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May 19, 2008 

Afghans skeptical that security's getting better
By Jonathon Burch
GHAZNI, Afghanistan, May 19 (Reuters) - The Taliban in Afghanistan are getting weaker, the U.S. ambassador tells local councillors in the eastern city of Ghazni, but he is met by a wall of shaking heads and tutting noises; 'no, no', some reply.

Iran's president says foreign interference failing Afghanistan
TEHERAN, May 19 (RIA Novosti) - During a meeting with the UN envoy to Afghanistan on Monday Iran's president said that foreign interference in Afghanistan would not solve the problems in the country.

Anti-Taliban push underway in Afghanistan: Australian military
Mon May 19, 4:49 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military on Monday said it had launched a "major push" to clear out extremist Taliban fighters from their heartland in southern Afghanistan.

Food aid appeal for some 100,000 in Ghor Province
CHEGHECHERAN, 19 May 2008 (IRIN) - Over 22,500 "most vulnerable" families (about 112,500 individuals) in Ghor Province, central-western Afghanistan, who have been severely affected by rising food prices and drought are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to aid agencies and provincial officials.

Taliban gearing up for spring offensive
Globe and Mail, Canada KATHERINE O'NEILL From Monday's Globe and Mail May 18, 2008
ZHARI DISTRICT, AFGHANISTAN
Sapper Marc Carignan had just walked inside the compound, when a large explosion erupted near the main door, spraying jagged metal shrapnel several hundred metres and leaving a crater the size of a small car.

MP: inmates had nails driven into their backs
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 18 May 2008
Abuse in Kandahar jail confirmed days after hunger-strike ends
PRISONERS locked up in Kandahar jail have been brutally tortured by prison officials, a member of parliament has said following a nine-day hunger strike that saw prisoners sew their lips together in protest at conditions in the jail.

UN hands control of $70m drug fund to government
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 18 May 2008
Minister wrests control of million dollar fund to combat country's drug problem
THE UNITED Nations have handed control of their drug fund, set up to combat the production of opium in Afghanistan, to the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, according to the man running the ministry.

Karzai hopes new govt will fight terrorists
Dawn, Pakistan By Our Reporter May 18, 2008
SHARM-EL-SHEIKH-Afghan President Hamid Karzai said here on Sunday he was confident that the newly elected Pakistan government would put up a joint fight against terrorists and extremists in the region.

Afghan reporter appeals death sentence
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, May 19 (UPI) -- An Afghan journalist sentenced to death for downloading and distributing an article questioning Islam says his confession was extracted by torture.

Under wraps, prostitution rife in north Afghanistan
By Tahir Qadiry Sun May 18, 8:12 PM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - When 19-year-old Fatima returned to her home in northern Afghanistan after years as a refugee in Iran, she struggled desperately to earn a living.

Chinese sex workers find their way to Kabul
Reuters - Business By Tan Ee Lyn and Jonathon Burch Mon May 19, 2008
KABUL-Wazir Akbar Khan, with its two-storey houses, balconies and walled gardens is regarded as one of Kabul's more 'upmarket' districts and is home to many of the foreign embassies and aid agencies based in Afghanistan.

Clegg concern over 'old' army kit
Sunday, 18 May 2008 BBC News, UK
Nick Clegg has said he is concerned the British army in Afghanistan has "old kit" and suffers equipment shortages.

Afghanistan take first step towards cricket World Cup
May 19, 2008
KARACHI (AFP) - Burgeoning cricket talent Afghanistan are confident as they prepare for the first step towards the 2011 World Cup, captain Norooz Khan Mangal was quoted as saying Monday.

Pakistan Taliban claims responsibility for bomb blast
ISLAMABAD, May 19 (Xinhua) -- A pro-Taliban military group in Pakistan on Monday claimed responsibility for a bomb blast in northwestern Pakistan, which killed 13 people including four soldiers, a private TV channel reported.

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Afghans skeptical that security's getting better
By Jonathon Burch
GHAZNI, Afghanistan, May 19 (Reuters) - The Taliban in Afghanistan are getting weaker, the U.S. ambassador tells local councillors in the eastern city of Ghazni, but he is met by a wall of shaking heads and tutting noises; 'no, no', some reply.

