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August 14, 2009 

Poll shows Afghan vote headed for second round
By Peter Graff – Fri Aug 14, 10:07 am ET
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai leads the country's presidential race, but not by enough to win an outright majority in the August 20. election and avoid a second round, a new poll released Friday shows.

Afghan 'Gandhi' Running a People-Centric Election Campaign
August 14, 2009 By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
While most Afghan presidential contenders campaign from fortified headquarters or travel in armored cars with gun-toting bodyguards, one candidate is getting his message out to remote corners of Afghanistan in a rickety minibus.

The Afghans Have a Referendum on Democracy
Hamid Karzai's main challenger has had enough of governance by patronage.
By ANN MARLOWE The Wall Street Journal
Kabul, Afghanistan - It was midnight this past Sunday when I left the house of Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai's leading challenger for the presidency of Afghanistan. Twenty or so men were still waiting to see the candidate, some sitting cross-legged in the grassy courtyard.

Afghan Presidential Candidates Hold Rallies in Search of Votes
By VOA News August 14, 2009
Afghanistan's top presidential contenders traveled the country Friday, holding rallies in search of votes ahead of next week's presidential elections.

A Technocrat Shakes Up the Afghan Campaign
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times August 14, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan — Whether wrapped in a shawl for a televised debate, sitting on a dirt floor with a shopkeeper, or thundering over speakers in a dust storm, Ashraf Ghani, the most educated and Westernized of Afghanistan’s

Karzai says he will win Afghan election
The Associated Press By Rahim Faiez 08/13/2009
KABUL - Claims he'll offer government jobs to top rivals
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will win next week’s presidential election and will offer government positions to his top two challengers.

Afghan govt says some Taliban in election peace deals
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Aug 14, 2009 (AFP) - The Afghan government said Friday that a series of peace deals had been reached with Taliban commanders in a bid to ensure people can vote safely in next week's presidential poll.

Aggrieved villagers wary of Afghan vote
By Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Friday, 14 August 2009 02:34 UK Sherzad, Nangarhar
As Afghanistan heads towards presidential elections, residents of the district of Sherzad, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, have witnessed a sudden spurt in violence.

Gates: No Troop Request In Afghanistan Review
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, August 14, 2009
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will not make a specific request for more troops when he submits a review of the situation there in the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday.

Justice Shouldn’t Be The Loser In Afghan Elections
August 14, 2009 By Ajmal Samadi Commentary Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
As the countdown toward election day in Afghanistan gets started, the Afghan people are enduring a new surge in armed violence and a growing sense of disenchantment.

Wali Karzai brokers Taliban election truce
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The Taliban agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan in time for provincial and presidential elections next week, campaign officials say.

A Rare Look Inside Taliban Operations in Afghanistan
The Online NewsHour - Fri Aug 14, 9:32 pm ET
Jeffrey Brown speaks with GlobalPost's Charles Sennott about his interviews with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

Hurt By Security Failings, Karzai Hangs On To Frontrunner Status
August 13, 2009 By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Three weeks before Afghanistan’s presidential election, thousands of people were already shouting "Karzai is the winner!"

Afghan Strategy More Than Counterinsurgency, Holbrooke Says
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Andrew F. Tully August 13, 2009
WASHINGTON - Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says an important part of Washington's strategy to defeated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is recognizing that Afghanistan doesn't exist in a vacuum.

U.S. troops may leave remote Afghan areas
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan say they're considering pulling troops from some of the country's more remote regions along the Pakistan border.

Australia has no immediate plans to send troops to Afghanistan: FM
CANBERRA, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith revealed on Friday there were no immediate plans to commit additional troops to Afghanistan.

GERMANY: Opposition Builds Up Over Afghanistan
By Julio Godoy IPS-Inter Press Service
BERLIN, Aug 14 (IPS) - German writers and philosophers have begun to condemn military intervention in Afghanistan as an "invasion", a "mistake", and a "delusion".

Afghanistan Dispatch: Inside Kabul
Huffington Post Gilles Dorronsoro August 13, 2009
Throughout August, Carnegie's Gilles Dorronsoro will be traveling in Afghanistan, providing first-hand insights into the staggering challenges facing the country as it struggles to become a functioning democracy.

Poland needs more hardware, not men in Afghanistan: PM
Xinhua www.chinaview.cn 2009-08-13
WARSAW - The Polish military contingent in Afghanistan should be reinforced with more equipment, not more men, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday.

US: Mission Essential, Translators Expendable
By Pratap Chatterjee* IPS-Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (IPS) - Basir "Steve" Ahmed was returning from a bomb-clearing mission in Khogyani district in northeastern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-filled vehicle nearby.

Pakistan Helicopter Gunships Kill 11 Taliban
Reuters 14 Aug 2009
WANA, Pakistan - Pakistani gunship helicopters attacked Taliban bases on Thursday, killing 11 militants and keeping up pressure after the reported death of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a U.S. missile strike last week.

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Poll shows Afghan vote headed for second round
By Peter Graff – Fri Aug 14, 10:07 am ET
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai leads the country's presidential race, but not by enough to win an outright majority in the August 20. election and avoid a second round, a new poll released Friday shows.

The poll, by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute, showed Karzai winning 44 percent of the vote, with his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, winning 26 percent.

With less than a week to go, the two main candidates are criss-crossing the country by helicopter and jet. Karzai flew to the Western city of Herat Friday, while Abdullah was in the central mountain province of Dai Kundi.

Western diplomats have said they are surprised by the closeness of the race, although Karzai remains the front-runner to remain in power, if not with a first round victory then by surviving a second-round run-off six weeks later.

Just staging the election itself would be a feat, and fears that violence or fraud could undermine the vote are as palpable among many Afghans as doubt about the outcome.

The Taliban, stronger than at any time since they were driven from power eight year ago, have vowed to strike polling stations and threatened reprisals against voters.

Violence has surged in the weeks before the vote, with fighters staging a handful of bold attacks on provincial government buildings in the south, and also launching raids in once-quiet areas in the north and west.

In the latest violence, officials said Friday that up to 20 insurgents were killed in two separate incidents south of Kabul, while a rocket fired overnight on the capital fell harmlessly near the airport.

The United Nations says violence and intimidation have already disrupted planning and campaigning in the south, and could prevent many Afghans from casting their ballot.

U.S. commanders nonetheless say they think violence will not be sufficient to prevent a successful vote.

The election is a test for U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of rushing thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan to tip the balance in an eight-year-old war that was not being won.

Some 30,000 extra U.S. troops have already arrived this year, bringing the total Western force above 100,000 for the first time, including 62,000 Americans.

The overall U.S. and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, is due to release an assessment shortly after the election, which could be followed by a request for more troops.

The new U.S. troops and British forces have launched huge offensives in the south to reclaim Taliban-held territory, taking unprecedented casualties. More Western troops have died in Afghanistan since March than in the entire period from 2001-2004.

COALITION BUILDER
Despite the worsening war and a widespread view that the government is corrupt and ineffective, Karzai remains personally quite popular. In the poll, 81 percent had a favorable view of him and only 17 percent had an unfavorable view.

The poll showed Abdullah is also well liked, with a 71 percent favorable rating and 23 percent negative.

A master coalition-builder, Karzai has accumulated the endorsements of many powerful regional chieftains, to the alarm of Western diplomats worried about former warlords carving up power after the election.

But he appears not quite to have been able to construct a broad enough coalition to repeat his overwhelming single-round victory in the country's first democratic presidential election five years ago, when he won 55 percent of the vote and his nearest challenger got less than 16 percent.

Abdullah, an urbane eye doctor with roots in a mainly ethnic-Tajik northern anti-Taliban guerrilla movement, has been seeking to broaden his support in the south, where his father was born. This week he staged a rally in Karzai's native southern city of Kandahar, attracting hundreds of followers.

An Abdullah rally the following day in his own heartland of support, the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, attracted tens of thousands of supporters, probably the biggest crowd of the campaign. Karzai also has attracted large rallies.

The poll showed Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and member of the Hazara ethnic minority whose office is in a tent opposite parliament, would place second with 10 percent of the vote. Ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani wins 6 percent.
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Afghan 'Gandhi' Running a People-Centric Election Campaign
August 14, 2009 By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
While most Afghan presidential contenders campaign from fortified headquarters or travel in armored cars with gun-toting bodyguards, one candidate is getting his message out to remote corners of Afghanistan in a rickety minibus.

Meet Ramazan Bashardost -- according to the polls, the third most popular candidate among the 35 contenders, with 9 percent of all decided Afghans saying they are willing to vote for him

Many observers say that one of the most significant developments in the ongoing election campaign in Afghanistan is the relative success of Bashardost's campaign.

Some have dubbed the former planning minister "Afghanistan's Gandhi" for his personal integrity, his ascetic style, and inclusive message.

While Western generals and Afghan politicians issue daily reminders of the worsening security situation, Bashardost can be seen walking around the crowded streets of the capital, Kabul, and other Afghan cities. He alternates between his small Suzuki car and a wobbly minibus to make bone-jarring journeys to distant provinces, where he pitches his "Nation's Tent" before going out to meet people in their shops, homes, and public squares.

"When I travel to the provinces, I personally do not feel insecure. I haven't done anything wrong. I haven't spilled the blood of Afghan people and have neither taken their land by force," Bashardost tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan while campaigning in Tarin Kowt, the dusty capital of southern Uruzgan Province.

"No one Afghan is my enemy. But the people in all the provinces of Afghanistan are suffering from insecurity," he added.

Uruzgan and the surrounding provinces in southern Afghanistan are considered home to the Taliban insurgency. Most NATO supplies to Tarin Kowt are taken by helicopter because the roads are deemed too dangerous.

Popular Populist

The 43-year-old Bashardost lived in France for two decades and has a doctorate in law. He briefly served in the administration of President Hamid Karzai as planning minister. But he left the cabinet after voicing popular Afghan demands for stricter accountability standards for local and international aid agencies, which are often perceived as corrupt.

His public stance made him so popular that he was elected to parliament with a huge margin in 2005. In a legislature seen as dominated by warlords, he champions the cause of the poor and lives in a yellow tent opposite the parliament, which now also serves as his campaign headquarters.

