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May 31, 2008 

Over 100 rebels killed, Afghan government says
by Sardar Ahmad
KABUL (AFP) - Over 100 rebels were killed in military operations in southwestern Afghanistan, authorities said Saturday, as dozens more people were killed or injured in other violence throughout the country.

One soldier dead and 6 wounded in Afghan suicide blast
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed one foreign soldier and wounded six other people, including three civilians, in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Saturday, the provincial governor said.

Museum: Soldier took Afghan treasures
May 30, 2008 at 7:55 PM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:OSLO, Norway, May 30 (UPI) -- Officials at an Oslo, Norway, museum say they turned down an offer of Afghan cultural items from a Norwegian soldier returning from Afghanistan.

Germany: U.S. authorities release citizen held in Afghanistan
BERLIN (AP) — U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have released a German citizen who had been held since January accused of being on a U.S. base without authorization, the German Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Canada to send Chinooks, unmanned planes to Afghanistan
By Melanie Lee Sat May 31, 1:48 AM ET
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada will move helicopters and unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan to increase surveillance of roads, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Saturday, as the Taliban stepped up attacks in spite of a large NATO force in the country.

Nightly cellphone blackouts costing lives in Afghanistan, critics say
By Murray Brewster And A.R. Khan, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Abdul Qahir is not sure where to vent his rage - at the Taliban or Afghan cellphone companies that bowed to militant demands to shut down service at sundown.

Dying for life in Afghanistan
June 1, 2008 The Sydney Morning Herald
A woman lies screaming in agony and hemorrhages to death in a spartan hut in a remote region of Afghanistan. There is no doctor or midwife to help and the hospital is several days' journey away.

NATO general sees long fight in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Fri May 30, 1:24 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The outgoing American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said the insurgency there will last for years unless Pakistan shuts down safe havens where militants train and recruit.

Afghanistan: counterinsurgency or colonialism?
Americans bring Afghans their new 60-year plan
DOUG SAUNDERS Globe and Mail Update May 31, 2008 at 12:05 AM EDT
NARAY, Afghanistan — To get to Naray, which may be the most lawless place in Afghanistan today, you have to make the long journey up the sniper-filled Kunar River Valley from Jalalabad to Asadabad, where the road ends

Time to talk to the Taliban
Even the Bush administration begins to realize no military solution is possible
May 31, 2008 04:30 AM Mark Sedra Toronto Star,  Canada
Signs coming out of Washington are that a significant policy shift on Afghanistan has taken place.

Pak deal with Taliban should not come at Afghan cost: Karzai
Outlook India
NEW DELHI, MAY 31 (PTI) - Days after Pakistan struck peace deal with Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the agreement should not compromise his country's interests, failing which Kabul would be "extremely angry".

Afghanistan trip opens eyes of MP
Robert Barron, Daily News www.canada.com Saturday, May 31, 2008
A meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai while visiting Kabul was an eye opener for James Lunney.

District governor shot dead in southern Afghanistan
Sat, May 31 04:42 PM
Kandahar, May 31 (DPA) A district governor and his bodyguard were shot dead in southern Afghanistan, while the US military said they killed several Taliban militants as Afghan forces retook control of a town in the southern region, officials said Saturday.

Canadian troops disrupt bomb-making networks in Afghanistan
Saturday, May 31, 2008 CBC News Canada
Canadian soldiers made progress in a campaign to shut down a network of Taliban fighters who are making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) west of Kandahar city, a senior officer said Saturday.

As a terrible landmark looms, it's time for realism in Afghanistan
By Charles Moore Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 31/05/2008
Ninety-seven British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001, most in the past two years. At current rates, it is, unfortunately, a good bet that the 100 mark will be passed in the coming month. Then people will challenge the Government:

Senior insurgent leader killed in E Afghanistan
KABUL, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Maulawi Abdul Malik, a senior insurgent leader, has been killed in eastern Afghan province of Logar during an operation led by Afghan troops, the NATO-led military said here Friday.

India, Afghanistan discuss on firming up bilateral ties
31 May, 2008, 1358 hrs IST, PTI The Economic Times
New Delhi: India and Afghanistan today held discussions on firming up bilateral cooperation and the situation in the war-torn country and its neighbourhood.

Operation Rolling Thunder ends successfully
Top-secret engagement sees Canadian troops involved in heaviest fighting this year against Taliban militants
KATHERINE O'NEILL May 31, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
PASHMUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Even by Afghanistan standards, Major Stacy Grubb has had a very long week.

Poland to take over security in Afghan province
Fri May 30, 2008
powered by  SphereWARSAW (Reuters) - Polish troops in Afghanistan will soon take over responsibility for security in a central province of the country from U.S. forces, the Polish defense ministry said on Friday.

Who needs the Germans?
Whether Berlin's 3,500 troops stay or leave `makes no difference to us,' says one senior Afghan official
The Toronto Star / May 30, 2008 Rosie DiManno Columnist
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, afghanistan–Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, a man who clearly does not like having his monologues interrupted, pulls a pout at the mention of Germans.

Canadians fight to figure out who is real enemy in Afghanistan
(Ottawa Citizen) 30 May 2008
Openly vowing to destroy the Taliban is probably not the diplomatically correct route to take to win over the people of Dand, a rural collection of mud-walled villages south of Kandahar City where even the district police chief complains

Moscow ranks third for Kabul
(RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) 30 May 2008
Having arrived in Moscow on May 25 for a two-day visit, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that his country would like to further expand cooperation with Russia.

Frenchman goes missing in Afghanistan
France24, France  Friday 30 May 2008
A young French entrepreneur was reportedly abducted Thursday morning in south-east Afghanistan, said French daily Le Figaro, citing a source close to the victim.

Is bin Laden really hiding among this pagan people?
Scotsman, United Kingdom By Saeed Shah  31 May 2008
ON THE north-west tip of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan's Nuristan province, Chitral has long been thought a possible refuge for Osama bin Laden.

US terror drive stalled in political quagmire
Asia Times By Syed Saleem Shahzad 05/30/2008
KARACHI -Anti-American sentiment in the South Asian "war on terror" theater is on the rise, leaving Washington in a dilemma over how to intervene and preserve its interests.

Afghanistan wants $500m for new vision of Kabul
Independent, UK By Kim Sengupta in Kabul Saturday, 31 May 2008
The vision is of the world's first eco-neutral capital city, powered by water, wind and solar energy with a vast central park with hills and a lake – a metropolis of the future, blending the latest modern sustainable architecture with traditional building methods.

Taliban announce ceasefire in Mardan
Dawn (Pakistan) May 30, 2008
MARDAN-Welcoming the provincial government’s offer for talks, a spokesman for the local Taliban on Friday announced a ceasefire in the district.

Taliban not the problem, elders say
Forces change focus to target general lawlessness
canada.com - Vancouver Doug Schmidt Canwest News Service  Saturday, May 31, 2008
DAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan - Openly vowing to destroy the Taliban is probably not the diplomatically correct route to take to win over the people of Dand, a rural collection of mud-walled villages south of Kandahar City where even the district

Three Afghanistan reporters I won't soon forget
Star columnist reflects on 2001 trip she declined to take – a patrol that claimed three lives
Toronto Star, Canada Rosie DiManno Columnist May 30, 2008
TALOQAN, Afghanistan - Some things you try to forget. I came back here to try and remember.

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Over 100 rebels killed, Afghan government says
by Sardar Ahmad
KABUL (AFP) - Over 100 rebels were killed in military operations in southwestern Afghanistan, authorities said Saturday, as dozens more people were killed or injured in other violence throughout the country.

The interior ministry said Afghan security forces backed by foreign military allies killed the rebels during two days of operations to retake the remote district of Bakwa in southwestern province of Farah.

The rebels had captured the district eight months ago, ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.

"During two days of operations more than 100 enemies of peace and stability were killed," he said, adding that the district was recaptured from the rebels on Friday.

"We captured the district after eight months of enemy control," the spokesman said. Security forces were still chasing the rebels in the district, he added.

He said five "prominent" Taliban commanders were among the dead.

The Taliban, the main militant group behind a spiralling insurgency, have taken control of remote towns and districts but have been easily pushed back by Afghan and foreign security forces.

Farah, which borders Iran, has seen some of the bloodiest violence in a two-year insurgency, which has mainly taken place in the country's south and east.

The rebels stormed and captured a district centre in the central province of Ghazni on Thursday and were pushed back by Afghan security forces a day later, according to authorities.

About 18 other Taliban-linked militants were killed in other operations by Afghan and foreign troops in southern Kandahar province, a police commander said.

"In the past three days we've killed 16 Taliban including two commanders in Zhari and Panjwayi district. They were killed in an operation launched to clear the area of the enemy," the Kandahar police chief, Sayed Agha Saqeb said.

Two other rebels were killed in a gunfight with police elsewhere in Kandahar, he told AFP.

A suspected suicide car bomb meanwhile injured four NATO-led soldiers and as many Afghan civilians Saturday in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, officials said.

Bashary said the bomber rammed an explosive-laden car into a NATO-led military convoy.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed the casualties but said the explosion appeared to have been from an improvised explosive device, a home-made bomb often used by Taliban in their attacks on military targets.

The area was later sealed off by US troops, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

"I saw an American humvee at the middle of the road badly destroyed. It's laying upside down in the middle of the road," the correspondent said.

The bombing came two days after a suicide car bomber killed three Afghan civilians in Kabul. The Taliban claimed both attacks.

Two other ISAF soldiers were wounded in a roadside bomb on Saturday in Paktia province, a troubled region in the country's east bordering Pakistan, ISAF spokesman Carlos Branco said.

And suspected Taliban militants gunned down a district governor and his body guard in southern Zabul province overnight, deputy provincial governor Gulab Shah Alikhail told AFP.

In the same region, an Afghan soldier was killed in a firefight with militants in Shiwak district, Afghan army spokesman colonel Mohammad Gul told AFP. And the defence ministry said another Afghan soldier was killed on Friday when their base came under heavy fire from militants in Helmand province, the heartland of Taliban insurgency in the country's south.

Two other troopers were wounded in the attack, it said in a statement.

About 70,000 US and NATO troops are helping Afghan forces fight back Taliban rebels, who have stepped up attacks in recent weeks.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed claimed responsibility for the Jalalabad bombing in a telephone call to AFP from an unknown location.

"One of our brave mujahedin (holy warrior) carried out a suicide attack on American forces in Jalalabad," he said.

The Taliban were ousted in an invasion led by the United States in late 2001 after the Islamic rebels refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks on the US that year.
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One soldier dead and 6 wounded in Afghan suicide blast
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed one foreign soldier and wounded six other people, including three civilians, in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Saturday, the provincial governor said.

