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May 4, 2008 

Two Afghan officials arrested in Karzai assassination plot
Associated Press - May 4, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Top Afghan officials say they have arrested two government employees for alleged involvement in last week's plot to kill President Hamid Karzai (HAH'-mihd KAHR'-zeye).

The drug war yields the wrong kinds of casualties
Globe and Mail, Canada DOUG SAUNDERS From Saturday's Globe and Mail May 3, 2008
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -The pilot of the British army helicopter was taking me on an exceedingly fast, wildly pitching, zigzag trajectory across the sun-baked fields of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

'If we die, we will die together'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Shakeela Ibramkhil Saturday, 03 May 2008
Mother's plea to husband who sold daughters for food and water
“If we die, we will die together.”
These were the words a Kabul mother used to beg her husband to buy back her two children who he sold to buy food for his starving family.

The boy who took Karzai's bullet
A child of 10 was one of three civilians who died during a botched Taliban attack on the Afghan President
Peter Beaumont in Kabul The Observer (UK) Sunday May 4 2008
Syed Ali was playing on the roof of his mud-brick house when the killers came for Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai last week. Karzai survived the attack on Kabul's broad parade ground. Ten-year-old Syed Ali, a kilometre away

Doing good is more perilous than ever
Nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan are under increasing danger from the Taliban.
Los Angeles Times, CA By Anna Husarska May 3, 2008
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-Getting around in some parts of central Kabul is like driving inside trenches: two lanes of road between high walls made of modern versions of sandbags referred to by their brand name: "Hesco barriers."

Kabul supports Islamabad’s plans for talks with Taliban
Dawn May 3, 2008
KABUL-Afghanistan backs Islamabad’s plan to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the government said on Saturday, but urged its neighbour not to allow the militants space to regroup and launch raids across the border.

MPs outraged at electricity shortages
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 03 May 2008
No end in sight to power shortages in country, Ministry says
THE LACK of electricity in many parts of the country, especially in the capital Kabul, has outraged Parliament members, who this week accused the government of failing the people.

Desperately seeking Osama: Morgan Spurlock on his hunt for the world's most wanted man
He risked his health to expose the evils of fast food in 'Super Size Me'. But the subject of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary could have killed him far more efficiently. So what on earth possessed the film-maker to go in search of the world's most wanted man?
Independent, UK Sunday, 4 May 2008
For the past seven years, the world has been trying to catch Osama bin Laden. Trying and failing. So I'm not quite sure what made me think one lonely guy like me could manage it. Perhaps it was watching too many big-budget

Japanese FM on surprise visit to Afghanistan
Sun May 4, 6:54 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura met President Hamid Karzai during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday in which he urged better relations with Pakistan.

Afghanistan urges Pakistan to stop 'terrorists'
Sun May 4, 1:03 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Pakistan should stop "terrorists" from using its soil to attack Afghanistan if it makes deals with Taliban militants along the troubled border, the Afghan defence ministry said.

Afghan police foil heroin smuggling to Tajikistan
KABUL, May 4 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's northeast Badakhshan province foiled traffickers' attempt to smuggle heroin to Tajikistan, said a statement of Interior Ministry released Sunday.

New Zealand troops deny damaging Afghan Buddha remains
Sun May 4, 2:25 AM ET
WELLINGTON (AFP) - The New Zealand Defence Force denied claims Sunday that its troops damaged the remains of Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddha statues while carrying out a controlled explosion.

Hidden jewel of Afghan culture
Saturday, 3 May 2008 BBC News
Architectural historian and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank treks into the mountains of western Afghanistan to visit and film an architectural treasure, the leaning minaret of Jam.

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Two Afghan officials arrested in Karzai assassination plot
Associated Press - May 4, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Top Afghan officials say they have arrested two government employees for alleged involvement in last week's plot to kill President Hamid Karzai (HAH'-mihd KAHR'-zeye).

Afghanistan's defense minister says a police nurse and a defense ministry weapons expert supported the gunmen who targeted Karzai at a military parade in Kabul.

Karzai escaped unharmed but three other people, including a lawmaker, died.

The defense minister told a news conference that two assault rifles used in last Sunday's assassination attempt were government-issued weapons.

The country's intelligence chief is still blaming al-Qaida-linked militants based in neighboring Pakistan for hatching the plot. He called on Pakistan to put pressure on militant safe havens in its lawless tribal areas.
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The drug war yields the wrong kinds of casualties
Globe and Mail, Canada DOUG SAUNDERS From Saturday's Globe and Mail May 3, 2008
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -The pilot of the British army helicopter was taking me on an exceedingly fast, wildly pitching, zigzag trajectory across the sun-baked fields of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. Even at 20 metres above the ground, the pungent aroma was impossible to ignore, a cloying tang resembling a huge pot of badly wilted geraniums.

The smell was being generated by the hundreds and hundreds of people in the patchwork fields below me, a dozen or so in each tiny half-hectare field. They were leaning over the pink, white, yellow and red flowers of the endless poppy plants, painstakingly slashing their bulbs with knives, waiting an hour as the thick syrup dripped out, scraping the dried syrup off, and repeating the task, day after day.