Bashardost's populism is appealing to many Afghans weary of what they see as a corrupt and callous political elite.

On July 25, while six suicide attackers hit the southeastern city of Khost, Bashardost continued campaigning there, selling his posters and business cards for a few cents to fund his campaign.

Local journalist Zahid Shah Angar tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that his simplicity and asceticism have impressed locals.

"He truly is a man of the people," Angar says. "I saw him walking around like a common man. People liked this and greeted him, promising that they would vote for him. He is different from other candidates in that he was the first to come to Khost. And that he is like an ordinary citizen with no protocols."

Bashardost's campaign website boasts a detailed manifesto and governance plans. But everywhere he goes, Bashardost has a simple message and a straightforward promise: clean government.

"Inshallah, we will have sympathetic, clean, pious, and expert ministers," Bashardost told supporters at a recent campaign rally. "Every minister will be a patriot and experienced in his field. Indeed, [the ministers] would certainly solve the problems of each province, district, and village."

Leads By Example

Never married, Bashardost devotes his life to politics. And he leads by example, distributing most of his $2,000 monthly salary to poor Afghans. People are warm to his anticorruption and antiwarlord message. And Afghans living outside the country -- in Europe, North America, and the Gulf -- have also raised $20,000 for his campaign.

Bashardost comes from the minority Hazara ethnic group, who claim decent from Genghis Khan, and have a history of facing popular discrimination. But Bashardost makes a point of not invoking the narrative of injustices to his ethnic group. And he expresses strong disapproval of those who exploit ethnic and linguistic differences for political ends.

After a recent campaign event in the Bamiyan Valley in central Afghanistan, local resident Muhammad Jan Ibrahimi appeared to have been convinced by Bashardost's message.

"I will vote for a person who does not have tribal, ethnic, linguistic, and religious prejudices," he says. "Who will not make a distinction between the provinces of Afghanistan. Who views all Afghan people -- the Pashtuns, Uzbeks, the Tajiks, and Hazaras -- the same and equally."

Bashardost might not win the election, but some believe his brand of politics could boost Afghan democracy and show Afghans that a political transformation is possible through nonviolent means.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Amir Bahir in Khost, Siddiqullah Siddiqui in Uruzgan, and Ali Irfani in Bamiyan contributed to this report.
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The Afghans Have a Referendum on Democracy
Hamid Karzai's main challenger has had enough of governance by patronage.
By ANN MARLOWE The Wall Street Journal
Kabul, Afghanistan - It was midnight this past Sunday when I left the house of Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai's leading challenger for the presidency of Afghanistan. Twenty or so men were still waiting to see the candidate, some sitting cross-legged in the grassy courtyard.

When I arrived at 10:30 p.m., one dignitary after another filed into the meeting room: a finance executive, a counter-narcotics official, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and a female professor at Kabul University. Lesser notables spilled out into the courtyard of the concrete villa, some in Western garb, some in traditional dress. Earlier, the diplomat brother of the slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud came to pay his respects.

These Afghans don't believe the line the foreign press is pushing—that Mr. Karzai has the election sewn up. With 10 days until the vote, they've come to offer help or cut deals, believing that they're backing the winner.

Dr. Abdullah, 49 years old, is an ophthalmologist and a former foreign minister of Afghanistan who entered politics by organizing medical care for the Afghan resistance after the Soviet invasion in 1979. He's running on a platform of overhauling the 2002 Afghan Constitution. He advocates a parliamentary system, political parties, and direct elections of mayors and provincial governors. (They're currently appointed by the president.)

Dr. Abdullah has single-handedly turned this election into a much-needed referendum on governance. How much direct democracy is enough? When is a people "mature" enough to elect its leaders? Is legitimacy derived from an election, from performance, or from the power of the gun? These are questions that resonate in Afghanistan as much as they do for Americans considering the merits of democracy promotion overseas.

Until recently, Dr. Abdullah's main rival was his former colleague in Mr. Karzai's cabinet, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. In recent weeks, Dr. Abdullah has pulled ahead significantly. There are 38 other candidates—one of the symptoms of the flawed Afghan electoral process Dr. Abdullah wants to fix. Currently, all it takes to get on the presidential ballot is 10,000 signatures.

While there's no official poll, the radio station Salam Watandar, in a poll conducted via mobile phones, put Dr. Abdullah at 33%, Mr. Karzai at 27%, the eccentric parliamentarian Ramazan Bashardost at 13%, and Mr. Ghani at 11%.

Mr. Ghani, 60 years old, has focused his campaign on bread-and-butter issues. As finance minister, he started the much-lauded National Solidarity Program for rural development, which introduced economic policies like privatization, a flat tax and a rational tariff system. He is an expert on development economics, and is renowned for his incorruptibility.

But it isn't clear that Mr. Ghani's solutions match Afghanistan's most pressing problems. Foreign journalists tend to focus on rural Afghan poverty. Yet the standard of living for those in towns and cities (about one-third of the population) has improved greatly after nearly a decade of 5%-10% annual GDP growth.

Afghanistan expects 8.5% GDP growth in the fiscal year ending March 2010, up from 3.5% last year, according to Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal. Afghans are natural capitalists, and, thanks in part to Mr. Ghani, they have laws that allow them to prosper. What they lack is laws that allow them to govern themselves effectively.

Mr. Ghani told me in an interview on Aug. 5 that he believes the problem isn't with the constitution but with corruption. Dr. Abdullah told me he disagrees. He points to the single nontransferable vote electoral system, in which requirements for candidates are so low that dozens compete for one slot. This system has produced members of parliament with only a few percent of the vote. There's also the lack of accountability of governors and mayors.

Dr. Abdullah's fundamental point is that good institutions are more important than goodwill. "Even if a person does not want to abuse power," Dr. Abdullah tells me, "others around him will." This is a not-so-veiled reference to Mr. Karzai's brothers. One is an alleged drug dealer and another allegedly demands kickbacks. Then there's Mr. Ghani's brother Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai, the wealthy chief of the Ahmadzai tribe and an MP notorious for his belligerence.

When I met Mr. Ghani at his compound, he wore shalwar kameez (the traditional Afghan pants suit) and looked like the elegant tribal aristocrat he is. He noted that his Ahmadzai tribesmen have always served as peacemakers between warring tribes.

But there was no stream of Afghan dignitaries, and no feeling of urgency. Mr. Ghani uses "politicized" as a dirty word. The truth is that Afghanistan needs more of the messiness of vibrant political parties and fewer aristocrats supposedly above politics.

The dozens of men and a few women at Dr. Abdullah's house are motivated by ambition, patriotism, ethnic and personal loyalties, greed and vanity, and they're cobbling together policies out of the collision and conjoining of individual interests. The scene suggests that Afghan society is capable of mobilizing itself.

When Dr. Abdullah walks in to the meeting room at his compound, all rise. The candidate is also wearing shalwar kameez, topped by a costly looking brown leather mesh jacket. His most memorable feature may be his liquid eyes, but he has an appealing gentleness and speaks in a low, calm voice.

He lacks Mr. Ghani's ease in interviews. While Mr. Ghani gives pithy quotes—"Afghanistan is not a laboratory for regime change"—Dr. Abdullah tends to go on for too long. He prefers the anecdotal to Mr. Ghani's abstract epigrams. This may serve him well with Afghanistan's mainly illiterate voters.

Dr. Abdullah is running an innovative campaign, crisscrossing the country in gatherings that draw thousands of supporters. "I am back among the people, this is the part I enjoy the most," he says.

Mr. Ghani seems more comfortable in small groups. On unannounced appearances in the poorer parts of Kabul on Aug. 6, he sat in traditional style on the sidewalk talking with 30 or 40 men. Populist, but an inefficient way to reach 17 million registered voters.

In our interview, Dr. Abdullah focuses on the strength of good institutions: "A man said to me that this country won't work unless you bring back the system of Daoud Khan." In 1973, the Afghan prince and long-term Prime Minister Daoud Khan overthrew the monarchy and set up a highly repressive, pro-Soviet government. "On the surface, things were OK then. But the system that seemed strong was weak. And when Daoud was killed [in 1978] it fell apart." For Dr. Abdullah, this is an example of the fallibility of individuals.

Though Dr. Abdullah is less systematic than Mr. Ghani when he discusses the economy, he makes some practical points. "There are no rules to prevent monopoly. Privatization is being done in a random manner. There are no employees' rights. There is a waste of money in donor projects through multiple subcontracting," he says.

"There has to be equitable development," he continues. "The idea was to have development in areas that are not stable," alluding to the massive infrastructure works by the U.S. Army and U.S. AID in the eastern border provinces. "But by developing those areas that are stable you expand the area of stability."

I ask Dr. Abdullah if he thinks he'll win. In typical Afghan fashion he dodges the question. But the people that have gathered here at midnight aren't here for their health.

Ms. Marlowe writes frequently about Afghanistan and counterinsurgency issues. She is also the author of two memoirs including "The Book of Trouble" (Harcourt, 2006).

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Afghan Presidential Candidates Hold Rallies in Search of Votes
By VOA News August 14, 2009
Afghanistan's top presidential contenders traveled the country Friday, holding rallies in search of votes ahead of next week's presidential elections.

President Hamid Karzai, the frontrunner, was due in the western city of Herat. Second in the polls, Abdullah Abdullah, is to meet supporters in the central province of Dai Kundi.

A new poll released Friday by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute says Mr. Karzai is likely to win the August 20 election.

The poll of 2,400 people, taken in July, shows the incumbent president with 44 percent of the vote, while former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is in second with 26 percent of the vote.

A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

Also Friday, a New York-based human rights group is accusing Afghan President Hamid Karzai of making "an unthinkable deal" in order to win reelection. Human Rights Watch says Mr. Karzai has allowed a controversial marriage law to go into effect with only minimal changes in order to win more votes.

Critics of the law charge that it essentially legalized marital rape by requiring a woman to have sex with her husband every four days, and that it prohibited a woman from leaving her home without her husband's permission.

