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May 29, 2008 

Suicide blast kills three Afghans, 30 Taliban dead in strike
by Waheedullah Massoud Thu May 29, 7:26 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide attack targeting US-led troops killed three Afghans here on Thursday, as officials reported that NATO air strikes on a militant fort in the remote southwest of Afghanistan left 30 Taliban dead.

NATO optimistic Pakistan will resume border operations
KABUL (AFP) - The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeill, said Thursday he was optimistic Pakistan would resume operations against militants along its border with Afghanistan.

NATO urges more Afghan effort on opium trade
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's commander in Afghanistan urged the government on Thursday to step up its fight against the opium trade, which is increasingly fuelling the insurgency.

Afghan at Guantanamo seeks dismissal of charges
By DAVID McFADDEN, Associated Press Writer Wed May 28, 11:18 PM ET
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - An Afghan detainee at Guantanamo Bay was the alleged victim of an abusive tactic meant to decrease his resistance to interrogation, a Pentagon-appointed defense attorney said Wednesday in a motion to dismiss charges.

Italy rethinks Afghanistan troop deployment: Berlusconi
Thu May 29, 2:27 AM ET
ROME (AFP) - Italy is considering changing the rules for the deployment of its troops in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after talks with his Canadian counterpart.

Ottawa eyes program to get Afghan cops reading and writing at Grade 4 level
Wed May 28, 1:44 PM By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Sayed Shah commands a lonely Afghan police checkpoint on the road to Kandahar and in his pocket he carries a laminated card of appreciation from U.S. Special Forces for his help in hunting down straggling

China: Afghan Investment Reveals Larger Strategy
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe: Radio Library - May 29 6:19 AM
China has won a $3.5 billion contract to develop Afghanistan's Aynak copper field, the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan.

New Kabul is aimed at bolstering Afghan economy
FT.com - Comment & analysis - Letters  May 29 2008 From Mr Mahmoud Saikal.
Sir, I am writing in reference to your article ("Afghanistan seeks cash to build 'new Kabul' ", May 25). The project is not as government- and donor-centric as it has been portrayed. During the interview with your Kabul correspondent

For Afghan girls, jail can be refuge
Tribune correspondent Kim Barker finds that for some, a juvenile detention center can have advantages over life on the outside
Chicago Tribune, correspondent By Kim Barker May 28, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -For many prisoners here, jail is better than home. The building is new, some of the rooms have running water, and there are hot meals. Best of all, no one is threatening to kill them.

Pakistan swapped top Taliban leaders for its ambassador
29 May 2008, 0027 hrs IST,IANS Times of India, India
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan swapped two senior Taliban leaders for the release of its kidnapped envoy to Afghanistan, a media report said on Wednesday.

PM spokesperson backtracks on Afghanistan briefing
Thu. May. 29 2008 1:02 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to backtrack Thursday after inaccurately informing reporters that Italy was removing restrictions on the use of their soldiers in Afghanistan.

Afghan poet's tomb calls to lovelorn
May 28, 2008 04:30 AM Rosie DiManno Toronto Star
BALKH, AFGHANISTAN — A lady who died for love is perhaps not the best patron saint for romance. I'm just saying.

Books offered insight into Afghan mission
Papers left at girlfriend's would have had classified details on key topics at NATO summit
STEVEN CHASE , OMAR EL AKKAD and MICHAEL VALPY
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail May 28, 2008 at 4:35 AM EDT
OTTAWA, TORONTO — The briefing books that Maxime Bernier abandoned at his ex-girlfriend's home were designed to prepare him for a crucial NATO summit, and as such, would have offered confidential insight into the war in Afghanistan

US should give time for peace agreement to work: Musharraf
Daily Times (Pakistan) 28 May 2008
* President underlines importance of US support to counter terrorism
* US delegates applaud Pakistan’s commitment to combat extremism
RAWALPINDI: Reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism, President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday asked the United States to understand ground realities in Pakistan and give time for the peace agreement made by the NWFP government to work.

Afghan envoy: civilian death toll drops
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 28 May 2008
‘New methods’ praised for drop in the number of innocent war victims
AFGHANISTAN’S ambassador to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, has said the number of civilian casualties during anti-terror operations in the country has decreased.

'Top spy behind murder of MP's father'
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Senior intelligence official accused of involvement in kidnapping
SUPPORTERS of parliament member and former militia commander Hazrat Ali have accused a senior intelligence official of being involved in the killing of the MP’s father and the kidnapping of seven of his family members.

ISAF plans to promote Afghan currency
Abid Jan Razarwal & Zubair Babakarkhel - May 26, 2008 - 17:38
BAGRAM AIRBASE (PAN): The financial office of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has announced to perform all its future transactions in local currency instead of US dollar.

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Suicide blast kills three Afghans, 30 Taliban dead in strike
by Waheedullah Massoud Thu May 29, 7:26 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide attack targeting US-led troops killed three Afghans here on Thursday, as officials reported that NATO air strikes on a militant fort in the remote southwest of Afghanistan left 30 Taliban dead.

The insurgent Taliban movement claimed responsibility for the car bombing in the capital, which also damaged vehicles carrying soldiers from the US-led military coalition helping Afghanistan defeat an extremist insurgency.

The blast, which happened during the morning rush hour, blew a big crater into the road, which was littered with pieces of mangled metal and shattered glass, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

"Three of our compatriots were martyred and two were wounded," a Kabul police chief, General Alishah Paktiawal, told reporters at the site.

Another policeman said earlier the dead included a truck driver and two youths.

"It was busy and all I heard was a big explosion," said Mir Khan, a road construction worker. "I came out and saw civilian vehicles rushing bloodied people away from the site."

