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May 25, 2008 

Pakistan talks lead to more Afghan attacks: NATO
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban militants have already led to an increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, NATO said on Sunday.

Afghanistan urges Pakistan to stop attacks
Sat May 24, 5:37 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Pakistan must not allow its soil to be used to launch attacks in Afghanistan, the government said Saturday after a Pakistani militant vowed to continue "jihad" while pursuing peace talks with Islamabad.

Pakistan not creating problems for Afghanistan: Rice
New Kerala
Washington, May 25 : Despite differences with Islamabad over how talks with the representatives of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) should proceed, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Washington

Suicide blast hits NATO convoy in Afghan south
Sun May 25, 8:31 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy near an alliance base in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Sunday, killing one local civilian, witnesses and a police officer said.

Foreign trooper among 16 killed in Afghan clash
Sun May 25, 7:24 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan, May 25, 2008 (AFP) - A foreign soldier, two policemen and a dozen Taliban were killed in clashes in a key Afghan opium-producing area on Sunday, while three troops were hurt in a suicide blast in Kandahar city.

Afghan parliament begins naming absent MPs: official
Sun May 25, 4:47 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament has started naming stay-away lawmakers, with a brother of President Hamid Karzai first on the list, in a bid to stop no-shows hobbling its work, an official said Sunday.

Shootout over flour smuggler on Afghan-Pakistan border
Sun May 25, 3:58 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and Pakistani border guards exchanged fire in a row over a child caught smuggling flour, leaving an Afghan guard and a civilian wounded, officials said Sunday.

Afghanistan Adds Hunger to Its Worries
Local Drought and Regional Shortages Drive Up Bread Costs
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, May 25, 2008; A16
KABUL, May 20 -- By 7 a.m., the bakers of Sang Tarashi Street have been hard at work for hours, shaping globs of dough, slapping them into a hot clay oven and flipping them out at just the right second. A stack of fresh flat bread called

Video-link lifeline for Afghan prisoners
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Saturday, 24 May 2008 16:41 UK
The last time Mohammed Ali spent time with his older brother Ashraf, 38, was in a cell and he did not know if it was "night or day".

Refugees in new Afghan drugs crisis
Workers expelled by Iran and Pakistan are going home hooked on heroin, reports Peter Beaumont from Kabul, which already has a drug problem
The Guardian Peter Beaumont in Kabul The Observer Sunday May 25 2008
Afghanistan, struggling with a huge indigenous drug problem, has a new crisis. Its drug treatment centres - particularly in the capital, Kabul - are being inundated by heroin-addicted former refugees, many forcibly expelled

Police arrest Afghan and Indian for $100,000 heist
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 24 May 2008
Police arrest two in connection with theft from Kabul bank
AN AFGHAN woman and an Indian man have been arrested for stealing $100,000 from a bank in the capital Kabul, according to police.

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Pakistan talks lead to more Afghan attacks: NATO
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban militants have already led to an increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, NATO said on Sunday.

Faced with a wave of suicide attacks, Pakistan has begun negotiations with Taliban militants who control much of the mountainous region on its side of the border with Afghanistan and thinned out the number of its troops in the area.

Whatever the results of the talks, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday vowed to carry on fighting Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan.

"We have seen increased activity in the eastern part of the country especially, which we believe can only be attributed to the de facto ceasefires and a reduction of Pakistani military activity," NATO's civilian spokesman in Afghanistan Mark Laity told a news conference.

"We respect the sovereignty of Pakistan absolutely but it's important they take into account the need to ensure that any agreements they make do not lead to an increase in violence in Afghanistan," he said.

British Defence Minister Des Browne, on a visit to Afghanistan, said he understood the agreement between Pakistan and the Taliban included an undertaking that the militants would not export violence to Afghanistan.

"Now it's the Pakistan government's responsibility to ensure that that aspect of the agreement is enforced," he told reporters. "It might be very difficult on that part of the border to enforce it, but it is their responsibility."

AFGHANS CONCERNED
Afghanistan was sending a high-level delegation to Pakistan in the coming days to voice their concerns over peace deals, said Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi.

"The people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan are concerned regarding the announcement of Baitullah Mehsud and we hope Pakistan territory is not used against the people of Afghanistan, isn't used to kill our innocent people," Azimi said.

Previous peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Taliban all broke down in violence and merely gave the militants time to regroup, he said.

"The previous peace accords between the Pakistan government with insurgents were a golden age for the insurgents; they re-equipped, prepared and launched operations against both the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan."