Afghan officials said earlier this year that the most contentious elements of the law had been dropped. But Human Rights Watch says a final version of the law published late last month still allows a husband to deny his wife food if she refuses to have sex.

Human Rights Watch charges the amended law requires women to get permission from their husbands to get a job and allows men to get away with rape by paying damages to their victims.

The law first sparked international outrage - including condemnation from the United States, the United Nations and NATO - after it was signed by Mr. Karzai in March, and the Afghan leader quickly suspended its implementation.

The law only applies to Shi'ite Muslims, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan's population.

Although Afghanistan's constitution calls for equal rights for men and women, it also allows the Shi'ite community to have a separate family law based on religious tradition.

One leading Afghan cleric, Mohammad Asif Mohseni, who defended the law said any changes would violate the constitutional rights of Afghanistan's Shi'ite community.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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A Technocrat Shakes Up the Afghan Campaign
By CARLOTTA GALL The New York Times August 14, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan — Whether wrapped in a shawl for a televised debate, sitting on a dirt floor with a shopkeeper, or thundering over speakers in a dust storm, Ashraf Ghani, the most educated and Westernized of Afghanistan’s presidential candidates, is shaking up the campaign before Thursday’s election in unusual ways.

A former finance minister with a background in American academia and at the World Bank, Mr. Ghani, 60, says he is trying to change politics in Afghanistan. Using television and radio, Internet donations and student volunteers, as well as traditional networks like religious councils, he is seeking to reach out to young people, women and the poor, and do the unexpected: defeat President Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Ghani’s national support is hard to gauge — one recent poll put it at just 4 percent — and he probably remains an outsider in the race, trailing Mr. Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom have much larger power bases.

Yet Mr. Ghani is elevating the debate with a focus on policy and a detailed plan for reform, challenging the Afghan electorate to think beyond the status quo.

“The people, the nature of mobilization, the talk has changed, anyplace I go,” he said in an early morning interview at his home in Kabul before setting off by helicopter to campaign in the provinces. “Afghans have a very different expectation of leadership today than they have ever had.”

A two-hour live television and radio debate between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah on July 23, watched and heard by over 10 million people, has created a huge change in thinking, Mr. Ghani said. Mr. Karzai declined to participate, something his two opponents have used against him.

Since the debate, a flow of student volunteers has come forward to work for his campaign, Mr. Ghani said, and people from all walks — pilots, merchants, professors — have engaged him in detailed discussion of his ideas.

Articulate in several languages, Mr. Ghani has written two books, one titled “Fixing Failed States,” and the other a detailed plan on how to lift Afghanistan out of poverty and instability within 10 years, which is essentially his election manifesto.

Mr. Ghani has been one of the most influential figures involved in building the current Afghan state. Appointed finance minister in 2002, he instituted a centralized revenue collection scheme, and oversaw the flow of billions of dollars of foreign assistance into the war-torn country.

Yet his scrupulousness made him enemies and, disillusioned with official corruption and Mr. Karzai’s leadership, he left the cabinet in 2004.

Such is his experience, and his support in Washington, that Mr. Ghani is among the contenders mentioned to fill a strong executive position under the president that is being proposed by American officials to strengthen the government’s performance should Mr. Karzai win another term.

Mr. Ghani, whose campaign has hired the political strategist James Carville as a consultant, says it is too early to discuss post-election scenarios. He was once a close adviser to the president, but his distaste for Mr. Karzai’s way of running things is deep-seated, and he has been an outspoken critic of the way politics have been conducted in Afghanistan.

He has been the most vociferous of any candidate in challenging Mr. Karzai’s overstaying his constitutional mandate, which was extended in order to hold the election on Aug. 20, and also in accusing the president of using government resources and officials to promote his campaign. And he has castigated the election organizers, both foreign and Afghan, for allowing fraud and manipulation to occur unchecked.

He has also rejected the backroom deal-making for which Mr. Karzai has been strongly criticized, and has refused overtures from Mr. Karzai to give up his candidacy and join his campaign, something a number of other prospective candidates have done.

At election rallies, he vows to curb government corruption and so find the revenue to create a million jobs and a million houses.

He promises better education for the young, by increasing the number of mosques and madrasas to provide a general education at the village level. He also proposes adding universities and women’s colleges, as there are thousands more students than universities can accommodate.

And he lays out how to develop Afghanistan’s natural resources and create economic growth with Afghan labor, and bring justice and peace through local structures.

He makes gibes that Mr. Karzai has to block streets when he travels through the city, or hide behind the palace walls, and suggested at one rally that Mr. Karzai and his entire cabinet go to live in the Pul-i-Charki jail. He accuses him of losing the trust of the people by lying to them.

He also promises to return sovereignty to Afghanistan, by closing the detention center at Bagram, the United States air base outside Kabul, within three years. And he advocates negotiating a cease-fire with the Taliban, prior to a process of reconciliation. “Afghan blood is being spilt,” he said at a rally in a Kabul suburb. “We want to stop it and douse the fire.”

His main drawback is his aloofness. When serving in the cabinet, he came under criticism that after 24 years living away from Afghanistan, nearly half his life, he was out of touch with the people and too abrasive in his dealings with his fellow Afghans.

He left the country in the 1970s to study at the American University of Beirut, went on to earn a doctorate in anthropology at Columbia in 1982, and taught at Johns Hopkins University. In 1991, he joined the World Bank.

Like other Western-educated technocrats, he encountered on his return the resentment of those Afghans who had had no chance to leave and had suffered 30 years of war and privation.

But he says that is changing. He has sought to get closer to the Afghan people by holding an open house for the last 18 months and says he has received over 100,000 people from all over the country, which has informed the development of his policies.

“It has been the largest seminar in my life and I have been the sole student,” he said. “I connect back to the people because I have heard them, and I have heard some very harsh things. It’s been a relationship.”

Critically, ethnic Pashtuns who make up the largest ethnic group and have traditionally ruled Afghanistan, now see that there is a strong alternative to Mr. Karzai, he said. Mr. Ghani, like Mr. Karzai, is Pashtun.

“Pashtuns in the north have reassessed and I think they are going to abandon Karzai,” Mr. Ghani said.

He claimed, too, that groups in the western province of Herat and in the southern provinces, where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, were also moving away from the president. “There’s a swing,” Mr. Ghani predicted, with election day fast approaching. “There’s a massive swing.”

Bombs Kill 14 Civilians

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Two explosions in southern Afghanistan killed 14 people, including 3 children at play, Afghan officials said Thursday, as mounting violence before next week’s elections exacts an increasing toll on civilians caught up in the broadening war with the Taliban.

Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial authorities, said a roadside bomb exploded next to a van carrying civilians, killing 11, including 2 women, in the province’s Gereshk district. “The Taliban have planted mines everywhere,” Mr. Ahmadi said. “That’s why most of the time, civilians are the targets.”

The Taliban offered no immediate comment on that explosion or another in Mirwais Mina, near Kandahar, that killed the three children. Some reports said the children, ages 8 to 12, were playing with a bomb they had found on the side of a road. Abdul Ahmad, a police official, said that it seemed that the bomb had been planted recently “in an area where children and people are walking freely.”

An American serving with NATO forces in the south was also killed Thursday, The Associated Press reported, quoting a military news release that attributed the death to “a direct fire attack.”

Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting.
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Karzai says he will win Afghan election
The Associated Press By Rahim Faiez 08/13/2009
KABUL - Claims he'll offer government jobs to top rivals

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday he will win next week’s presidential election and will offer government positions to his top two challengers.

Karzai’s announcement seemed designed to offer a pre-election deal to his main rivals and offset any postelection tension at a time when large parts of Afghanistan are embroiled in an insurgency.

Afghans vote next Thursday for president, their second-ever direct presidential election. More than 100,000 international troops and 175,000 Afghan forces are deployed to provide security.

Karzai is the leading candidate in a crowded field of three dozen contenders hoping to win a five-year term. He is trailed by his former foreign and finance ministers, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

Karzai said that if he wins, “I will invite Dr. Abdullah, I will invite Ashraf Ghani, give them food and tea and give them jobs, as I did last time.”

A spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign said the people, not Karzai, will decide who wins and forms the government.

“Let’s wait for next week’s polling day and see the election results,” spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said.

Ghani’s campaign team said it rejects any pre-election deal with Karzai.

A week before the vote, there are fears that election tensions could boil over into street violence if presidential losers allege fraud. Opposition candidates have been accusing Karzai and his team of using state resources to ensure re-election.

While Karzai is leading in the polls, the latest public opinion surveys show him at under 50% support. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote on Aug. 20, the top two finishers will have a run-off. That could open the possibility of a coalition uniting around a single candidate to try to defeat Karzai.

Most of the country’s most violent regions — in the south and the east — are where the country’s ethnic Pashtuns live. Karzai, himself a Pashtun, could see his returns lowered if insurgent violence keeps Afghans there from voting.

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the vote and warned people to stay away from polling centres on election day.

Afghan journalists in central Ghazni province received a letter from the Taliban on Thursday in which the militants threatened shopkeepers to keep their businesses closed for three days before the vote. The letter also asked students to not go to school and warned people not to get anywhere close to polling centres.

The president said the people should come out and vote despite the Taliban threats.

“Even if there are a hundred explosions, we will go out and cast our votes,” Karzai said Thursday.

Karzai spoke at a gathering of female supporters on the capital’s outskirts. Some of the teachers present said their school principal asked them to attend.

Shekeba Ahmadi, a teacher from Kabul, thought she was going to a seminar. Wahida, another teacher who gave only one name, said their principal had ordered them to come. None would identify their schools for fear of retribution.
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Afghan govt says some Taliban in election peace deals
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Aug 14, 2009 (AFP) - The Afghan government said Friday that a series of peace deals had been reached with Taliban commanders in a bid to ensure people can vote safely in next week's presidential poll.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, the younger brother of President Hamid Karzai, told AFP he had asked community leaders in the troubled south to persuade grassroots Taliban leaders not to target next Thursday's vote.

"I asked (community) elders to talk to the Taliban and they have done, and have assured me that the local Taliban have agreed not to cause trouble," said Karzai, who runs his brother's election campaign in the south.