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Johnson from the US-led coalition confirmed the attack and said it had damaged two vehicles, but the four occupants were not badly hurt.

"The four suffered no serious injuries. The vehicles were both disabled and are being evacuated," he told AFP. He could not immediately give the nationalities of the soldiers.

The Taliban have carried out a wave of such attacks in Afghanistan as part of a violent campaign to wrest back power from the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, which is reliant on international military support.

The rebels suffered heavy casualties in the southwestern province of Farah on Wednesday, Afghan security commanders said.

Afghan forces and troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) surrounded a compound where rebels had massed in Bala Buluk district, the army commander for western Afghanistan told AFP.

In initial fighting, two Afghan soldiers and a policeman were killed and several were wounded, said the commander, Jalandar Shah Behnam.

"Later, ISAF air planes bombed the fort and 30 Taliban including their ranking commanders were killed," he said. "There is no one left inside the fort."

The Farah deputy police chief, Mohammad Nabi Popal, also said 30 Taliban were killed as was one of his policemen.

"They were mostly Taliban from Helmand and some Pakistani Taliban who infiltrated our province from neighbouring Helmand," he said.

ISAF did not immediately comment.

It has been carrying out intense operations in restive Helmand province over the past weeks, saying the rebels had suffered significant losses, particularly in Garmser district on the border with Pakistan.

The district is said to be a Taliban gateway into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where extremists are said to have bases and training camps.

Popal said ISAF planes also bombed another area of Farah overnight after Taliban attacked police, wounding three of them.

"Heavy casualties were inflicted on the Taliban but we don't have a confirmed figure," he said, adding that "up to 15 may have been killed."

There has been a surge in violence in recent weeks, with a wave of Taliban attacks and major military operations against the insurgents.

On Wednesday two suicide bombings killed one person and wounded several others. Around a dozen policemen and a dozen civilians were killed in violence Tuesday -- one of the bloodiest days in weeks.
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NATO optimistic Pakistan will resume border operations
KABUL (AFP) - The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeill, said Thursday he was optimistic Pakistan would resume operations against militants along its border with Afghanistan.

The three-month-old government in Islamabad has scaled down operations as it pursues peace talks with Taliban in a bid to end a wave of bloody violence. Afghanistan fears this could see more attacks this side of the border.

McNeill, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said a recent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan was because "there is no pressure on the terrorists and the extremists on the other side of the border."

"Pakistan had a very difficult year, with a huge wave of suicide bombers, the Red Mosque events, 257 soldiers captured by 20 insurgents...," he told reporters.

"They have also just gone through huge changes within their government, they're still trying to find their way," he said.

"I'm optimistic that all of this, at some point, will translate itself in military operations on the opposite side of the border," said the general.

McNeill said the 40-nation ISAF was still under-resourced despite growing from 35,000 to 50,000 soldiers during his 15 months at the helm, due to end Tuesday.

"It doesn't mean we can't get the job done, but it implies it will take longer," he said.

Afghanistan is larger than Iraq and has a bigger population, but about half the international soldiers, he said. There are about 70,000 US and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, with 162,000 foreign troops in Iraq.

ISAF is helping Kabul face down a Taliban-led insurgency until its own army and police forces are capable of taking responsibility of security for themselves.

McNeill estimated the Afghan forces would be ready by 2011.

The extremist Taliban launched their bloody insurgency months after being forced from government in late 2001 by an international coalition led by the United States.

The violence has climbed steadily, particularly over the past two years, with some saying the Taliban were able to regroup while the United States focussed on Iraq.

McNeill is due to hand over to US General David McKiernan on Tuesday.
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NATO urges more Afghan effort on opium trade
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's commander in Afghanistan urged the government on Thursday to step up its fight against the opium trade, which is increasingly fuelling the insurgency.

"The Afghan government must stand up and say, 'Much of our country is defined by the illegal narcotics business and we are no longer going to stand for it'," U.S. General Dan McNeill said.

"The Afghans must, in my view, prosecute their strategy better," he told reporters in a news conference broadcast to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

McNeill said it was no coincidence the bulk of the Afghan opium trade was in the south where NATO troops are facing the worst violence.

"In portions of those five (southern) provinces, the insurgency is illegal narcotics, and illegal narcotics is the insurgency," said McNeill, who will hand over command of the NATO-led force in June after 16 months in charge.

Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's opium production and there was a record harvest in 2007.

Seven years after the overthrow of the Taliban, the drugs trade in Afghanistan is booming. Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Kundi are the five provinces overseen by the southern command of NATO's 50,000-strong security force.

President Hamid Karzai's government has resisted a U.S. call for more aggressive tactics against poppy cultivation, such as aerial spraying with herbicide. It insists its own efforts to persuade farmers away from the crop are having results.

Minister of Counter Narcotics General Khodaidad told reporters in Badakhshan province this week he expected 20-22 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to be poppy-free this year, compared to six in 2007 and 13 last year.

In a separate interview in Brussels on Thursday, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Antonio Maria Costa noted a "continuing and even increasing role of insurgents" in the narcotics trade.

He said it was too early to predict the level of opium cultivation for 2008. But he saw nothing in a trip to Afghanistan last week to change a forecast in February that it would be around, or slightly below, 2007's record figure.
(Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Robert Woodward)
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Afghan at Guantanamo seeks dismissal of charges
By DAVID McFADDEN, Associated Press Writer Wed May 28, 11:18 PM ET
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - An Afghan detainee at Guantanamo Bay was the alleged victim of an abusive tactic meant to decrease his resistance to interrogation, a Pentagon-appointed defense attorney said Wednesday in a motion to dismiss charges.