While Afghan government and international forces point to some success in restricting Taliban guerrilla attacks across the south and east, suicide bombs -- 140 last year -- roadside bombs, kidnappings and threats have created an atmosphere of fear.

"We don't want food, we don't want schools, we want security!" said one woman council member.

"Ok, let me ask you," replied U.S. ambassador William Wood. "Are the Taliban weaker now?"

"No," the councillors said, shaking their heads.

"But are these Taliban or criminals?" Wood asked.

"Taliban," they replied.

On the back of military operations, NATO-led forces in Afghanistan aim to "drain the swamp" of the insurgency by promoting development, constructing roads, schools and hospitals and extending the reach of Afghan authorities to remote areas.

But the process is slow and even Western leaders admit reconstruction and development in Afghanistan has been patchy, poorly coordinated and under-funded.

Ghazni is only a two-hour drive down the country's main highway from the capital, Kabul, and while it is not as dangerous or as unstable as provinces such as Kandahar or Helmand to the south, the villages around the historic city have seen a sharp upsurge of Taliban activity in the past two years.

Residents have received so-called "night letters", notes scattered or pushed under doorways by Taliban militants in the dead of the night, threatening to kill anyone cooperating with foreign forces and the Afghan government.

Taliban gunmen kidnapped 23 South Koreans in Ghazni province last July, killing two of them before releasing the others and securing a major boost from a $20-million ransom.

The U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Ghazni has built roads, schools and clinics in the province, but construction workers have what U.S. Lieutenant Jeff Annon called security "involvements" every week.

Road construction sites have been mortared at night, and the PRT has been shot at on numerous occasions. A road worker was killed last week and a foreign civilian working with the PRT was killed by a roadside bomb last year, Annon said.

"The shift from the battlefield to terrorism means that the Taliban have given up any chance of winning the loyalty of the people of Afghanistan and instead seek to intimidate them," said Wood. But, he said, the people of Afghanistan have "never been intimidated".

But at least one Afghan reporter in Ghazni begged to disagree.

"We are scared of the Taliban," he said, asking not to be named. "We are scared of leaving the city. They are living in the villages." (Editing by Roger Crabb)
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Iran's president says foreign interference failing Afghanistan
TEHERAN, May 19 (RIA Novosti) - During a meeting with the UN envoy to Afghanistan on Monday Iran's president said that foreign interference in Afghanistan would not solve the problems in the country.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Kai Eide that Iran would do its best to maintain security and stability in Afghanistan, adding that he was in favor of setting a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country and the complete handover of authority to the local government.

The Islamic Republic's president said drug production was one of Afghanistan's most serious problems and Iran was ready to assist the UN in tackling the narcotic trade in the country.

Ahmadinejad also said Western countries were responsible for the hardship in Afghanistan with their policy of double standards:

"As long as they [Western countries] carry out a policy of double standards, the difficulties on Afghan land will not disappear. Certain foreign states, present in Afghanistan, cooperate both with the government and their enemies."

Afghan officials said Monday they were stunned by the latest suicide bombings which left eight people dead and nine injured in two separate attacks.

NATO's representative in Kabul, the capital city, had earlier said terrorists have recently stepped up attacks in Afghanistan. In April, terrorist attacks were 50% higher than the same period last year.
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Anti-Taliban push underway in Afghanistan: Australian military
Mon May 19, 4:49 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military on Monday said it had launched a "major push" to clear out extremist Taliban fighters from their heartland in southern Afghanistan.

A series of operations would be carried out north of the soldiers' base near Tarin Kowt to clear out insurgents, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said.

"Australian soldiers have begun a major push into the Taliban heartland of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan with the intent of pushing out the Taliban, restoring vital infrastructure and creating a safe environment for the Afghan people," the ADF said in a statement.

The push would be spearheaded by engineers, infantry, cavalry and support troops, it said.

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Yeaman, commanding officer of the 4th Reconstruction Task Force, said the Australians had moved into the Baluchi region as part of joint operations with the Dutch.

"This is an area of huge tactical and strategic significance for the Taliban extremists," he said.

"This is the Taliban's back yard and we are right on their main supply route between (southwestern) Helmand province and their supply bases to the north.

"The aim of this series of operations is to clear out the Taliban, and then build the physical infrastructure -- patrol bases particularly -- which will allow the Afghan National Army and police, with support from the International Security Assistance Force, to dominate these areas."