"There are some agreements already reached between elders and local Taliban, but not with those Taliban who are part of Al-Qaeda.

"There are some small local Taliban groups who have agreed not to create any problem on election day. The elders have convinced them that this is against the interests of the people and of Pashtuns," he said.

The Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, to which both Karzai and mainstream Taliban belong.

Asked how the deal would work, Karzai refused to give details but said of the insurgents: "Maybe they will turn a blind eye."

President Karzai is tipped to win a second term in office, but analysts say he needs to shore up his ethnic Pashtun powerbase in the southern provinces, where the worst of escalating Taliban violence has been concentrated.

Taliban threats to prevent people from reaching polling stations have raised concerns that voter turnout could be low, thus compromising the legitimacy of the results.

As polling day looms, election officials say fears of violence could prevent hundreds of polling stations across the country from opening, cutting the planned number of voting destinations by up to 12 percent.

Ahmad Wali Karzai said the violence could not prevent his Western-backed brother from winning as most of his votes were expected to come from urban areas where the Taliban has limited influence.

"Actually our vote will be coming from the major cities -- we have up to 70 percent or more of the vote in the cities," he said.

The presidential vote and parallel elections for provincial councils are set for August 20.

But Taliban leaders have repeatedly dismissed any prospect of talks with Karzai's government until all US and NATO-led forces withdraw from the country.

"We have not talked to anyone," Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"Neither our local commanders nor our leadership have spoken to anyone and will not do so," he said.

There are more than 100,000 US and NATO-led forces deployed in Afghanistan along with double that number of Afghan security forces hunting rebels in a series of assaults to secure more territory ahead of the ballot.

Ahmadi said his insurgent group planned to disrupt the vote by closing roads leading to polling stations, adding: "We'll be attacking Afghan and foreign troops on the election day."

Karzai, who has been in office since the Taliban was forced from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001, is expected to prevail over about 40 challengers, including former members of his cabinet Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.
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Aggrieved villagers wary of Afghan vote
By Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Friday, 14 August 2009 02:34 UK Sherzad, Nangarhar
As Afghanistan heads towards presidential elections, residents of the district of Sherzad, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, have witnessed a sudden spurt in violence.

Most of Afghanistan's 28 million people live in the villages, hamlets and valleys of remote districts like Sherzad. It is areas such as this which will decide the outcome of the presidential election on 20 August.

One summer night earlier this year, a group of armed Taliban militants raided a local school for boys and girls in Kodi Khel village. The militants forced guards to vacate the school compound and then blew it up.

Although there were no casualties, the Taliban succeeded, to a large extent, in creating a wave of fear in the area.

"We had warned the government about the possibility of such an attack long ago," said a village elder, requesting anonymity as he feared the Taliban may target him in retaliation for speaking out.

"If you don't have girls and boys in schools, if you don't have police patrols on the streets, the government and the Afghans lose and the Taliban wins," he said.

'Antipathy'

One local official is not too shy to admit that people in this area have been caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and Western forces.

"Many Afghans have been killed in recent years," he said, also asking not to be named.

"The violence has generated a feeling of antipathy among the Afghans, driving some of the locals into the hands of the Taliban."

Seven years ago, when Afghanistan conducted its first democratic election, residents of Sherzad walked for hours across the mountains to reach polling stations. Threats from landmines, suicide attacks and firing by the Taliban did not deter them from participating in the election then.

"We thought the election would lead to security and development of our villages. It was worth the risk," said Wali Shah, a resident of Kodi Khel, who was among the millions of Afghans who cast their ballots at that time.

Seven years after that election life is still fraught with hardship, Mr Shah said.

Security for Afghan citizens is also the biggest election issue in the neighbouring village of Pitlaw.

Many Afghan intellectuals have been killed in Pitlaw, schools have been destroyed and irrigation canals and bridges blown up.

"Some changes have indeed taken place over the past seven years," said Khan Shah, a resident of Pitlaw.

"But security, roads and medical facilities remain only on paper. We want security."

Corruption is another issue bothering villagers.

Last winter, an earthquake devastated much of Sherzad. Thirty two people were killed, more than 200 injured, and many houses and buildings were reduced to rubble.

Sayed Marjan, 30, of Kodi Khel, survived the calamity but lost six members of his family.

"I lost my family and my home. But the food, medicine and blankets sent as relief materials by Kabul and the world never reached me," he said. "This is shameful."

"I am not going to name anyone, but whoever wins this election will have to give us security and freedom from corruption."

Village elder Ahmed Khan says that local people were promised many things during the last election. "But we got nothing of it."

Similar feelings of resentment against the government in Kabul are seemingly everywhere in Kodi Khel.

"Food and blankets meant for us have been stolen by a local warlord. This is why I am not interested in this election," said an angry Sayed Marjan.

"Where was the government when I needed it? I have already told my village elder that I will not vote this time."
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Gates: No Troop Request In Afghanistan Review
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, August 14, 2009
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will not make a specific request for more troops when he submits a review of the situation there in the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday.

Instead, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will assess conditions on the ground and make recommendations based on whether the mix and number of forces he has been allotted -- 68,000 by the end of the year -- is sufficient to execute U.S. strategy there, Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing held with Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.

"We've made clear to General McChrystal that he is free to ask for what he needs," Gates said. But "any future resource request will be considered separately and subsequent to his assessment of the security situation."

At a recent meeting with McChrystal in Brussels, Gates told the commander to concentrate on tasks that needed to be performed and the type of troops necessary to accomplish them rather than specific numbers, according to senior military officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal Pentagon deliberations.

With a focus on "troops-to-task" ratios, McChrystal is expected to provide a breakdown of future strategy -- including increased training requirements for Afghan forces -- that officials said could require at least 15,000 additional U.S. troops next year. Obama approved the deployment of 21,000 troops this year, 6,000 of whom have not yet arrived in Afghanistan.

"What he's assessing is, have I -- have I got it laid down right?" Cartwright said of McChrystal, who took command in Afghanistan two months ago.

Cartwright indicated that there might be a need for a more immediate change in tactics or a request for additional resources because of an increase in casualties among U.S. forces in roadside bombings, including in the southern province of Helmand, where Marines have been deployed recently.

Gates said an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq -- which he has raised as a possibility -- could also be a factor in making resources available for Afghanistan.

Gates previously expressed concern that the size of the international force in Afghanistan -- including about 30,000 non-U.S. troops from NATO and other allied countries -- could reach a "tipping point" whereby Afghans will turn against them. "I think that most Afghans see us as there to help them and see us as their partner," Gates said Thursday. "I just worry that we don't know what the size of the international presence, military presence, might be that would begin to change that."

Gates said that coalition forces "have to show progress over the course of the next year." Asked how long U.S. combat forces would be needed in Afghanistan, he said it was "unpredictable" and "perhaps a few years," and he emphasized plans to sharply increase recruitment and training of Afghan security forces so they could take over.

Over the longer term, Gates said that even if security is achieved, progress in building Afghanistan's economy and government institutions remains "a decades-long enterprise in a country that has been through 30 years of war and has as high an illiteracy rate as Afghanistan does and low level of economic development." The United States and international partners, he said, "are committed to that side of the equation for an indefinite period of time."

The administration has said that it considers Pakistan, where Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have established sanctuaries in the border region, a joint theater of operations with Afghanistan. No U.S. troops are deployed in Pakistan, but the U.S. military provides training and supplies, and the United States has given $15 billion in military and economic aid since 2001.

Asked Thursday about a new poll of Pakistanis indicating that 64 percent view the United States as an enemy, Gates said, "The Pakistanis probably -- and with some legitimacy -- question . . . how long are we prepared to stay there?" He said that "we walked away from them" after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and that assistance was restricted in the 1990s because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Although a close relationship was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "it's going to take us some time to rebuild confidence" with the Pakistani people, he said.

The poll, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, found that 16 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable view of the United States. Thirteen percent said they had confidence in President Obama, a stark contrast to his overwhelming popularity in much of the rest of the world. But more than half said improved relations between Pakistan and the United States were important.

The survey also found that Pakistani views of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have shifted markedly since last year, with unfavorable opinions doubling to two-thirds of about 1,200 adults questioned, largely in urban areas. The poll was conducted in late May and early June, about a month after the Pakistani army began a major offensive against Taliban forces in the Swat Valley region.

Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.
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Justice Shouldn’t Be The Loser In Afghan Elections
August 14, 2009 By Ajmal Samadi Commentary Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
As the countdown toward election day in Afghanistan gets started, the Afghan people are enduring a new surge in armed violence and a growing sense of disenchantment.
Despite an intensified insurgency that plagues large swathes of the country, about 15 million people are expected to cast ballots in the simultaneous presidential and provincial councils’ elections on August 20.

The $224 million cost of this democratic exercise will be borne by international donors, who are aiming to consolidate the fledging democracy and statehood of the war-torn country.

It was hoped -- even expected -- that post-Taliban Afghanistan would become a new model for successful U.S. democratic interventionism among the weak and authoritarian Islamic polities.

Tormented by long years of war and internecine fighting, the Afghan people wanted lasting peace and development, as well as an end to bloodshed under the pretext of jihad, ethnic intolerance, and other political agendas.

Undoubtedly things have gone wrong because violence, fear, and disenchantment have grown over the past few years.

Tens of civilian Afghans, many of them schoolchildren and women, have lost their lives in an alarming uptick in insurgency-related violence over the past few weeks. Despite mounting calls on the Taliban to cease violence during the election campaign, it has become increasingly evident that the insurgents will stop at nothing to disrupt the polling process.

Data received by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) indicates that 327 noncombatants were killed, mostly by the insurgents, from June 1 and July 15. Hundreds of families have also been made homeless and vulnerable to additional shocks by the conflict so far this year.

Independent surveys show incumbent President Hamid Karzai leading his 38 competitors, despite remarkable slumps in his popularity largely owing to alleged rampant corruption in his administration and his weak leadership portfolio.