Air Force Maj. David Frakt filed the motion to dismiss war-crime charges against Mohammed Jawad because he was allegedly subjected to a sleep-disruption technique that involved round-the-clock cell transfers at the isolated U.S. detention center in Cuba.

Frakt alleged that Jawad underwent the so-called "frequent-flyer program" at the U.S. base a total of 112 times during a two-week period in May 2004. Jawad, a 23-year-old accused of a grenade attack that wounded two U.S. soldiers, was about 19 at the time.

He claims Jawad, who he said tried to commit suicide on Christmas Day in 2003, was "tortured" because a U.S. military investigation report said the practice had allegedly been banned by the base commander earlier in 2004.

"It is inconceivable to me that my client, a suicidal teenager with no ties to al-Qaida, who had already been incarcerated for over 16 months and interrogated over 20 times, would be a candidate for any sleep deprivation interrogation program," Frakt said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, declined to discuss Jawad's case since it is currently before a military judge, but he reiterated the Defense Department's policy of humane treatment of detainees.

Frakt alleged that prison records provided by the government in discovery chronicled the sleep-disruption practices to "soften" his client for interrogation sessions.

Under the Military Commissions Act, which governs America's first war-crimes trials since the World War II era, statements obtained through torture are not admissible. But some statements obtained through "coercion" may be admitted at the discretion of a military judge.

At his arraignment in March, Jawad, who was forcibly carried out of his cell after refusing to attend the court hearing, said he had been mistreated at Guantanamo and denounced the tribunal system as unjust. He did not enter a plea to charges of attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The U.S. military says it plans to prosecute roughly 80 of the 270 men imprisoned at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to terrorism, the Taliban or al-Qaida.
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Italy rethinks Afghanistan troop deployment: Berlusconi
Thu May 29, 2:27 AM ET
ROME (AFP) - Italy is considering changing the rules for the deployment of its troops in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after talks with his Canadian counterpart.

The statement came just days after Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said some of Italy's 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan might be redeployed to the south to fight the Taliban if NATO requested it.

Berlusconi told Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper he had begun rethinking the rules on Italy's troop deployment "in a spirit of solidarity with its allies," his office said in a statement late Wednesday.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has since September 2006 been pressing Germany, Italy and Spain to lift their ban on sending their troops into Afghan combat zones.

All three countries have deployed their troops away from the conflict-hit south of the country, restricting them to non-combat assignments. Italy's soldiers are deployed mainly in the western province of Herat, or in the capital Kabul.

Britain and the United States, whose soldiers have borne the brunt of the fighting alongside Afghan troops, have also called for more support from their European allies.

Canada has around 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan and 82 of its soldiers have been killed there since 2002.

The country's parliament voted in April to extend its military mission in the volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, provided its allies sent reinforcements.

ISAF, which comprises some 47,000 troops from 40 nations, is trying to spread the rule of Afghanistan's weak central government and foster reconstruction.
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Ottawa eyes program to get Afghan cops reading and writing at Grade 4 level
Wed May 28, 1:44 PM By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Sayed Shah commands a lonely Afghan police checkpoint on the road to Kandahar and in his pocket he carries a laminated card of appreciation from U.S. Special Forces for his help in hunting down straggling Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in 2001.

Even though it's written in Pashto, he has trouble reading it entirely. "I know a little of what it says," he says with slightly wounded pride.

Canadian development officials in Ottawa are considering the idea of funding a literacy program specifically aimed at Afghan Uniformed Police in Kandahar - a proposal that would bring 340 officers up to a Grade 4 level of reading and writing.

Shah is among the approximately 80 per cent of Afghan Uniformed Police officers in Kandahar who are illiterate.

The figure is based on an informal survey of eight police sub-stations, or precincts, in the city by Canadian police mentors last May.

That means the vast majority of police officers in the provincial capital cannot read the criminal laws they are expected to enforce - and perhaps more important, the 17-page Afghan Ministry of Justice Police Law booklet that sets down regulations and code of ethical conduct.

"It's a huge problem," said Sgt. Paul Wassill, a Durham Regional Police officer working at the provincial reconstruction base. "It's hard to comprehend when we come from a country where it's a given that everyone reads and writes."

Canada has a team of civilian police officers mentoring Afghan cops in basic survival and law-enforcement skills.

Notoriously corrupt, often ill-equipped and killed off in huge numbers by the Taliban, local police are the weakest link in NATO's strategy that aims to have the Afghans eventually defend themselves.

Wassill said even the simple act of police officers taking notes and keeping crime statistics in their neighbourhoods would go a long way to instilling confidence in ordinary Afghans, who view the police with suspicion after years of harassment and outright extortion.

Under the proposal, the Afghan ministry of education would supervise the course using existing literacy trainers. It would cost the Canadian International Development Agency about $75,000 to fund the program.

The literacy trainers, who are not paid a salary but work for food stamps equal to about $100 per month, would be assigned to individual police sub-stations up to five days a week and offer two hours of instruction per day. The officers would do their learning in between other duties.

It's not the first time development officers have tried to put a dent in the literacy problem among cops.

Last January, Canada's Foreign Affairs Department funded another literacy pilot program in co-operation with the Afghan National Police provincial headquarters. The intent was to train up to 30 officers, 22 males and eight females.

"Unfortunately, qualified teachers were not employed and there was significantly less than 10 hours of instruction provided a week," said the proposal for the new program, obtained by The Canadian Press.

Lessons learned from the first program were incorporated into the latest proposal, including mandatory attendance record keeping.

Privately, development officers in Kandahar, who are only allowed to speak on background, are excited about the proposal, which has yet to receive approval in Ottawa. They say it helps the Afghans deal with a major social problem while building up what can charitably be described as a ragtag security force.