Afghan forces, backed by more than 60,000 foreign troops, are engaged in daily battles with Taliban militants, mostly in the south and east, the areas closest to the border with Pakistan.

Afghan officials have often accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven from which to direct and launch attacks and also rest and regroup.

Forty-four troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, a spokesman said, compared to 42 in the first five months of last year.

The number of ISAF troops in Afghanistan has risen from 33,400 in January 2007 to 50,838 now, the spokesman said.

More than 12,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)
(For a Reuters blog about Pakistan please see http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan/)
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Afghanistan urges Pakistan to stop attacks
Sat May 24, 5:37 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Pakistan must not allow its soil to be used to launch attacks in Afghanistan, the government said Saturday after a Pakistani militant vowed to continue "jihad" while pursuing peace talks with Islamabad.

The statement by Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud Saturday was "naked interference" in Afghanistan's affairs, defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi told AFP.

"Our hope from the Pakistan government is to prevent its soil being used against our country," Azimi said.

The new government in Islamabad launched talks with Taliban on its side of the border soon after winning elections in February amid concerns that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's military approach is spawning more violence.

Azimi reiterated calls by Afghan and Western leaders for a combined approach to fighting the extremism that straddles the border.

"Any agreement must be based on regional and bilateral interests," he said. "Any unilateral agreement posing threat to a second country would be against the interests of the region and the world."

Extremists in Pakistan are said to be sending fighters across the border to attack Afghan, US and NATO troops as part of a Taliban-led insurgency. The religious hardliners were themselves in power in Kabul between 1996-2001.

Mehsud told reporters in his South Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border Saturday: "Islam does not recognise boundaries and jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan will continue."

The statement made Afghanistan "even more determined in the fight against terrorism," Azimi said.
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Pakistan not creating problems for Afghanistan: Rice
New Kerala
Washington, May 25 : Despite differences with Islamabad over how talks with the representatives of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) should proceed, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Washington does not believe that Islamabad wants to exacerbate the situation along tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Admitting that there were also differences between the US and Britain over Pakistan's efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to insurgency in FATA, Rice said: "I don't believe that the Pakistani Government wants to create circumstances in which terrorists can get breathing space and surely Pakistan does not want to make it Afghanistan's problem."

She said the differences over FATA talks would not jeopardise US relations with Pakistan.

"To say that one is concerned is simply what- what friends do. It's not to say that we're not going to continue to work with this Pakistani Government for which we have great respect," she said.

She said was convinced that now there existed "a better shared sense of responsibility" between Pakistan and Afghanistan for the border and the regions around it and "hopefully, talks will work."

The United States understood that fighting terrorism was not just about military action, but also about developing economic opportunities.

"One does have to be able to deal with irreconcilables through military action, but of course, you also have to win the hearts and minds of the people," she said.

"And the United States has been more than willing to support the efforts for reconstruction and development in the FATA region, for the development of better economic prospects for people in the FATA region. So, I think we will find common cause with the Pakistani Government and common ways of dealing with this."
--- ANI
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Suicide blast hits NATO convoy in Afghan south
Sun May 25, 8:31 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy near an alliance base in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Sunday, killing one local civilian, witnesses and a police officer said.

Three NATO soldiers were wounded in the blast, a spokesman for the force said.

NATO soldiers cordoned off the site of the attack which happened near the house of the ousted Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. It was being used as a base for the alliance.

Minutes after the attack, explosives attached to a bicycle went off in another part of the city, but caused no casualties.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan since 2006, the bloodiest period since the Taliban's removal from power in 2001. More than 12,000 people have been killed during this period.

The al Qaeda-backed Taliban, which leads an insurgency against the government and foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, largely rely on suicide attacks and roadside bomb blasts.

Separately on Sunday, a soldier from the U.S.-led force was killed in an operation in the western province of Farah, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The operation which involved Afghan forces, was aimed at a Taliban hideout in a district of the province, a police official in the region said. He said two Afghan police and several Taliban militants were also killed.
(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin, editing by Bill Tarrant)
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Foreign trooper among 16 killed in Afghan clash
Sun May 25, 7:24 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan, May 25, 2008 (AFP) - A foreign soldier, two policemen and a dozen Taliban were killed in clashes in a key Afghan opium-producing area on Sunday, while three troops were hurt in a suicide blast in Kandahar city.

The soldier with the US-led coalition was killed "while conducting operations" in the southwestern province of Farah, the force said in a statement that gave no further details.

The operation appeared to be the same as one in the Bala Baluk district, in which Afghan police said two police officers were killed.