However, Karzai’s choice for his two vice presidential nominees -- Qasim Fahim and Karim Khaleli -- and his alliance with notorious warlords such as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaf -- each of them accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity -- have seriously damaged peoples’ hope for a better future.

As ARM said in its recent briefing paper, “The Winning Warlords,” candidates must not trade democracy, human rights, and justice for the support of influential warlords. Democracy, human rights and justice cannot thrive under the brutal tutelage of warlords who presided over the massacres of thousands of innocent civilians.

Obama's Strategy

Much has been said and written about U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and the strategy of complementing the military surge with an increase in political and developmental efforts. The few efforts that have been made already prove that Obama has a different political agenda for Afghanistan than his predecessor, who turned a blind eye to alleged criminals and warlords.

The Taliban regime was smashed by a small number of U.S. forces in a short period of time in 2001. In 2009, however, more than 70,000 U.S. and allied forces are struggling to curb a resurgent Taliban, who are thriving more on peoples political, social, and economic grievances than their own military might.

As much as numbers of U.S. and allied forces have increased over the past several years, so have the scale and ferocity of the armed insurgency. To end this vicious interconnection, the United States should use better and stronger political and developmental tools, rather than more guns and bombs.

The presidential election in Afghanistan offers a unique opportunity not only for Afghan voters but for the United States, the insurgents, and the warlords alike.

Thus far, only the warlords and the insurgents have seized this opportunity: The warlords will share the coming government and will grow more powerful, and that will cause increased disaffection among the public and swell the ranks of the insurgency.

Unless the Obama administration acts quickly, the losers of the elections will be democracy, human rights, and a just and viable peace in Afghanistan. The Obama administration not only should reverse Washington’s strategic alliance with Afghan warlords, it should help revitalize Afghanistan’s transitional justice strategy, also known as the Action Plan for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation.

The cases of mass-killings and war crimes in Afghanistan are not limited to Dostum’s alleged killing of more than 2,000 Taliban prisoners in late 2001. Dozens of mass graves have been spotted over the past three years in different parts of the country -- each of which shows irrefutable evidences of appalling crimes committed by criminals who are either at large or trying to dominate the future government.

Any U.S. investigation into war crimes must not be limited to late 2001 or to Dostum alone. Let the truth come out in full.

Washington must use its influence to stop Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, and other presidential candidates from making deals and offering government positions to criminals and warlords.

The election process must not be abused to redistribute power to warlords or to legitimize their heinous crimes. Rather it is time to bring them to justice and accountability.
So long as justice and accountability for past crimes are ignored and delayed, peace and stability will remain illusive and impossible in Afghanistan.

Ajmal Samadi is director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), an independent rights watchdog. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.
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Wali Karzai brokers Taliban election truce
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The Taliban agreed to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan in time for provincial and presidential elections next week, campaign officials say.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the controversial half-brother and campaign manager for incumbent President Hamid Karzai, claims he brokered a deal with individual Taliban commanders to allow the Aug. 20 election to go forward, London's Guardian newspaper reports.

The Taliban agreed to pull back while Afghan national forces secure the 7,000 polling centers in the country. U.S. and NATO officials said they supported "any initiative" that allows Afghans to vote.

Wali Karzai told the Guardian cease-fire announcements in the volatile Helmand and Kandahar provinces were forthcoming.

Mullah Omar, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, has ordered his fighters to disrupt the poll. The campaign chief said it was unclear, however, if commanders would follow those orders.

"It will all depend on the group and who they are connected with. Some Taliban leaders will look the other way, but others will say no, stop them, this is helping the Jew and the Christian in this war," he said.

He also discounted reports in German news magazine stern that claimed British forces had seized tons of opium on his land in July. He said the account was an attempt to discredit his older brother ahead of the Thursday vote.

A poll by the Washington-based International Republic Institute finds the incumbent leading his closest rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, by nearly 20 percent, though observers say the election may go to a runoff.
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A Rare Look Inside Taliban Operations in Afghanistan
The Online NewsHour - Fri Aug 14, 9:32 pm ET
Jeffrey Brown speaks with GlobalPost's Charles Sennott about his interviews with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: And now a conversation about the Taliban, the insurgent forces, and -- the insurgent forces the U.S. and coalition forces are fighting in Afghanistan. Jeffrey Brown has our story.

JEFFREY BROWN: As the war in Afghanistan heats up, how much is really known about the Taliban, how they've been able to take control of territory, and what are the prospects of negotiating with them?

For that, we turn to Charles Sennott, the executive editorial editor of GlobalPost, a new Web-based international news organization. He's covered the Taliban for over 15 years and recently returned from a reporting trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And welcome to you.

CHARLES SENNOTT, GlobalPost: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Who are the Taliban? This question that we ought to know, we ought to ask. What is it that we need to know?

CHARLES SENNOTT: I think what we need to know is the Taliban are stronger than we've realized. And I think the other thing we need to know is the Taliban are at least two things.

They're actually many things, but they're the Pakistani Taliban, which has really become a unique movement that was part of the Taliban that fractured on the Pakistani side and took hold in the Pashtun belt on the Pakistan side.

And then there is the Taliban that we know that held power in 2001 when the U.S. came in after the September 11th attacks...

JEFFREY BROWN: In Afghanistan.

CHARLES SENNOTT: ... and toppled that government in Afghanistan. So the Taliban in Afghanistan is still very close ideologically, theologically, and militarily to that original Afghan Taliban that was in power in Kabul. So we really have two different Talibans with several different permutations.

Charles Sennott Global Post

Time favors the Taliban. When the United States military was focusing on the war in Iraq for so many years, the Taliban was quietly reorganizing in Pakistan and quietly doing the work in these villages that are very remote.

Time and Patience Aid the Taliban
JEFFREY BROWN: In Afghanistan, what explains the success that they have? Is it all about weapons and fear? Is it about providing security? What explains it?

CHARLES SENNOTT: I think it's a sense of patience and time. Time favors the Taliban. When the United States military was focusing on the war in Iraq for so many years, the Taliban was quietly reorganizing in Pakistan and quietly doing the work in these villages that are very remote, that are there in the south and in the east, and it was quietly convincing this population that the Taliban movement will be there long after the U.S. government has left.

And that's posed both as sort of cultural affinity, but it's also a threat. And we're seeing that now with the election, that the Taliban is certainly capable of threatening people, and that sense of sort of thuggery, of wanting to get back into power, is very much an element, as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: On your reporting trip, you met with what you referred to as moderate Taliban. Now, that raises the question about, are there divisions among groups there? What exactly is a moderate? What does it tell you about the prospects of reaching out and having actual conversations?

Charles Sennott Global Post

It was challenging to get to them, and unique, and really an eye-opening experience, in the sense that you could hear from the Taliban their perspective on where things are.

Moderate Wing of the Taliban
CHARLES SENNOTT: President Obama has called for negotiations with the moderate Taliban. And one of the questions you hear often in Kabul is, what does that mean? Who are the moderate Taliban?

The Taliban officials who we met with were the former heads of the now-deposed government. This was, for example, the former foreign minister of the Taliban. It was the Pakistani ambassador for the Taliban. It was the minister of higher education, the U.N. representative to the Taliban who was actually in New York at the time of September 11th.

Some of them have spent some time in Guantanamo. Some of them were on the run. But all of them have regrouped, now live under sort of various forms of house arrest inside Kabul, in Afghanistan.

It was challenging to get to them, and unique, and really an eye-opening experience, in the sense that you could hear from the Taliban their perspective on where things are.

And I heard a range of opinions, ranging from, for example, the former foreign minister of the Taliban, who's very open to negotiations, who really believes that they could happen, that there is a steady momentum toward them that began in Saudi Arabia earlier this year and continues today, and after the election may actually take hold. We'll see.

JEFFREY BROWN: Negotiations with the Afghan government and the U.S.?

CHARLES SENNOTT: They see themselves as intermediaries between the Taliban militant insurgent leadership under Mullah Omar and the Afghan government and, on a low and unofficial level, the U.S. government, as it has its presence in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: And so how seriously do you take that?

CHARLES SENNOTT: I think that what's important to know about Afghanistan is negotiations can happen at any time. This is a place where one side will flip against the other and suddenly align with another. That's the history of Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Even though everything we hear now is more about divisiveness and the sort of hardening of positions and more military action?

CHARLES SENNOTT: And quite often, the negotiations, that sense of flipping sides, can happen right at a time when both sides feel they have strength. And that is a moment we're in right now.

We heard General McChrystal say himself that the Taliban is winning in many areas in the south and east and that it has, very interestingly, developed some inroads into the north and west, as well.

The U.S. military is in a strong position, as well. They now have the 21,000-troop increase. They're on the offensive.

Very often, in Afghanistan, in my years of reporting there, that can often be a time when things suddenly shift and change and people begin to talk.

I'm not saying I think we can guarantee that will happen, but one thing about Afghanistan is, when you begin to hear the possibility of negotiation, as the president has called for, I think it's worth pursuing.

Charles Sennott Global Post

If the U.S. troops are going to succeed in Afghanistan, it's going to require that level of understanding of the complexities that exist on the ground.

Stability Easily Flipped
JEFFREY BROWN: I want to ask you about one story you've reported on over the years. It's the story of an American woman, Sally Goodrich, who helped build a school.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Yes, Sally's story is really an amazing story, because it's a great microcosm of where Afghanistan is today. Sally lost her son, Peter, on September 11th, and she is a schoolteacher and decided to build a school in his honor in the Logar province in Afghanistan.

I went with her for the first opening of the school. It was a really beautiful moment, a girls' school, tremendous celebration by this local village, a real feel-good story for us about Afghanistan.

A few months ago, Sally called me and said she couldn't believe it, that the village elders who had helped her build the school have now had their homes raided by the U.S. military, and several of them are in detention for supporting the Taliban. The village had flipped.

When I went and did my reporting, what I found out was a very complex and nuanced situation. I met with the village leaders, those of whom had been released. What they said was, "OK, we are not Taliban." But what you could sort of glean from the Ministry of Education officials, from the principal, from others was a sense that those village leaders did, in fact, allow the Taliban into that village so they could keep the girls' school open. Those village elders had 16 of their own girls in that school, and that was the deal they were willing to cut.