"We talk about Afghan solutions; in this case we're simply providing the grease for the wheel," said one official in a recent briefing.

If successful it could be expanded to prison guards, the officials said.

Wassill said he can determine which officers are literate after just a few minutes because those who can read and write carry themselves with more authority, confidence and maturity.

"You just seem to have a more intelligent conversation," he said.

Wassill said the absence of literacy skills has made it harder to mentor local cops because a lot of training in western police forces is based upon written materials.
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China: Afghan Investment Reveals Larger Strategy
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe: Radio Library - May 29 6:19 AM
China has won a $3.5 billion contract to develop Afghanistan's Aynak copper field, the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan.

The size of the bid -- almost double the expected amount -- surprised other potential foreign investors.

By some estimates, the 28-square-kilometer copper field in Logar Province could contain up to $88 billion worth of ore. But there is no power plant in the area that can generate enough electricity for the mining and extraction operations. And Afghanistan has never had the kind of railroad needed to haul away the tons of copper that could be extracted.

That is why a large part of the Chinese bid includes the cost of building a 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant and a freight railroad passing from western China through Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Indeed, the cost of building so much infrastructure in a volatile security environment like Afghanistan is prohibitive for many private firms. But Niklas Norling, an expert on China and Central Asia at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development, says the price tag is tolerable for a Chinese state firm because the project contributes to Beijing's plans for the development of western China and its regional trade links.

"You have to see this in the context of China's great western development program, which has led to major investment into the western provinces [of China] and, of course, also crossborder connections to Central Asia, South Asia, and Iran," Norling says. "In order to develop the west [of China], they need energy resources, and they need other resource materials. So far, Afghanistan has remained virtually untouched by Beijing's concerns, in contrast to China's involvement in Central Asia, Pakistan, and Iran.

"The past few years have seen investments into the Karakorum Highway in Pakistan, the Gwadar port [in Karachi], [and] a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang [Uyghur Autonomous Region]. China has signed a $100 billion, 25-year energy contract with Iran. And so on and so on," Norling continues. "So, of course, this forms part of a greater strategy."

China In Competition

Norling says the Aynak copper mine also should be seen in terms of China's competition with countries like Russia and the United States for economic influence in the region.

"All states [in this part of Asia] basically are swing states whose geopolitical alignments could tilt either way during the next decade -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran perhaps also, and the Central Asian republics," Norling says. "The state that manages to acquire the most influence will, of course, tie these states into their orbit. And I think China is progressing well to do this."

Industry experts say the venture could be risky for the Chinese company, China Metallurgical Group. They say the same obstacles that prevented Anyak from being developed during the last 30 years also could prevent China Metallurgical Group from meeting its goals there.

Years of war and factional fighting in Afghanistan have ensured that the Aynak deposit has remained largely untouched since Soviet geologists surveyed the area in the 1970s. And although the copper field is in a relatively secure part of Afghanistan, the railroad and power lines would be difficult to defend against attacks by militants.

Safety Of Local Residents

Another important factor would be keeping the local population happy about the venture. For now, many residents in the area say they support the project because of the thousands of jobs Afghan officials have promised it will create. But with corruption in Afghanistan running high, and with billions of dollars at stake, some residents are concerned their safety may be neglected.

"The extraction and production of copper begins with explosives. Then it is processed in a way that produces [toxic] dust and dangerous gasses -- affecting areas near and far," says local resident Abdul Wasi Ahmadzai. "So we want to be sure that the government pays close attention to these issues."

Concerns also have been expressed about the need for the Chinese firm to prevent toxins from seeping into the underground water table. The fear is that drinking-water supplies could be contaminated for people as far away as Kabul.

Fazlullah, a legislator in the upper chamber of parliament from Logar Province, says maintaining support for the project from Logar residents requires proper monitoring of issues such as environmental protection, as well as the private property rights of those who say parts of the copper field are on their land.

"The humanitarian and citizenship rights of our people whose lives are threatened by this project are not being mentioned -- the people who will be losing their homes, stocks, and farms," Fazlullah says. "They must decide about the fate of the villages which will be destroyed by this project. The environmental effects of this project undermine the villages of Surkhab and Mosaayee."

'High Environmental Standards'

Afghan Minister of Mines and Industry Ibrahim Adel tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that there are no villages in the area that is to be mined. He also says the Chinese firm is obliged to compensate residents who will lose their property as a result of the project.

"Regarding the environment, both sides have accepted that the best standards will be enforced. Those are the [international] standards of 'equator principles' and the World Bank," Adel says. "So Aynak will be one of the world's most unique mines, with high environmental standards."

The Afghan government is eager for China's involvement. China has proven in other developing countries that it is an efficient partner and that the projects it initiates are usually realized. But Norling is more cautious, considering the scale and location of the Aynak project.

“These plans are still ideas. It will be seen in the next six years whether this will actually materialize," Norling says. "If the security situation does not improve, or if it even gets worse, it might jeopardize this project. Time will tell. I think the first step will be to see how the security situation turns out in the next one or two years."

With new geological studies revealing other potentially lucrative mineral fields across Afghanistan, the Aynak deal is seen by other would-be foreign investors as a litmus test -- on how Afghanistan deals with international investors, on the level of corruption, and on whether security can be provided for such high-profile, foreign-funded projects.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sultan Sarwar contributed to this story from Prague and Logar Province
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New Kabul is aimed at bolstering Afghan economy
FT.com - Comment & analysis - Letters  May 29 2008 From Mr Mahmoud Saikal.
Sir, I am writing in reference to your article ("Afghanistan seeks cash to build 'new Kabul' ", May 25). The project is not as government- and donor-centric as it has been portrayed. During the interview with your Kabul correspondent I emphasised several times that this was going to be a private-sector venture .

