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February 14, 2009 

US envoy meets Afghan president amid tensions
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press February 14, 2009
KABUL – President Barack Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan met with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday amid a downturn in U.S.-Afghan relations.

Mullen: US has to gain Afghan citizens' trust
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press February 14, 2009
WASHINGTON – As the Obama administration considers a troop buildup in Afghanistan, the top American military officer says the war will be lost if the U.S. can't find a way to protect the Afghan people and gain their trust.

Afghan, U.S. military agree on further coordination to avoid civilian casualties
KABUL, Feb 14, 2009 (Xinhua) - The government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led Coalition forces have agreed to work in harmony in order to avoid harming non-combatants, a joint press release issued here Saturday said.

Suspected US missile strike kills 27 in Pakistan
By STEPHEN GRAHAM Associated Press February 14, 2009
ISLAMABAD – Dozens of followers of Pakistan's top Taliban commander were in a compound when a suspected U.S. missile attack hit Saturday, killing 27 militants in an al-Qaida stronghold near the Afghan border, officials said.

West risks repeating Soviet mistakes in Afghanistan
By Abdul Saboor
ALI MARDAN, Afghanistan, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The foreign warplanes swooped in just as the Afghan village of Ali Mardan was celebrating a wedding.

Soviet vets, 20 years on, warn Obama on Afghanistan
By Conor Humphries – Sat Feb 14, 7:05 am ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Soviet veterans marking 20 years since their defeat in Afghanistan warned the United States it would never truly control the country, citing bitter memories of a fiercely proud people and unforgiving landscape.

Russians warn of Afghan parallels
Saturday, 14 February 2009 BBC News
As Russia marks the 20th anniversary of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, officials in Moscow are warning that US and Nato-led forces are making exactly the same mistakes as the Soviet Union made when it invaded the country in 1979.

Nato is deeper in its Afghan mire than Russia ever was
Two decades after the Soviet withdrawal, ever more resources are being poured into a war with scant chance of success
The Guardian Jonathan Steele Saturday 14 February 2009
Twenty years ago tomorrow the last Soviet units left Afghanistan after a nine-year intervention that took 15,000 soldiers' lives. As they crossed the river Oxus I was in the air above them, the only foreign journalist to fly to Kabul that day.

Going the Distance
The war in Afghanistan isn't doomed. We just need to rethink the insurgency.
The Washington Post By Seth G. Jones Sunday, February 15, 2009
On the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, lies the Kabre Ghora graveyard. It is believed to contain the graves of 158 British soldiers, diplomats and their families who died in the city during the Anglo-Afghan

Bombs kill Afghan district chief, four police
Sat Feb 14, 4:15 am ET
KABUL (AFP) – A roadside bomb killed a district chief in eastern Afghanistan Saturday while four policemen died in another blast blamed on Taliban insurgents in the volatile south, police said.

Norway to provide financial support for Afghanistan election
STOCKHOLM, Feb 14, 2009 (Xinhua) - Norway will provide financial support for the Afghanistan presidential election to ensure there is a larger degree of independence, according to reports reaching here from Oslo on Saturday.

The Surge Afghanistan Needs
The Wall Street Journal - Opinion By ANN MARLOWE FEBRUARY 13, 2009
More local security forces and a better constitution are keys to success.

Big Picture in Afghanistan
New York Times, United States By Peter Catapano February 13, 2009
In the Washington Post today, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that a recent cover story in Newsweek suggesting that Afghanistan might become “Obama's Vietnam”

Afghan cop a rarity in force rife with corruption
By Archie McLean Canwest News Service February 14, 2009
ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- The line of cars on the dusty Afghan road is growing longer. It's the equivalent of morning rush hour here and villagers are becoming impatient with the delay of their shopping trips.