The tragic ending to that deal was that the U.S. military said, "Well, look, that's all well and good, but the Taliban in that village have killed U.S. servicemen and women with roadside bombs, so, you know, we can't allow that kind of deal." So the village elders, two of them, remain in custody.

But then, just about a week after I left, the village road into the school was bombed and 15 schoolchildren were killed, including two girls. And the school was severely damaged.

So this is, to me, a microcosm of just how complicated it is on the ground in Afghanistan. And if the U.S. troops are going to succeed in Afghanistan, it's going to require that level of understanding of the complexities that exist on the ground.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Charles Sennott of GlobalPost, thanks so much.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: On our Web site, newshour.pbs.org, you can watch a Web-only interview with Charlie Sennott on the unique journalism model that fuels GlobalPost's international news reporting.
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Hurt By Security Failings, Karzai Hangs On To Frontrunner Status
August 13, 2009 By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Three weeks before Afghanistan’s presidential election, thousands of people were already shouting "Karzai is the winner!"

They were gathered at a campaign rally on August 1 in central Afghanistan's Kayan Valley, friendly territory for President Hamid Karzai. The strongman presiding over the region, Syed Mansoor Nadiri, claims he can deliver 1 million votes for the incumbent from the minority Ismaili community.

The Karzai supporters in the Kayan Valley are among some 36 percent of Afghan voters who favor the incumbent, according to a recent poll, placing him 16 points ahead of his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Among decided voters, Karzai boasts a 20 percent lead, with 45 percent favoring him against his rival's 25 percent.

The key to an easy election win may be the 20 percent of Afghan voters who are still undecided, as Karzai will need their support to win the 50 percent-plus-one majority necessary to avoid a second round.

Karzai, who has dominated the country's politics since taking over under a UN-backed deal in 2001, appears confident of victory. In Kayan, he began his speech by claiming his opponents are free to campaign everywhere in Afghanistan. In doing so, he took on the persona of the founding father of a democratic Afghanistan where political rivals can focus on competing for ballots rather than plotting to capture Kabul by force.

In July, before a gathering of turbaned Kandahari Pashtun elders in his native Kandahar, Karzai outlined his plans for a second term. "If I am elected by the votes of the Afghan people -- if I win because of their free choice -- I will first try to bring peace to Afghanistan," he said, to a round of applause.

"Peace means that we have to bring our Taliban and other alienated brothers into a process of negotiations. Our second objective is to further improve and strengthen our relations with the world," Karzai said.

Karzai also promised improved governance and a renewed focus on reconstruction. His failures in those areas to date have made his administration unpopular while diminishing his personal appeal.

Chameleonic Leader

Born into an aristocratic Popalzai Pashtun family, the 52-year-old Karzai sometimes seems to be trying to be all things to all people across the Afghan political spectrum. He has welcomed Western-trained technocrats, warlords, mujahedin factional leaders, Afghan nationalists, and former communists to return to their homeland and work together.

Elizabeth Rubin, an American freelance reporter who spent many days at Karzai's Arg presidential palace this past winter, tells RFE/RL that it is difficult to define Karzai.

"He is very hard to pin down and especially now that he has become president," Rubin says. She adds that part of him is "very theatrical" and "really gets turned on by performance and by hearing himself on stage."

After the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, Karzai projected the image of a determined young Afghan leader, adopting a blue and green chapan cloak and a lambskin karakul hat as he took on the task of healing a deeply traumatized and fragmented Afghanistan.

But his eight-year journey -- starting when he was named Transitional Administration chairman in December 2001, including his time as interim president from June 2002, and through his presidential term that began in 2004 -- has received mixed reviews. His supporters credit him with providing democratic order under "the most progressive constitution in the Islamic world," as his official spokesman Humayun Hamidzada puts it.

Following the initial military success against the Taliban and the window of opportunity created by a new political order and aid dollars, the Afghan economy quickly began to bounce back. It still boasts a steady growth rate and a mushrooming private sector. Media outlets have flourished.

More than 5 million Afghan refugees have returned home since 2002, and a majority of its 33 million people have access to basic health care. Millions of Afghan children and youth now attend schools or universities.

The Taliban tried to turn the country into an Islamist caliphate, but Afghanistan now has a semblance of state institutions. The country remains high on the international agenda and has more international backing than at any point in its long and tumultuous history.

But other indicators paint a more pessimistic picture. Some 8 million Afghans still face food shortages, and insecurity is growing. Government corruption, joblessness, and impunity for the perpetrators of past crimes are among the most talked-about issues in Afghan homes and teahouses. This creates uncertainty and has led some pundits to predict doomsday scenarios.

Where To Turn?

Unlike many leaders in the region, Karzai enjoys a certain legitimacy as an elected leader. But he has always lacked the resources, real power, and authority to implement his policies.

Rubin suggests that many share the blame for the failures often attributed to Karzai alone.

"The blame goes in part to the way the [George W.] Bush administration worked with Karzai -- what they wanted from Afghanistan – [and] the way that they were distracted by Iraq," she says.

Rubin says she would blame Karzai for "not having a very clear vision and [not] pursuing specific goals." But she similarly blames NATO member states for failing to "get their act together to decide on one common goal for Afghanistan and have one common leadership."

"So you had countries going in and pushing him in different directions on the same issue whether it was drugs, Taliban, development [and] the police," she says.

Karzai claims Mohandas Gandhi and Pashtun pacifist Abdul Ghaffar Khan as his political models. But once in power he was surrounded with mujahedin commanders whose past atrocities lead Afghans to refer to them as warlords. Their return to power was subsequently bankrolled by the U.S.-led coalition, seemingly because of their value as military allies against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Karzai sought to distance himself from the warlords after winning election in 2004. But he soon discovered that he had no real power base and that the warlords were even more troublesome out of office. By the end of 2007, he had brought many associates of former prime minister and current insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into his fold to consolidate a power base.

'Big Tent' Approach

While it appeared that his honeymoon with the international community was over early this year, one of his key election maneuvers was to build a formidable alliance of regional warlords. In early May, Karzai chose powerful ethnic-Tajik commander Mohammad Qasim Fahim Khan as his running mate.

Khan explained Karzai's mujahedin dilemma during a recent campaign speech in northeastern Badakhshan Province. "During Karzai's elected term -- especially after having completed the first two years of his five-year elected term -- he used to say forcefully that 'the reasons for my decline and weakness are that I expelled the mujahedin from my government,'" Khan told supporters.

For his reelection bid, Karzai has continued to build alliances with warlords. Karim Khalili, his current deputy vice president and leader of a Hazara political and military faction, would retain that position in a new Karzai administration.

Among those campaigning for Karzai are Wahhabi leader Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, powerful ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Pashtun warlords Sher Muhammad Akhudzada and Gul Agha Sherzai.

Another warlord, Mohammad Mohaqiq, has declared public support for a new term for Karzai. Some minor political parties and tribal leaders also support him.

There are reports that Karzai secured the backing of many with promises of cabinet posts in a future administration.

Karzai calls his approach "Musharikat-e Milli," or national participation, and recently announced plans to hold a Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, to bring back Taliban and Hezb-i Islami to "find the ways for peace and security and put an end to foreign influence."

Rubin suggests this "big tent" approach might ultimately prove too inclusive to succeed.

"He has promised so much to so many different people and so many different factions that he is going to have a very hard time pursuing a vision," she says, "unless there is the inner Karzai that says, 'You know, I want to leave behind a legacy of change and peace and democracy and development.'"

His supporters, however, suggest that Karzai intimately understands his country, and that his approach is the best response to the complexities of governing Afghanistan.

In eastern Nangarhar Province, Pashtun tribal leader Malik Nyaz compared Karzai’s mission to building a sturdy Afghan house.

"Karzai took over power in Afghanistan at a time it was like a house whose four walls had fallen. Now how can Karzai fix those four walls in one or two years?" Nyaz asked. "What we have seen is that he has started rebuilding these walls and has built three with only one remaining [to be built]. If he is elected for another term, it's possible he will build that one remaining wall and bring Afghanistan together."

The question is whether Afghans are willing to stake their future on a leader who focuses on delivering peace, democracy, and development, and who worries less about keeping the country's notorious strongmen happy.
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Afghan Strategy More Than Counterinsurgency, Holbrooke Says
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Andrew F. Tully August 13, 2009
WASHINGTON - Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says an important part of Washington's strategy to defeated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is recognizing that Afghanistan doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Holbrooke made his comments at a forum in Washington on August 12 sponsored by the Center for American Progress, where he noted that Afghanistan shares a long border with Iran, which gives Iran significant influence in the western of the country.

In particular, Holbrooke pointed to Herat, a city in northwestern Afghanistan at one end of a major road that leads into Iran.

"We recognize geography and its realities," Holbrooke said. "You know that Herat is in a kind of a cultural, economic orbit with political influence from Iran. Iran has a legitimate role to play in the resolution of the Afghan issue. But whether they'll play it or not depends on a lot of other critical factors."

Holbrooke noted that Iran played a constructive role in helping Karzai establish a stable government when he was first elected president. And Iran also has been helpful with Pakistan, pledging $330 million to Islamabad at an international conference in Tokyo in April.

Beyond cultural, commercial, and political links, Holbrooke said, Iran has another important reason to play a constructive role in Afghanistan, and that is the growing of opium poppies by Afghan farmers, whose proceeds help finance the insurgency.

Holbrooke said some of the heroin that originates in Afghanistan goes to a growing number of customers in Iran.

"Iran has arguably the largest problem as a percentage of adult population of drug addiction in the world. And those drugs are coming across the Afghan border. And it is a major concern to them," he said.

'Legitimizing' The Government

Holbrooke said the Afghan drug problem also affects Russia. He pointed to the declaration signed last month in Moscow by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, when the Russian leader expressed concern about drug imports from Afghanistan and the effect it's been having on his country.

During the forum, Holbrooke also focused on Afghanistan's August 20 presidential elections and the U.S.-led effort to provide security for the vote. He said his team's political goals related to the election include contending with political corruption, establishing amnesty for former antigovernment guerrillas, and improving regional and local governance.