An independent board has been assigned to pave the road for that endeavour. We have not yet given a decent presentation to the international donors to see their "eyebrows raised" or feel their "cool reaction". In fact at least one key international donor, Japan, has been helping us in the planning of the project and commentaries of this kind do no justice to international co-operation in the project.

I clearly explained to your correspondent that the project was a response to the current national challenges facing Afghanistan. It was carefully designed to improve security, agricultural productivity and the overall national economy. It helps decentralise the highly dense urban population of the capital and create tens of thousands of jobs, as well as substantial revenue for the reconstruction and development of the existing city.

This should curb social unrest and the recruitment of our unemployed youth by terrorists, and remove the burden of reconstruction costs from the shoulders of international donors. The special commercial agro-industrial part of the city is designed to improve food production, generate further employment and introduce new agricultural technology to our farmers.

The new city is not a "Kabul-centric" project. It is a national project affecting the lives of most Afghans who share Kabul as their national capital. It will also make Afghanistan a business hub of the surrounding regions, in particular central Asia and south Asia.

On the issue of the total cost of the project I said that "if" we considered the accommodation of 1m people in the city, it would automatically translate into 200,000 blocks of land, each of roughly 1,000 square metres with an estimated price of $30 per sq m, generating about $6bn over probably 10 years.

Overall, the intent of the project is not to create a buzzing metropolis, such as Dubai; it will be a humble city, integrated into the existing topography, cultural identity, agricultural life and national priorities of Afghanistan.
Mahmoud Saikal,
Acting CEO, Dehsabz City Development Authority, Kabul, Afghanistan
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For Afghan girls, jail can be refuge
Tribune correspondent Kim Barker finds that for some, a juvenile detention center can have advantages over life on the outside
Chicago Tribune, correspondent By Kim Barker May 28, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -For many prisoners here, jail is better than home. The building is new, some of the rooms have running water, and there are hot meals. Best of all, no one is threatening to kill them.

The 14 girls in Kabul's new juvenile detention center are mostly runaways, a crime in this conservative society. They fled home because they liked boys their families did not approve of or because their family lives were so bad that they could no longer stay at home. Some had sex. At least one sold drugs. Two of them have killed. One stole a gun.

Gita, 16, is a time bomb. She is three months' pregnant. The baby's father, Gita's sweetheart of two years, is also in jail.

'He left you' "He wants to marry me," said Gita, who smiled as she sat on a bunk bed and insisted that her boyfriend raped her. "My family's fine with it. I'm happy to marry him."

"He left you," countered another girl. "He doesn't want to marry you. Tell the truth."

These girls' alleged crimes, and their likely future, provide a glimpse into Afghanistan's society almost seven years after the fall of the Taliban, known for its harsh treatment of women and for preventing women from working and girls from going to school.

The new juvenile detention center is much nicer than anywhere girls were kept before. Girls used to be held in a dark hovel of a jail with tiny cells, mud floors and no lights. This new building on the outskirts of Kabul opened four months ago and has large white rooms, freshly painted, with plenty of windows.

Eighty-eight boys are held separately, plus 10 boys who come just in the day.

Girls sleep on bunk beds and learn to sew, weave carpets and read.

Outside these walls, life is also better now for girls and women in Afghanistan. They are allowed to go to school or work — as long as their families allow it and if school is not too dangerous. Militants in southern Afghanistan have attacked girls' schools as un-Islamic, and many schools have closed. Most women in rural Afghanistan work only at home.

But life for girls in Afghanistan's capital has become a confusing mix. They see television shows from India and the West and they even occasionally meet boys who are not family members — unthinkable under the Taliban. But most families are still conservative, and most girls eventually marry whoever their parents choose, often their cousins.

The culture here revolves around family honor, and if a girl is believed to have damaged it, she will be ostracized or possibly killed, even if she was the victim.

The authorities at the juvenile center asked that the last names of Gita and the other girls not be used because of the nature of their crimes and their ages. But Gita did eventually admit that her family no longer wanted her, and neither did her boyfriend.

"I don't know what I will do," she said.

Marjan, 16, protected her family honor. She was in 11th grade at her girls' school and started taking a German class after school with both boys and girls. One boy started harassing her, she said, and demanded that she have sex with him or he would ruin her family's name. So one day, about four months ago, she took a knife with her to class.

After class, when the boy approached her, Marjan stabbed him three times. He died the next day. She had almost no remorse.

"I am happy for one thing," she said. "He was the big gangster in our area, and he bothered everyone. He harassed me one day and he would have harassed someone else the next. I just feel bad because I'm in jail because of him."

Family visits Unlike most of the other girls, Marjan's family visits often because she protected her family's name. Several other girls said they ran away from their homes because they could not take living there any longer.

Arozo, 15, lived in a small town in the Panjshir valley, outside Kabul. Her 13-year-old brother kept beating her up. "He really beat me one day," she said. "He said he would kill me."

So on that day seven months ago, she ran away. Police caught her. Her mother and younger sister visit her at the center, but her brother has not. Arozo said police did not arrest him because he had mental problems. He has told their mother that he still wants to kill her.

And whenever she finishes her sentence, probably in a few months, Arozo will go back home to face him.

"I don't have any choice," said Arozo, shrugging. "Where else would I go?"

Kim Barker is a Tribune correspondent covering South Asia.
kbarker@tribune.com
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Pakistan swapped top Taliban leaders for its ambassador
29 May 2008, 0027 hrs IST,IANS Times of India, India
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan swapped two senior Taliban leaders for the release of its kidnapped envoy to Afghanistan, a media report said on Wednesday.

