nations of “following an inconsistent and incoherent approach.” ActionAid says the donors have failed to deliver a full $5 billion of aid pledged, “despite finding the many hundreds of billions necessary for military operations.”

A total of $16 billion in aid has reached Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001. Even some of Karzai’s own administrators warn that the distorted, ineffectual channelling of foreign assistance is contributing to, rather than relieving, disaffection among the Afghan civilian population. One presidential aide in Kabul says:  “The whole process is skewed in favour of foreigners and westernized Afghans, the donor/consultant elite. Aid isn’t going through appropriate channels, and it’s not reaching the people of Afghanistan. Much of it goes in big administration, security, and salary costs for foreigners, and for their westernized Afghan partners and interlocutors.

“These people, particularly Afghan-Americans who’ve built up large offshore holdings, take advantage of a weak system. That system is nearing breaking point. There’ll be a strong backlash from the Afghan people, in the provinces and here in Kabul. That could prove to be the final disaster:  a collapse of order, not just trust.”

This grim assessment, like much of the Manley report, is sharply at odds with the mainly reassuring statements that have come from the Harper government over the past two years. The PMO has depicted the Karzai administration in only an upbeat way, and, according to sources at Foreign Affairs, has instructed senior diplomats at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul to discourage candid news coverage of the regime by Canadian journalists.

The Manley panel delicately suggests a “rebalancing” of the government’s communications practices, saying it “must engage Canadians in a continuous, frank and constructive dialogue…” In other words, it’s time to quit blowing smoke over the critical weaknesses of the Afghan mission.

Question:  what good quitting the smoke while cyclones of official denial continue to spin and churn?

Arthur Kent has reported regularly from Afghanistan since 1980. He was invited to give evidence before the Manley panel, and is listed in the review’s report as a Domain and Subject Matter Expert.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Russia fulfills obligations on Afghan debt - ambassador
MOSCOW.  March 7 (Interfax) - Russia has refuted reports that there are problems with the writing off of the Afghan state debt.
    
"This  is  absolute  nonsense. As to the Afghan debt everything has been completed.   I   state   this  with  due  responsibility,"  Russian Ambassador  to  Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said in an interview published by the Vremya Novostei newspaper on Friday.
    
Some media organizations reported earlier that Russia has failed to fulfill an agreement on a many-billion Afghan debt.
    
"Such  irresponsible  statements  undermine  the  activity of state agencies as to Afghanistan," Kabulov said.
    
Currently,  an  agreement  on  the  delivery  of  Russian  arms  to Afghanistan is being drafted, the ambassador said. "Everything is transparent  there.  Meetings  between defense ministers and between our military experts need to be organized. The demand of our Afghan partners needs to  be thoroughly discussed, and this is not a problem for us," he said.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Baku to consider increasing peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan
BAKU.  March  7 (Interfax) - Azerbaijan may consider increasing the number of  its peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan, if it receives such a proposal  from  the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), country's parliamentary speaker Ziyafet Askerov told journalists.
    
"Last year, NATO proposed to the countries which participate in the peacekeeping  mission  in  Afghanistan  to  increase  their  troops, and Azerbaijan   responded   positively   by  doubling  the  number  of  its peacekeepers.  If  such  a  proposal  is  received  once again, we might consider it," Askerov said.
    
NATO  and  the  European Union are interested in stability in South Caucasus  and Central Asia because they want to use the energy resources in that region, he said.
    
"This region is an alternative source of energy for them [EU, NATO]," he added.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan agency gets federal aid
By BILL KAUFMANN, CALGARY SUN Fri, March 7, 2008 Calgary Sun - Mar 07 1:03 AM
Facebook Digg Del.icio.us Google Stumble Upon Furl Newsvine Reddit Technorati Blinklist Feed Me Yahoo Socializer Ma.gnolia Raw Sugar Simpy Squidoo Spurl Blink Bits Rojo Blogmarks Shadows Netvouz Scuttle Co.mments Bloglines Tailrank Sitejot + Help 

The efforts of a Calgary-based agency in educating Afghan teachers and girls has received a $600,000 boost from Ottawa.

A proposal by Canadian Women for Afghan Women has been accepted and the federal money will be used to train as many as 500 teachers over two years, said Janice Eisenhauer, the group's executive director.