I had found myself in the midst of the largest opium harvest in the history of Afghanistan, possibly the largest in the history of the world. Some of it would be exported directly through Iran and Pakistan to the globe's drug dealers, some of it processed into heroin in laboratories located right beside these fields. American officials told me that between 20 and 40 per cent of the Taliban's financing comes from these opiate exports.

Last year, Afghanistan produced more than 92 per cent of the world's opium and heroin, a record crop. This year, experts say it will produce 40 per cent more than the world demand — which means that huge quantities will be stockpiled somewhere. As we passed over the harvest, the helicopter's side gunner pointed out the various drug-processing activities below me. But he didn't fire a shot or do anything to disrupt the harvest.

There are many people who wish he would. Presidential candidate John McCain has made a campaign promise to order aerial-herbicide spraying of the entire poppy crop. General Dan McNeill, the American who heads the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition fighting in Afghanistan, told me that he personally wants this to happen, too, but he respects the Afghan government's refusal to allow it. Instead, he pushes U.S.-controlled provinces to practise aggressive eradication, taking out the fields one by one with Western or Afghan soldiers.

Later in the week, I visited Nangarhar, one of the U.S.-controlled provinces that has all but eliminated its poppy crop. It's being held up as a model province, and Canadian commanders are being pressured by their American counterparts to adopt their tough poppy-ending strategy.

I attended a press briefing by Colonel Abdullah Talwar of the Afghan National Police, whom the Americans have placed in charge of stopping the poppy harvest. Midway through, he offered a little anecdote: "Last week, I saw a man sitting next to his poppy crop and crying," he said. "He told me that he'd been paid in advance for his poppy, and how can he possibly pay it back now that it's been eradicated? He told me, 'I have no choice, but I have a 14-year-old daughter who I have to give to a smuggler as payment.' "

Mr. Talwar then continued talking of quotas and goals. Finally, someone stopped him and asked what had happened to the poor farmer and his daughter. He shrugged: No idea. Like countless other failed farmers, the guy presumably had given up his daughter for chattel slavery or prostitution.

"I did my job, I fulfilled my duties and responsibilities," the big, bearded cop explained. Those duties involved only eliminating the poppy crop. "There's no place for growing poppy in our province," he said. "It is my job to stop it."

But killing a poor farmer's crop can have nasty consequences. In Nangarhar, insurgent attacks have increased sharply despite a doubling in the number of U.S. soldiers. Some people blame the drug strategy, noting that it seems to be driving desperate people into the hands of the enemy.

The problem with simply killing the poppy crop is that the farmers themselves want nothing more than to be growing something else. But it's virtually impossible.

"Farmers made more money growing improved wheat and onions last year than they did growing opium," said a senior official with intimate knowledge of the poppy economy. Like crack dealers who are forced to live with their mothers, poppy farmers soon discover that this supposedly lucrative crop doesn't leave them with much money.

First, they must buy poppy seeds, usually from a trafficker. Then they have to promise 10 per cent to the village landlord (this is, at best, a feudal system), and 5 per cent to the arbab, a local tribal official who provides irrigation, and then a 10-per-cent tax known as an usha, paid to whoever holds power in the region — a government-appointed warlord, or, more frequently these days, the Taliban. Then they must pay for the lancing of the flowers and gathering of the opium, typically at a princely $20 a day. Not much is left.

Most of these costs apply only to poppy crops. So why don't farmers grow wheat and onions? First, because their fields are unsustainably tiny, and subsistence-level farming doesn't leave any money for moving into new crops. You're stuck with what you're given, and if the Taliban are doing the giving, then it's opium.

But more important is the lack of any market for non-opium crops. Farmers need to get their crops to market. If the roads are impassable and dangerous — or if warlords or Taliban are charging you $50 to drive down them without being killed — then suddenly the cost of transporting your grain to market is unaffordably high. Poppy may not pay, but it does have a buyer.

Neither the American spray-it-now approach nor the idealist switch-to-wheat-and-watermelons approach will work now — nor will the Senlis Council's idea of switching to a pharmaceutical opium crop. The farmers first need to be connected to new buyers, without heavy guys with guns in between.

That's why these British soldiers are ignoring the poppy harvest beneath them this month. It makes sense to wipe out some fields — those belonging to warlords and corrupt government officials.

But if a spiral of violence and misery is to be avoided, it's better to trust the economics: Get the warlords out of power and open the roads, and poppy fields will disappear on their own.

Opium isn't a root problem; it's a tragic side effect.
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'If we die, we will die together'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Shakeela Ibramkhil Saturday, 03 May 2008
Mother's plea to husband who sold daughters for food and water
“If we die, we will die together.”

These were the words a Kabul mother used to beg her husband to buy back her two children who he sold to buy food for his starving family.

The mother of six told Quqnoos.com that her husband sold her two daughters, aged four and two, because he could not afford to buy drinking water for his family.

“My husband said, ‘I’m going to sell these children to provide food for our other children’. But I said, ‘if we die we will die together’ I can’t stand to see my children with another family.”