Australia has around 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly assisting a Dutch-led reconstruction operation in Uruzgan.

Last month, an Australian commando died in a gun battle in the former Taliban stronghold when the rebels attacked his patrol, prompting Premier Kevin Rudd to warn the conflict would likely become more intense in coming months.

He told a press conference at the time that "2008 will be difficult and dangerous and bloody, and the Australian nation needs to prepare itself for further losses in the year ahead."

He added: "We are facing a change of season, as the winter snows melt and the spring thaw begins, which usually indicates a heightening in military activity on the part of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda."

Five Australians have died in combat in Afghanistan since 2002 -- four in the past seven months.
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Food aid appeal for some 100,000 in Ghor Province
CHEGHECHERAN, 19 May 2008 (IRIN) - Over 22,500 "most vulnerable" families (about 112,500 individuals) in Ghor Province, central-western Afghanistan, who have been severely affected by rising food prices and drought are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to aid agencies and provincial officials.

Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs (CHA), World Vision and Afghan Aid, and some government bodies have identified tens of thousands of "most vulnerable" people in all of Ghor's 10 districts in need of urgent relief and who could face starvation and/or migrate to other provinces.

To avert a humanitarian crisis in Ghor, the provincial authorities have demanded 1,733 tonnes of food aid through a joint appeal which has also been endorsed by local NGOs.

The survey identified 8,000 other "vulnerable" families for whom food aid has not been requested.

"Food has become unaffordable for many already poor families," said the survey. "Drought and lack of quality seeds, fertilizers and other agricultural requirements also present a worrying prospect for this year's harvest," it said.

Despite heavy snowfall in parts of Afghanistan, including Ghor Province, there is a rainfall deficit of at least 200mm in areas which normally receive 400-800mm annually, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on 18 May, adding that this would most probably affect agricultural production.

"Should the 2008 harvest be poor, both the food aid requirements and the number of vulnerable people would rise sharply," FAO said.

Dependent on food aid?

The poor prospects for agricultural production in 2008 mean that most of Ghor's estimated over 500,000 population - who mostly rely on agriculture and livestock as their main source of income - will probably depend on food aid in the months ahead, experts have said.

However, the emergency food aid appeal envisages only one ration of 50kg of wheat and rice, 5kg ghee and sugar, 20kg of beans, 2kg of salt, and 1kg tea for every five-member family listed as most vulnerable.

Tents, jerry cans, blankets, soap, fodder and medicines have also been requested.

"The requested aid will only temporarily meet the needs of the most needy," said Gulam Yahya Rasoli, head of the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

"We definitely require long-term solutions to overcome mounting challenges," Rasoli told IRIN.

Amid growing tension over access to food and the availability of food in local shops, several people in Lal-o-Sarjungle District said they had lost the means to cope with worsening food-insecurity.

"We already sold or lost our animals," said Azizullah, an elderly resident of Lak-o-Sarjungle.

"I have nothing in my home to sell [in order to] buy food for my family," said another man.

In October 2007 aid agencies demanded 14,000 tonnes of mixed food aid to assist tens of thousands of hungry people in Ghor Province and avert a human tragedy during winter.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said 14,000 tonnes of food was distributed to thousands of beneficiaries in Ghor in 2007 and up to 16,000 tonnes will be distributed through food-for-work projects in 2008.

Additionally, WFP runs other food aid projects such as education-incentive aid, and food aid for tuberculosis patients which cover up to 87 percent of the total population in Ghor Province.

Poor roads, insecurity

Much of Ghor Province is 2,500m above sea-level and the mountainous terrain usually becomes impassable after heavy snowfalls in winter. Many parts of the province are vulnerable to flash floods in spring and drought in summer.

Owing to poor roads and insecurity, the delivery of food and non-food items to Ghor and its isolated districts has been a major factor in raising prices.

"One kilogram of rice is 90 Afghanis [US$1.90] and so is cooking oil," said Sayed Akbar Amiri, a UN official in Ghor, adding that 50kg of wheat sold for over $50.