The Taliban have vowed to step up their campaign of suicide bombings this year, after carrying out 140 such attacks in 2007 which killed 200 civilians.

The suicide car bomber rammed his car into a moving military convoy in the city of Jalalabad before detonating explosives, Gol Agha Shirzai, governor of Nangarhar province, said.

One coalition soldier was killed and three wounded, he said.

Three civilians were also wounded in the attack.

The nationalities of the dead and wounded soldiers are not known but most stationed in Nangarhar are American.

The al Qaeda-backed Taliban largely rely on suicide attacks and roadside bomb blasts as part of their insurgency against the pro-Western Afghan government and the more than 60,000 foreign troops in the country.

In another incident, Mohammad Younus, the governor of Qalat District in Zabul Province, was shot dead with his bodyguard at his house on Friday night by unknown gunmen, provincial police chief, Jalal Mohammad Yaqub, told Reuters.

The Taliban have killed dozens of government officials to try to undermine the faith of Afghans in the ability of their government to provide security in the country.

On Saturday, a senior member of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) was kidnapped along with three companions by Taliban fighters in Wardak province, west of Kabul, a local government official said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed they were holding the four men.

The NRC was established by the government to persuade militants to lay down their arms and join peace efforts.

(Reporting by Mohammad Rafiq and Shir Ahmad in Ghazni and Mirwais Afghan in Kandahar; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)
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Museum: Soldier took Afghan treasures
May 30, 2008 at 7:55 PM
Print story Email to a friend Font size:OSLO, Norway, May 30 (UPI) -- Officials at an Oslo, Norway, museum say they turned down an offer of Afghan cultural items from a Norwegian soldier returning from Afghanistan.

Norway's Historical Museum officials said the soldier, who was not identified, was told to return the ancient coins and a small metal bottle to Afghanistan, as he may have violated laws against taking national treasures from their countries of origin, Aftenposten reported Friday.

"In Afghanistan, the laws can be different from Norway's, but such old items would almost certainly be covered by export restrictions," said Christopher Prescott, an archaeology professor at the University of Oslo.

Hakon Ingvaldsen, head of collections at the museum, said the coins were up to 2,000 years old.

"The museum can't take into possession things that belong to another country's cultural heritage," Ingvaldsen said.
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Germany: U.S. authorities release citizen held in Afghanistan
BERLIN (AP) — U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have released a German citizen who had been held since January accused of being on a U.S. base without authorization, the German Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

A ministry spokesman confirmed a report in the online edition of the weekly Der Spiegel that the 41-year-old man, a German of Afghan origin, was released on Saturday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, he said the man was on his way back to Germany. He did not give further details of the release.

Der Spiegel, which did not identify its sources, said Germany's ambassador to Afghanistan picked up the man from the U.S. military's Bagram base early Saturday and took him to the Kabul airport.

The weekly, which made the case public in mid-April, has reported that the man, whom it identified as Gholam Ghaus Z., had traveled to Kabul to visit relatives and was arrested as he tried to buy a razor at a U.S. military supermarket.

It said German intelligence officials quickly concluded that there was no reason to be suspicious of the man.

German officials have said that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier brought up the case with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. German Embassy staff in Kabul were able to visit the man during his detention.
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Canada to send Chinooks, unmanned planes to Afghanistan
By Melanie Lee Sat May 31, 1:48 AM ET
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada will move helicopters and unmanned aircraft to Afghanistan to increase surveillance of roads, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Saturday, as the Taliban stepped up attacks in spite of a large NATO force in the country.

Canadian troops are based in the southern province of Kandahar and have seen some of the highest casualties as 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the United States battle the Taliban-led insurgency.

MacKay told Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference that six to 10 medium-heavy lift helicopters, such as Chinooks, and some unmanned aircraft would be delivered to Afghanistan by February 2009.

"Hopefully we are going to have some of that equipment arrive late summer, early fall and our intention is to have all that equipment in place by February 2009."

MacKay said the unmanned aircraft would be used to patrol roads used by Canada and her allies. Canada would also move staff to Afghanistan to man the equipment.

Eighty Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan, and its mission in Afghanistan is due to end in February 2009. But the government has agreed to remain until 2011 if another NATO country agrees to supply the added troops.

"There is no intention before July of 2011 for us to remove troops," MacKay said.

He also said that he did not think a change of government in the United States would affect Canada's Afghan involvement.

"I believe we are on a very strong path for the future, regardless of who occupies the White House."
(Editing by Jan Dahinten and Valerie Lee)
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Nightly cellphone blackouts costing lives in Afghanistan, critics say
By Murray Brewster And A.R. Khan, The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Abdul Qahir is not sure where to vent his rage - at the Taliban or Afghan cellphone companies that bowed to militant demands to shut down service at sundown.

He blames the nightly telecom blackouts that persist throughout southern Afghanistan for the death of his wife as she gave birth to their fourth child two months ago.

The baby also died.

Qahir, 42, was out of the family compound in the lush Arghandab district, north of Kandahar, on March 30. He had been invited to a friend's wedding.

"I am furious at Taliban and mobile companies," he said in an interview this week. "Because of them I have lost my wife."

Throughout much of the spring, Taliban militants were blowing up telecommunications towers and threatening the five telecom firms in the country after they had refused demands to power down their signals overnight.

The idea was to prevent NATO forces from tracing their movements - especially those of Taliban commanders - and hunting them down.

Five telecom towers were hit in Kandahar City over a two week period in late March, causing routine interruptions in service for 250,000 customers. The companies have since given in to the demand and switched off signals overnight.

In land pulverized by 30 years of war, there are few if any landlines even in major cities.

The cellphone is a lifeline for many Afghans, especially those who live in the vast empty desert in small farming communities. Over five million people in this dirt-poor country, about one-fifth of the population, have pocket communication devices.

Qahir says his wife, whose name he refused to give citing cultural reasons, went in to premature labour and his eldest son, 13-year-old Amed Shah, tried to call a mid-wife for help.

No signal.

He waited. And then tried again. Still nothing.

By this time, the teenager was in a panic with his screaming 37-year-old mother laying helplessly nearby.

His younger brother and sister also looked on helplessly.

Shah tried neighbours for help but it was too late.

"I heard their crying," said Haji Hayatullah, 40, a farmer who lived near the family. "Then I - including my wife - went to Qahir's home and we got to know about the incident. The family was quite tense."

As soon as service was restored, Qahir's phone started ringing.

"I rushed home immediately and found my wife dead," he said. "Now the question is that who is responsible for the death of my wife and orphaned children."

Within weeks of burying his wife, Qahir packed up his children and moved down the road to Kandahar City.

Two of the cellphone companies operating in the province, Roshan and Afghan Bisim, refused comment on the case.

Afghan police had warned this spring that the interruption could cost lives.

Haji Qasim, a police officer in Arghandab, says cops who rely on cellphones in rural areas have had a hard time communicating with each other.

Sensing that they've angered the population and handed NATO a propaganda victory, the Taliban have eased off the pressure on the four private and one-state owned telecommunications company.

But repairing the damage has proved to be difficult and has created enduring frustration and bitterness among Afghans.

Although they won't say how they do it, NATO has been successful in pinpointing mid-level and senior Taliban commanders, killing them with air strikes or capturing them in lightning-swift raids.

On Friday, coalition officials in eastern Afghanistan reported the death of Maulawi Abdul Malik, a senior insurgent leader. He was killed in an Afghan-led operation May 27, said Brig.-Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul.

The operation, in Logar province, was designed to bomb-making cells and operations throughout the region.
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Dying for life in Afghanistan
June 1, 2008 The Sydney Morning Herald
A woman lies screaming in agony and hemorrhages to death in a spartan hut in a remote region of Afghanistan. There is no doctor or midwife to help and the hospital is several days' journey away.

Women die this way every day in Afghanistan, a country with one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates.

Out of every 100,000 live births, about 1600 Afghan women die in childbirth. That's one mother dying every 27 minutes.

In some of the most remote areas the death rate is as high as 6500. In comparison, the average rate in developing countries is 450. In developed countries it is nine.

Virtually everyone in Afghanistan can recount a story about a relative dying in childbirth, often from minor complications that can be easily treated with proper medical care.

Sharifa, who identified herself only by her first name, tells of her sister, a mother of six who bled to death after giving birth at home. "There is no clinic, no cars, no proper roads.

"It is a remote village, we could not take her to hospital. She remained at home for one day and one night, then she died." Afghanistan's government aims to reduce maternal mortality by 20 per cent by 2020 but there are many obstacles to overcome, including a reluctance by women to be examined by male doctors and a lack of female doctors, nurses and midwives.

Then there are the vast distances in this war-torn country, where hospitals are generally poorly equipped and medical help is inaccessible to those living in remote locations. It is an age-old practice for Afghan women in rural areas to deliver babies at home. Trained midwives are rarely in attendance.

If there are complications it might take hours, even days, to reach the nearest clinic.

Even when women with labour complications get to hospital alive there are often no doctors or medical equipment to perform caesarean sections and other life-saving procedures.

"In some places there aren't even operating theatres and women just wait for their death," said Rona Azamyan, who co-ordinates the midwifery education program in Faizabad.

Among the prime complications of childbirth in the nation are bleeding, infection, hypertension and obstructed labour.

It is not uncommon for girls as young as 13 to marry in Afghanistan and there are often complications when they give birth.

"The mothers are very young so their [pelvic] bone development is immature," said Karima Mayar, a family planning team leader at the Ministry of Public Health. Poor and malnourished, many pregnant women are severely anaemic.

"If they get post-partum hemorrhage they will die 100 per cent of the time," she said.

Women's access to health care has generally been poor in the deeply conservative country.

Afghan men prefer their women to consult only women doctors but that is easier said than done in a society where there are few female doctors and nurses and little emphasis is placed on educating girls.

The problem got worse during the Taliban regime when girls were banned from schools and there were severe restrictions placed on women leaving their homes. During those years, from 1996 to 2001, there were only about 1000 female health care workers in the whole country, staffing female-only hospitals.

But the situation is still far from ideal more than six years after the fall of the Taliban, even in places such as the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, where the town of Faizabad is located.

Only 66 per cent of basic health care centres have at least one female health worker.

Women make up only 23.5 per cent of the country's health care workforce and 27 per cent of its nursing staff.

"One woman dies every 27 minutes in Afghanistan due to complications in childbirth and the tragedy doesn't stop with the mother's death," Mayar said.

"When the mother of a newborn dies, 75 per cent of these babies die. Who will feed them, keep them warm? There's an Afghan saying: 'When the mother dies the child is sure to die'."

The government plans to distribute the drug Misoprostol to pregnant women in 13 provinces this year.

"We will distribute this to women in their seventh month of pregnancy and they must take it right after delivery. It will remove the placenta and prevent hemorrhage," Mayar said.