"Despite the fact that the government authorities have repeatedly denied the release, both the militant leaders reached Afghanistan around two weeks back," the News said. Quoting sources, it said the two leaders, identified as Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, were freed along with "hundreds" of other militants to secure the release of Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

An eminent jihadi leader from Afghanistan confirmed it, saying the two militant leaders had reached their homeland around two weeks back.

"The release of both the Taliban commanders was part of a package deal between the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban under which 35 army personnel were also released besides Pakistani ambassador and his staff," the News quoted the jihadi leader, who was not identified, as saying.

Taliban militants had abducted Azizuddin three months ago while he was travelling in Pakistan's tribal areas in the country's north. He was released on May 15.
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PM spokesperson backtracks on Afghanistan briefing
Thu. May. 29 2008 1:02 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to backtrack Thursday after inaccurately informing reporters that Italy was removing restrictions on the use of their soldiers in Afghanistan.

CTV's Roger Smith said the gaffe occurred just before the prime minister's plane was to leave Rome for London on the final stretch of Harper's European tour.

"The prime minister's press secretary, Carolyn Stewart Olsen, came back and told us that after having dinner with Stephen Harper last night Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had just issued a statement saying Italy would remove the caveat that restricts what their soldiers can do in Afghanistan," said Smith.

Canada has been pressing for some time to get other countries involved in the Afghanistan mission to remove restrictions on soldiers so that they can help out more in combat operations, said Smith.

After hearing the developments, journalists reported the breaking news.

But then, after the plane departed, Stewart alerted reporters that she had got it wrong.

She said there was a wire story saying that Berlusconi was reconsidering the caveats but he hadn't made any decisions.

"The prime minister's staff was so anxious to have the story corrected that they allowed us to go up to the front of the plane and use the prime minister's secured satellite phone to call our news desks," said Smith.

"It seems the prime minister's staff was just in some unseemly haste to claim some sort of diplomatic triumph that they rushed out this news without checking the facts and it's a big embarrassment."

Harper in London

Harper is now in London where, in a speech to the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, he said environmental targets must be balanced with economic growth.

The prime minister did acknowledge that economic growth cannot be sustained without better environmental conservation.

"But it is equally true as the current reaction to high energy prices in Europe is starting to show, that environmental progress will never be achieved unless the economic needs of the population are being met," said Harper.

"So our targets need to realistic, practical and achievable.''

Both the United Nations and the European Union have denounced

Harper also met with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Queen.
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Afghan poet's tomb calls to lovelorn
May 28, 2008 04:30 AM Rosie DiManno Toronto Star
BALKH, AFGHANISTAN — A lady who died for love is perhaps not the best patron saint for romance. I'm just saying.

Yet Afghan girls of nubile age keep coming to her austere tomb here and pouring out their hearts, so often yearning for what has been forbidden.

From the outside, it appears little more than a concrete bunker, long and low and flat. To enter requires stooping and shimmying through a small portal, maybe a yard square, and – in our case – dropping headfirst on the packed mud beneath.

Inside, the sarcophagus is draped in a threadbare shroud.

This is both a dungeon and the tomb of Rabi'a Balkhi, Afghanistan's earliest Sufi poet.

Sufism is a mystic strain of Islam that confounds, even enrages, Muslim orthodoxy, with its spiritual search for meaning, cryptic numerology and highly evolved symbolic language – most famously expressed in the "love poetry'' of Persian Sufis (the best known, at least to the West, being Omar Khayyam, who set the template for turgid prose about sloe-eyed maidens, a racy hit with repressed Victorians when floridly translated in the 19th century.)

It is extremely rare – almost to the point of non-existent – for a female to be venerated in Afghanistan. Naturally, she has to be dead; her gruesome end the stuff of tragedy and legend.

Rabi'a Balkhi – depicted as voluptuous and alluring in posters affixed around town – was an ill-fated poetess of the 9th century. She made the mistake of falling for a slave, taking him as her lover and then writing endless odes about their shared ardour, in the rococo language of the smitten.

When the affair – and the poems – was discovered, her outraged brother stuck Rabi in this dungeon. The stories that come down to us vary. Either Rabi slit her own wrist in despair or bad brother did it for her. In any event, it's believed Rabi used her "last fainting moments'' – as described by renowned chronicler Nancy Hatch Dupree in An Historical Guide to Afghanistan – writing a final poem with her trickling blood.

The tomb was found in 1964 and most archeologists doubt its authenticity. Perhaps they're just not romantics.

Balkh, once a glorious trade route capital of architectural splendour – Alexander the Great married his beauteous Roxanne here – was sacked by Genghis Khan and utterly destroyed. It has risen only fitfully from those ashes, eclipsed in modernity by nearby Mazar-i-Sharif, but there's something dreamy and magical about the place still, appropriate for myth and magic and love among the ruins.

So, the tomb's genuineness is solid enough for the lovelorn who come looking for inspiration in solving their own romantic problems, or just pleading for a special someone to enter their lives.

In a country where marriages are arranged and love considered an inessential folly – at best, something a couple grows into after they exchange vows – passion is a veiled emotion, as hidden as a woman's face. There is no touching, no courting, no intimacy for a boy and a girl – yet sparks can fly nonetheless, through layers of burqa and eons of cultural convention.

The heart wants what it wants, even in Afghanistan.

It is touching, then, on a fine spring afternoon, to watch teenage girls, shy but tittering, as they cluster around Rabi'a Balkhi's shrine, making their own little pilgrimage to romance.

Upon leaving, it is customary to tie strips of cloth to what remains of the bars that once shuttered the crypt, to remind the poetess of their quest.