The husband agreed to buy back her two young daughters after she screamed at him for days.

One of the girls’ brothers said: “When my father took my sisters off to sell them I was crying but I know my father did this because he had to.”

One of the sisters said: “We don’t have money to buy food: that is why my father sold my two sisters.”

The husband said Kabul council had bulldozed their previous home and failed to provide his family with a new home, depsite numerous promises.

The family now lives in the capital’s Kai Khana area, where they rent a house close to the Presidential Palace.

Over the last month, the cost of bread has doubled in some parts of the country. America warned last week that the rising cost of wheat, the lack of rain and export bans on flour to Afghanistan will likely increase the risk of serious food shortages in the country.

The US government’s development agency, USAID, also predicts a below-average wheat harvest next month because crops have had about 50-90% less water than last year.

Provinces such as Ghor, Badghis, Daykundi, Badakhshan, Faryab, Urzgan, Zabul, Wardak, and Logar are most at risk from food shortages, the agency said.

The hike in the cost of wheat is most pronounced in Faizabad, Badakhshan, where prices are 157% higher than the five year average, Mazar-e-Sharif (151% above average), and Herat (13% above average). Since January, the cost of bread in Kabul has risen from Afg6 to Afg20 in some parts of the city.
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The boy who took Karzai's bullet
A child of 10 was one of three civilians who died during a botched Taliban attack on the Afghan President
Peter Beaumont in Kabul The Observer (UK) Sunday May 4 2008
Syed Ali was playing on the roof of his mud-brick house when the killers came for Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai last week. Karzai survived the attack on Kabul's broad parade ground. Ten-year-old Syed Ali, a kilometre away watching his mother cleaning almond shells to supplement the family's winter fuel, died, with two others, when he was hit by a stray bullet.

Amid the furore of how a plot - apparently known of in advance - could have come so close to killing Karzai, the death of Syed Ali has all but been forgotten. An official from the President's office came to see the family and said he would come again. When I met the family, they were still waiting for his return.

His mother can barely speak; two days of crying has reduced her voice to a croak. The boy's uncle tells the story of yet another of the thousands of Afghanistan's dead - as the sporadic conflict has worsened in the last two years - whose stories are never told. 'He was a clever little boy,' said Syed Jan Agha. 'He wanted to be a doctor when he grew up.'

The family leads us to the tiny flat roof. There are some spilled nutshells; a little stain in the mud. The uncle points to where the bullet flew from, near the small dome of a mosque just visible in the distance. Another uncle, Sadiq Kaka, shows us a video taken on his mobile phone. It shows a child with thick dark hair. He seemed almost alive, lying on what looks like a slab. His wound is a little tear, by his right armpit.

When he was not at school, his uncle says, Syed Ali sold matches to support his family, whose staple diet is rice and water. 'We did not even have enough money to pay for the taxi to take him to be graveyard,' he says. 'So we had to borrow money for the funeral. You know, after the Taliban fell, we were promised a bright future. But those who had money benefited and the poor ... we are still poor.'

Syed Ali's father, Kamal, says: 'In the time of the civil war my elder son was also martyred. This was the second son to die.'

The attack on Karzai that killed the child and a follow-up gun battle on Wednesday with suspected Taliban has terrified Kabul. Since the suicide attack on the city's Serena Hotel in January, in which six people died, ordinary Afghans in this city fear the violence of civil war that they know so well creeping up again. The suggestion by Western officials that the Taliban is crumbling seems premature.

Thousands crowded on to roofs to watch the public retribution that came on Wednesday to a neighbourhood not far from Syed Ali's home, a steep, rocky slope above the ornate and freshly reconstructed gardens of the Barbur Bagh.

The Afghan government claims that hundreds of armed police and intelligence agents descended on a hideout of Taliban members linked to those who tried to kill Karzai. They faced rocket-propelled grenades fired from the secret tunnels by fighters who finally blew themselves up inside the house.

But the evidence at the scene and the accounts of neighbours of the group 'who came from somewhere else in Afghanistan' belies this version. There is a house but no tunnels, nor evidence of a suicide bombing.

Neighbours said that while those inside shot back at the police, they had no rockets. Indeed, all that can be seen is evidence of guns fired at close quarters at several targets inside a house: at someone hiding behind a large oil drum, and sprayed up against an inside wall. All that is clear is that a woman and a child as well as several 'militants' were shot dead.

None of this brings back Syed Ali. When his mother finally speaks, she has someone to blame - the men of violence who triggered the fighting: 'The people who killed my son were enemies of Afghanistan, and of the people of Afghanistan,' she says. '

They sent a bullet for the heart of the President of Afghanistan. But it pierced my son instead. I pray to God to do the same to them.'
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Doing good is more perilous than ever
Nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan are under increasing danger from the Taliban.
Los Angeles Times, CA By Anna Husarska May 3, 2008
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN-Getting around in some parts of central Kabul is like driving inside trenches: two lanes of road between high walls made of modern versions of sandbags referred to by their brand name: "Hesco barriers." They consist of 4-foot-tall wire mesh containers lined with heavy plastic and filled with sand, gravel or dirt, all topped by concertina wire. Other streets have classic sandbag structures, high walls and/or concrete-like barricades. Every dozen yards along the roads are heavily armed guards -- dead serious, with sunglasses, earpieces and legs menacingly spread. Security and protection are top priority here. Or are they?