"It's very exciting for us ... now we'll be able to sustain the schools longer," said Eisenhauer, a Calgarian whose group has adopted schools in several villages in the Kabul area.

Under the now-deposed Taliban, Afghan females were forbidden to attend school, but oppression is still widespread.

"There are challenges around the opium, warlords and the government."

She said her agency attempts to keep an Afghan stamp on its operation to avoid attracting guerrilla attention.

"We keep it pretty quiet in where we are and what we're funding."

The money will allow the group to hire an Afghan program co-ordinator.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan women showcase once-forbidden art
Alisa Tang, Associated Press Friday, March 7, 2008 via The San Francisco Chronicle
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: war and weaponry, violence, entrapment, hopelessness - and hope.

But the Taliban would have been most offended by the gender of the artists: women.

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

Under the hard-line Taliban regime, women were forbidden to leave 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 Taliban regime because I didn't have enough material, and I wasn't allowed to go out and buy paint," said 22-year-old artist Maryam Formuli.

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

The artists, who ranged in age from 7 to 26, guided their 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 exhibition, a black knee-length jacket and a red, green and black scarf, the colors 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 burqa 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 conversations 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 of an enormous caravan of women wearing blue burqas 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.

This article appeared on page E - 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Back to Top

Back to Top
Can women find unique ways out of war?
By Mark Sappenfield Fri Mar 7, 3:00 AM ET The Christian Science Monitor via Yahoo! News
New Delhi - Sakena Yacoobi well knows the hardships of Afghan women, caught between a war and the hopelessness of poverty and illiteracy.

Yet on International Women's Day Saturday, the Afghan educator will not ask the world to help Afghan women. Instead, she will ask Afghan women to help the world.

In a time of growing conflict around the world, she believes the wisdom and compassion of women can offer a way out. "Women bring tolerance and patience," she says. "Women can bring solutions – we cannot accomplish that with weapons."

She is one of several hundred prominent female leaders from 45 countries who have come to India this week to seek ways to raise women's voices worldwide, hoping that their ideas – so often ignored – begin to move the world away from war.

It is a unique approach to International Women's Day – and intentionally so, says Dena Merriam, who has organized "Making Way for the Feminine," a five-day conference that began Thursday in Jaipur.

"This is not about empowering women," says Ms. Merriam, who also co-chaired the United Nations' Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000. "It is about how women can transform society to help us find new ways of addressing conflict."

There are men here, too. The goal, participants say, is not to antagonize men. Yet each believes that women bring to the issue of conflict resolution a different perspective. Many liken it to that of a mother, stern but caring, and more open to finding alternatives to violence.

That perspective is sorely needed, they say, as the path of power and aggression has led only to more fighting and division. "The feminine gifts of compassion, empathy, and caring prepare women for the urgent role as leaders and reconcilers," said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, chairwoman of the Global Peace Initiative for Women, at the opening press conference.

"This is about whether women, with men as their partners, can chart a new course," continues Ms. Campbell, who has worked with leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bill Clinton.

The outlines of that new course can be seen in the lives of those attending, both men and women.

It is evident in the compassion of Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian who has been imprisoned for his family's political activities and whose brother was killed in the second intifada, yet started a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost relatives in the conflict.

"The idea is to show people that if you are in the peaceful way, you are not alone," he says. "You do not need to be afraid."

It is evident in the activities of Ms. Yacoobi, who operated secret schools for girls in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, and has since expanded her activities to eight provinces. While other schools have been burned or destroyed, hers have not, she says, because she is a part of the community and knows their needs.

"When the people trust you, they will protect you," she says.

In this is one of the lessons she is bringing to Jaipur. "You have to listen to the communities – to listen to their needs. You can't just depend on weapons," she says, suggesting that connection to the community tends to be a stronger trait among women than men. "We need people to listen to us, not to order us."

These are the voices that this conference hopes to amplify and inspire. Organizer Merriam acknowledges that the conference has an enormous task. The intent is to begin to change how the world thinks about power – spreading the notion that nonviolent solutions are practical and not the fruit of weakness.

Her tools, she says, are the participants themselves. With few women voices in the corridors of power, the hope is to kindle greater awareness and confidence among women so they become more active participants in demanding a solution.

"We can start by critiquing the policies that are creating the pain," said Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, at the press conference. "I might not have all the answers, but I cannot sit by in silence while the policies are destroying the very people I care about."