An old gatekeeper squats by the entrance as he has, apparently, for decades, a self-appointed guardian of the sanctuary. He is surrounded by the oddest assortment of handmaidens, not lovely Graces but crones and hags. In return for alms, they will offer up prayers to their poetess-mistress for requited love and happily ever after.

One hands me a cloth strip.

Oh, why the hell not.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
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Books offered insight into Afghan mission
Papers left at girlfriend's would have had classified details on key topics at NATO summit
STEVEN CHASE , OMAR EL AKKAD and MICHAEL VALPY
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail May 28, 2008 at 4:35 AM EDT
OTTAWA, TORONTO — The briefing books that Maxime Bernier abandoned at his ex-girlfriend's home were designed to prepare him for a crucial NATO summit, and as such, would have offered confidential insight into the war in Afghanistan, U.S. plans for a missile shield and efforts to expand the military alliance.

These were key topics at the April summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders in Bucharest, and would have figured prominently in the briefing books for Mr. Bernier, along with analyses of the positions of other NATO allies.

Failing to recover these documents for five weeks cost Mr. Bernier his job as foreign affairs minister. The error is a major blunder, because cabinet ministers are supposed to treat confidential documents like ingots of gold.

Security officers tell cabinet ministers at the outset of their tenure that any documents taken outside the office must be in locked briefcases, which should be opened only when nobody is looking.

"No one else can see it and no one else can know they even have it - it's that closely guarded," one federal official said. "You don't take documents like that out to read on a plane or a bus or a train."

Ministers who bring classified documents home are supposed to squirrel them away. Defence Minister Peter MacKay, for instance, had a safe installed at his house.

Even in Ottawa, behind layers of security guards and closed-circuit cameras, the penchant for secrecy is strong, and classified documents must be locked up nightly.

Security teams sweep the offices at Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the evenings. They look for classified documents left on desks and test the locks on cabinets where files are supposed to be sealed away.

Unsecured documents are confiscated, and the offending Foreign Affairs staffer is slapped with an "infraction" note marking the transgression. Too many of these will result in a staffer being sent to a refresher course on document security.

The federal government reserves its most careful scrutiny for documents marked "secret" or the very rare "top secret" records that are usually not doled out to ministers.

Security staff are supposed to keep track of all documents rated "secret" or higher that are checked out by cabinet ministers, including how long they have them. Cabinet-level documents bear serial numbers and even barcodes sometimes.

This tracking system is not an insignificant undertaking, with security officers regularly checking the location of documents.

But Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a private consultant and former agent with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said document follow-up security procedures regularly fail, in large part because of the huge volume that must be monitored.

"We've got literally millions of documents that are sort of moved around and sometimes people cut corners," he said. "People are supposed to sign those documents, but of course who's going to do a check on the minister?"

Despite all this fuss about secrecy, several federal officials said the "secret" designation is sometimes overused for innocuous documents. They say briefing books are often circumspect texts that rarely impart stunning confidences.

"Bureaucrats are careful in their writing ... if there's a screaming secret it's not necessarily going to be in there," another official said.

The security ratings of documents within a department such as Foreign Affairs vary depending on how closely the government wants to guard the secrecy of their contents.

It is believed the NATO briefing notes Mr. Bernier left at his ex-girlfriend's house are no more sensitive than "secret."

Even though the Foreign Affairs minister is the head of the department, some individuals there have a higher security clearance. For example, the head of the department's foreign intelligence division is cleared to see more sensitive information.

Depending on exactly which documents Mr. Bernier left at his ex-girlfriend's, there may be grounds for an RCMP probe. But a Mountie spokeswoman refused to say whether the force will investigate.

*****

LEVELS OF SECRECY

Protected/Confidential

These classifications are usually reserved for less sensitive information, such as Question Period briefing notes, and could be applied to virtually any government document.Secret

The lowest end of secret documents can include briefing notes to cabinet. Although more sensitive than classified documents, secret documents are not considered all that secret.

Top Secret

Security procedures become far more stringent at this level, which can include documents such as intelligence intercepts. Top Secret documents are usually kept in safes.

Top Secret, Special Access

The most sensitive documents, such as intelligence and communication intercepts, are sometimes designated "special access," and subject to even more stringent regulations.

Omar El Akkad
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US should give time for peace agreement to work: Musharraf
Daily Times (Pakistan) 28 May 2008
* President underlines importance of US support to counter terrorism
* US delegates applaud Pakistan’s commitment to combat extremism
RAWALPINDI: Reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to fight terrorism, President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday asked the United States to understand ground realities in Pakistan and give time for the peace agreement made by the NWFP government to work.

Talking to two US Congressional delegations led by Senator Ben Nelson and Congressman Adam Schiff at his Camp Office in Rawalpindi, the president said Pakistan considered US Congress’ support for the broadening of mutual ties very important.

“The president underlined the importance of congressional support for counter-terrorism initiatives of the government, namely the FATA Development Plan, capacity building of the Frontier Corps (FC) and establishment of the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (RoZs),” the Foreign Office said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Musharraf also underlined Pakistan’s contribution to international counter-terrorism efforts and stressed the importance of the government’s strategy that covered political, military and socio-economic dimensions.

Efforts to strengthen security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were also discussed.

Extremism: The visiting delegates applauded Pakistan’s commitment to combating extremism, and reaffirmed their support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts and social development goals.

The delegation led by Senator Ben Nelson included Congressman Allen Boyd and Congressman Nick Lampson, and the delegation led by Congressman Adam Schiff consisted of Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Congressman Wayne Gilchrist.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, in his meetings with the visiting delegations at Prime Minister’s House, said no system was better suited to combat terrorism than democracy.

He asked the US to support the democratically elected government’s efforts to stabilise its economy and improve the population’s living standards.