Sunday's failed assassination attempt here against Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not the first one, but it was the gutsiest so far. The Taliban claimed responsibility, and its leader said that it was to show that it could carry out an attack anywhere in Afghanistan. Coming four months after the deadly assault on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, an attack also claimed by the Taliban, it shows that far from being defeated, the Taliban is gaining ground.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 "Country Reports on Terrorism," "the Taliban-led insurgency remained a capable, determined and resilient threat to stability and to the expansion of government authority." The State Department report mentioned that "insurgents also targeted international NGOs, U.N. workers and recipients of NGO assistance." Those of us who work for nongovernmental organizations here have seen it coming. In the first three months of 2008, according to the Afghan NGO Safety Office, there were 11 fatalities among NGO workers; in all of 2007, there were a total of 15.
The maps of "accessibility" for U.N. programs produced by one of the international organizations here are steadily changing color: the green patches (meaning "permissive environment") around the main towns and roads are shrinking and giving way to yellow ("volatile") or a uniform red ("extreme risk/hostile environment") as if they were autumn leaves.

For those of us at the International Rescue Committee, the increase in incidents targeting the NGOs is particularly alarming in the province of Khost, in the southeastern corner on the Pakistan border (as of mid-March it was half-red, half-yellow). We are debating how -- and if -- we can continue working there.

Late last year, our staff in Khost -- all Afghans -- found in the local mosque so-called night letters, written threats left anonymously that specifically referred to a community-based development program funded mostly by the World Bank through the Afghan government and implemented in great part by international NGOs: "Reject all of the assistance coming from the National Solidarity Program and don't accept their solar panels because through this honey they will give you poison. Those from your community who participate in this infidel solidarity  if you act against Islam or speak against the Taliban  hell is your place."

Then we suffered two attacks -- in March and April -- in two districts of Khost. We were told that about 50 to 60 attackers came and ransacked the office. Our premises, files and computers were set on fire. Nobody was hurt, but our working capacity was damaged.

The message was clear: We do not want you here.

This is puzzling because we have a solid reputation in Afghanistan, having operated here over the last 20 years -- when the country was ruled by the communists, then by the mujahedin, then by the Taliban. Our work to support the people continues under the Karzai administration.

After the 2002 intervention of the multinational coalition to oust the Taliban, everyone was on the same side in Afghanistan. The urgent task was to support the Afghan people in a newly reborn state.
But nowadays, the armed opposition groups are able to strike where and when they want, and they score points when they do it live on television. Since they oppose the current government, they also oppose those who work with it. And unfortunately, they don't differentiate among armed multinational forces, security contractors and humanitarian groups.

Nongovernmental organizations are by definition neutral and nonpolitical, so all we can hope for is that our actions will speak for themselves and will convince all those here that we are in Afghanistan to help the people.

Anna Husarska is senior policy advisor at the International Rescue Committee.
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Kabul supports Islamabad’s plans for talks with Taliban
Dawn May 3, 2008
KABUL-Afghanistan backs Islamabad’s plan to hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban, the government said on Saturday, but urged its neighbour not to allow the militants space to regroup and launch raids across the border.

Pakistan’s new coalition government has said it wants to open talks with the Taliban in a bid to break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf.

However, Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, pulled out of a peace deal with Islamabad last week after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands. Pakistan has yet to comment on Mehsud’s move.

Media reports had quoted the Pakistani Taliban as vowing to focus attacks in Afghanistan after the peace deal.

The Afghan defence ministry said a 2006 peace deal between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban allowed militants to regroup and organise attacks into Afghanistan from South Waziristan.

“Afghanistan supports any measure that leads to the restoration of security and stability, provided such a step does not cause the expansion of further terrorism into Afghanistan,” the government said in a statement about the talks.

“We sincerely ask the Islamic Republic of Pakistan not to allow the terrorists to endanger the lives and security of Afghans by using its soil.”

Most of the violence in Afghanistan since 2006 has happened in southern and eastern areas near the border with Pakistan. Militants have also carried out deadly attacks in parts of Pakistan, especially since last year, but attacks have dropped since the new government was sworn in at the end of March.

Cross-border attacks have strained ties between Kabul and Islamabad who have a historical dispute over the border areas.—Reuters
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MPs outraged at electricity shortages
Written by www.quqnoos.com Saturday, 03 May 2008
No end in sight to power shortages in country, Ministry says
THE LACK of electricity in many parts of the country, especially in the capital Kabul, has outraged Parliament members, who this week accused the government of failing the people.

The Ministry of Energy and Water has said there is little hope that the amount of electricity will increase in the near future, sparking anger among many MPs.

Kabul MP, Ramazan Bashardost, said: “When Ismail Khan became the minister of energy and water, he promised that he will solve the electricity problem within 40 days.