In the pipeline are plans to set up more midwifery schools and assign more female students to medical and nursing schools.

"To reduce maternal mortality we need 8000 midwives by 2010 to cover needs of all pregnant women," Mayar said.

There are 2143 midwives in the country of 26 million people. But years of neglecting girls' education is taking its toll.

"In the provinces the maximum level of education is the 10th grade, but the minimum requirement for entry into nursing school is 12th grade," said Fatima Mohbat Ali of the Aga Khan Foundation.

Some progress has been made in recent years due to the efforts of government and non-government organisations to improve rural health care. In Badakhshan's Eshkashem district, which borders Tajikistan, Afghan women have been visiting the health clinic, the most modern-looking facility in a town where most of the 13,000 residents live in mud houses.

From headaches to pre-natal check-ups, childbirth and advice on contraception, women have been bringing their complaints to the clinic's female doctor for the past three years.

"Ever since we got an ambulance, a lady doctor, two midwives and an operating theatre three years ago, we have not had a single case of maternal mortality," obstetric surgeon Abdi Mohammad, head of the Eshkashem health clinic, said.
Source: The Sun-Herald
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NATO general sees long fight in Afghanistan
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Fri May 30, 1:24 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The outgoing American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said the insurgency there will last for years unless Pakistan shuts down safe havens where militants train and recruit.

Gen. Dan McNeill also blamed new peace agreements in Pakistan's tribal areas for a spike in violence in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. forces operate along the volatile border.

"If there are going to be sanctuaries where these terrorists, these extremists, these insurgents can train, can recruit, can regenerate, there's still going to be a challenge there," McNeill said in an interview with The Associated Press.

NATO has said there was a 50 percent spike in violence in eastern Afghanistan in April when compared with 2007.

"We've also monitored and reported in the past what happens when there are so-called peace negotiations with these terrorists and extremists inside those sanctuaries," McNeill said. "And when there have been (negotiations), there has been a spike in the untoward events on our side of the border."

McNeill, a 61-year-old four-star general from North Carolina who has fought in most American conflicts since Vietnam, will step down next week as commanding officer of the 40-nation International Security Assistance Force. He will be replaced by U.S. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe.

McKiernan will inherit a greatly expanded force compared to the one McNeill took command of in February 2007, when it had 36,000 troops. Today it has 51,000. McNeill said in the interview on Wednesday that the increase was proof of the international community's commitment to success in Afghanistan.

"That says to me that all the wags who in late 2006 and early 2007 who were predicting the failure and the fracture of the NATO alliance here probably got it wrong. And I'm not trying to smirk or anything, I'm just saying people ought to go back and see what was being written," he said.

There is also a record number of U.S. forces in the country — 33,000, including 2,400 Marines who arrived this spring to battle insurgents in the south, where ISAF has not had enough troops. McNeill said the U.S. will probably send more troops to the south next year.

Violence and the drug trade have also spiked on McNeill's watch. Insurgents last year set off a record number of suicide bombs — more than 140. More than 8,000 people, mostly militants, died in violence, according to U.N. analysts. Former military officers have warned that the international effort is in danger of failing.

McNeill said the NATO force in Afghanistan is short of troops. "It's an under-resourced force. That's been a constant theme since I've been here," he said.

McNeill said he wouldn't recommend that Marines become the primary U.S. fighting force in Afghanistan because their tour lengths are too short for effective counterinsurgency operations, which require that strong relationships be built with local leaders.

But he also said the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has been battling militants in the Garmser district of southern Helmand province, "is producing some really good effects ... and I'm also going to admit that they're a little better than anticipated."

Asked about the U.S. presidential campaign, McNeill said he believes the three remaining major-party candidates all, like most members of Congress, think U.S. goals in Afghanistan are achievable, "and we should do everything humanly possible to achieve them."

He also pointed to signs of progress in the country.

"Look at these kids going to school. There's a half million more this year than last year. Look at the number of trucks on the road ... Eleven universities opened last year as I understand it. That's a lot of progress."
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Afghanistan: counterinsurgency or colonialism?
Americans bring Afghans their new 60-year plan
DOUG SAUNDERS Globe and Mail Update May 31, 2008 at 12:05 AM EDT
NARAY, Afghanistan — To get to Naray, which may be the most lawless place in Afghanistan today, you have to make the long journey up the sniper-filled Kunar River Valley from Jalalabad to Asadabad, where the road ends, and then hitch a ride on a Black Hawk helicopter to this outpost in the far northeast, near the Pakistani border. Here, in the hills, you will find 200 wild-eyed U.S. Army soldiers living in a cluster of tents, sheltering themselves from regular rocket attacks.

I was greeted in a swirl of dust by Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Kolenda, a clean-cut, steel-eyed officer in the 173rd Airborne, who dragged me into a large tent filled with other officers. They promptly began one of the key battlefield tactics of the new American military — the two-hour PowerPoint presentation.

"The heart of the matter here, as we see it, is a socio-economic dislocation," Col. Kolenda told me, before quoting at length from Kaffirs of the Hindu Kush (Sir George Scott Robertson, 1900) and explaining in detail the anthropology and tribal politics of this region, including some new research he had commissioned from the U.S. government's elite squad of battlefield anthropologists, better known as Human Terrain Specialists.

"There's been an atomization of society here — the elders lost control over their people, and a new elite of fighters came in to fill the vacuum, so what we need to do out here is to re-empower the traditional leadership structures," he continued.

"As you can see here," he said at one point, "as you approach the possibility of self-sufficient development, then you reach what I'll call the developmental asymptote, which is the point we're striving to reach."

This, I pointed out, was not the sort of talk I had expected from the 173rd Airborne, an infantry brigade known for its battlefield ruthlessness. Here at the headwaters of the river, I felt I had encountered some latter-day Colonel Kurtzes, losing themselves in Cartesian twists of logic amid all the mud and dust.

"This is all really new," acknowledged Major Erik Berdy, who had been reading Queen Victoria's Little Wars (Byron Farwell, 1972). "Before, it was totally high-intensity conflict, that was all we discussed. The mental dynamics we have needed to readjust our mentality have been quite dramatic — before, it was 'find, fix and finish,' and the change required to go from there to asymmetric development-focused counterinsurgency has been quite a mind shift."

It certainly is quite a mind shift, one that may have occurred five years too late. When fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations such as Canada are told about plans to "re-Americanize" the Afghanistan war, this new thinking is central to the plan.

The Petraeus doctrine

Within the U.S. military, this is known as population-centric counterinsurgency, an approach that has a cultish following among some officers. It was attempted and then dropped in the Vietnam War (the infamous "strategic hamlets" were at its centre) and there are still officers who believe that Vietnam would have been won if counterinsurgency had been practised to the end.

One of its strongest advocates happens to be General David Petraeus, who has just become the head of the U.S. Central Command, making him responsible for both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.

In practice, I found, it looks and sounds a lot more like old-fashioned colonialism. In the tents of Naray, I had the distinct feeling that I had strolled into Uttar Pradesh at some point after 1858, in the early days of the British Raj.

Here, far more so than in the Afghan south, where Canada and Britain are fighting, officers were taking command of entire societies, in hopes of purifying the cultural oxygen that produced the Taliban.

"Our goal," one officer tells me, "is to rebuild the government and society from the ground up in our model."

That means that these officers have to have big pots of money piled up beside their big guns.

Their tool is the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which in this small province gives the commanding officers an impressive $37.3-million (U.S.) to spend on society-rebuilding programs — similar to what aid organizations would do, if they were allowed out here, but much more closely tied to military goals.

(The Canadians, by comparison, keep their Provincial Reconstruction Team somewhat separate from the fighters — this, I'm told, creates confusion in Kandahar, since Afghan leaders don't understand why the guys with the guns can't deliver a new mosque.)

Farther down the valley from this camp, I came across teams of Afghan men in blue uniforms building roads, bridges and mosques, all under the watchful eye of GIs in armoured vehicles. They are being paid the equivalent of $5.50 an hour, which is a huge sum in Afghanistan — and happens to be 50 cents an hour more than what the Taliban pay for fighting.

The goal, though, is not to create U.S. government jobs for all the potential fighters — the Americans are occupying only a tiny sliver of this province, after all.

No, the Americans here are trying to do what they should have done in Iraq five years ago: using former fighters to create enough of a counterbalance of goodwill to tip the scales in favour of their side.

"Our road, bridge, school and health-facility strategy is designed to separate the enemy from the people — it's central to counterinsurgency," says Commander Dan Dwyer of the U.S. Navy, who runs the provincial reconstruction team just to the south, in Asadabad.

"Because of this infrastructure, we've pushed [the Taliban] out of population centres, up into the hills."

Tough love

Lest anyone think this is a soft or peaceful process, Cdr. Dwyer's base was rocked, every minute or so all day, by the terrifying shock of its line of 155-mm howitzers firing their village-destroying shells over the hills and into the Korengal Valley.

The building of mosques and roads is matched with absolutely ferocious fighting in places such as Korengal — the Americans are much more willing to use air strikes and heavy artillery, with the resulting heavy civilian casualties, than other militaries.

There are good reasons to be suspicious of this approach.

"We do not believe in counterinsurgency," a senior French commander tells me. "If you find yourself needing to use counterinsurgency, it means the entire population has become the subject of your war, and you either will have to stay there forever or you have lost."

The Americans obviously see it differently.

"We're trying to raise the opportunity cost of picking up a weapon or growing poppy," says Alison Blosser, a Pashto-speaking State Department official.

(The Americans, unlike Canadians or Brits, have a surprising level of co-operation between their foreign-affairs people and their military officers these days.)

"We want to get to the point where there's long-term sustainable employment that leads to economic growth. … If the insurgents do decide to come back, they will face a great wall of resistance from a population that has experienced economic development."

It sounds good. But I should mention that eastern Afghanistan is facing the highest military casualty rate in the war's history at the moment, and a British report has just concluded that their heavy-handed poppy-eradication strategy is creating hundreds more Taliban fighters.

I ask one officer how long it is going to take to make this new strategy bear fruit.

"Look," he says, "we're still in Germany and Japan 60 years after that war ended. That's how long it can take. I fully expect to have grandchildren who will be fighting out here."
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Time to talk to the Taliban
Even the Bush administration begins to realize no military solution is possible
May 31, 2008 04:30 AM Mark Sedra Toronto Star,  Canada
Signs coming out of Washington are that a significant policy shift on Afghanistan has taken place.

Even two years ago, the prospect of talking to the Taliban was unthinkable for the Bush administration, which insisted that the movement was a spent force.

Escalating violence in the country that killed 8,000 people in 2007 has apparently altered that perception, with administration officials now speaking of the need to support "dialogue" with the movement.