In recognition of the fact that many of the world's conflicts come from a clash of faiths, the conference has an overtly religious theme. It is bringing together female spiritual leaders from all faiths – such as an Islamic scholar, Buddhist nun, Hindu guru, and members of the Christian clergy.

To this end, Merriam hopes the conference will bring a World Council of Women Spiritual Leaders, which would be a mechanism to guide and advance more inclusive solutions to global problems.

Yet many of the attendees say the gathering in itself, regardless of its outcome, enables them to carry out their work.

Yacoobi needs such spiritual refreshment, she says frankly. "Coming here allows me to collect myself from all the things going on in Afghanistan," she says. "This war is destroying our country, our religion, and our faith, but coming here and seeing these people gives me a lot of energy to believe."

A psychologist in the West Bank, Laila Atshan, too, sees the worst of war – wives who have lost husbands and sons in the conflict with Israel. "I will go back stronger to give them strength," she says. For years, she has considered opening an interfaith community center. "I am hoping this will give me the guts to go do it."

So is Merriam: "The goal is to provide space for people to have a transformational moment – to have people come away so moved that they bring it back to their communities."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Czech Republic sends first civilian experts to Afghanistan 
March 07, 2008 People's Daily
The Czech Republic Thursday sent first three civilian experts on agriculture, construction and geology to Afghanistan as part of its Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the central Logar province.

The experts are expected to stay in Logar for around one year, while the whole Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team will stay there for three to five years.

The Czech government planned to send another 50 soldiers to Logar, bringing the number of Czech troops in the province to 139.It also mulls to expand the total number of soldiers dispatched to the war-torn Asian country to 415 this year.

After Lithuania and Hungary, the Czech Republic has become the third NATO member with a PRT in Afghanistan.

It also runs a field hospital in Afghanistan's capital city Kabul and a special Czech military police unit will soon engage in combat in the southwestern province of Hilmand.
Source:Xinhua
Back to Top

Back to Top
Court must block Afghan prisoner transfers, say rights groups
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canadian courts must step in and block any renewed transfers of military prisoners to local authorities in Afghanistan until there's better evidence they won't be mistreated, say two human rights groups.

"We are not satisfied that the risk of torture has been sufficiently reduced," lawyer Paul Champ told a Federal Court hearing Thursday.

His clients, Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, are seeking an interim injunction barring prisoner transfers for 14 days while more evidence is heard on the subject.

"When we're talking about torture, why can't we wait, why can't we be cautious," Champ told Justice Anne Mactavish.

He appealed to the judge to "stop the transfers for just two more weeks so we can all be confident that not one more prisoner is going to be tortured."

Federal lawyers retorted that there's no urgent need to block transfers at this time and argued that a two-week delay would be the first step on a slippery slope.

The next step, said government counsel Brian Evernden, would inevitably be a demand for a longer and wider-ranging ban.

"These injunction (requests) are a continuing feature of this litigation," said Evernden. "To say that it's only for 14 days is a bit disingenuous."

Another federal lawyer, Jeff Anderson, argued that Canadian military commanders in Afghanistan have already worked out improved safeguards to ensure the prisoners they take aren't mistreated once they're handed over to local authorities.

"There is no basis for you to conclude . . . that there is any clear or high degree of probability that any individual faces imminent harm," he told the judge.

Mactavish reserved judgment on the matter and promised a written ruling as soon as possible.

The Canadian Forces announced last week they were resuming transfers of prisoners after a four-month suspension that began in early November.

The moratorium followed a discovery by Canadian investigators that one prisoner had been beaten with an electrical cable and a rubber hose. At least two other cases of mistreatment were subsequently reported and are under separate investigation, although details of those incidents remain sketchy.

The human rights groups have already failed once to obtain an injunction halting transfers, but that was mainly because none was occurring at the time of their previous application. Mactavish gave them permission to renew their effort if transfers resumed.

The issue is part of a wider legal challenge mounted by Amnesty and the civil liberties association contending that Canada has been violating its own Charter of Rights by failing to obtain adequate assurances the prisoners it hands over won't be tortured.

The key constitutional question is whether the Charter, in effect, follows the flag and can be applied to Canadian troops serving overseas in combat.

Government officials say that, before announcing the resumption of transfers, they made sure a range of new safeguards were in place.