"Three years have passed since then, but the electricity situation has worsened.”

Kabul residents say that, despite promises made by the government, the electricity situation in the capital is getting worse every day.

Baghlan MP, Muhammad Asim said: “The main problem is the lack of a proper working plan from the government, and no one has paid attention to that.”

One Kabuli said: “Seven years have passed since the Taliban left and during his campaign for the presidency Karzai promised to make electricity one of his main priorities.

“But this year is his last year in office and even in the capital there is not proper electricity. A government must serve its people.”

Another Kabuli said: “Electricity is the foundation for the industrial development of a nation. No electricity means no factories and no industry.”

The Ministry of Energy said the lack of water in Kabul’s dams was the main reason for electricity shortages in the capital.

Head of the Ministry’s electricity department, Muhammad Sarwar Sedeqi, said: “The lack of water in the electricity dams has created problems not only in Afghanistan, but in neighboring countries as well. In Pakistan there is only 12 hours of electricity in 24 hours.”

The department also said there was a lack of oil needed to keep the thermal electricity machines active.
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Desperately seeking Osama: Morgan Spurlock on his hunt for the world's most wanted man
He risked his health to expose the evils of fast food in 'Super Size Me'. But the subject of Morgan Spurlock's new documentary could have killed him far more efficiently. So what on earth possessed the film-maker to go in search of the world's most wanted man?
Independent, UK Sunday, 4 May 2008
For the past seven years, the world has been trying to catch Osama bin Laden. Trying and failing. So I'm not quite sure what made me think one lonely guy like me could manage it. Perhaps it was watching too many big-budget action movies where the one lonely guy always does get his man.

As I searched for him I imagined many times what it would be like to sit face to face with Bin Laden. I'd read that as a youngster in Saudi Arabia he had spent his time riding horses. They were his passion. Well, that's what I'd done as a boy in West Virginia. So perhaps I could break the ice by talking to him about horses. Before getting on to the more important questions.

I couldn't help thinking, too, that it would be a kind of Tiger Woods moment. I meet him and then I'm presented with the cheque for the $25m that is on offer to anyone who tracks him down. Dead or alive.
But, of course, I wanted him alive. So I could get down to the really important stuff. Like asking him how all this craziness that has happened in the world since 9/11 could come to an end. How do we stop it? I hoped I might get a real answer, but I also had this picture in my mind of walking up to him, with my hand outstretched, and him pulling out a sword and cutting it off.

Behind the imagining, though, there were the practicalities. Such as where exactly is he? I never met anyone who handed me an address – "You will find Bin Laden at 432 Main Street." But there were plenty of folks who directed me towards Waziristan in the Tribal Areas, which lie between Pakistan proper and Afghanistan, and which are ' administered by the Pakistan government. So my plan was to pitch up in Waziristan and see where it led me.

I also spoke to those who had previous experience of making contact with the Taliban. And it sounded tough. They had been locked in a room for days on end, strip-searched, forced to change their clothes, hooded and put in the trunk of a car, driven to another house where they repeated the process, all before they got to talk to their man. So, if that was what you had to go through before you got to meet the Taliban, how much tougher was it going to be before I could sit down with Bin Laden?

I tried to prepare myself by finding out as much as I could about him and his background. I travelled from America to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan before finally going to Pakistan. It was in Saudi Arabia that Bin Laden had been brought up, amid great wealth and privilege. I attempted to track down the family firm, but they were having none of it.

What I did find, though, were others there who admired him, and who shared his mentality. From an early age, they had been taught to be anti-Israel and anti-American because America supports Israel. That was what was still going on in the classrooms. I sat down and talked to a group of students, and that is what they said to me – before they called a halt to the interview. They just shut down.

So there is that educational aspect, a generation being corrupted in its attitudes to America, its allies and the West by education. And a generation too believing that the Saudi government has somehow sold out to the West, that it services the US fuel culture and, with the money it makes from oil, buys American weapons. It is a trade-off that many don't agree with. They are with Bin Laden in opposing the fact that the wealth is going to a few at the top.

Bin Laden is, in one sense, railing against his own background. His family were among the thousands of princes who have made a fortune from oil. You could see him as an angry trustafarian.

As well as getting a picture of the man I planned to meet, I discovered much more while on his trail. The net Bin Laden has cast has grown very wide. So there are now youngsters in Morocco buying T-shirts with his picture on in the markets. There are people in Egypt talking about his ideas and agreeing with him. Slowly I started to understand that the idea of Bin Laden is so much bigger than the man himself.
There were other insights and surprises. I encountered, for example, a lot less hostility than I had been led to believe there would be. At its simplest, ordinary people in the Middle East were more willing to talk to me, as an American, than I ever thought they were going to be.