"Most people are poor and cannot afford even a sack of wheat for a month," Amiri said.
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Taliban gearing up for spring offensive
Globe and Mail, Canada KATHERINE O'NEILL From Monday's Globe and Mail May 18, 2008
ZHARI DISTRICT, AFGHANISTAN
Sapper Marc Carignan had just walked inside the compound, when a large explosion erupted near the main door, spraying jagged metal shrapnel several hundred metres and leaving a crater the size of a small car.

Several Canadian and Afghan soldiers were already inside the large mud building, which locals had told them was a possible Taliban hideout. Less than 10 minutes later, another explosion occurred, this time inside the compound, and filled the blue sky again with billowing black smoke.

“That place was a mousetrap,” Sapper Carignan, a 23-year-old Edmonton-based combat engineer, said shortly after all the soldiers climbed a wall to escape the attack on Saturday morning. His face and uniform were covered in mud and dust.

Sapper Carignan was the only person injured; he temporarily lost hearing in his right ear.

It was the second close call for the Canadian military in recent days, and another sign that Taliban insurgents are readying for an expected spring offensive using every weapon they can get their hands on.
Unlike roadside bombs, which have been one of the most popular tools used by the Taliban, Saturday's attack required substantial planning and effort. The majority of the 83 Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2002 were killed in roadside bomb attacks.

“I haven't seen anything like that before,” the warrant officer in charge of Saturday's operation said.

The veteran Shiloh, Man.-based soldier, who was also inside the compound when the blasts occurred, didn't want his name used for fear news of the incident would upset his family.

After the attack, soldiers searched the abandoned compound on the north bank of the Arghandab River southwest of Kandahar and found dozens of improvised explosive devices, including mortars, which failed to detonate. Those explosives, which were wired together by a single strand of copper wire and activated by command denotation, were sequenced to blow up so the soldiers would be trapped inside and killed. They didn't detonate because of faulty wiring.

“That place was rigged to kill everybody,” said Warrant Officer Chuck Côté, who was also inside the compound when blasts occurred.

A wire was found leading 600 metres away from the compound, which was surrounded by poppy and grape fields, to a wall, where the person who detonated the explosives initiated the attack.

Four locals, including a teenage boy, were briefly held and questioned by Afghan soldiers, but were released on Saturday due to lack of evidence, even though one had traces of explosive residue on his hands.
An Afghan army sergeant, who participated in Saturday's operation, said there wasn't enough to arrest and detain anybody.

“Everybody in Afghanistan has an AK-47 in their home. Explosive materials are all around us,” he said.

The operation had been patrolling areas in the Panjwai and Zhari districts before the attack occurred. The soldiers were on foot.

Security in the two districts is currently so poor, there are some military outposts that are being resupplied by helicopter drops instead of vehicle convoys. Even senior district leaders from the area don't live here because it's too dangerous, although they attend a weekly council meeting on Thursdays in Bazar-e-Panjwai, a small village about 40 kilometres from Kandahar.

Warrant Officer Devin Ramos, who is in charge of one of the small military outposts, said soldiers are “constantly” trying to win the support of locals.

“They want us down here,” he said.

However, he added that many residents are afraid of the Taliban, and will sometimes stay silent about possible attacks or even assist them, for fear of reprisals against them or their families.
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MP: inmates had nails driven into their backs
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 18 May 2008
Abuse in Kandahar jail confirmed days after hunger-strike ends
PRISONERS locked up in Kandahar jail have been brutally tortured by prison officials, a member of parliament has said following a nine-day hunger strike that saw prisoners sew their lips together in protest at conditions in the jail.

Legislator Shakiba Hashimi, a member of the parliamentary delegation sent to investigate the inmates’ claims of abuse, said some prisoners had nails driven into their backs as part of the torture.

The hunger strike, which ended last week, involved some 200 prisoners in Kandahar jail, with about 50 detainees sewing their mouths shut because they claimed to have been jailed for two years without trial.
Hashimi said there was evidence that the genitals of some prisoners had also been brutally tortured.

The MP said the conditions that prisoners were forced to live under were terrible and that the authorities treated them poorly.

She confirmed that 47 prisoners, aged between 18-29 years, had sown their lips shut in protest at the appalling conditions.

Some people working on a farm close to the scene of an explosion in Kandahar had been thrown in the prison by foreign troops, she said.

Bribes play a decisive role in the jail terms meted out to prisoners, and richer inmates could buy their freedom, she said.