A dozen Taliban were also slain in the clashes, said police spokesman for western Afghanistan, Abdul Mutalib Rad.

Bala Baluk has seen a spike in Taliban activity in recent months. It is one of the Farah areas likely to a see a strong increase in opium production, according to a UN drugs survey.

Officials say Afghanistan's production of opium and heroin, the largest in the world, is closely tied to a deadly Taliban insurgency that feeds off the drugs trade.

Meanwhile, the suicide car bomb blew up near NATO troops in the southern city of Kandahar, Canadian and Afghan officials said.

Three soldiers with NATO's multinational International Security Assistance Force were wounded, ISAF spokesman Major Martin O'Donnell told AFP. He did not provide the nationalities of the soldiers.

Two children were also hurt in the blast, Afghan police said.

Canadian Captain Fraser Clark confirmed the bombing was a suicide attack.

The Taliban have been behind a wave of such blasts, in an insurgency launched in the months after they were removed from government in 2001.

The US-led and NATO forces -- about 70,000 troops -- are helping the Afghan government fight the insurgency in a battle that has gained pace in the past two years, with 8,000 killed in 2007.

In other violence, a bomb planted on a bicycle exploded in Kandahar on Sunday, causing minor damage, police said.

ISAF also announced that one of its soldiers was killed Friday in the south when a wheel of a large truck he was working on fell on him.
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Afghan parliament begins naming absent MPs: official
Sun May 25, 4:47 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament has started naming stay-away lawmakers, with a brother of President Hamid Karzai first on the list, in a bid to stop no-shows hobbling its work, an official said Sunday.

The lower house also voted Saturday to cut the salaries of MPs for each day they do not attend a session, the Speaker's secretary Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi told AFP.

"We have decided to expose the names of our absent MPs," the legislator said. "It's a moral punishment," he added.

"At the end of each week we will release the names of those MPs absent during the week and at the end of the month the names of those absent during the month," he said.

The first names to be given to the media were Qayoum Karzai, an elder brother of the president from Kandahar province, Fridoun Mohmand from Nangarhar and Abdul Wahab from Jawzjan.

These legislators had not attended a single session in the current term, Saljoqi said.

At every session 80 to 100 MPs were absent, about 60-70 for no reason, he said.

The lower house, with 249 seats, was elected in the first full democratic parliamentary poll in 2005.

Seven MPs have been killed and one, Malalai Joya, thrown out for allegedly insulting the assembly on television.

Low attendance has held up the work of the parliament for several months, one MP told AFP.

Recent pay rises for teachers took 35 days to approve while the passage of a media bill, which needs two-thirds of the House to be present, has been delayed for several months.

The attorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabit, threatened earlier this month to release to the media the names of 22 MPs accused of various crimes but who were ignoring summonses to his office.

His office told AFP the allegations included land grabbing and murder.
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Shootout over flour smuggler on Afghan-Pakistan border
Sun May 25, 3:58 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghan and Pakistani border guards exchanged fire in a row over a child caught smuggling flour, leaving an Afghan guard and a civilian wounded, officials said Sunday.

Saturday's gunfight forced the closure of the Torkham border, the busiest between the neighbours, for about 90 minutes, a Pakistani official said.

The commander of the Afghan border police said the dispute erupted after Pakistan's guards assaulted a young boy among several who smuggle sacks of flour across the border every day.

One of his men confronted the Pakistanis and they started physically fighting, said the commander named only Shamamud. Guards exchanged fire and an Afghan was wounded, he said.

In Pakistan, an official said the Pakistani guards had tried to stop the boy smuggler and were opposed by the Afghans. The two sides opened fire and an Afghan soldier was wounded, along with a civilian, he said on condition of anonymity.

Afghanistan depends on its neighbours for flour, a staple, but Pakistan recently halted exports amid its own shortfalls. Prices have doubled in parts of Afghanistan in recent months.

Pakistan has blamed its shortages on smuggling, with boys aged around 10-12 employed to carry it over the border into Afghanistan.

There was a similar gunfight at the same border crossing on April 14 but there were no casualties.
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Afghanistan Adds Hunger to Its Worries
Local Drought and Regional Shortages Drive Up Bread Costs
By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, May 25, 2008; A16
KABUL, May 20 -- By 7 a.m., the bakers of Sang Tarashi Street have been hard at work for hours, shaping globs of dough, slapping them into a hot clay oven and flipping them out at just the right second. A stack of fresh flat bread called naan sits invitingly by the window, and the familiar morning smell wafts into the street.