“The world community has to develop a collective approach to arrest the trend of terrorism and extremism by addressing its root causes,” he added. He stressed the need for enhanced intelligence sharing between the two countries.

“Pakistan values its strategic relationship with the US and desires to expand co-operation in trade, investment, economic and social sectors,” he told the visiting delegates, who were accompanied by US Ambassador Anne W Patterson. He asked the US for greater market access to Pakistani products.

Gilani said political dialogue with moderate elements that had renounced war and laid down arms, economic uplift and empowerment of the Tribal Areas through establishment of ROZs and a continued campaign against the extremists and terrorists comprised the new government’s three-pronged strategy against terrorism.

“Pakistan believes a varying combination of these elements will eventually help achieve the common objective,” he said, urging the senators to ensure early passage of the legislation pertaining to the ROZs. The delegates said relations with Pakistan and its people were very important for the US and that the US wanted to develop stable and multi-faceted relationship with Pakistan. staff report/online
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Afghan envoy: civilian death toll drops
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 28 May 2008
‘New methods’ praised for drop in the number of innocent war victims
AFGHANISTAN’S ambassador to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, has said the number of civilian casualties during anti-terror operations in the country has decreased.

Tanin argued at today’s (Wednesday) special session of the UN Security Council, that the drop in civilian casualties was a result of “new methods” such as the use of smaller bombs and other weapons.

"A new mechanism of co-ordination between ISAF and our security forces has been established in the eastern and southern zones, which allows us to carefully plan operations and avoid collateral damage," he said.

The number of air-strikes during counter-terrorist operations had also decreased considerably since 2007, he told the council.

"However, the government of Afghanistan is deeply concerned with any loss of civilian life, and urges the international community to exercise utmost restraint during combat operations," the envoy remarked.
Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holms, said earlier in yesterday’s session that as many as 300 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first four months during attacks by anti-government elements.

John McNee of Canada said indiscriminate acts of violence, such as suicide bombings, were a potent reminder of why support for the Afghan government was so important.
Civilian deaths during military operations hit the headlines two weeks ago, when US soldiers allegedly killed three innocent civilians in Nangarhar, sparking protests that shut down the Jalalabad-Kabul highway.
Last week, a unit of US soldiers was found to have acted appropriately during an incident last year in which 17 civilians were killed in response to a suicide bomb attack on a US convoy.

Yesterday, residents in Logar held peaceful demonstrations in protests at what they called the “murder” of one of the region’s religious cleric by US soldiers.

The UN says it has no concrete figures for the number of civilians killed during NATO and Afghan army operations so far this year.
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'Top spy behind murder of MP's father'
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 28 May 2008 
Senior intelligence official accused of involvement in kidnapping
SUPPORTERS of parliament member and former militia commander Hazrat Ali have accused a senior intelligence official of being involved in the killing of the MP’s father and the kidnapping of seven of his family members.

A close ally of Hazrat Ali’s said relatives of former lawmaker Esmat Mohabat, who was shot dead by unidentified gunmen, were also complicit in the murder and kidnapping.

Hazrat Ali’s friend, Amir Muhammad, told reporters at a news conference today (Tuesday) they had evidence that both provincial intelligence deputy Dr Abdullah Laghmani and Mohabats family were directly involved in the murder of Hazrat Ali’s father and the kidnapping of his family members.

Two weeks ago, unidentified gunmen broke into Hazrat Ali’s house, strangled his father and abducted seven of his family members.

At the news conference, Muhammad said the deputy chief of the country’s intelligence service and relatives of Esmat Mahabat, a lower house member killed in 2006, had together planned the attack.

Mohabat’s brother, Naqibullah Mohabat, denied complicity in the assault and said the claims were baseless.

“If anybody has evidence of our involvement, we are ready for any kind of punishment, including an open trial,” Naqibullah said.

Meanwhile, Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai urged Hazrat Ali’s followers to be tolerant until a joint commission, sent from Kabul and with representatives from Nangarhar, completed their investigation into the attack.
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ISAF plans to promote Afghan currency
Abid Jan Razarwal & Zubair Babakarkhel - May 26, 2008 - 17:38
BAGRAM AIRBASE (PAN): The financial office of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has announced to perform all its future transactions in local currency instead of US dollar.

Chief financial officer of ISAF Major Noch Cloud in an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News here said that they wanted to promote the Afghan nationalism and stabilize the Afghan economy by converting all transactions into local currency.

Accompanied by another financial expert Jason Perez, Cloud said they had been taking measures to rebuild the confidence of Afghans on the banking system and also on the local currency and we are taking these steps on the demands of the government of Afghanistan.

"We have been paying our Afghan contractors in local currency since last eight months and all our officials have been directed to use local currency instead of dollars," Cloud added.

He said every month 50 to 70 millions afghanis have been paid to Afghan contractors in Bagram.

"Now we are in the process to launch the second phase of the progrrame to completely divert all our transactions from dollars into local currency," he said.

He said the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were also supporting this plan and are considering paying their local staff in local currency.

. He said it will also help in improving the security situation because many businessmen have lost their lives simply due to having US currency in their pockets when the insurgents searched them.

He said they had established a money changing shop for Afghan businessmen in Bagram and whenever they go out they change their foreign currency into afghanis.

"The daily transaction in the Bazaar of Bagram airbase is about 50 thousand dollars now all this business is undertaken in local currency," Cloud claimed.

He said this project would be extended to foreign forces bases in Kabul, Nangarhar, Kandahar and Khost.

Bagram airbase is one of the most important airbases of foreign forces houses 15 thousands soldiers of seven different countries.

Thousands of Afghans are also seen busy in the airbase along with foreign forces in the reconstruction activities in the base.
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