MP Noorulhaq Ullumi, also part of the parliamentary team sent to investigate claims of abuse in the prison, said most inmates held without charge were still languishing in the jail.

The 400 prisoners called off their protest last Tuesday when the parliamentary delegation arrived to probe claims that prisoners had been locked in the jail for up to two years without trial.
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UN hands control of $70m drug fund to government
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 18 May 2008 
Minister wrests control of million dollar fund to combat country's drug problem
THE UNITED Nations have handed control of their drug fund, set up to combat the production of opium in Afghanistan, to the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, according to the man running the ministry.

Minister of counter-narcotics, General Khodaidad, said today (Sunday) that about $70 million was now in the hands of the drug ministry, a move he says will help develop long-term projects to rid the country of the drug, which feeds the world’s heroin addicts.

The decision to hand over control of the UN’s Counter Narcotics Trust Fund (CNTF) to the ministry comes six weeks after the head of Parliament's Counter Narcotics Commission said the fight to eradicate opium would fail unless the Afghan government had control of the fund.

Mullah Taj Muhammad Mujahid said in April that the CNTF was controlled by foreigners whose donor countries were often un-coordinated in their approach to solving Afghanistan’s drug problem.

Announcing the news today, Khodaidad said $10 million will be used to buy seeds and another $20 million will create job opportunities for farmers in areas where opium growth has already been eradicated.
Khodaidad said: “Fortunately, the CNTF has been totally under the Afghans’ hand for one week, especially the ministry of finance’s, and the fund’s management and organisation process is under the control of the anti-narcotics ministry.”

Opium production rose last year by more than one third on 2006, according to the US state department.

About 93% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan, the state department believes, with most of the drug being grown in the south of the country in areas like Helmand.
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Karzai hopes new govt will fight terrorists
Dawn, Pakistan By Our Reporter May 18, 2008
SHARM-EL-SHEIKH-Afghan President Hamid Karzai said here on Sunday he was confident that the newly elected Pakistan government would put up a joint fight against terrorists and extremists in the region.

Mr Karzai was talking to Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani during a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

He said that democracy in Pakistan was an asset not only for Pakistan but also for Afghanistan.

He invited the prime minister to visit Afghanistan and address the parliament. He thanked Pakistan for its help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, particularly in the education sector.

He recalled his meeting with Ms Benazir Bhutto and said economic empowerment of women of Pakistan and Afghanistan would be a real tribute to Ms Bhutto who had always fought for the rights of women.
Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan had a vital stake in Afghanistan emerging as a strong and stable neighbour to ensure peace and security not only in Afghanistan but also in the entire region.

He said that Pakistan, as a neighbour and a brotherly Islamic country of Afghanistan, was committed to promoting peace in Afghanistan through increased cooperation and coordination including diplomatic, political, economic, defence and security fields.

Mr Gilani said Pakistan would continue to extend all possible assistance to the brotherly people of Afghanistan as the two countries had common faith, history, geography, culture and heritage.

He said the world needed to do more to speed up the ongoing process of socio-economic development in Afghanistan by addressing the root causes of terrorism at economic, political and social fronts.

He said Pakistan would participate in the forthcoming Paris conference on Afghanistan scheduled to be held on June 12 and also called for an early convening of the third regional economic cooperation conference.

He said that Pakistan like Afghanistan was a victim of terrorism and both countries had a common objective of fighting terrorism.

Mr Gilani said that there was an urgent need for the world community to take steps for elimination of drugs and poppy cultivation which funded terrorism.
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Afghan reporter appeals death sentence
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, May 19 (UPI) -- An Afghan journalist sentenced to death for downloading and distributing an article questioning Islam says his confession was extracted by torture.

Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh is appealing his sentence without the benefit of an attorney because, he says, he has done nothing wrong, The Telegraph reported Monday.

Kambakhsh was sentenced to death in a provincial court in January after being given only three minutes to answer the charges against him.

Government prosecutors accused Kambakhsh of downloading an Iranian newspaper article that questioned several tenets of Islam, including those relating to the rights of women.

Prosecutors said he added three paragraphs of his own to the article before distributing it to classmates at Balkh University, where he is a student and reporter for a local newspaper.