There were, of course, some who were not. Like the female shoppers in the mall in Saudi Arabia who I tried to approach on camera. Or the Hasidic Jews in Israel who ended up attacking me when I tried to engage them in dialogue. The police had to come to the rescue

Elsewhere, though, I was given a genuine chance to open a dialogue. In some ways it was like the process I went through in 2004 when I made Super Size Me. That film was about the fast-food industry. I subjected myself to a steady diet of McDonald's for 30 days, gained 25 pounds, suffered liver dysfunction and depression and then took 14 months to return to my normal weight. Lots of critics at the time said, "So what, who doesn't know that fast food is bad for you?" Well, the success of the film seemed to suggest that there were plenty of people out there who didn't. Why? Because they don't watch the news. They were an audience that we managed to reach through an independent documentary film, released through cinemas.

I hope the same will be true of Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?. You might argue ' that there are no "new" facts in it, but that's not the point. There is plenty in there that plenty of people, in the United States and elsewhere, just aren't hearing. To get through to them, you have to try a new approach.

The subject matter is serious – arguably the most serious subject facing us today – but that doesn't mean you have to address it without humour. It needs to entertain people if they are going to turn up to watch it. And I believe it is through humour that you get to the humanity of a situation.

One of the things I see happening in America is that fewer and fewer people control what we see, read and hear about in the media, and they don't seem to have an interest in putting out challenging material. That is why these independent documentary films, such as mine and Michael Moore's [Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, Bowling for Columbine] have made such an impact. They offer a medium where you can challenge audiences to look at things in a different way.

You don't need to start off being an expert. In Super Size Me, I didn't set myself up as a scientist. This time, I'm not a politician. But I do believe that if you go into something with good intentions, something good will come out of it.

Its been suggested that there is a link between the popularity of these films and the presidency of George Bush. I always say that I hope there isn't, or soon I'll be out of a job. But I believe it is about something more than audiences wanting to get behind the picture of the world out there that our president is giving us. The problems we face now are bigger than any presidency. And they're not going to go away because we elect a new president, whoever it is, later this year.

So, as it went on, my search became about something other than why we haven't found Bin Laden. When I finally got to Peshawar in the Tribal Areas, and to a sign saying "No foreigners beyond this point", I felt able to turn back. To go on would have been dangerous. But I'd always known and accepted that. What I had learnt was that it would also be pointless. It was no good risking my life for nothing. The important thing now is to tackle the spread of the Bin Laden ideology.

We in the West have to reach beyond the vocal minority who burn effigies of the US president, and hear instead the voices of the majority in the Middle East who don't hate America. They don't really care about America.

And it cuts both ways, because in America at present, the driving forces in news coverage about the outside world are conflict and controversy. That's what gets ratings; it is that cynical and commercial. By contrast, when I am in Europe, I can turn to the BBC at prime time and watch a news documentary or something that gives an in-depth view.

You never see that in the States. Despite the attention it attracted, Super Size Me [nominated for an Oscar in 2004 and a prize-winner at various film festivals] was never shown on mainstream channels. Only on cable and in cinemas.

I'd like to see this new movie encourage us to change – by pushing people around the world into a dialogue. We've got to take it out of politicians' hands. There isn't one of the current candidates for president that I want to throw my lot in with yet. We need to establish a consensus beyond political lines. I'd like to see, for example, more Americans, not less, travelling to the Middle East; more students exchanging classrooms around the world, between different cultures; and more meetings going on on the internet. We now have the technology to make that possible. We need to use it for positive ends.

On my flight back to New York at the end of filming, when I thought again about not having found Osama bin Laden, I didn't feel bad. I knew now I never had to. The place to look for Osama – or at least the spirit that created him – wasn't in some cave in Afghanistan or the mountains of Pakistan, but in the hearts and actions of peoples everywhere whose lives he's had such a huge impact on. One way or another, I'd found Osama everywhere I'd gone.

'Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?' is released in UK cinemas on 9 May. The book of the same title by Morgan Spurlock is available from Harvill Secker at £11.99 He was talking to Peter Stanford
They seek him here

By Andrew Buncombe
For any sort of certainty about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, one has to go back quite some time. In December 2001, as US forces were breaking the Taliban's control of Afghanistan and pursuing al-Qa'ida, a group of fighters holed up in the mountains of Tora Bora, a remote location that Bin Laden had long used as a base. As B52 bombers were sent in to obliterate the cave systems, US commanders decided to block the mountain passes not with American troops, but Afghan militia.

It was a huge error. At some point in early December, Bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora towards the border with Pakistan, six hours away. An intercepted radio message, believed with "reasonable certainty" to be Bin Laden, heard him urging his men to fight to the death. Then on 8 December came the report of a group of Arab fighters and their leader stopping for supplies at the village of Tangi, next to the border. And then he was gone.

Except, of course, he was not, for he has since appeared on several video tapes and numerous audio recordings, berating the West. He even weighed in just before the 2004 US election, telling the American public that George Bush was "deceiving" them. But where was that video – and the most recent one, released in September 2007 – recorded? Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Yemen? All these and more have been listed as possibilities.

The likeliest location, according to a Washington-based intelligence analyst is the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. These are nominally controlled by the Pakistan government, but in reality are governed by tribal leaders and, increasingly, Taliban militants.

Under President Pervez Musharraf – long supported and financed by the West – Pakistan has taken some measures against the militants, and the US has occasionally struck with missiles fired from unmanned drones. But domestic political concerns, allied with questions about the effectiveness of some Pakistani troops, have limited operations. This too, might be a reflection that for all his iconic status, capturing Bin Laden may be less important to the West than the wider effort against extremism.