They include better training of Afghan prison staff and police, improved record-keeping, better access by Canadian officials to prisoners, more visits by doctors to monitor their condition, and videotaping of interrogations.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Key Afghan district slow to recover despite 2-year Canadian security effort
The Canadian Press
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — The sweet smell of life hangs over the bazaar in the centre of Panjwaii, a district that begins about 35 kilometres outside Kandahar city.

Spices and nuts overflow from fruit and vegetable carts. Donkeys laden with hay clop along the road. Rhinestones twinkle off fabrics waving in the wind.

It wasn't always this way.

On the other side of the highway, in cemetery after cemetery, poles strung with dusty flags mark the graves of hundreds of people who have lost their lives in the fighting over this crucial piece of land.

About an hour and half away by road, in the middle of the Canadian compound at Kandahar Airfield, there is a similar memorial.

A marble monument with plaques bearing the names and faces of all of 79 Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan - at least 22 of them in Panjwaii. Trooper Michael Hayakaze was killed there last Sunday by a roadside bomb.

The Panjwaii is the heartland of Kandahar province. Its return to the prosperity it knew more than 30 years ago has been a priority for Afghans and Canadians since Canada took over military operations in Kandahar in 2006.

After two years, the bazaar is only now coming back to life. The struggle is continuing in efforts to move past securing the district and jump into full-scale development.

"During the fighting, Panjwaii was empty," said district chief Haji Baran Shah.

"There was one baker, one butcher. And slowly, slowly people are starting to come back. But It is time to start doing more."

The Panjwaii sits along the Arghandab River, a main waterway in the province. It is the birthplace of the Taliban - the insurgency's leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is from here, as are several others.

It's also the home of an estimated 80,000 Afghans, the second-largest concentration outside Kandahar city.

"In 2006, people were living in desperation, in fear, in Panjwaii," said Mohammad Ehsan Zia, Afghanistan's minister for rural rehabilitation and development.

"People had no hope while the Taliban were still there."

Canada's strategy in the district consists of four steps: secure, hold, stabilize and develop.

Fighting to secure the Panjwaii has been underway since June 2006, when military leaders said after a series of skirmishes that the area had been pacified.

Only two months later, Panjwaii was the scene of the heaviest fighting Canada has seen to date in Kandahar - Operation Medusa, a lengthy campaign that saw 15 Canadian killed, dozens injured and the death of 600 to 1,000 insurgents.

The operation was declared a success in ridding the area of the large Taliban presence, but pockets of the insurgency still bubbled up in various villages and towns.

Meanwhile, aid agencies continued with the tentative steps forward they had started before the fighting.

In 2005, the Canadian International Development Agency had begun targeting funding directly at districts in Kandahar province, in addition to the national programs it had been supporting since 2001.

"We've never really left Panjwaii," said Sandra Choufani, a development officer with CIDA, which has allocated $100 million a year in aid to Afghanistan since 2001, with over $40 of that being spent directly on Kandahar province this year.

"It's an important district, in addition to Kandahar city, it's where most of the population is. It's natural for us to be focused in those areas."

Aid was centred around food distribution and health campaigns, including polio vaccinations.

Throughout the first half of 2007, the military worked at holding onto the Panjwaii through stepped-up efforts to train and equip the Afghan National Army and police.

The Afghan government launched an ambitious series of local development projects through a program called Community Development Councils, or CDCs, funded in part by CIDA.

CDCs get together to make a list of projects they'd like to see in their villages, and then together with the Afghan government, fund and complete them.

There are now 40 CDCs operating in Panjwaii.

The aim of the program is to shore up support for the local government by providing development under the Afghan flag. In turn, this is supposed to decrease support for the insurgency.

"In 2006, we had to go looking for people to give aid," said Zia. "But now they are coming to us looking for assistance."

Through the middle of 2007, aid and security were working in tandem, and the Afghan army was slowly getting stronger.

By the end of the summer, the military felt confident enough to pull back and let local police, who had only weeks of training, hold down the fort.

The Taliban attacked.

The police were "too weak," said Haji Agha Lalai, Panjwaii's representative on the Kandahar provincial council. "Seventeen, eighteen police were killed. The Taliban had all the power again."

About one-third of the Panjwaii fell back under Taliban control.

Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, commander of all of Canada's overseas missions, admitted the Canadian Forces had overestimated the success of the initial training program.

"Certainly in Panjwaii district in particular, it didn't work," he said on a recent visit to Kandahar. "They were not able to operate independently and to provide security in those areas."