During the past two years, press freedom in Afghanistan has come under increasing pressure from the country's conservative religious establishment.
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Under wraps, prostitution rife in north Afghanistan
By Tahir Qadiry Sun May 18, 8:12 PM ET
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - When 19-year-old Fatima returned to her home in northern Afghanistan after years as a refugee in Iran, she struggled desperately to earn a living.

She briefly found work with an NGO, before being let go, and then spent two months learning how to weave carpets, before the factory shut down and she was again out on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Determined to support her mother, two sisters and young brother, she turned to a profession that has long been practiced the world over but remains deeply suppressed in conservative Afghanistan -- prostitution.

"I had no other way but prostitution," says the pretty teenager, dressed in tight blue jeans with a black veil pulled loosely over her head.

"I get up early in the morning and wander around the city," she said, at first reluctant to discuss her work. "My customers stop me and give me a lift and then we talk about the price," she explains, her face coated in make-up.

Sometimes charging $50 a time, her work is illegal and would bring shame on her family if discovered, but it provides a lifeline she otherwise could not have imagined.

And there is anecdotal evidence, supported by doctors concerned about the potential for the spread of HIV and AIDS, that more and more young women across northern regions of Afghanistan are turning to sex work to escape grinding poverty.

Mohammad Khalid, a doctor who runs an AIDS awareness clinic in Mazar-i-Sharif, says he has seen a rise in infections, although from a very low base, and fears that women working in prostitution are reluctant to come forward to be tested.

"Unfortunately the public is not aware of the risk of HIV infection," he says. "It is very dangerous and these prostitutes will be a major factor in spreading it."

FEW OPTIONS
Nasrin, a stylish 24-year-old dressed in a white burqa but wearing fashionable jeans underneath, works as a prostitute in Kunduz, to the east of Mazar-i-Sharif.

She says she was urged by her mother to take up the work as there was no other way for the family to earn a living.

"My father died in the civil war, my mum was a widow and I did not know what she did for work," Nasrin explained. "Later I understood she was a prostitute. One day she encouraged me to have sex with a man who came to our house."

Nasrin said she was ashamed, but felt she had no choice. "I really wanted to be a good lady and live with my husband, but now everyone sees me as a prostitute," she said. "My life is spoiled," she sobbed.

Others are more satisfied with their work, even if they acknowledge it means a normal life is out of the question.

"I am happy with what I am doing," says Nazanin, 23, a long-time prostitute in Mazar-i-Sharif who charges $15 a time.

"On the other hand, I have had enough of this. I really want to live like the others do. But who will marry me?" she asked. While Afghanistan's strict Islamic law forbids prostitution, there are signs the work is taking formal root, with brothels operating in some cities and pimps managing prostitutes. Bribes take care of unwanted police attention.

"I have had my brothel for at least five years," explained a pimp in one northern provincial city, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I have 10 girls here and my customers are trustworthy."

Asked how he operates under Islamic law, he replied: "My brothel is not in the open. It is something only my customers know about. Once police took notice of what I was doing but I paid them a bribe."

SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE
For clients, paying for sex gives them easy access to women that they otherwise would not be able to meet or could only have contact with if they were married -- a costly exercise in itself.

"I have sex at least once a week with one of these prostitutes," said Zilgy, a 25-year-old visiting a brothel in Mazar-i-Sharif. "I am their regular customer now. I have their telephone numbers and invite them to many places."

Ahmad Jamshid, aged 27, says he has sex with prostitutes because he cannot afford a wife.

"I am a shopkeeper. If I want to marry a girl, I must have at least $20,000 to marry her. Having sex with a prostitute is the only way that can I meet my expectations," he said.

Women's rights workers are concerned about what they see as a rising tide in sex work but believe it will inevitably continue unless the government does something to tackle poverty.

Malalai Usmani, head of Balkh, a women's rights organization, says more awareness in the public is needed.

"Because of poverty, women are doing this," she said. "It is all because of poverty. The government and other organizations should launch awareness programs to let these women know about the harm caused by prostitution."

Security chiefs and religious leaders are also keen to show that they are clamping down on the world's oldest profession, but they lay the blame squarely on the sex worker, not the customers.