There are alternative theories as the shadow-chasing continues. After Bin Laden's most recent video was aired, the former White House security official Richard Clarke pointed out that his beard looked fake. He claimed it was possible Bin Laden had trimmed his own, previously grey beard, because he was now living in southeast Asia. "One place where a beard would stand out would be southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia. That is an environment where most men, Muslim men, don't have beards," he said.

What seems clear is that however vital the hunt for Bin Laden may once have been, officials now believe there are more pressing priorities. "[There is] only modest effort towards Bin Laden because it is a wild goose chase," said Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert in Washington. "But if we ever think we know where he is, a lot of effort will, of course, be devoted quickly to it."

Buncombe is The Independent's Asia correspondent
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Japanese FM on surprise visit to Afghanistan
Sun May 4, 6:54 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura met President Hamid Karzai during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday in which he urged better relations with Pakistan.

Komura, who arrived from Islamabad, told reporters he had also called on Afghan leaders to focus on improving the quality of government as well as tackle the booming narcotics trade.

He said through an interpreter that he had asked his Afghan counterpart Rangeen Dafar Spanta to work to "improve relations" with Pakistan.

The neighbours have exchanged accusations about the source of the insurgent violence in Afghanistan, with Kabul saying Islamabad should do more against the extremists based in its tribal areas on the border.

Komura also said his country would push for more international support for Afghanistan at a conference of the Group of Eight rich nations due in Japan in July.

Japan has been a major donor to Afghanistan, pledging 1.3 billion dollars since the fall of the Taliban.

However its pacifist constitution limits its military activities and it does not have troops among the international forces helping Afghanistan fight the Taliban, who were ousted from government in 2001.

Komura visited Pakistan on Saturday and unveiled a loan of up to 47.9 billion yen (454.86 million dollars) for Islamabad's infrastructure development, the Japanese foreign ministry said.
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Afghanistan urges Pakistan to stop 'terrorists'
Sun May 4, 1:03 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Pakistan should stop "terrorists" from using its soil to attack Afghanistan if it makes deals with Taliban militants along the troubled border, the Afghan defence ministry said.

Islamabad has been trying to reach a peace deal with a Taliban commander on its side of the frontier. The militant halted talks last week because the government refused to withdraw its troops from his area.

The Afghan defence ministry said it was concerned any such deal would not result in a cessation of violence in Afghanistan by militants said to be based in Pakistan and to cross the border to attack.

The ministry cited media reports that a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban vowed to continue the "real jihad (holy war)" in Afghanistan even if a peace deal was reached with Islamabad.

"Afghanistan supports any action resulting in peace and stability in the region but only if such actions do not cause further terrorist activities in Afghanistan," it said.

The ministry described a now-defunct 2006 deal between Pakistan and pro-Taliban militants in its Waziristan area as a "bitter experience."

It had allowed militants "sufficient time to regroup, re-equip and moblise themselves and take the lives of hundreds of children, women and men," it said, referring to a wave of extremist violence in both countries.

"Afghanistan's biggest hope from the brotherly and friendly country of Pakistan is that its land be not used by terrorists against Afghanistan," it added.

The Taliban were removed from government in Afghanistan in a US-led invasion in late 2001 for harbouring Al-Qaeda, which it allowed to operate training camps.

Many rebels fled across the border to Pakistan from where they are said to be plotting an Al-Qaeda-backed insurgency that has left thousands of people dead in Afghanistan, including civilians and international troops supporting Kabul.

The US State Department said last week that Al-Qaeda is rebuilding itself in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province, both on the border with Afghanistan.

Kabul favours peace talks with rebels to halt the unrest, but only with those who agree to accept the new government and renounce violence.
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Afghan police foil heroin smuggling to Tajikistan
KABUL, May 4 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's northeast Badakhshan province foiled traffickers' attempt to smuggle heroin to Tajikistan, said a statement of Interior Ministry released Sunday.

"Police on Sunday thwarted smugglers' attempt to take 60 kg heroin to Tajikistan, "the statement said.

However, it said those involved in the black business escaped.

Afghanistan with an output of 8,200 tons of opium poppy in 2007 topped the poppy growing nations in supplying the raw material in manufacturing heroin in the world.

The Afghan government is trying to make 20 out of the country's34 provinces poppy-free this year.
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New Zealand troops deny damaging Afghan Buddha remains
Sun May 4, 2:25 AM ET
WELLINGTON (AFP) - The New Zealand Defence Force denied claims Sunday that its troops damaged the remains of Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddha statues while carrying out a controlled explosion.

Spokesman Captain Zac Prendergast confirmed to Radio New Zealand that the troops disposed of a live rocket in the area but said all care was taken and there was no damage.

A Bamiyan province official had blamed the New Zealand troops, serving with a Nato-led force and a UN-led disarmament group, for causing further damage to the statues, virtually destroyed by Taliban militants seven years ago.