But the scene outside the window has a desperate feel. Customers ask for half their normal breakfast purchases. A carpenter counts out the equivalent of 40 cents and buys two naans, far too little to feed his family of seven. A gaunt man in a threadbare tunic hovers nearby, looking ashamed, until the bakery owner notices him and tosses him a piece.

"When the price goes up, your stomach has to shrink," said the man, a handcart hauler named Abdul Karim. "I used to be able to buy a sack of flour, and my wife could bake for us, but now it is far too expensive. I have to rely on this baker's kindness so my children can eat. I do my best for them and work hard all day, but it is not enough anymore."

As the global food crisis deepens, bringing inflation and shortages to many countries, Afghanistan -- already facing a protracted drought, entrenched rural poverty and an ongoing conflict with Islamist insurgents -- finds itself battling the added threat of hunger.

For generations, Afghans have depended on cheap, plentiful bread as their main staple. The country's principal crop is wheat, and its farmers produce more than 5 million tons in a good year. Although that is not enough to feed the entire population, wheat can usually be trucked in from neighboring Pakistan.

Since February, however, a combination of local drought and regional shortages has driven the price of flour here to once-unimaginable levels -- as much as $50 for a 40-pound sack. Pakistan, also worried about how to feed 160 million-plus people, has closed its borders to food exports, as have a number of other largely agricultural countries anxious to stave off domestic hardship and political unrest.

So far, Afghan authorities and international charities have prevented the wheat flour shortage here from reaching crisis proportions by finding emergency sources. The government has trucked in tons of flour from Kazakhstan, and the U.N. World Food Program has raised money to import 85,000 tons from major wheat-producing countries such as Canada and Australia.

In addition, enterprising smugglers have continued to bring in truck after truck piled with sacks of flour from Pakistan. Sacks are said to cross the border surreptitiously on donkey-back, via bribery at official crossing spots and buried deep inside cargo trucks carrying Afghan refugees and their belongings back home.

Nevertheless, the skyrocketing costs of flour and other staples have deepened public frustration with the government of President Hamid Karzai, which many Afghans complain has failed to meet even their basic needs. Foreign donors have given enormous sums for rural aid since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban rulers in late 2001, and Afghans wonder aloud where the money has gone.

"Now our government is a beggar, just like we are," said Wahidullah, 34, a carpenter buying bread for his family in Kabul's Old City neighborhood. "It is their duty to provide bread for the people and to be prepared for difficult situations. Even though it is a shame for us, we thank God they started buying flour from the Russians, or people would be eating each other."

One reason Afghan wheat production has suffered is that many farmers have shifted their resources to growing opium poppies, a far more lucrative crop that requires much less watering, little labor except at harvest time and no marketing. Afghanistan, barely able to feed a populace of about 30 million, is now the world's leading producer of opium and heroin.

Last week, Karzai called several hundred farmers from across the country to his palace and urged them to help switch the agricultural economy back from opium to wheat. In interviews afterward, however, rural leaders and agricultural experts said it would require substantial financial and technical aid for farmers to make the change.

"In my area, people have no choice but to grow poppies," said Mohammed Anwar, a member of parliament from Helmand province, the country's premier poppy-growing region. "Most of our farmers are poor. They don't have money to buy tractors or generator fuel. They don't have storage or irrigation facilities. With wheat, you have to water five or six times a season. With poppies, you water only once, and you earn so much more."

Only a small fraction of Afghanistan's arable land is planted with poppies, while about 90 percent is wheat. Last year, Afghan farmers had a good wheat yield of 5.6 million tons, but there was still a shortfall of half a million tons that had to be supplemented with Pakistani imports.

Tekeste Tekie, the senior official here for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said that with better seeds and more irrigation, Afghanistan should be able to feed itself. But he also said agricultural development has been neglected, with half the nation's farmland still dependent on rainfall and vulnerable to drought.

"Even if every acre was switched to wheat, there would still be shortages," Tekie said. The FAO is developing high-yield seeds in projects across the country, but more help is needed. "Agriculture has not been given the attention it deserves," he said, "but with these soaring prices, suddenly everyone is talking about it."

At the central flour market in Kabul, there is little evidence of a shortage. Laborers unload sack after sack of smuggled flour from Pakistani trucks, and warehouses are piled high with sacks labeled in English, Urdu and Russian.

But amid the bustle of apparent plenty wander figures of desperate want -- women in blue burqas clutching empty sacks, hovering next to cargo trucks and peering into gloomy warehouses, hoping to glean spilled flour from the floors.