Holbrooke said none of these issues can be addressed properly until the citizens of Afghanistan, under the protection of NATO forces, choose a new government with a proper mandate.

"All of these issues are vitally important in an overall counterinsurgency effort. And we're working on them," Holbrooke said. "But until the election legitimizes the government -- whoever wins -- we have had to focus on [security for the election]."

Holbrooke said other elements of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan are helping the country establish sustainable agriculture, setting up legal institutions, and focusing drug interdiction not on poppy farmers, but on higher-level distributors.

In the end, though, Holbrooke conceded that there's no guarantee that this multifaceted strategy will succeed, only that the United States is "in this fight to succeed."
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U.S. troops may leave remote Afghan areas
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan say they're considering pulling troops from some of the country's more remote regions along the Pakistan border.

The rugged region along the Afghan-Pakistani border is a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

"These (outposts) are costly and dangerous and not doing much to bring security to the people or connect the people to their government," a U.S. official familiar with the region told McClatchy News Service. "The terrain is too rugged, the infrastructure -- and especially roads -- do not exist, and couldn't be built on short order, and the population is too low and too dispersed."

U.S. commanders said they once hoped that sending more troops to the area would be in concert with a Pakistani drive against the militants on its side of the border to deprive fighters of a sanctuary and prevent further infiltration into Pakistan, McClatchy reported Friday.

However, two senior U.S. officials said Pakistan has given no signal it is prepared to move against the militants in the area.

"There's no point swinging a hammer if there's no anvil there," one official said.
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Australia has no immediate plans to send troops to Afghanistan: FM
CANBERRA, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith revealed on Friday there were no immediate plans to commit additional troops to Afghanistan.

Australia had responded to a recent U.S. review of the security situation and a request from the Obama administration for extra forces ahead of the Afghan election on August 20, Smith said.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was reviewing the state of American and coalition forces after the election to assess force allocations.

"But from our perspective, we are substantially the largest non-NATO contributor," Smith told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio, adding that it was in Australia's national interest to have forces in Afghanistan.

There are now 1,550 Australian troops in Afghanistan, including 120 deployed recently to provide extra security for the election.

Two additional training teams will be deployed later this year.
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GERMANY: Opposition Builds Up Over Afghanistan
By Julio Godoy IPS-Inter Press Service
BERLIN, Aug 14 (IPS) - German writers and philosophers have begun to condemn military intervention in Afghanistan as an "invasion", a "mistake", and a "delusion".

In an essay titled 'Cowardice before our own people' last week in Der Spiegel weekly, philosopher and writer Richard David Precht ridiculed the argument of defence minister Franz Joseph Jung that the military mission in Afghanistan was not "a war".

The German government calls the military mission "a stabilisation operation." Precht said this wording deserves "a place of honour in the dictionary of stultification." The government's language, he says, is a symptom of "cowardice before its own people."

Precht's article appeared six weeks before the German parliamentary elections due in September. German military intervention in Afghanistan is debated in the media daily, but political parties, with the sole exception of the Left, are refusing to make it a campaign issue.

Precht's essay, and other recent publications criticising the German military mission in Afghanistan, breaks this coalition of silence about the war.

Germany has been participating in the war since its beginning in late 2001, shortly after the terror attacks of Sep. 11. The left-wing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens responded to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) call for intervention based on the "case for defence" that justifies retaliation when one of the group's members (in this case the U.S.) is attacked.

Peter Struck, who was defence minister in 2002, defended the war on the grounds that "Germany's homeland security is being defended in (the Afghan mountains of) Hindu Kush."

Some 4,800 German soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan. These include about 100 special forces soldiers participating in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in southern Afghanistan. About 4,400 soldiers are with the UN International Security Assistance Force (ISAR) in the north to protect development workers.

Precht, who said he wanted to expose "the dishonesty of the self-appointed 'human rights advocates' warmongers", describes German soldiers posted in Afghanistan as "more or less peaceful invaders."

Eric Chauvistré, a political scientist specialising in nuclear disarmament, has just published a book 'Wir Gutkrieger' ('We Noble Warriors') against the German military intervention in Afghanistan.

Chauvistré says in his book that the "German soldiers' most important mission in Afghanistan is to protect themselves." Half the German soldiers posted in Afghanistan almost never leave their camp during the four months of their deployment there.

"Sure enough, the world will not become a better place without the German army's missions abroad. But the (German military interventions) do not help either."

Precht says Western delusions in Afghanistan are leading to denial of the military mission's failures. These are evident among other ways in the expansion of poppy fields and increased production of heroine.

Precht calls for "a rebellion of German intellectuals" to demand withdrawal of German troops. The intellectuals, "supported by the majority of our people, should encourage the government to stop wasting billions of dollars and sending soldiers to their deaths."

According to official figures, Germany's military intervention in Afghanistan has cost 1.2 billion euros (1.65 billion dollars) since 2002. Since the beginning of the war, 35 German soldiers have been killed. Hundreds have been wounded, and many more suffer post traumatic stress disorder.

Precht's essay has provoked a wave of support for his argument. Roberto Zion, Green Party candidate for the next parliamentary elections, wrote Precht an open letter Aug. 10 supporting his call for a "rebellion of German intellectuals."

Zion says in the letter published in the Freitag weekly that "an appeal by German intellectuals is indeed urgently needed" to break with the "present coalition of the guilty, which tries to stop any political debate, especially during the present electoral campaign, on the absurdity of the war."

Zion's own Green party supports German participation in the war.

According to numerous opinion polls, the majority of Germans want troops withdrawn. In the most recent poll in early July, 62 percent of Germans said they wanted an immediate pullout of troops.

Precht's essay is only among the latest in several against the military intervention in Afghanistan. All share the view that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, and that the operation is repeating the mistake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the war in Vietnam in the 1960s.

In an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the weekly Die Zeit, Germany's most popular fiction writer Martin Walser said the German government's "justifications for the war become more grotesque by the hour." He urged Merkel to "declare peace" in Afghanistan and "gradually pull out our soldiers." (END/2009)
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Afghanistan Dispatch: Inside Kabul
Huffington Post Gilles Dorronsoro August 13, 2009
Throughout August, Carnegie's Gilles Dorronsoro will be traveling in Afghanistan, providing first-hand insights into the staggering challenges facing the country as it struggles to become a functioning democracy. With presidential elections nearly a week away, Dorronsoro starts his journey in Kabul, where many of the issues affecting the country -- ineffective governance, the Taliban's expanding influence, and a massive foreign presence -- are on stark display.

The attack earlier this week on Pul-i-Alam, only 50 kilometers from Kabul, exemplifies the next step in the Taliban's winning strategy in Afghanistan: destabilizing the cities in the country's Pashtun belt.

More than 10,000 foreigners live in or around this ancient and contested capital, enjoying a lifestyle as alien to most Afghans as that of a western city. But instead of securing the population, as the United States and its allies have attempted to do in Iraq, the international coalition has opted for providing limited protection to key administrative institutions and embassies--which took rocket fire from the Taliban last week. Around half the city center is off limits to regular citizens, causing frequent traffic jams and frustration among the Afghans.

The foreigners earn comparatively huge salaries, often do not pay taxes, and for the most part do not learn a local language. They are generally poorly trained to work in an Afghan context and are heavily reliant on local staff. Naturally, these characteristics exacerbate traditional Afghan suspicions of foreigners' motives, and aid in promulgating rumors and conspiracy theories. Many Afghans are convinced that the international coalition secretly supports the Taliban.

For obvious reasons, the Taliban put a high value on controlling Kabul, and they are now moving to penetrate the provinces of Logar and Wardak, which is immediately southeast of the capital region. These areas are ripe for Taliban infiltration, with the Pakistani border--now under their undisputed control--only 90 kilometers away.

The Taliban have systematically destabilized Logar and Wardak, which (outside the towns) are now largely under their control. The nearby Musayi district of Kabul province is also under increasing Taliban influence, and hundreds of Taliban propaganda DVDs have been distributed there in Qala-i Niyazi, a strategic town a few miles from Kabul. To the east, the Taliban and the Hezb-e Islami have a built a strong presence in Kapisa province. They also have considerable strength in the north of the Sarobi district of Paktika province to the south, along the border with Pakistan.

The Taliban capitalize on the growing discontent of Afghans through a relatively sophisticated propaganda apparatus, employing radio, video, and night letters to devastating effect. Videos made in as-Sahab, the Taliban's media center in Quetta, Pakistan, are readily available. Among the most popular are videos showing the seizure of NATO material in Khyber Agency in 2008, and the August 2008 ambush of a French military contingent in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban have also used the Internet, chronicling the advance of the jihad on various websites (with obvious exaggerations). Propaganda material, most often in the form of preachers calling for jihad against the international coalition, is often distributed by cell phone.

The U.S. reinforcements now being deployed to Afghanistan will, to the greatest extent possible, secure the road south of Kabul to Pul-i Alam and Gardez, but not necessarily the surrounding territory. The road is not secure at night, and in fact, in the east and south where the Taliban are dominant, few roads are secure at all.

NATO aims to block the advance of Taliban from Pakistan or the northeastern province of Nuristan toward Kabul, but it has so far had little effect. In Kapisa province, the French military became more cautious after the August 2008 ambush, and NATO has concocted a more global strategy to protect the area and the Sarobi district of Paktika to the south, along the border with Pakistan. In Kunar province, just south of Nuristan province, the border with Pakistan remains wide open, and U.S. forces have been deployed in a series of isolated posts, making it relatively simple for insurgents to infiltrate between them.

The Taliban are the dominant political force in numerous regions of Afghanistan, including Pashtun-majority provinces in the east and the south. Their strategy is to destroy the Afghan administration, isolate the international coalition, and build a parallel administration. In these provinces, the situation of the international forces is comparable to that of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, in that it is largely isolated at its posts, and operating with neither the support nor the acceptance of the Afghan population. The insurgents control the countryside and have a strong presence even inside important cities like Kandahar and Ghazni.