Of course, such a dramatic about-face is not without precedent, as the United States is not just talking to some of the Sunni insurgent groups that fought and killed U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but it is allied with them. Plans for Afghanistan are not so ambitious – yet.

Sources in the administration indicate that it has quietly expressed its support for an Afghan government program that aims to split moderate Taliban from the movement and bring them out of the cold.

The program, which provides amnesties to combatants in exchange for their disarmament and pledges of loyalty to the state, has actually been in operation for several years, but the U.S. and most other Western countries, including Canada, have chosen not to support it.

Endorsing the program, in the eyes of many Western policy-makers, would be tantamount to negotiating with terrorists. Such a narrow-minded position has been a major impediment to the development of political solutions to the Afghan conflict.

The reality in Afghanistan, which the U.S. change of strategy tacitly recognizes, is that there is no military solution to the conflict. The only viable prospect for peace is a negotiated settlement.

Other NATO countries, like the U.K., came to this conclusion sooner, but have adopted a much different and less constructive approach. The U.K. military has actively sought to reach out to the Taliban in their area of operations in the restive southern province of Helmand, often unilaterally without the Afghan government's involvement.

Earlier this month, reports emerged in the Canadian media that the Canadian Forces was also seeking to make contacts with moderate Taliban in neighbouring Kandahar province, an approach the opposition New Democratic Party has enthusiastically advocated.

However, mini-bargains with the Taliban in the south made by foreign actors rather than the Afghan government will not bring lasting peace and could harm efforts to achieve it. Such approaches only undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government, which Canada and its allies have spent billions of dollars and far too many lives to establish.

Making deals with the Taliban at the local level will only promote the perception, which many Afghans already hold, that Western countries, not the democratically elected Afghan government, is the real power in Afghanistan.

Rather than numerous mini-bargains negotiated by external actors, what Afghanistan needs is one grand political bargain negotiated by the government.

It is important to remember that Afghanistan lacks a grand bargain or peace agreement. The Bonn Agreement, which launched the Afghan reconstruction process in December 2001, was not a classical peace agreement as it did not involve all the parties to the conflict.

Rather, it only assembled the actors on the right side of the "war on terror," those Afghan factions that aided the U.S.-led coalition to unseat the Taliban regime. Such an agreement remains a prerequisite for sustainable peace.

However, achieving it now, which involves reaching out to the Taliban, will be much more difficult than it would have been six or even three years ago, when the Taliban were still regrouping after the fall of their regime.

The reason is that the Taliban now feel in a position of strength. They believe momentum is on their side. This is reflected in the uncompromising demands that they have presented to the Karzai government, which include the acceptance of Taliban control over all of southern Afghanistan, the reimposition of their own brand of Sharia law and the withdrawal of most international actors from the country.

Such conditions are non-starters for the Afghan government, leaving NATO with little option but to continue military operations until the government is in a more advantageous negotiating position.

There is a major push behind the scenes in Kabul to develop a coherent international donor position to support the Afghan government's reconciliation efforts.

While the Afghan government's Taliban reconciliation program has succeeded in drawing in hundreds of low-level fighters over the past few years, its ability to penetrate the middle and upper ranks, let alone disrupt the integrity of the Taliban movement as a whole, has been limited.

One of the reasons for this is a lack of resources. A program capable not only of providing political amnesty but economic and social assistance to reintegrate Taliban fighters into Afghan society could prove to be a major incentive for the militants to lay down their arms.

Positions in the state administration will likely also have to be offered to draw in senior Taliban actors. This move to establish a coherent and unified international policy in support of the Afghan government's political reconciliation efforts is a major step toward the resolution of the Afghan conflict.

This, after all, is not a war that can be won on the battlefield alone. We can only hope that this realization has not come too late.

Mark Sedra is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
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Pak deal with Taliban should not come at Afghan cost: Karzai
Outlook India
NEW DELHI, MAY 31 (PTI) - Days after Pakistan struck peace deal with Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the agreement should not compromise his country's interests, failing which Kabul would be "extremely angry".

He also disapproved of reported moves by Pakistan to hold talks with Betullah Mehsud, prime accused in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto case.

Karzai said if the peace deal by Pakistan with the Taliban in North West Frontier Province puts Afghanistan at risk, he would raise the issue with the leadership in Islamabad.

"That should not happen. That is certainly something we are concerned about and we hope our brothers in Pakistan will not allow that," he said on Karan Thapar's 'Devil's Advocate' programme on CNN-IBN when asked whether he was apprehensive that the peace deal between Pakistan government and Taliban could come at the cost of Afghanistan.

"If a thing like that happens, of course we will take it up (with Pakistan). I definitely hope that will not be the case. That will not happen. We must be very careful," he added.

"We cannot under no circumstances allow elements that are inimical to this country or that to operate from either country," Karzai said.

The Pakistan government and local Taliban in NWFP signed a 15-point agreement on May 21 whereby the militants will stop suicide attacks and the army will gradually be withdrawn from the restive Swat valley.

Asked how Kabul would react if the deal came at its cost, the Afghan President said: "Well, we will not only be upset but extremely angry."

To a question, he said he had not checked up with the US on Pakistan's peace deals with the Taliban as "we know what is going on.... When something is wrong, we know it and raise our voice to the concerned people."

Karzai, however, said peace deals with those Taliban who want to return to normal life were good. "But (talks with) the hardcore ones, the extremist al-Qaeda elements or other terrorist networks ... That is wrong," he said.

On reported moves by Pakistan's Yousuf Raza Gilani government to hold talks with Mehsud, Karzai said: "(Talks) with the killers of Benazir Bhutto, whosoever they are, I think it is wrong."

When referred to demands from western nations for India to join international forces in Afghanistan, Karzai said it was for New Delhi and the world community to decide on the matter.

Suggesting that he was trying to have a balance in Afghanistan's relations with India and Pakistan, Karzai said he would not take a step that would bring "more rivalries in the region."

Praising India for its contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Karzai said he did not want any problem between India and Pakistan to affect his country.

"We would like to do all for the security of Afghanistan and an effective war on terror in the region but not do something that will bring more rivalries in the region," he said.

"India is a very strong, steady partner of Afghanistan and we have made it clear to all the countries around, including Pakistan. We have reassured Pakistan that our relations with India are in no way going to cause harm to our relations with Pakistan," Karzai said.

"We are trying to bring cooperation, trying to bring integration to the region and not competition and rivalry that is going to affect all of us," the Afghan President said.

Karzai said he and the Afghan people immensely respect Indian workers who have given their lives for Afghanistan and are very pained when any of them is hurt.

He, however, defended the ban on certain Indian soap operas in Afghanistan saying "these are cultural issues and there is nothing political about it."

"Afghanistan must have the freedom to decide this is what our society wants and this is what our society must not watch," he said while pointing out that only two of the dozen odd Indian soap operas were banned in Afghanistan.

Karzai brushed aside concerns of curbs on freedom of speech and said: "fr eedom of speech is doable and presentable in lot of other ways and equals the freedom of speech in India."

"Absolutely fully," he said when asked whether the India-Afghan friendship, which according to him had been affected due to New Delhi's support to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has been restored.

"India has done magnificently in the past six years and the Afghan people see that very clearly," Karzai added.
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Afghanistan trip opens eyes of MP
Robert Barron, Daily News www.canada.com Saturday, May 31, 2008
A meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai while visiting Kabul was an eye opener for James Lunney.

The MP for Nanaimo-Alberni spent the last six days touring parts of Afghanistan and meeting officials and common people as a member of Ottawa's defence committee.

He said he concluded after talking with Karzai that the president is "the right man for the job."

"Karzai faces many challenges as he works toward bringing a tribal society into the modern world," Lunney said soon after getting off his return flight from the Asian country.

"But the president understands the West and is a good bridge between us and the tribal culture of Afghanistan."

Lunney said the trip was "a real eye-opener" for all the members of the committee.

"The magnitude of the undertaking that Canada has embraced as part of an international effort to help Afghanistan's people shake off 30 years of conflict and suppression is unprecedented," he said.

"The process of establishing a modern democratic administration and training nationals to manage their own security in a momentous undertaking, but the Afghan people are embracing the opportunity and Canada seems to be well-positioned to have a lasting impact on the troubled Kandahar region."

Lunney said one of the highlights of the trip was a session the committee had with elected members of the provincial council.

"The local leaders expressed their deep and profound appreciation for the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers and the daily mentoring with Canadian and international advisors," he said.

Lunney said seeing first hand the "tremendous effort" Canadians are making and the relationships Canadians are forging with locals was an "unforgettable experience."

"I identified with remarks by locals about the difficulties related to democracy but expressed my appreciation for the efforts they are making," he said.

"I reminded them that elections are inconvenient for politicians in Canada too, but the exercise has served us well for 141 years in Canada."

RBarron@nanaimodailynews.com
250-729-4234
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District governor shot dead in southern Afghanistan
Sat, May 31 04:42 PM
Kandahar, May 31 (DPA) A district governor and his bodyguard were shot dead in southern Afghanistan, while the US military said they killed several Taliban militants as Afghan forces retook control of a town in the southern region, officials said Saturday.

An Afghan district governor for Mezan district in southern Zabul and his bodyguard were killed by unknown gunmen in Qalat, the provincial capital Friday night, police official Abdul Matin said.

He said Mohammad Younus, the district governor, was shot dead in front of his house, adding that they had started a search operation to track down the assailants.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi, talking from a secret location by telephone, told DPA that Taliban fighters killed the district administrative chief.

Meanwhile, Afghan and US-led coalition forces killed several insurgents in the Nahr-e-Saraj district in southern Helmand province Thursday, the US military said in a statement.

The combined force reconnaissance patrol came under fire from Taliban insurgents in the district, the statement said, adding that the joint forces returned fire with small arms fire and used 'precision air strikes to eliminate confirmed enemy positions'.

No Afghan or coalition troops, or civilians were killed during the engagement, the statement said.

In another development, Afghan forces backed up by coalition forces retook control of Shaidan district in southern Ghazni province after the Taliban briefly overran the district centre Thursday, Khan Mohammad Mujahid, provincial police chief, said.

He said that the Afghan forces entered the district centre Friday evening and took control of the town. Mujahid said the Taliban fighters fled the town after burning the governmental buildings and vehicles.

Taliban militants claimed Friday that their fighters overran the district and arrested the district chief and eight other police officers.

Mujahid earlier said that the district governor, who had links with the Taliban insurgents, had handed over control of the district to the militants.

Mujahid did not have any information regarding the whereabouts of the district officials. However, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that they left the town, saying, 'We burned the district headquarters and governmental vehicles, so we did not need to stay there any longer.'

He also claimed that they had taken the arrested officials along with themselves to an unknown location.