Najibullah Harar, head of the information and culture department in Bamiyan province, said the blast damaged the smaller of the two historic structures, a 38-metre-tall (125-foot) statue.

"The explosion has caused damage to the remains of one of the Buddhas," Harrar said.

"It has also destroyed a historic wall around the smaller statue.

But Prendergast said the New Zealand team assessed the site and found it was unlikely there was damage to the surrounding area.

"They surrounded the area and covered the rocket with sandbags and when they had effected the detonation the crater was the size of a small puddle," he said.

"The sandbags on top have restricted the blast."

The Taliban virtually destroyed the nearly 2000-year-old Buddhas months before their regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

The Islamic militia, which ruled much of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, blew up the structures citing a strict Islamic law that bans statues.
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Hidden jewel of Afghan culture
Saturday, 3 May 2008 BBC News
Architectural historian and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank treks into the mountains of western Afghanistan to visit and film an architectural treasure, the leaning minaret of Jam.

Herat is a wonderful city. It was rebuilt by Alexander the Great around 330 BC, and was later one of the major cities in Tamerlane's empire.

We had come not to enjoy its glories, but to get our permission to travel validated by local officials.

First we went to see the Deputy Governor of Herat. Haji Mir Abdul Khaliq was a mujahideen in the 1980s and - robed, turbaned and bearded - looked a formidable character. He was delighted that we wanted to go to Jam.

"Our history is a source of great national pride," he told us. "It's good you should see one of our greatest buildings and show the world."

The Chief of Police wanted to offer us protection, not that we really needed it, he said, more as a courtesy.

He suggested a dozen armed police.

But when we went to see the senior police chief of all the provinces of western Afghanistan, he increased our protection to 60 men. And to fool enemies, he said, we must hit the road immediately.

Within an hour we were heading east from Herat, my four-wheel-drive part of a convoy of over a dozen police vehicles, most loaded with heavily armed men.

The desert landscape was punctuated by the green of fields, beside the waters of the Hari Rud river, and plantations of palms.

We passed mud-built, domed houses, with tall chimney-like wind-scoops to catch the breeze and channel it inside, to help cool the interior.

We passed the black tents of the nomadic Kushi, and their scattered flocks and wandering herds of camels seeking sustenance from the wizened scrub, which bristled amongst the broken top soil.

'Secret valley'

We wound through mountains of undulating and sculptural form - some shaded a kaleidoscope of unexpected colours - ochre, purple and red.

The few people we passed were curious - and friendly. Men waved in a sedate manner, children ran and goggled - the girls demurely pulling up their shawls to conceal their faces, while devouring us with their eyes.

Later the track-like roads stopped completely and we were travelling along riverbeds.

After many hours we turned a corner and there - between a cleft in the mountains - I saw a man-made finger of architectural perfection pointing towards the heavens.

The minaret of Jam, in its secret valley, looked magical and mysterious, almost impossibly slender and vulnerable, surrounded by the raw and rugged power of nature.

Standing 65m high, it is the most significant architectural memorial to the Ghorid empire, which in the height of its glory, in the late 12th Century, dominated Afghanistan, modern Pakistan and parts of Iran and as far south as Delhi in India.

I was amazed by the quality of the bricks and its fine surface decoration.

The lower portion carries the entire 19th sura of the Koran and tells of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and of patriarchs such as Abraham and Isaac that are venerated by the three religions of The Book - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The minaret appears to me a reminder of the beliefs these religions have in common, and an appeal for tolerance and understanding.

But it is also emblazoned with other Koranic texts that were surely intended as a stern message to the Ghorid's Hindu enemies, who were viewed as idolatrous: "As for those who disbelieve in God... We have prepared a blazing Fire."

I crawled inside - squeezing through a small window. Then I understood how the minaret has survived so long in an earthquake region.

The walls are thick and inside is a stout brick-built central column around which not one but two staircases form a double-helix - an immensely strong form that gives the minaret some of the structural characteristics of the honeycomb.

Vulnerable area

Nearby I saw many excavations - made, a local villager told me - by people looking for ancient treasures. This is tragic.

The people here, due to poverty, are being compelled to pillage their own history. And with every artefact that disappears, the history of the site becomes more difficult to unravel.

I sat and watched the sun set, the minaret casting its long shadow, like a gnomon defining a sacred precinct.

To me the minaret, leaning ominously, seemed symbolic of all historic sites in the Middle and Near East and in Central Asia, that are now threatened by conflict, looting and neglect.

It was in this part of the world, that all those things we hold to be emblems of civilisation - cities, writing, the wheel - evolved during the last 8,000 years.

This is historically the richest area of the earth, but also currently the least protected and the most vulnerable.

As I sat brooding, the minaret disappeared within the shadow of the neighbouring mountains. All was quiet, but for the barking of a dog and the harsh metallic sound of weapons being checked.

The police were settling down for a watchful night and in the morning - soon after sunrise - we would leave the minaret, alone and painfully exposed - in its beautiful and remote valley.

Dan Cruickshank's Adventures In Architecture is on BBC Two on Wednesdays at 2100BST from 2 April till 4 June.
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