Outside the major cities, Afghan and coalition administration are nonexistent, and as is all too evident, even inside Kabul, they operate at a dangerous divide from the population.
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Poland needs more hardware, not men in Afghanistan: PM
Xinhua www.chinaview.cn 2009-08-13
WARSAW - The Polish military contingent in Afghanistan should be reinforced with more equipment, not more men, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday.

The prime minister admitted while meeting reporters that he was still studying new information on the incident earlier this week in Afghanistan which claimed the life of one Polish officer and left four soldiers wounded.

The Defense Ministry of Poland said on Tuesday that it is considering whether or not to send a 200-strong strategic reserve to Afghanistan.

Poland, responsible for security in Ghazni province, has deployed some 2,000 soldiers, part of the NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force International Security Assistance Force.

"There is every indication that we need to deploy more hardware there, not more men," Polish news agency PAP quoted Tusk as saying.

"I would like our soldiers to feel safe because they have enough helicopters and other modern transport vehicles, weaponry and an improved legal safeguards. In the present situation, when we do not have enough helicopters there, sending additional troops could further jeopardize their security instead of improving it," Tusk said.

Incidents like the latest one in Afghanistan make one wonder why the relatively big financial outlays on the Polish army are not spent in a way improving the safety and security of Polish soldiers, he added.

"For many years we have spent billions of zlotys for armaments and yet only a small fraction of this hardware proves itself in conditions of a real war, like in Afghanistan. Why?" Tusk asked.
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US: Mission Essential, Translators Expendable
By Pratap Chatterjee* IPS-Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 (IPS) - Basir "Steve" Ahmed was returning from a bomb-clearing mission in Khogyani district in northeastern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-filled vehicle nearby. The blast flipped the military armoured truck Ahmed was riding in three or four times, and filled it with smoke. The Afghan translator had been accompanying the 927th Engineer Company near the Pakistan border on that October day in 2008 that would forever change his life.

"I saw the gunner come out and I followed him. The U.S. Army soldiers helped pull me out, but I got burns," says Ahmed, who had worked as a contract translator with U.S. troops for almost four years. "The last thing I remember was the ‘dub-dub-dub’ of a Chinook helicopter." A medical evacuation team took the injured men to a U.S. Army hospital at Bagram Base.

Three days later Ahmed regained consciousness, but was suffering from shrapnel wounds in his scalp and severe burns covering his right hand and leg.

A little more than three months after his accident, Ahmed was fired by his employer, Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) of Columbus, Ohio - the largest supplier of translators to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. In a statement released to this reporter, the company said that Ahmed’s "military point of contact (POC) informed MEP that Basir was frequently late and did not show up on several occasions. A few days later, Basir’s POC called MEP’s manager and told her that they were not able to use him and requested a new linguist."

Ahmed says he missed only one day of work and arrived late twice.

Today, he lives in hiding in nearby Jalalabad for fear that his family will be targeted because he had worked with the U.S. military. The 29-year-old has no job and had to wait nine months for disability compensation to pay for medical treatment for the burns that still prevent him from lifting his hand to his mouth to feed himself.

Ahmed is one of dozens of local Afghans who have been abandoned or poorly treated by a complex web of U.S. contractors, their insurance companies, and their military counterparts despite years of service risking life and limb to help the U.S. military in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

"I Trust Him With My Life"

On a table inside a safe house in Kabul, Basir Ahmed placed dozens of photos, certificates of appreciation, and letters of recommendation from the U.S. military units he had worked with between 2005 and 2009. Some pictures showed him in Nuristan wearing T-shirts and wraparound sunglasses and sitting next to the sandbags and concrete barriers. In others, he stood in camouflage gear in the depths of winter next to a snowman.

For example, Sergeant David R. Head and First Lieutenant Candace N. Mathis of the Provincial Reconstruction Team at Task Force Spartan at the Kamdesh base wrote on Dec. 22, 2006 that: "his performance was superb and very professional. He works well as a linguist, and is always punctual."

On May 11, 2008, Ahmed received a certificate of appreciation from Lieutenant Colonel Anthony O. Wright of the 70th Engineer Battalion (Kodiaks) for his help as an interpreter during the road-clearing programme from 2006 to 2008.

It was just five months later, on a similar patrol with the 927th Engineer Company, that Ahmed was injured. At the Bagram Base, the military doctors did some skin grafts, but after about 11 days, sent him to an Afghan military hospital in Kabul. For two to three months he could not sleep properly - scaring his family when he woke up yelling.

Then Gabby Nelson - the MEP site manager - summoned Ahmed back to Jalalabad, where she had the military doctors look at him again. For about 15 days, they treated the burns. He had to report to the gate of the base at 7 a.m. in the middle of winter for Nelson to drive him to the hospital one kilometre away - too far to walk with his injuries. She was often an hour late, he said, a painful and cold delay, but when he asked her to be more punctual, she said she would stop picking him up. He stopped going to the hospital.

Two weeks later Ahmed says Nelson asked him to report for a 12-hour shift starting at 6 a.m. despite the doctors’ recommendation for a month’s rest. After working for the full month, he received 578 dollars, significantly less than the 845 dollars that he normally earned.

Then as luck would have it, he says, he missed work once and was late twice, because of delays on the road to the base, where the Afghan and U.S. forces often tied up traffic with their manoeuvres, he explained. Nelson told him to turn in his badge. He tried to appeal to the military, but they said they couldn’t help him - so he left the base on Jan. 24, 2009.

Soldiers who had previously worked with Ahmed, confirmed the certificates of appreciation and recommendations about his punctuality and the quality of his work. "He did his job diligently and willingly. He served with us during the most uncomfortable times, but never complained," said one soldier, who asked to remain anonymous.

Official Response

Ahmed’s employer - Ohio-based Mission Essential Personnel - was awarded a five-year contract in September 2007 by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). The contract, to provide 1,691 translators in Afghanistan, is worth up to 414 million dollars.

MEP spokesman Sean Rushton says that the company did the best it could to help Ahmed with his medical needs. "A desire to improve treatment of linguists is what began our company," said the spokesman.

Rushton and MEP’s senior management said that they were pained to hear that Basir was upset at being "let go."

"Anyone reading an account of a translator who was simply let go by a company after being wounded would of course be outraged at the company, but that not only isn’t true in this instance, exactly the opposite is the case," the company said in a statement released to the media.

"We have financial records showing seven disability and salary payments between his injury and the final settlement. It has been said Basir [Ahmed] received insufficient medical care, yet MEP employees not only ensured his medical coverage, they regularly took him to his treatment and got him into a U.S. military hospital," the company stated.

"It has been suggested Basir waited endlessly for his disability settlement, yet the funds arrived within six weeks of his rehabilitation’s conclusion. It has been suggested MEP forced Basir to return to work when he was still recuperating, yet MEP had no financial incentive to do so and in fact, at Basir’s request, MEP got him onto accommodated duty, free of physical hardship. It has been suggested MEP cut Basir loose after he was dismissed by his military supervisor, yet MEP was and is anxious to help Basir, including by considering him for a new job."

Reached by phone for his response to MEP’s statement, Ahmed says that he did get disability payments such as a check for 10,000 dollars sent to him in early July 2009 - nine months after he was injured. Yet he still feels that his employer and the military abandoned him.

But he has not been completely forgotten. About two months after leaving his job, he started receiving death threats. "Believe me, my family is too scared. One day I saw a night letter from the Taliban. They put it in our door: ‘You three brothers work for the U.S. Army. Quit your job. Otherwise we are going to kill your whole family,’" he says.

Like many of his colleagues, Ahmed had kept his employment a secret from his neighbours, he believes that the injuries provided a clue about the true nature of his occupation to Taliban sympathizers in the community.

(*This is the first of a two-part investigative series on translators in Afghanistan by Pratap Chatterjee.)
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Pakistan Helicopter Gunships Kill 11 Taliban
Reuters 14 Aug 2009
WANA, Pakistan - Pakistani gunship helicopters attacked Taliban bases on Thursday, killing 11 militants and keeping up pressure after the reported death of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a U.S. missile strike last week.

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said on Wednesday said there were signs of disarray within the group following the apparent death of Baitullah Mehsud.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's efforts to suppress Islamist militants on its side of the border are vital for a U.S.-led bid to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan, where Taliban have threatened to disrupt the August 20 presidential election.

Pakistani and U.S. officials are almost certain that Mehsud was killed along with his second wife and some bodyguards in a strike on his father-in-law's house in South Waziristan near the Afghan border on August 5.

But Mehsud's aides insist he is alive.

Pakistani helicopters attacked several bases run by Hakeemullah Mehsud, one of Mehsud's main commanders who is seen as a possible successor, in the Kurram and Orakzai ethnic Pashtun tribal regions northeast of Mehsud's South Waziristan powerbase.

"We have reports that eight militants have been killed," Fazal Rahim, a government official in Orakzai, told Reuters.

An intelligence official in the nearby Kurram region said three militants were killed in air strikes there.

Hours later, a pro-government Pashtun tribal elder and three other people were killed in a bomb attack in South Waziristan.

"He was travelling in his car when a suicide bomber riding a motorbike blew himself up," said an intelligence official in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan.

FACTIONS CLASH

The elder, Khadeen Wazir, one of his colleagues and two passers-by were killed, he added. Another security official said Wazir and four other people were killed in the blast set off by remote control.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack although Mehsud and his men have a long record of assassinating their pro-government rivals.

Clashes have broken out since Mehsud's reported killing between his men and members of a rival militant faction.

At least seven militants opposed to Mehsud were killed and four were abducted by Mehsud's men in an attack near South Waziristan on Wednesday.

Members of the faction opposed to Mehsud, which is led by a commander known as Turkestan Bitani, later attacked a village inhabited by Mehsud loyalists and abducted 15 men, intelligence officials and residents said.

Mehsud is leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, an alliance of about 13 militant groups.

He has been blamed for a wave of bomb and suicide attacks across Pakistan, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

His killing, if confirmed, would be a major blow for the Taliban in Pakistan.

Mehsud focussed his efforts on battling Pakistani security forces and analysts say he could be replaced by a commander more intent on driving Western forces out of Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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