Anyone But Karzai?
The Washington Post By Max Boot 02/13/2009
The Push for New Afghan Leadership Misses the Big Picture

Afghan TV stations find censorship line is blurry
By HEIDI VOGT Associated Press February 14, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The young Afghan woman in a headscarf spends all day staring at other women's bodies and Hindu idols on her computer screen, then covering them up.

Afghan-Born German Gets Life for Honor Killing of Sister
Deutsche Welle 02/13/2009
In a case described by prosecutors as an "honor killing," an Afghan-born man was sentenced on Friday by a Hamburg court to life in prison for having stabbed his own sister to death.

Karzai's Great Gamble
IWPR By Jean MacKenzie 02/13/2009
It all started with Dost Mohammad Khan.
In 1838, the wily Afghan emir, disappointed in his British allies, chose to flirt with his powerful northern neighbours, the Russians. The Russians were only too happy to oblige, but it cost Dost Mohammad dearly.

Afghan diplomat Mohammed Fagirad charged in all-day wife beating
New York Daily News - NY Local BY Nicole Bode Saturday, February 14th 2009
An Afghan diplomat was charged Friday with beating his wife "like a dog" for more than 15 hours in their Queens home, prosecutors said.

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US envoy meets Afghan president amid tensions
By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press February 14, 2009
KABUL – President Barack Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan met with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday amid a downturn in U.S.-Afghan relations.

Karzai says he still has not spoken with Obama almost a month after his inauguration, a sign the Afghan president no longer enjoys the favored status he had under former President George W. Bush.

"There is tension between us and the U.S. government on issues of civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans, nightly raids on homes and the casualties they cause," Karzai told al-Jazeera television in an interview Friday.

Obama has said the U.S. will increase its attention on Afghanistan under his tenure as the U.S. transitions out of Iraq. But the administration is still debating how to stem the Taliban tide and tackle the endemic corruption in Karzai's government more than seven years after the 2001 invasion.

Taliban militants have increased attacks and swept up wide areas of countryside over the last three years. The U.S. is contemplating sending up to 30,000 more American forces to back up the 33,000 already in Afghanistan.

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met with Karzai at the heavily guarded presidential palace in central Kabul on Saturday. Neither Holbrooke nor Karzai made any public statements.

Holbrooke earlier met with Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, whose spokesman said Holbrooke reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the anti-terrorism fight, reconstruction projects and the training of Afghan forces. Holbrooke has met with Afghan officials, international military leaders and U.N. diplomats during a fact-finding trip that began Thursday.

Holbrooke has made no public comments during the Afghan leg of his trip. He previously visited Pakistan and also is to stop in India.

Karzai in recent weeks has publicly pressed the U.S. to use Afghan troops on nighttime raids in order to prevent civilian casualties. Karzai's public criticism of the raids and the civilian deaths caused by U.S. troops has added to recent tensions in the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

The U.S. military and Afghan Defense Ministry announced Thursday that Afghan officials and troops would take greater part in U.S. missions, particularly night raids.

"There will be better coordination to minimize risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan homes and conduct arrest operations," a joint U.S.-Afghan statement said. It wasn't yet clear how soon Afghans would be placed on those missions.

U.S. Special Operations Forces conduct targeted night raids against known militant leaders, but the operations have resulted in many Afghan civilian deaths, an issue that has increasingly angered Karzai.

The specially trained U.S. forces typically enter Afghan villages at night and call out for their target to surrender. But innocent villagers often try to defend their neighbors' homes from what they fear are Taliban attackers or hostile tribesmen, and the U.S. forces end up killing innocent Afghans.

The top American military officer, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, said the war will be lost if the U.S. can't find a way to protect the Afghan people and gain their trust.

"We can send more troops. We can kill or capture all the Taliban and al-Qaida leaders we can find — and we should. We can clear out havens and shut down the narcotics trade. But until we prove capable, with the help of our allies and Afghan partners, of safeguarding the population, we will never know a peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan," he wrote in a column posted on The Washington Post's Web site Saturday.