For the military, it was back to trying to secure the region.

The fall of 2007 saw an operation to regain the lost territory and revitalize the training program for police.

"I had just moved back when the fighting started again," said Nasir Ahmad, 14.

"But now I think it has gotten better."

A series of checkpoints have now been established across Panjwaii, manned by Canadian and Afghan forces, and work began on the Joint District Co-ordination Centre that would oversee security efforts in the region.

Police are also undergoing stronger, more extensive training in the coming weeks.

"Security is 90 per cent better now," said Maj. Gul Bacha, the Afghan National Army commander at the co-ordination centre.

The Civil Military Co-operation teams also stepped up their development efforts, building bridges, canals and starting the work for a major road-paving project.

"Now the area is in our control," said Bismillah Khan, the police chief in Panjwaii.

"Before, Taliban had their checkpoints in these area. But now they don't have any checkpoints. They only can fix mines somewhere."

By mines, Khan means IEDs - improvised explosive devices, the scourge of the Panjwaii.

Though ambushes and direct attacks by insurgents against Canadian forces are down, IED attacks continue. More than a dozen Afghans have been killed since January along with three Canadians.

IEDs are what the military term asymmetric threats. Their lethal force is responsible, in part, for stalling Canada's efforts to move past securing and holding the district.

"The stabilization and development side reinforce the secure-hold side of things. They both have to go together," said Stephen Wallace, vice-president of CIDA's Afghanistan Task Force.

"If you start to see a breakdown, because of asymmetrical attacks and so on, of this secure-hold combination, then that's where the stabilization and development part is pretty tough."

Though the military is paving a stretch of road that will hopefully cut down on the number of IED incidents, villagers say the Taliban still have a visible presence in several villages.

They send night letters threatening people who work on projects linked to Canadians. A 15-year-old boy was killed in January after receiving one such letter.

"I have even seen them in my garden," said Musha Jan, 40, as he waited in line at a recent one-day medical clinic held by the military in Panjwaii, the first since before Operation Medusa.

"What can you do? I cannot tell them to go away."

With threat levels still high, aid to Panjwaii remains focused on humanitarian assistance.

It is having an impact. In 2007, almost 2,000 tonnes of food was distributed and the polio eradication campaign reached more than 27,000 children under five years old each month.

But only three of the area's 35 schools are open. A one-day health clinic run by the military attracted hundreds of people, as the area only has one clinic itself.

Choufani said there are plans to expand schools and medical facilities in Panjwaii, but the local governments should be able to support them.

Zia acknowledged that while the CDCs are a good idea, funding for a second round of projects hasn't materialized in all cases.

What needs to happen, Lalai said, is for the large non-governmental organizations to get into the area to start the bigger projects like building clinics, schools and running training and teaching programs.

But the military and CIDA say Panjwaii isn't ready.

"Is it secure enough for the non-governmental organizations to be streaming into (Panjwaii)?" asked Gauthier.

"It's not."

As he strolled down the bazaar, Baran Shah pointed to a bombed out storefront he said was destroyed by a suicide bomber months ago.

"We leave it here to remind us of what can happen if we don't take responsibility for ourselves," he said.

"Of course, the better sign that we were succeeding is if someone would just open a new shop."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Russia may offer Afghan route for Nato
By James Blitz in London March 6 2008 Financial Times, UK
Russia is for the first time talking to western governments about the possibility of allowing goods destined for Nato’s military mission in Afghanistan to be transported across Russian territory.

In a development that could signal the start of a significant level of practical co-operation between Russia and Nato in Afghanistan, diplomats in Moscow and Brussels are working on a plan that would allow non-military material – such as clothing, food and petrol – to cross Russia by land.

Despite the frosty relationship between Russia and the west in many policy areas, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s new ambassador to Nato, signalled a strong interest in forging agreement in this area at a recent meeting of the Nato-Russia council in Brussels.

His proposal has since been followed up by intensive talks between Nato and Russian officials on the precise routes to be used, amid hopes of reaching agreement at next month’s Nato summit in Bucharest.

According to diplomats at Russia’s Nato mission, the supply routes would have to pass from Russia through former Soviet republics, such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which are being consulted on the move.

“Consultations on the possible arrangements are being held between experts from Russian agencies and people from Nato,” said a senior Russian official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Discussions are focusing on the approximate volumes of cargo that could be transported and the entry and exit routes for the shipments.”