Taliban militants overran several districts in southern Afghanistan last year, but lost control of most of them in NATO-led operations in the region.

Taliban militants claimed that they held sway in at least five districts in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand earlier this year.

Taliban-led violence is on the rise in Afghanistan despite the presence of around 70,000 international troops and more than 160,000 members of the Afghan security forces.
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Canadian troops disrupt bomb-making networks in Afghanistan
Saturday, May 31, 2008 CBC News Canada
Canadian soldiers made progress in a campaign to shut down a network of Taliban fighters who are making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) west of Kandahar city, a senior officer said Saturday.

"We have disrupted some of the cells and taken some components off the market." Lt.-Col. Shawn Luckhurst said after troops swept through villages in Zhari district this week, looking to disrupt militant activities.

Luckhurst said the key to disrupting these cells is to target not just the bomb planters, but the people who plan, organize and finance the networks.

"The aim was to get out there and cause them to be off-balance," said Maj. Fraser Auld, a battle group planner, after the campaign ended.

For months now, soldiers have been following and watching militants suspected of assembling bombs in a region that has long been a hotbed of Taliban activity and support.

"The networks that we're dealing with — in particular, in the area that we were focused on —they had some freedom of movement. And when they have freedom of movement and they're able to do their business, obviously they're able to execute their mission, which is to implant IEDs," Auld said.

Military officials said there were no Canadian casualties as soldiers fought suspected Taliban militants all week, storming their hideouts and killing an unspecified number of them, as part of a larger NATO push in southern Afghanistan to target the networks that build and plant roadside bombs and booby traps.

The vast majority of the 83 Canadian soldiers who've lost their lives in Afghanistan have died as a result of improvised explosives.

The last soldier to die in action, Cpl. Michael Starker, was killed in the Zhari district, near the community of Pashmul.
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As a terrible landmark looms, it's time for realism in Afghanistan
By Charles Moore Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 31/05/2008
Ninety-seven British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001, most in the past two years. At current rates, it is, unfortunately, a good bet that the 100 mark will be passed in the coming month. Then people will challenge the Government: "What is the point of being in Afghanistan?" How should ministers reply?
 
I first visited Afghanistan on January 1, 2002. My second visit was last week. So a period longer than the entire Second World War had passed between my two trips.

In early 2002, the Taliban had just been swept from power, and British troops were trying to provide security. Today the British troops - about 8,000 of them - are chiefly in Helmand. The Taliban have transformed themselves into insurgents. When they fight pitched battles, they lose. So instead they harass the troops with roadside bombs and suicide attacks.

Although troops' morale is high because of their own courage and competence, there are also stories of them returning home very tired and upset by the sights they have seen. The climate - literally and metaphorically - is hostile.

Life in some parts of Afghanistan is actually worse than in 2002, because security is worse.

The effect of insecurity on the western presence is enormous. In 2002, it was safe for visitors to walk freely in the streets of Kabul in daylight. Today, if, as we were, you are the guest of officialdom, you have to put on a bullet-proof jacket at the airport, and travel in protected vehicles with armed escorts. The separation from the local population is almost complete.

This can create a sense of unreality. There is no shortage of international attention. The place is awash with aid agencies and NGOs and ambassadors and officials; but it can sometimes seem as if they spend their time having meetings with one another.

As a result, there is a special dialect of development-speak. I quote from a briefing document: "That means metrics linked to a common definition of relevant success at the top end of effect, i.e. sustainable sustainability across the region and not simply reflect incremental increases in bottom-up stove-piped efforts by the nations engaged…" Like Milton's fallen angels arguing, one is "in wand'ring mazes lost".

Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), some of whose best people are in Afghanistan, puts 80 per cent of its money into "capacity-building". This means paying for projects through the Afghan government.

It ultimately makes sense to "Afghanise", but you do wonder exactly what this "capacity" is. In the town of Lashkar Gar, we met local civil servants who were trying to govern Helmand. They sat in a crumbling hotel under a crude painting of a green, well-watered, mountainous landscape in which helicopters and planes filled the sky, and tanks and soldiers filled the roads. One of them explained to me that this was a picture of happiness.

These dignified men gave us amazing statistics. After the Taliban had been driven out, 224 schools had opened in the province, but now only 60 were active. The number of children being educated had halved to 54,000.

Teachers get $60 per month, and quite often their cash is unobtainable.

On the other hand, the province is now the world's biggest producer of opium, and the authorities cannot successfully eradicate it or find a substitute crop. I tried to imagine myself as an inhabitant of Helmand, seeking to survive.

Not being a saint, I should prefer poppies to pedagogy.

In his attractive palace in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, the world's most elegantly dressed politician, is all charm. Unlike in Iraq, where the new leaders never struck fire, Karzai won over the western world straight away.

I remember watching him lead Tony Blair past a chaotic guard of honour for his first, night-flying visit to the country in 2002. The West rejoiced in his later election as president. But he will have to be re-elected in 2009, and many people are now almost contemptuous of his chances.

His ministries seem to be their own fiefdoms. Some - rural development, for instance - work. Others, such as the Ministry of the Interior, are a joke, or worse. The jobs of police chiefs, despite their tiny salaries, are auctioned, for their "informal" rewards. No one has a good word for the police. Someone who risks his life trying to catch drug barons in Helmand told me that the minister for counter-narcotics had never been there: "He just sits in Kabul counting dollars."

One expert, irritated by western utopianism, put before me a quotation from a letter, written in 1985 by Mikhail Gorbachev, when he was the Soviet leader, to Karmal, the Russians' Afghan puppet: "If you want to survive you'll have to broaden the base of the regime, forget socialism, make a deal with the truly influential forces… You'll have to revive Islam, respect traditions and try to show the people some tangible benefits from the revolution." Much the same advice applies today, substituting the word "liberalism" for "socialism".

Our situation, the argument goes on, is that of an imperial power - the United States, with British support - without an imperial attitude.

This is "the Great Game round two", and we have rather forgotten the rules. Why, for example, have we passed a law (the Development Act 2000) which actually forbids our aid programme from doing anything to advance the interests of our defence or foreign policy?

Why have we allowed ourselves to fantasise about ideal states, rather than exerting our power to make the best of real ones? Afghanistan won't have democracy as we know it; it won't suddenly want its women to wear jeans and choose their boyfriends; it won't forget tribe and embrace diversity.

Perhaps this is a statement of the obvious, but, in our rather sanctimonious politics, the obvious is not always easily stated.

The answer that ministers could give to MPs protesting at our troops in Afghanistan goes something like this: "We are not building a New Jerusalem. We are not even trying to turn Kandahar into Milton Keynes. But our country has a long history of advancing its interests globally, where necessary through force. It is in those interests, and the interests of our Nato partners, to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a centre of terrorist subversion, as it did when we left it alone.

"We also need to make the necessary alliances, both with Afghanistan's neighbours and with its leaders, to give the country some security. We do not expect to build a strong, modern state, but a sort of buffer zone to which we can bring some stability for the people.

If we do that, we can very gradually reduce our numbers. I cannot tell you how long it will take, except to say that the timescale is way beyond that of the British electoral cycle. But for professional armed services with our traditions, this is a task which they know how to perform."
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Senior insurgent leader killed in E Afghanistan
KABUL, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Maulawi Abdul Malik, a senior insurgent leader, has been killed in eastern Afghan province of Logar during an operation led by Afghan troops, the NATO-led military said here Friday.

The operation was conducted on May 27 to disrupt bomb-making cells and operations throughout the region, according to a statement of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The ISAF said the militant's group is linked to the burning down of two girls' schools and threats to locals attending English and computer courses.

The killing of Malik will "deal a significant blow to the insurgents' capacity to attack Afghan and ISAF security forces," ISAF Spokesmen Brigadier General Carlos Branco was quoted as saying in the statement.

Hard-line tribal persons in Afghanistan's some remote regions often prohibited girls from attending schools and in extreme cases even burnt down schools.
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India, Afghanistan discuss on firming up bilateral ties
31 May, 2008, 1358 hrs IST, PTI The Economic Times
New Delhi: India and Afghanistan today held discussions on firming up bilateral cooperation and the situation in the war-torn country and its neighbourhood.

Chairman of the Upper House of Afghan Parliament Hazarat Sibghatullah Mojadidi met Vice President Hamid Ansari and held discussions on improving bilateral relations besides Indian assistance to Afghanistan in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

The situation in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries was also discussed.

Mojadidi, who was accompanied by two Afghan Parliamentarians, met Ansari for nearly 40 minutes during which training of Afghan Parliamentarians and staff was also discussed.

Besides helping in the reconstruction of the country, India has also been imparting training to staffers as well as material and technical support to the Afghan Parliament.

Mojadidi, who is leading a five-member delegation, is on a three-day visit to India.
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Operation Rolling Thunder ends successfully
Top-secret engagement sees Canadian troops involved in heaviest fighting this year against Taliban militants
KATHERINE O'NEILL May 31, 2008 Globe and Mail, Canada
PASHMUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Even by Afghanistan standards, Major Stacy Grubb has had a very long week.

On Sunday, the commanding officer of a Shilo, Man.-based battle group company wound up in the hospital after his vehicle was hit by a suicide bomber. By yesterday, he had finished leading a top-secret military operation that saw Canadian soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting so far this year against Taliban militants.

"I started the operation on a hospital operating table and I'm ending it with everybody coming back safely. I couldn't be happier," Major Grubb said yesterday. He leads the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI), Charles Company.

Code-named Operation Rawa Tander, Pashto for Rolling Thunder, the joint Canada and Afghan military mission was aimed at disrupting insurgent activity in one of Kandahar province's most dangerous areas, Pashmul.

Located in Zhari district, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, the area is a hornet's nest of insurgent activity. The battle-scarred region, southwest of Kandahar, has been the site of several, often bloody, battles for Canadian soldiers since 2006.

The operation, which involved multiple platoons, started before day-break on Tuesday and, by 6:15 a.m., bullets were already ripping through Pashmul, a collection of small, ancient villages and farmland. The few locals still living in the area either fled by foot or hunkered down in their compounds before the fighting started. Most are poor farmers.

Canadian and Afghan soldiers were able to sneak up on a suspect compound and take the militants by surprise. The insurgents, toting AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, returned fire for about half an hour from a grape hut.

The battle ended a short time later after the Canadians called on U.S. military air support to drop several bombs, including Hellfire missiles, on the area.

As the week progressed, the fighting intensified, with yesterday being the most hard-fought for Canadian and Afghan forces.

About 8 a.m. yesterday, a large number of insurgents began shooting at the soldiers from several positions. The terrain, which was mainly lush grape fields and small groves of dense trees, made it difficult at first to tell exactly where the militants were hiding.