"We used to sell wheat from Helmand in the south, from Kunduz in the north, but now their people come here to buy from us," said Abdul Wahab, a flour dealer. He ticked off a list of causes: the drought, the government, the poppy boom, the Pakistani mafia and NATO. "There are troops from 30 countries here, but they should worry less about al-Qaeda and more about rebuilding our country," Wahab said.

In the bakeries of Kabul, teams of heat-flushed workers still ply their ancestral skills with precise coordination. Sitting cross-legged on a platform, they are in constant motion. One man forms a dough ball, the next weighs it, the next flattens it, the next leans over the oven and slaps it in, then waits a few minutes and tosses it with tongs onto the fresh-baked stack.

Zabiullah, 21, the window man at the Sang Tarashi bakery and the son of the longtime owner, hands out flats of naan and drops crumpled bills into a wooden box. Surveying the fringe of early morning beggars, he shakes his head.

"In my whole life, even in the civil war, we did not see prices this high," he said. "Now the fighting is long over, but flour is three times higher. Some of our old customers come and ask, 'In the name of God, please give me some bread,' " he said sadly. "How can I refuse them?"
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Video-link lifeline for Afghan prisoners
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Saturday, 24 May 2008 16:41 UK
The last time Mohammed Ali spent time with his older brother Ashraf, 38, was in a cell and he did not know if it was "night or day".

The brothers were arrested by US forces in their small village in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, 16 months ago.

He says the door of their shared house was blown up in the early hours of the morning, then they were handcuffed and taken away in a military helicopter.

Mohammed, 35, was freed after three and a half weeks. He has no idea where he was held. Ashraf, 38, has been in detention ever since.

"They accused us of belonging to the Taleban," said Mohammed, explaining why the brothers had been arrested. "But they are wrong. The Americans were fed lies by spies in our village."

'Security threat'
Ashraf, a father of six, is one of around 630 Afghan detainees held at Bagram airport, a US military camp located 60 km (35 miles) from the capital, Kabul.

The US military considers the men "unlawful combatants" who can be detained for as long as they are deemed a threat to Afghan national security.

In the past, some prisoners have been transferred to local jails where they are processed through the Afghan justice system.

Detainees at Bagram have faced harsh interrogations at the prison. In 2002, two Afghan detainees died after being repeatedly struck by American personnel.

Families of many of the detained men say that initially they had no idea where their relatives were being held, and then had only sporadic communication by letters delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

But since the start of the year, the Red Cross - in co-operation with the US military - has been running a new programme.

Three-day trip
Families now have access to weekly video-conference calls which allow them to speak to - and see - their detained relatives.

The project has been a remarkable success, with almost 70% of the prisoners in Bagram having received a video call in the last four months, according to the Red Cross.

Last week, Mohammed, along with around 50 other Afghan men, gathered at the Red Cross compound in Kabul to register for the video-conference call the following day.

For Mohammed, a school teacher, the 20-minute call means a three-day trip away from his village.

It was his third trip. This time he was accompanied by four other members of the family, including an aunt and his grandfather.

"Everyone, Ashraf's children, my children, all of us want to see him," said Mohammed. "But only five people are allowed to visit, so only five of us have come."

'Intensity and emotion'

The Red Cross is keen to point out that the programme is no substitute for actual prison visits - something that has not been allowed until now.

"There's nothing that can replace the intensity and emotion of face-to-face visits," said Graziella Leite Piccolo, a spokeswoman for the organisation.

"We continue reminding the American authorities of the relevance and importance of these visits."

On the day of the video-conference calls, families jostled at the Red Cross compound with anticipation.

One young boy came out of the video-conference room with tears streaming down his face after taking part in a call.

For many this is the first time in months, if not years, that they have seen their loved ones.

Lit up
At Mohammed and his family's allotted time, they crammed into a cubicle to speak to his brother.

The faces of other families in the room lit up as they saw their loved ones on the screen. They jostled to hand the telephone to each other and whisper a quick word to their relation.

After the call, Mohammed's grandfather, Zahir, said that Ashraf appeared in good spirits.

"I told him that I would stay in jail so that they would allow him to go home and see the family," said Zahir, a wide smile breaking across his face. "He was delighted to hear this."

Mohammed said that despite the difficulty of his brother's detention the family would not lose hope.

He said that the family count "the night and days" and desperately wait for Ashraf's return.

"When he doesn't appear then we say to ourselves 'okay, he will come tomorrow morning'," he said.