"Prostitution is completely illegal in Islam," said Qari Aziz, a prayer leader in Mazar-i-Sharif. "Those practicing it must be punished very harshly so that they will never do it again."
(Editing by Megan Goldin)
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Chinese sex workers find their way to Kabul
Reuters - Business By Tan Ee Lyn and Jonathon Burch Mon May 19, 2008
KABUL-Wazir Akbar Khan, with its two-storey houses, balconies and walled gardens is regarded as one of Kabul's more 'upmarket' districts and is home to many of the foreign embassies and aid agencies based in Afghanistan.

But behind some of the district's compound walls lies a 'seedy' side to the city; Kabul's Chinese brothels.

Hidden behind unmarked gates, a surveillance camera and a handful of customers' jeeps parked outside are the only signs of the brothels' location.

Inside over a dozen Chinese women dressed in mini-skirts and heavy makeup sit and chat, while foreign men sidle up to them. Conversation is halting with both sides mustering what little English they can manage.

"There are 200 of us here in Kabul, we don't go out much. It's not safe," said a female bartender from northern China who asked not to be named.

"I've been here for two years, the money is okay. We stay indoors. We don't go out. We don't get into any trouble."

It is illegal for foreigners to work without permits in Afghanistan and these Chinese sex workers face deportation if they are caught working.

Prostitution is also illegal in Afghanistan and from time-to-time brothels are raided and closed down.

"I've been here four years now. There used to be more of these places but the police raided them and they had to shut down. I only know of three places now", said a client from Turkey. "They pay money to the police in order to stay open."

JOBLESS BACK HOME
Chinese workers can be found all over the world searching for a better living, doing the jobs that locals snub.

Despite a strong, robust economy, unemployment is a huge problem in China with numerous state enterprises downsizing in the last decade or so, leaving millions either jobless or underemployed. Relentless inflation has only made life harder.

"I am here just to make money. I don't feel very comfortable here. Frankly, the working conditions back home would be a lot better, but work is hard to find," said Ah Hua, a prostitute in her 20s who said she had been in Kabul for five months.

Lily, a sex worker from southern China, agrees: "I have been here a month. It's boring here."

"We don't go out, she added, referring to both their illegal working status and Kabul's volatile security situation.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan over the last two years with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide attacks last year alone, resulting in the deaths of some 200 people, mostly civilians.

But the Chinese sex workers are willing to live in such a dangerous city because their wages are relatively high compared to China where the average wage is $11 a day.

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001 and it is well-paid foreigners that mostly frequent Kabul's brothels. Afghans are usually turned away at the door.

"A local might earn $150 a month; I pay $150 a night for a woman!" said one foreign client.

One of the hidden dangers in Kabul for foreigners and locals alike is sexually transmitted diseases, a growing problem in Afghanistan due to widespread ignorance about how sexually transmitted diseases are contracted.

Asked if she practised safe sex, Ah Hua, the sex worker who has been in Kabul for five months said: "Of course we have to protect ourselves. We are in a very foreign place."
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Clegg concern over 'old' army kit
Sunday, 18 May 2008 BBC News, UK
Nick Clegg has said he is concerned the British army in Afghanistan has "old kit" and suffers equipment shortages.

The Lib Dem leader, who is on his first visit to the country, also said there were "big issues" over soldiers' pay.

Earlier, he said failure in Afghanistan would be "devastating" and the Nato mission was "hanging in the balance".

The Ministry of Defence has said it is spending £6bn a year on new equipment and insists there are huge improvements in its standard and supply.

Mr Clegg spent two days visiting British troops and holding talks with Afghan leaders.

"I've seen some of the kit they've had to deal with," he said.

"Some of it's great, but frankly some of it's old ... some of the vehicles don't have enough spare parts, some of it's very hot and... there are big issues surrounding whether we're paying, particularly some of the junior starting soldiers, enough.

"I think there's been some improvements about some long-standing issues surrounding accommodation for soldiers' families back home, but we need to go further still.

"I think we owe all the men and women here a huge debt of gratitude because we sometimes forget that the cost of failure would be catastrophic for Britain as a whole."

Mr Clegg had warned earlier in his visit that without lasting peace and stability Afghanistan could revert to a "pariah state".

'Greater unity'

"The consequences of failure would be devastating," he said.

"Afghanistan is the most important conflict of our generation," he said.

"If we fail to secure lasting peace and stability, Afghanistan will revert to a pariah state, feeding the international drugs trade and offering a haven for terrorism that will threaten global security for the conceivable future.