For about two hours, the two sides exchanged fire, with the Canadian and Afghan forces calling in air and artillery support. More than 30 rounds of artillery fire whistled through the hot, spring morning air and hit mud grape huts and compounds where the insurgents were positioned.

By 11 a.m., the shooting had largely stopped. A short time later, Afghan National Army soldiers followed a trail of blood into one compound. Four insurgents were inside; only one was alive. He was later detained.

During the lengthy operation, several dozen insurgents were killed or injured. Only one Afghan soldier was hurt; he accidentally shot himself in the foot. No Canadians were injured.

Major Grubb acknowledged the operation isn't a "permanent result" because the Taliban seem to have an unlimited supply of fighters willing to battle for Pashmul. However, he quickly added that, in the short term, it "really hurt" their activities in the area and showed ISAF has the ability to "project power anywhere, any time."

Soldiers who have fought in this turbulent spot before have already noticed small but important security improvements.

"ISAF and the ANA have a better grip on this area now. When I was here the first time, we wouldn't have been able to walk around like we have," said Sergeant Pete Dunwoody, with 2PPCLI Charlie Company, 7 Platoon. He also pointed out there are now more people living in the area than there were during his first Afghanistan tour in 2006.

Sgt. Dunwoody said the Afghan military, which is being mentored by NATO forces, including Canada, has also improved dramatically since 2006. "They are 10 times better. It's good to see. It makes our job easier."

For many Canadian soldiers, the operation was the first time they've been engaged in combat during this tour, which for most started in February. Up until this week, the Taliban had avoided lengthy gun battles and largely staged one-off attacks, including suicide bombs and roadside bombs.
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Poland to take over security in Afghan province
Fri May 30, 2008
powered by  SphereWARSAW (Reuters) - Polish troops in Afghanistan will soon take over responsibility for security in a central province of the country from U.S. forces, the Polish defense ministry said on Friday.

Poland has about 1,200 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) fighting the Taliban and backing the Kabul government and plans to boost this figure by a further 400 soldiers.

"We are moving to take over Ghazni province... The next contingent heading to Afghanistan in late October to early November will be deployed there," ministry spokesman Robert Rochowicz said.

"We will have full responsibility for the province but we will be able to seek American help if needed."

Polish troops are currently scattered across Afghanistan. The United States, which has about 15,000 troops in the country, has been urging its allies to take a bigger share of the burden in the fight against the Taliban.

Poland, the largest ex-communist country in NATO, joined the alliance in 1999 and first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)
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Who needs the Germans?
Whether Berlin's 3,500 troops stay or leave `makes no difference to us,' says one senior Afghan official
The Toronto Star / May 30, 2008 Rosie DiManno Columnist
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, afghanistan–Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, a man who clearly does not like having his monologues interrupted, pulls a pout at the mention of Germans.

"What they choose to do with their troops in Afghanistan is their own decision, not ours," he sniffs.

But since the subject has been raised – repeatedly and obstinately by a visiting reporter grown weary of propaganda puffery over endless refills of tea – Wahdat finally addresses the topic of the International Security Assistance Force.

"For the issue of security, we don't need them any more. We solve all our problems by ourselves. When was the last time you heard that insurgents have been caught by ISAF in Balkh? It doesn't happen.

"We're the ones who catch them: Afghan forces, Afghan intelligence. And usually before they commit any harmful acts."

Wahdat is the deputy governor of Balkh, one of Afghanistan's three most prosperous provinces.

A powerful individual, likely to succeed Mohammed Atta as governor, Wahdat sounds ambivalent, at best, about the Teutonic military presence here.

"If the Germans leave, I cannot say if there would be more stability or less. It's best you ask the coalition authorities about the effectiveness of the Germans in the north. I think they should stay to help us more in the field of reconstruction. But if they do leave, it really makes no difference to us.

Germany is the lead nation in Regional Command North, with overall NATO responsibility in nine provinces. Although Sweden actually runs the Mazar-i-Sharif Provincial Reconstruction Team, the Germans operate two other PRTs – in Kunduz and Feyzabad.

Beyond that, it's hard to tell, really, what they've been doing with their 3,500 troops, stationed north of Afghanistan's volatile divide, although German non-governmental aid groups are certainly active in the region.

Canada has long tried to convince Berlin that German forces should be rotated to the south, where combat boots are urgently needed on the ground. The answer has always been a firm No.

Which is not to say that the north has been tranquil since NATO expanded its military mission outside Kabul. Twenty-six German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, compared with 83 Canadian military fatalities.

Berlin argues that it would be counter-effective to swap troops with the south; that an incoming country – say, Canada – would have to spend a year familiarizing itself with the mission up here, wasting all the inroads and expertise Germans have developed.

Germany – which also had the lead assignment for training Afghan National Police, a notable failure – announced last month that it is supporting the construction of 33 new police stations across the north, would double (to 120) its police instructors if the European police mission does the same, and is planning to bolster its Afghanistan commitment with a 250-member quick-reaction force.

The country's Afghan involvement will be back before German parliament in October.

In fact, sensitive to criticism that it has reneged on its NATO commitment to this war-ravaged nation, not pulled its military weight, there are some German observers urging Berlin to shape up and accept a more perilous deployment.

Former foreign minister Joschka Fischer told a German newspaper a few weeks ago that once a new president is inaugurated in the United States, the German government would no longer be able to refuse NATO's request that it deploy troops to the south.

Meanwhile, the German army's chief of staff has said his troops have been stretched to the limit in recent months, with increasing attacks evidence of an "alarming development" in the north.

The Star tried to interview the commander of German troops at Regional Command North but was turned down for not giving adequate time to accommodate the request and because, as their public affairs officer said: "We are too busy with VIP visits."

So it was left to Wahdat to provide, albeit without enthusiasm, an overview of the German mission.

He appreciates their commitment to reconstruction, Wahdat said.

But the purportedly worsening security situation in the north, what's ostensibly keeping the Germans here, has been overstated, he maintains.

"Of course, the insurgents are trying to destabilize us. The enemy has not forgotten this area.

"Occasionally, they still try to do some bad things with suicide bombers and attacks. Fortunately, we are always catching them. We rarely use the power of the international forces for issues of security."

Dismissing that subject, Wahdat turns again to what aggrieves him most – the whereabouts of international funding promised to Afghanistan for reconstruction, half of which has allegedly arrived, but only, he complains as far as Kabul.

"Almost all the reconstruction in Balkh we have paid for ourselves, through the donations of local businessmen and national donors."

He points to the spiffy new intersections, with flashing traffic lights.

"Each one was paid for by an individual businessman," he says, "and so we put their names on signs."

If the big German contingent departs or rotates elsewhere, Wahdat maintains, national forces are capable of holding down the fort – aided by Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen who detest the Pashtun Taliban insurgents who spilled so much local blood here in the late 1990s.

"At least we'll get the base the Germans built," the deputy governor says. "That will make me happy."

Columnist Rosie DiManno is on assignment in Afghanistan, where she covered the Taliban's fall in 2001.
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Canadians fight to figure out who is real enemy in Afghanistan
(Ottawa Citizen) 30 May 2008
Openly vowing to destroy the Taliban is probably not the diplomatically correct route to take to win over the people of Dand, a rural collection of mud-walled villages south of Kandahar City where even the district police chief complains that some police road checkpoints are populated by "criminals."

Be careful who you label the bad guys, a group of Canadian visitors was advised during a visit with district elders this week.

"The Taliban are our local people. We speak their language, we can work with them," said one village leader during a meeting between elders and a delegation from the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) that Canada operates from a base inside Kandahar City.

Dand is considered by coalition forces to be a gateway for armed insurgents into Kandahar. Roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) employed to target soldiers are a big problem here -- three were discovered along roadways in the days leading up to the visit.

"The problem is not the Taliban, the problem is the terrorists," said the elder. Muttering quietly into his beard in the Pashto language, but overheard by our interpreter, another member of the weekly district shura -- a community gathering where decisions are made -- names those he considers the real sources of the problem: troublemakers from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

"Slowly, slowly the situation has got worse. How come the security situation is getting worse?" another elder asks.

The day before this shura, four Canadian soldiers were injured and an Afghan boy was killed in Kandahar City when a suicide bomber drove into a military convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

"Am I surprised to hear that there are Taliban here? No," Lt.-Col. Dana Woodworth, who commands the Kandahar PRT, said when told of the we-are-Taliban confession. "It's tough to nail down who is the enemy in Afghanistan," he said.

The Canadian Forces' counter-insurgency tactics are subtly shifting in the area at a time when attacks and contacts with the enemy are on the rise.

"Has there been a transition in mindset? I'd say so," said Capt. Chris Quinlan, an operations staff officer with Joint Task Force Afghanistan headquarters. "The job here is not to be terrorist-killers .... it's about fighting all the lawlessness."

In response, the Canadian-led PRT inside Kandahar City is injecting reconstruction dollars into a growing number of small-scale projects in Dand -- wells, irrigation ditches, culverts, road resurfacing.

The district leader and his shura decide on priorities, announce the projects and take the political credit from the villagers who are expected to learn from this that supporting the government means more stability and more projects. The hoped-for result is to dampen the enthusiasm for insurgency.

"We're not doing development, we're doing stabilization," Lt.-Col. Woodworth said of military-led reconstruction. "We do basic needs assessments ... to get a foothold -- again, it's tied to security," he said.
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Moscow ranks third for Kabul
(RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) 30 May 2008
Having arrived in Moscow on May 25 for a two-day visit, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that his country would like to further expand cooperation with Russia.

Undeservedly, his visit went virtually unnoticed by Moscow's media, but it was significant in terms of Russian-Afghan relations.

First, he contradicted everything that Russian experts are saying and thinking about the situation in Afghanistan. He said it is absolutely wrong to think that Kabul controls only a small part of Afghanistan, that NATO is losing its influence, or that it cannot save the situation without the help of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Mr. Spanta said that Kabul has problems only in two of its 34 provinces - Helmand, which borders on Pakistan, and Uruzgan. Now the government regularly holds its meetings in the provinces, which alone shows that it controls the situation. It has met in Nangarhar, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar. The next meetings will be held in Herat and Bamian.

Herat played host to the regional foreign minister summit, and Islamic foreign ministers will meet in Jelalabad in the fall.

Second, Mr. Spanta emphasized that Kabul intends to develop bilateral relations with Russia, ruling out participation in any alliances. He made it clear that Kabul does not want to cooperate with either the CSTO or the SCO despite Moscow's persistent efforts in this direction. As for prospects of Afghanistan joining the SCO, which have been extensively discussed recently by the media, Kabul is not going to participate in its activities even as an observer.

Third, Mr. Spanta made his second trip to Moscow in the context of Afghanistan's new foreign policy doctrine, which the Afghan Foreign Ministry officially presented on the eve of his visit. This is a typical document for such an occasion, but some of its provisions would never have passed unnoticed in Moscow.