A senior European diplomat at Nato said: “Rogozin has signalled an interest in practical co-operation with Nato – not least on Afghanistan – and we hope something will come from that.”

The Russian proposal could be an important boost for the Nato mission fighting the Taliban, say western diplomats.

Nato’s 43,000 troops in Afghanistan rely heavily on supplies transported via Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s political uncertainty has long been regarded by Nato military commanders as a potential risk to operations, making the offer of a northern supply route through Russia attractive.

Western diplomats at Nato say it is too early to know whether the Russian proposal signals a change in Moscow’s policy towards the west after the election of Dmitri Medvedev as Russia’s president last week.

Instead, they argue that Russia has always had a strong interest in seeing the Nato mission in Afghanistan succeed because Moscow wants to keep Islamist fundamentalism at bay on its southern borders.

“By helping the Nato mission in Afghanistan, Russia is looking after its strategic interests,” said one diplomat.
Back to Top

Back to Top
ANALYSIS-UK focuses on "Harry's War", Afghan campaign drags on
Thu Mar 6, 2008 By Luke Baker
LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - A blaze of publicity for Prince Harry's front-line assignment in Afghanistan has briefly drawn Britons' attention to the conflict but touched little on the harsh realities of a struggling military campaign.

British media have revelled in Harry's cameo appearance, broadcasting pictures of Queen Elizabeth's grandson firing a machine gun and running banner headlines on the "hero prince".

The combat role of third in line to the throne, has been used by politicians and army chiefs to remind Britons of the everyday sacrifices ordinary soldiers make on the front line.

The Ministry of Defence is happy. British media stood by an agreement not to publicise Harry's 10-week stint while he was still there -- until a U.S. Web site broke the news -- and he briefly brought some glamour to the army as its pin-up hero.

The image of the royal family has benefited and Prince Charles, Harry's father, said he now understood what the parents of personnel on the front line in Afghanistan went through.

But the realities of the war were all but glossed over.

"The media was suckered into a deal that gave the war in Afghanistan the most positive and glamorous coverage it has had since the very beginning six years ago," Peter Wilby, a political commentator for the Guardian, told Reuters.

"It was a marvellous boost for army recruitment and revived the legitimacy of a war for which support has been waning."

Under the deal, media organisations including Reuters kept quiet about Harry's deployment in exchange for photographs, video and text of his role once the assignment was completed.

Yet the publicity at the end of his assignment has focused little on the truths of a military campaign in which Britain's 7,800 troops are struggling even after six years at war.

Like British forces serving in Iraq, they face difficult questions about their performance in two of the most challenging conflicts the military has faced in the past 60 years.

BRITAIN UNDER PRESSURE
Newspapers have faithfully reported that Harry successfully called in air strikes -- he told pilots where their targets were -- during his time in Helmand province and took part in operations in which the ministry says 30 Taliban were killed.

But the Taliban now control at least 10 percent of Afghanistan, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment, and are running their own checkpoints in Helmand, a violent, unstable province in the south where British troops are based.

The United States, which is battling militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border, has criticised the tactics employed by its allies including Britain. It says they do not know how to wage an effective counter-insurgency campaign.

British forces have repeatedly mounted offensives to try to drive the Taliban out of strongholds in the north of Helmand, with occasional success. But basic problems such as a lack of helicopters often hamstring operations and the Taliban return.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which is leading the 40,000-strong force in Afghanistan, acknowledges it needs more troops but few NATO member states are willing to provide them.

Britain says it has no extra soldiers to spare, partly because its troops are already badly stretched in Iraq but also because numbers of soldiers in the armed forces are generally down and recruitment is proving tough.

Any boost that "Harry's War" might bring -- and the ministry says that was not part of its intention in sending him to Afghanistan in the first place -- will not be seen for a while.

PROBLEMS IN IRAQ
In Iraq, Britain has wanted to draw down its remaining 4,500 troops and pull out for several months, but insecurity on the ground means it cannot do so.

Iraqi militants frequently fire rockets at Britain's main base outside the southern city of Basra -- killing an airman six days ago -- and five British citizens have been held captive by militants for the past 10 months.

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of covering up abuse, torture and executions by British soldiers in Iraq, and has taken out an injunction against a former special forces soldier to stop him talking about his experiences there.