"Yet the success of our mission in Afghanistan hangs in the balance. International efforts have not yet delivered the stability and security that the people of Afghanistan deserve."

Mr Clegg said the international community needed to demonstrate "greater unity in the way aid and reconstruction support is provided".

There were also crucial questions over how many UK troops should be on the ground, how to tackle the opium trade, and how to engage with neighbouring states, he added.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman pointed out that Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, commander of British forces in Helmand, Afghanistan, had previously gone on the record to the troops felt "extremely well supported" and soldiers were "much better equipped" than in 2006.

He was speaking as his 16 Air Assault Brigade took over from 52 Infantry Brigade last month.

He added: "I doubt whether the British army has ever put a brigade into the field as well equipped as 16 Brigade and it continues to improve with each deployment.

"The next brigade will probably be even better equipped."
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Afghanistan take first step towards cricket World Cup
May 19, 2008
KARACHI (AFP) - Burgeoning cricket talent Afghanistan are confident as they prepare for the first step towards the 2011 World Cup, captain Norooz Khan Mangal was quoted as saying Monday.

Afghanistan are one of 12 teams featuring in the division five event of the ICC (International Cricket Council) World Cricket League, which starts in Jersey from May 23.

"A few years ago, any talk of Afghanistan playing in the World Cup would have been laughable. But not any more as we are taking the first step with the qualifying rounds," Mangal is quoted as saying in an ICC press release.

The winners will qualify for the next stage of the qualifying rounds. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh host the World Cup in 2011.

Mangal said Afghanistan's maiden appearance in the league was special.

"The qualifying event will mark the dawn of a new era for Afghan sport and it can show the war-torn country in a fresh light," said the 23-year-old top-order batsman.

"It's still unlikely but far from impossible Afghanistan will reach the 2011 event but the way cricket is taking off, there is perhaps only a matter of time before we see it taking part in a major ICC event.

"Like any other team, we are travelling to Jersey with the objective to win the tournament and take the first step in the right direction. But at the same time, we would like to make more friends and try to learn good cricket."

Afghanistan are one of six teams in Group B, along with the Bahamas, Botswana, Japan, Singapore and hosts Jersey.

Group A is made up of Germany, Mozambique, Nepal, Norway, the USA and Vanuatu.

Afghanistan was admitted as an ICC affiliate member in 2001.

After playing their early cricket in Pakistan with the Asian Cricket Council funding the tours, Afghanistan beat an MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) team, led by former England captain Mike Gatting, by 171 runs in a one-dayer in 2006.

As part of their preparations for the ICC League, Afghanistan played 14 warm-up matches in Peshawar, Pakistan, last month before attending a training camp at the National Cricket Academy in Kabul, which has two turf pitches and a bowling machine.

"The tour to Peshawar was a good one in which we won 13 out of 14 40-overs-a-side matches. In our domestic cricket, we have mostly 20-overs-a-side matches so the tour to Peshawar was a huge learning experience," said Mangal.

The Afghan captain said his team has some special players who can perform against the best, including pacers Hamid Hassan, Dawlat Ahamdzai, Hasti Gul Abed and Ahmad Shah Ahmadi.

Amongst the batsmen, Karim Khan Sedeq and Nabi Eisakhil stand out, he said.

"They like to play aggressively and if they fire in the tournament, we will have an excellent chance to return from Jersey with flying colours."
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Pakistan Taliban claims responsibility for bomb blast
ISLAMABAD, May 19 (Xinhua) -- A pro-Taliban military group in Pakistan on Monday claimed responsibility for a bomb blast in northwestern Pakistan, which killed 13 people including four soldiers, a private TV channel reported.

Pakistan's Geo TV said Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, was responsible for the the suicide attack.

The TV channel quoted TTP spokesperson Moulvi Umar as saying that the attack was revenge of the "U.S. aggression" in Damadola.

Some missiles were fired from a drone and hit Damadola area in northwest Pakistan's tribal region last Wednesday, killing 12 people. There has been no official comment on this missile fire.

The tribal areas in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan have seen several missile attacks launched by drones. Such attacks are usually blamed on the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, who have been fighting Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government has been negotiating with local Taliban militants in northwestern area. The two sides had held swap of prisoners and were likely to ink a peace agreement in near future.
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