First, the doctrine described Afghan relations with the United States and the rest of "the democratic world" as "strategic." Moreover, they are based not only on the struggle against terrorism, but also on political orientation.

Second, Afghanistan will pursue a friendly policy of cooperation with major regional powers, in particular with India, China, and Russia. For the first time in the history of bilateral relations, Kabul has allotted Russia a modest third place. When asked whether this ranking of regional powers was determined by their participation in the country's restoration, Mr. Spanta said no. He carefully chose his words to avoid offending Russia.

Indicatively, on the eve of his visit, Mr. Spanta met with Russian Ambassador Zamir Kabulov in Kabul. The press quoted Mr. Kabulov as saying that this visit was a chance for Afghanistan, and it appears that Mr. Spanta graciously brought this chance to Moscow.

There is another important point. Out of all CSTO countries, only Moscow is trying to raise the organization's prestige in Afghanistan. Central Asian republics are only concerned about their own national interests in this context. Russia's role in the CSTO implies a special responsibility for the organization, but maybe its national interests should come first. A strong country deserves different treatment. If Russia loses its positions in Afghanistan, it is unlikely to keep its Central Asian allies in its orbit of influence.

The doctrine's words about Kabul's cooperation with neighboring countries on a bilateral basis, without participation in any blocs, betray its link with the American project Greater Central Asia Partnership for Afghanistan and Neighboring Countries. The project's aim is to involve these countries in the process of Afghanistan's economic, political and social recovery.

Contrary to predictions by Russian experts, this project has been supported by all Central Asian countries, and Afghanistan is increasingly playing a key role in it. When signing a declaration on strategic partnership with Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted with good reason that the United States will not repeat the past mistakes and leave Afghanistan on its own like Russia did in 1992. She meant the collapse of the Najibullah regime, and the advent of the U.S.-trained Mujaheddin to power. Obviously, the United States has been more serious in assessing Afghanistan's importance in the region.
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Frenchman goes missing in Afghanistan
France24, France  Friday 30 May 2008
A young French entrepreneur was reportedly abducted Thursday morning in south-east Afghanistan, said French daily Le Figaro, citing a source close to the victim.

The 37-year-old Frenchman was reportedly abducted Thursday morning on the road between Moqor and Ghazni, in the southeastern Afghani region of Kandahar. According to French daily Le Figaro, he was kidnapped along with his driver and two Afghan collaborators while they were heading for a building site.

The Kandahar region is known to be one of the country’s most dangerous. According to the French daily, the vehicle had already been the target of a gun attack on the same spot a few days earlier.

Having settled in Afghanistan nine years ago, the Frenchman is said to know the country very well. Though he managed a Franco-Afghan firm based in Kabul, he was reportedly considering a return to France due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

French authorities in Kabul confirm the likelihood of an abduction. They suggest the four men may currently be held by “Taliban sub-contractors,” raising the prospect of their “sale” to the radical Islamists – who may then call for a ransom in exchange for their liberation.

In 2007, two French aid workers were set free after spending three weeks in the Taliban’s custody.
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Is bin Laden really hiding among this pagan people?
Scotsman, United Kingdom By Saeed Shah  31 May 2008
ON THE north-west tip of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan's Nuristan province, Chitral has long been thought a possible refuge for Osama bin Laden.

Rendered almost inaccessible by the high peaks of the Hindu Kush range and narrow valleys, its secret mountain routes make it easy to dodge between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This district of North-West Frontier Province is the home of theADVERTISEMENTKalasha, a unique pagan community that has lived in the area for 2,000 years or more, and it is boxed in by an increasingly militant Islam. Thinly populated, Chitral covers 15,000 sq km, with war-torn Afghanistan to the north and west, and the extremist strongholds of Swat and Dir to the south.

This week, Afghan intelligence sources again named the area as a probable hiding place of the al-Qaeda leader. According to locals, bin Laden sheltered with a Kalasha family for some time during his first Afghan jihad, against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. With his now much more severe ideology, he would not be able to live easily among these polytheistic people, whose men and women mix freely.

Earlier this month, the Kalasha celebrated their spring festival, Joshi, with a verve and passion that few cultures, ancient or modern, could match. Men and women danced tirelessly to a pounding, primeval drum beat, haunting singing and rituals so old that their meaning is almost lost.

The women wear long black dresses with vividly coloured embroidery, their hair in long plaits and regal headdresses decorated with shells. Garish belts and layers of brightly coloured necklaces add to their exotic appearance. This is not a special costume for Joshi – it is what they wear every day. On their cheeks are painted dots and tattoos.

There are only about 3,000 Kalasha left now, pushed into three tiny valleys within Chitral by the advancing tide of settlers. There, they struggle to keep alive their faith and way of life, with creeping technology, poverty and the spread of Islam pushing their culture to the edge of extinction. But last week's Joshi showed Kalasha traditions remain strong and utterly unlike anything seen in the rest of Pakistan – perhaps unlike anything anywhere in the world.

"This is a religious ceremony. It celebrates spring. It is not a festival, it is much more than that – there is a spiritual meaning behind it," said Tach Sharakat, a Kalasha man, who is one of the few members of his community to receive a foreign university education.

One legend has it the Kalasha are the descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, who invaded India in the third century BC. No-one really knows their origins. Their religion may, in fact, be one of the early beliefs of the Indo-Persian area, embodying an early Hinduism and pre-Zoroastrian faith. They are known as kafirs – infidels – to most Pakistanis, but call themselves Kalasha.

Mr Sharakat thinks he is in his late twenties, but, as the Kalasha do not record birth years, he and other members of his race can only guess at their age. They do not have a written language, so all knowledge has been handed down by word of mouth.

That is why celebrations such as Joshi are so important to the Kalasha. It is a way of passing on their culture to younger generations. While it is easy to be mesmerised by the joyous dancing, round and round, the really important message is coming from within the circle, where old men in long golden coats sing and chant the Kalasha beliefs and narrate their history. The dancers then take up the song.

These are a people who love drinking wine – banned in Islam – and who can freely choose their husband or wife: arranged marriages are the norm in Pakistan. The women make no attempt to hide their faces and dance with gaiety in public, a sight now so rare in increasingly conservative Pakistan that it is shocking for most of their countrymen.

Bewildered Muslim tourists from other parts of the country, typically groups of men, stare at the festivities, seemingly unable to fathom that this, too, is a religion. Islamic culture is totally dominant in Pakistan and religious minorities are few. It seems it is lurid tales of the Kalasha women that have brought them here, confusing the women's freedom for free love.

"We marry who we like," said Gul Shaheen, a young teacher. "And there are no class distinctions in the marriage match. It does not matter if you are rich or poor. If a girl is ill-treated, she can leave for another man."

The three-day festival moves from valley to valley, with the Kalasha all gathering in one place each day, for the singing and dancing.

One reason the culture has been preserved is its geographical isolation. But that is coming under threat from domestic tourism – few foreigners venture to Chitral since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Much more serious disruption will follow, from the opening of a simple land route into Chitral, through the Lowari Tunnel, which should be completed by the end by next year.
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US terror drive stalled in political quagmire
Asia Times By Syed Saleem Shahzad 05/30/2008
KARACHI -Anti-American sentiment in the South Asian "war on terror" theater is on the rise, leaving Washington in a dilemma over how to intervene and preserve its interests.

A speech by former premier Nawaz Sharif on Youm-e-Takbeer (the 10th anniversary of Pakistan's testing of a nuclear device on May 28, 1998) illustrates how anti Americanism has become a tool of politicians to mobilize the masses. He stated:

"I will not absolve [President Pervez] Musharraf from the accusations against him of devastating the country by selling it to foreign powers, carrying out the Lal Masjid massacre, incarcerating nuclear scientist Dr [Abdul Qadeer] Khan and superior court judges and handing over innocent Pakistanis to American agencies in return for dollars."

Sharif was referring to Musharraf signing onto the US-led "war on terror" after September 11, 2001, initiating the military raid on the pro-Taliban radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad last year, imprisoning Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb program, and last year sacking judges opposed to Musharraf continuing his presidency.

Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), clearly does not want Musharraf to quietly fade away. He wants him accountable for his years in power after staging a military coup in 1999. The PML-N helped form a coalition government following February's elections, with the dominant Pakistan People's Party (PPP), but since then it has had an uneasy relationship with its new political partner.
Sharif's speech came ahead of a scheduled visit to Pakistan by Richard Boucher, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs. Boucher was due to coordinate with the PPP-led government, the presidency and the military over a better strategy in the "war on terror".

However, Boucher's trip was put on hold by the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, because of the high anti-American sentiment in the streets and the PML-N's plan to stage demonstrations on his arrival - this could have been embarrassing for Pakistan-US relations.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a series of telephone interviews by Khan, who is under house arrest, was aired recently by selected local television networks. Khan lambasted the US, as well as Musharraf, over his detention. In January 2004, Khan confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He was pardoned by Musharraf, but placed under house arrest.

Khan now denies leaking atomic secrets, according to the British Broadcasting Corp, citing a telephone interview with the scientist whose details were published on Thursday. Khan said pressure was put on him to accept the charges "in the national interest", the BBC said on its website. "These are false allegations," he told the broadcaster's Urdu service. When asked why he was put under pressure to confess, Khan said: "If one person takes responsibility, you save the country."

Earlier, in a little-noticed move, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) official, retired Squadron Leader Khalid Khawaja, applied to register a police case against Musharraf, General Tariq Majeed, the then-Corps Commander Rawalpindi and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, as well as other civilian officials, in connection with killings during the storming of the Lal Masjid.

Khalid was once friendly with Osama bin Laden and helped set up Sharif's many meetings with the al-Qaeda leader in an attempt to topple Benazir Bhutto's government in 1989. (See The pawns who pay as powers play Asia Times Online, June 22, 2005.) After many denials, Sharif finally admitted to those meetings in a recent television show, saying that at the time even the Americans were meeting with bin Laden.

Khalid also applied for the registration of several other cases in connection with abductions - people suspected of al-Qaeda and Taliban links detained by the security forces without any police case being laid against them.

Musharraf was cited in these cases and should he resign from the presidency the cases against him will immediately be activated and could lead to his arrest and trial, which is what Sharif hinted at in his Youm-e-Takbeer speech. Rumors have been circulating in Pakistan over the past few days that Musharraf is about to step down.

Another showdown involves retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI. A number of retired military officers plan to lay siege around President's Lodge on June 10, demanding that Musharraf vacate the house and resign as president. Formerly known as Army House, the Rawalpindi residence was renamed President's Lodge after Musharraf quit as army chief last November and decided to continue living there for security reasons.