"We keep doing this, but we understand that nobody knows when he will be released. But we are hopeful that he will come back one day."
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Refugees in new Afghan drugs crisis
Workers expelled by Iran and Pakistan are going home hooked on heroin, reports Peter Beaumont from Kabul, which already has a drug problem
The Guardian Peter Beaumont in Kabul The Observer Sunday May 25 2008
Afghanistan, struggling with a huge indigenous drug problem, has a new crisis. Its drug treatment centres - particularly in the capital, Kabul - are being inundated by heroin-addicted former refugees, many forcibly expelled from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.

The new dimension to Kabul's spiralling problem of opiates abuse is most visible in the war-ruined shell of the city's Russian Cultural Centre, a warren of rubble and faeces-strewn rooms, where each night hundreds of addicts and street children come to sleep.

It is a place of disturbing images. Outside, men play cricket while addicts lie dozing. Inside, users gravitate to the dark places, crawl into disused turbine pipes to smoke heroin from foil or crowd into tiny rooms underground. The youngest and most nimble scale the walls like rock climbers to reach places beneath the roof where they sleep for safety. The most far gone inject their wasted legs and arms in full view of the passing traffic.

Of the dozens approached about how they came to be addicts, only one man was not a returnee from Iran, while the rest had first taken heroin there. The stories were strikingly consistent: they had fled the violence of the civil war or the Taliban era with their families, often being required to work long hours in Iran doing tough jobs.

Many told how unscrupulous employers offered them the drug, telling them it would make their work seem easier - and how in the end they had been rounded up and thrown back across the border, some after brutal treatment in Iranian detention.

At Kabul's Nejat treatment centre a few can qualify for one of the handful of beds after attending a series of awareness workshops. Mohammed Wali, 30, from Bagram, is typical. He was admitted a week before with five others; all say they became addicted in Iran. 'I left Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban,' said Wali. 'I am lucky in that I have a family to support me, although I am ashamed to say that I stole from them. By bad luck I am addicted. When I was working in Iran my employer was giving us opium to make us work harder. For the first 20 days I was given it for free, then I was told that I would have to pay for it. I was spending my earnings on the drug.'

The scale of the problem is revealed by the men's recollections. 'Ten to 12 of us were addicted by the time we returned to our village from Iran,' said Mohammed. Syed, another who was expelled, recalls: 'Six people working in my factory, including two of my brothers and three other villagers, were addicted.'

At the cultural centre the addicts smoke scorpion - a mixture of hashish and heroin - or shoot up, often with discarded needles found in the filth. 'I was working in the construction industry and I was walking home when they grabbed me and sent me to the barracks,' said one addict. 'They kept me there three days. Among the 300 people there, 200 I would guess were addicts.'

Others recalled similar numbers of addicts - usually citing between two-thirds and three-quarters of those held in detention.

While many of those expelled complained of insufficient food during their detention, some claimed they were beaten, and showed faint scars on shins and burn marks on wrists and arms. Their claims were impossible to verify.

'We are being swamped,' said Dr Tariq Suliman, director of the Nejat centre, the first Afghan charity to tackle addiction when it was set up 16 years ago. 'We have a waiting list of 1,000 to 2,000 people at any one time. We offer a syringe exchange programme, have a mobile outreach programme, and offer abscess treatment [a consequence of injecting impure heroin into veins].

'The biggest problem now is the returning addicts. It is a tsunami coming to this country,' Suliman said. 'For every addict we estimate that the issue impacts on up to five family members. And 90 per cent of the new addicts that we are seeing are coming from Iran. In the past two years we have just seen the graph rocket. The problem is compounded by the fact that donor agencies will not commit to support our activities in the long term. They will fund a project for a year, but they will not commit to 10 years. And that is the scale of the problem. It is out of control.'

Back at the cultural centre, Ali Raza, an addict thrown out of Iran, is berating a group of boys watching him inject - twice in each arm. He looks 70, but says he is 50. 'We are the worst,' he slurs. 'Don't come here. Don't walk on the way we passed by. Everyone hates us. Don't even take one puff.'
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Police arrest Afghan and Indian for $100,000 heist
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 24 May 2008 
Police arrest two in connection with theft from Kabul bank
AN AFGHAN woman and an Indian man have been arrested for stealing $100,000 from a bank in the capital Kabul, according to police.

Both suspects, who worked for the National Bank of India in the cityís Wazir Akbar Khan area, were arrested yesterday (Friday), according to the head of Kabulís criminal department.

An investigation into the theft is on-going.
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