Some experts have big doubts about Britain's performance in Iraq, where it once had hopes of being welcomed with open arms.

"Britain's role in Iraq, and especially in Basra, has been a complete failure," said Ghassan al-Attiyah, the head of the Iraqi Foundation for Democracy and Development.

"After five years, they have just handed over Basra and put it into the control of militias who are supported by Iran."

Much of the nuance of what is happening in the conflict has been lost in the glare of Harry's deployment.

Despite the publicity over what has become known as Harry's War, media experts say the Ministry of Defence may not gain much in the long term. The publicity has done little to focus attention on the real problems troops face in Afghanistan. (Editing by Timothy Heritage)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Danish aid helps re-open Afghan schools
By The Copenhagen Post
6 March 2008- Danish aid is helping schools to re-open in Afghanistan, but critics say the curriculum is based on fundamental Islam
An ordinary school day will soon become a reality for some of Musa Qala's school children, reports Politiken newspaper.

Three months ago, the dusty district town of 35,000 inhabitants in the Helmand province of Afghanistan was devoid of schools after it had been taken over by the Taleban. The insurgents obliterated many learning centres and murdered teachers and students.

However, in December, the Afghan government troops claimed the town back with the help of British and American forces.

Denmark is now in charge of re-establishing schools in the Helmand province. And with a pledge of DKK 3.4 million, two primary schools are being built in Musa Qala and the town's secondary school is once again buzzing with students.

According to the Danish development plan for Helmand, Denmark will be responsible for the building or re-building of ten new schools over the next ten years. One of the long-term goals of the Helmand plan is to have 105,000 boys and girls in school by 2011.

But while getting the children back in school is important, the schools are considered 'religious' centres, and many critics are worried that the children are being educated according to strict interpretations of Islam.

'We are uneasy about supporting groups that are on the religious fringes,' said Peter Skaarup, The Danish People's Party's second-in-command. 'We have to be careful about giving aid to fundamentalist groups.'

But Franz-Michael Mellbin, the Danish ambassador to Afghanistan, said in an area where Islam is very strong and 90 percent of the population is illiterate, building only public schools will force the local priests to discourage parents from sending their children to school at all - or force them to cross the border into Pakistan, where there is little or no control over school curricula.

But Mellbin is still optimistic about Danish efforts. He said the priority was to establish a system that would enable as much access to schools as possible for the province's children.

'The first plan was not ambitious enough. So we've now enlisted the help of people from the education ministry in Kabul and we're drawing up new plans,' he said.

Mellbin added that support from local residents was crucial for success, particularly in getting girls into the schools. 'People are not comfortable sending girls to schools far away, whereas there is no problem for boys to walk up to ten km,' he said. (LYT)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan invites Kuwaiti investments 
By Ben Garcia, Kuwait Times March 6, 2008
KUWAIT: "Things are getting better in Afghanistan and the security concern is improving daily," declared Dr Omar Zakhilwal, head of Afghan business delegation, as he wooed Kuwaiti businessmen during their visit to the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) yesterday.

The group mostly comprised of Afghan businessmen based in Dubai, was received by KCCI Chairman Thunayan Alghanim and several KCCI members. They considered this visit as 'follow through' for the visit made by their president last December; to cement their bilateral, economic and political relations. Zakhilwal acknowledged concern for security but maintained that unavoidable business opportunities were being created every day.

Right now, the number of business people from European countries, China, India, America have been growing daily. When you ask them about security, they will never deny some risk factor, but they will always say that opportunities have always been there. Business has always been associated with risk-(if you don't take a risk you won't succeed)," he said.

He added that if there are foreign nationals enjoying development and rebuilding their country, Kuwaitis can also share, lead, operate their business in Afghanistan. "We want you to come and invest in Afghanistan. We now have a friendlier business environment and the attitude of business people are changing fast into positive. We want you to be part of these growing opportunities in our country," he enthused.

The business delegation consisted of Dubai-based Afghani companies who are actively reviving their country's economic prospect. Business delegates who hailed from banking, cement industry, mining and agro-business sectors.

Thunayan Alghanim explained the need to cement the economic relations. As he knows for a fact, they have zero economic count. "We strongly feel that there are huge opportunities in Afghanistan, but what kept us waiting was the issue of security and stability. We want to know whether it has improved or not," he said.
Back to Top


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