On June 12, lawyers say they will restart a movement for the restoration of the judiciary, and Sharif has declared that he will be beside them.

Mystery over Musharraf Rumors over Musharraf's possible resignation were heightened this week when a former army chief, retired General Aslam Beg - a self-proclaimed Islamist - claimed that the military had already taken Musharraf into safe custody and that he would soon present his resignation and arrange for exile in either Turkey, the US or Britain. (Beg later retracted the statement.)

This uncertainty has placed the country's pro-American allies in the country - the PPP-led government, Musharraf himself and the military - under immense pressure and effectively stalled any moves they might want to make in line with regional US policies.

Crucially, this coincides with the Taliban's offensive in Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Taliban shot down a US helicopter in Khost province's Yakoobia area, with several Afghan soldiers killed, and they launched several attacks in Farah, Herat province, the capital Kabul and in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces.

Hamstrung with its internal problems, the Pakistan government does not have any option but to retain its peace deals with Taliban in the country's tribal regions, which allows them to freely go into Afghanistan.
Asia Times Online has received information that Pakistani pro-Taliban tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud - against whom a case has been registered in connection with the assassination of Bhutto last December - will be given compensation money to be distrubted among tribals who lost property and men during recent battles with Pakistani security forces. The money is likely to be delivered next week, after which an agreement will be formally signed between Pakistan and Baitullah Behsud.

Even if Musharraf does resign, it is likely there will be a showdown between the PML-N and the lawyers' movement on the one side and the PPP on the other, again reducing the country's ability to cooperate in the "war on terror".

In another development in Afghanistan, the Taliban and leaders of the Afghan National Front led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president and mujahideen chief and now opposition leader, have admitted to holding negotiations. Warlords associated with Rabbani's group have always felt sidelined under President Hamid Karzai's government and are looking for a new role.

As in Pakistan, domestic developments in Afghanistan are taking on a life of their own beyond the dictates of the US and its local allies.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan wants $500m for new vision of Kabul
Independent, UK By Kim Sengupta in Kabul Saturday, 31 May 2008
The vision is of the world's first eco-neutral capital city, powered by water, wind and solar energy with a vast central park with hills and a lake – a metropolis of the future, blending the latest modern sustainable architecture with traditional building methods.

The setting of this Shangri-La is, surprisingly, Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, dependent on international handouts, and experiencing a prolonged, bloody conflict.

The Afghan government is set to ask a conference of donor states in Paris next month for $500m (£250m) to start the construction of a "new Kabul" intended to replace the current ramshackle capital as part of a multibillion-dollar aid package. However, the West is likely to be unimpressed with requests for a lavish new capital at a time when the country lacks the most basic essentials, and there is widespread diversion of aid money into private pockets through corruption.

But Afghan officials insist that Kabul, originally built for 500,000 inhabitants but now hosting more than four million, with its shattered infrastructure and pollution, is simply incapable of being the hub of an Afghanistan trying to pull itself out of poverty. The plans for Dehsabz, sited on a huge stretch of open ground north of Kabul, also include an international airport and industrial zones.

"Kabul has been allowed to go without any proper planning. We have multiple families living in single households often under very unsanitary conditions," said Mahmoud Saikal, the chief executive of the Dehsabz City Development Authority.

Amir Jan, a 48-year-old lorry driver, said of the plans: "People are being killed. I cannot drive down half the roads. The government should be concerned with these things rather than some fancy new capital."
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Taliban announce ceasefire in Mardan
Dawn (Pakistan) May 30, 2008
MARDAN-Welcoming the provincial government’s offer for talks, a spokesman for the local Taliban on Friday announced a ceasefire in the district.

The spokesman, identifying himself as Maulvi Abdullah, addressed journalists at the Mardan Press Club on phone.

He said the Taliban had carried out a number of terrorist activities, including bomb blasts, rocket attacks and suicide bombing in protest against the military operation against them.

He said that recently three Taliban leaders had been killed by police in the Palo Dheri area.

He said: “We planted a bomb in a car near the City police station and carried out a suicide attacks in the Cantt Bakers in protest against the killing of our men.”

It may be mentioned that about three months ago police allegedly raided a house in Palo Dheri and rounded up some militants who had fired the police team, killing ASP Pervez Umrani and SHO Hoti Salimdad Khan.

Two militants and a man living in the house were killed when police fired back.

After a month, police killed one of their colleagues, Saeedul Haque, in an encounter near Bakshahli village.

Maulvi Abdullah said that the Taliban had avenged the killing of their colleagues with a bomb attack near the City police station on April 25.

Three people, including an ASI, were killed and several others were injured.

The suicide attack on the cantonment bakery on May 18 killed 12 people and injured 23 others.

He said that the Taliban wanted peace in the district and, therefore, accepted the offer for talks.

He said that the Taliban wanted enforcement of Shariah in the area and putting an end to the obscenity.

He said that provincial government was sincere in its offer for talks, but the real decision-makers were the NWFP governor, the central government and the armed forces who “are killing us at the behest of the American.”

Maulvi Abdullah said that the Taliban had accepted the offer for dialogue made by the provincial government led by the ANP.

He recalled that the local Taliban had earlier held talks with nazims and a peace agreement was validated and “we started attacks in the district.”

He said that the Taliban had decided to stop attacks on civilians and government installations in response to the provincial government’s offer for talks.
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Taliban not the problem, elders say
Forces change focus to target general lawlessness
canada.com - Vancouver Doug Schmidt Canwest News Service  Saturday, May 31, 2008
DAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan - Openly vowing to destroy the Taliban is probably not the diplomatically correct route to take to win over the people of Dand, a rural collection of mud-walled villages south of Kandahar City where even the district police chief complains that some police road checkpoints are populated by "criminals."

Be careful who you label the bad guys, a group of Canadian visitors was advised during a visit with district elders this week.

"The Taliban are our local people. We speak their language, we can work with them," said one village leader during a meeting between local elders and a delegation from the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) that Canada operates from a base inside the city.

Dand is considered by coalition forces to be a gateway for armed insurgents into the country's second-largest city, which lies to the immediate north. Roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) employed to target soldiers are a big problem here -- three were discovered along local roadways in the several days leading up to the visit.

"The problem is not the Taliban, the problem is the terrorists," said the elder. Muttering quietly into his beard in the Pashto language, but overheard by our interpreter, another member of the weekly district shura -- a community gathering -- names those he considers the real sources of the problem: troublemakers from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

"Slowly, slowly the situation has got worse. How come the security situation is getting worse?" asked an elder.

The day before this shura, four Canadian soldiers were injured and a local boy was killed in Kandahar City when a suicide bomber drove into a military convoy on routine patrol. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
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Three Afghanistan reporters I won't soon forget
Star columnist reflects on 2001 trip she declined to take – a patrol that claimed three lives
Toronto Star, Canada Rosie DiManno Columnist May 30, 2008
TALOQAN, Afghanistan - Some things you try to forget. I came back here to try and remember.

In late 2001, the front-line in the ground war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance ran right through this provincial capital.

Reporters, billeted in tents and mud-brick hovels clustered around the Alliance's "Foreign Ministry'' compound – which was actually the home of assassinated leader Shah Massoud – would routinely make the three-hour trek by jeep and donkey from Khwaja Bahuaddin, in neighbouring Badakhshan Province, to get a close-up view of the action in Takhar.

It wasn't called "embedding'' then. The Alliance were simply delighted to have foreign media finally – in the aftermath of 9/11 – pay attention to their long and gruelling defensive campaign against the detested Taliban, having for years been able to hold out only in a small northeastern wedge of Afghanistan.

Now, they were on the offensive, primed to hurl themselves at the enemy.

With U.S. Special Forces calling in co-ordinates, B-52s had been pounding Taliban formations. Bombing usually started at dawn, the whooshing pressure wave of explosions sucking in and blowing out the plastic sheeting stretched across the window frames of my hut.

At the front, dug into World War I-style trenches, the two sides were separated only by about a thousand metres and we all prayed the Americans would make no bombs-away miscalculations. The Taliban artillery launchers were clumsy – their mortar shells flying way over our heads and landing harmlessly quite a distance beyond.

There were only about 40 reporters in the region. At night, back at the compound, we would take turns sitting around a trestle table in the courtyard, lit by one weak bulb hanging overhead, computers and satellite phones plugged into a cranky generator. Because of deadlines, European journalists were always allowed to file first.

This is a story, as best as I can now recall it, about three of those journalists: Johanne Sutton, 34, from Radio France Internationale; Volker Handloik, 40, of Stern news magzine in Berlin; and Pierre Billaud, 31, with Radio Television Luxemburg.

Johanne was very tall and very shy. Because there were so few females in the group, we usually sat together, ate together, griped together.
Volker was a card and stuck in the Gary Glitter 70s. He had blond, straggly hair that fell almost to his waist and wore his jeans tucked into knee-high silver-collared boots with three-inch platform soles. For weeks, before and after the U.S.-led coalition began its attack against Afghanistan, Oct. 7, Volker had complained bitterly that this was really no war at all. Where was the fighting? Where was the bang-bang?
Pierre I knew just to nod hello.

Late one evening, an Alliance commander, Gen. Muhammad Bashir, came over and invited anyone who was interested to accompany a unit on its way to the outskirts of Taloqan, where enemy tunnels had been taken. Some Taliban fighters had apparently surrendered.

I had interviewed half a dozen Taliban prisoners that very afternoon, was busy writing, and passed on the offer. "No thanks.''

Johanne, Volker, Pierre and three other journalists – including Armenian-born Levon Sevunts, a reporter with the Montreal Gazette – were game.

The reporters clambered on top of a battered, Russian-made armoured personnel carrier and the convoy set out.

I watched them leave the compound.

Near Dasht-e-Qala, north of Taloqan, they were ambushed. There were no surrendering prisoners. Instead, the Taliban opened fire with machine-guns and rocket propelled grenades.

Pierre either jumped or fell off the vehicle. He was shot in the head. Others tried to flee and were cut down either then or shot in cold blood later. Sevunts, as he wrote afterwards, had served in the Soviet army and knew well enough to stick with the tank, hanging on to the cannon as the lumbering beast swivelled and juddered in the opposite direction.

A search party was formed and Joanne's lifeless body was found in one of the trenches.

The next morning, journalists demanded that the Alliance return and bring back the other two bodies. They adamantly refused. Furious, a Boston Globe reporter commandeered a truck, rounded up a few volunteers, and we retrieved the dead.

They were the first journalists killed covering the war in Afghanistan. Between then and now, 11 more have died.

I came here seeking the spot where the ambush occurred. I cannot find it. Everything looks the same. Or maybe everything looks different.

Afghans build stone cairns and drive rag-flapping lances into sites where their own are either buried or perished.

But nobody much remembers three slain reporters.
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