In the latest civilian deaths case, Australia's ambassador to Afghanistan sent a letter of apology on Saturday to Karzai for the deaths of five Afghan children in an Australian military mission Thursday.

In the latest violence, three separate roadside bombs killed seven police and a government official in a spate of attacks around Afghanistan, officials said.

A bomb in Khost province on Saturday killed the chief government official in Nadir Shah Kot district. A day earlier, a bomb elsewhere in Khost killed three border police while four policeman were killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar province to the south.

Taliban militants frequently target Afghan police in their attacks. Police have less training and carry fewer weapons than the Afghan army or U.S. or NATO troops. Close to 900 police have died in militant attacks in each of the last two years.
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Mullen: US has to gain Afghan citizens' trust
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press February 14, 2009
WASHINGTON – As the Obama administration considers a troop buildup in Afghanistan, the top American military officer says the war will be lost if the U.S. can't find a way to protect the Afghan people and gain their trust.

"We can send more troops. We can kill or capture all the Taliban and al-Qaida leaders we can find — and we should. We can clear out havens and shut down the narcotics trade. But until we prove capable, with the help of our allies and Afghan partners, of safeguarding the population, we will never know a peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan," the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, wrote in a newspaper column.

Mullen also said that U.S. forces have to gain the trust of the people in Afghanistan. The insurgency won't ever end if U.S. forces accidentally kill civilians in the country or give people reasons to think badly of the United States, according to Mullen's column posted on The Washington Post's Web site Saturday and set to be published Sunday.

"That's why images of prisoner maltreatment at Abu Ghraib still serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaida," Mullen said. "And it's why each civilian casualty for which we are even remotely responsible sets back our efforts to gain the confidence of the Afghan people months, if not years."

The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has come to symbolize American abuse of some prisoners captured in Iraq, after the release of photos showing U.S. soldiers sexually humiliating inmates at the facility. The scandal stoked support for the insurgency and was one of the biggest setbacks to the U.S. military effort to win the peace in Iraq.

Mullen's comments come as Pentagon military leaders are recommending that President Barack Obama overhaul U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Obama has said the U.S. will increase its attention on Afghanistan under his tenure as the U.S. transitions out of Iraq. But the administration is debating how to stem the Taliban tide and tackle the endemic corruption in the Kabul government more than seven years after the 2001 invasion.

There has been a downturn in relations between the two countries, with President Hamid Karzai complaining Saturday about "civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans, nightly raids on homes and the casualties they cause."

"Lose the people's trust, and we lose the war," Mullen said. "The strategy reviews for Afghanistan recognize this and seek military, economic, political, diplomatic and informational approaches to regaining that trust. "

Mullen also said that the United States must work throughout the region with other countries, including Pakistan, to combat extremists.

"Afghanistan and Pakistan are fighting a common foe," he said. "Extremists punish both nations for their attempts to resist an increasingly violent ideology. Any effective strategy must be inclusive of the security challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if not also the countries surrounding them."
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Afghan, U.S. military agree on further coordination to avoid civilian casualties
KABUL, Feb 14, 2009 (Xinhua) - The government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led Coalition forces have agreed to work in harmony in order to avoid harming non-combatants, a joint press release issued here Saturday said.

"In an ongoing endeavor to increase partnered operations and develop Afghan capability to defeat terrorists and adversaries the officials have agreed to include more Afghan representatives in the planning and execution of counter-terrorism missions, with more attention to night operations, actions in populated areas and searches," the press release added.

"There will be better coordination to minimize risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan and conduct arrest operations," it said.

This agreement occurred in the wake of strong criticism by Afghan people particularly President Hamid Karzai over the past couple of years.

The joint press release issued after conducting a series of consultations and discussions between Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and the U.S. General David McKiernan the commander of both U.S. and NATO troops serving in Afghanistan.

According to news reports, from January to August in 2008, a total of 1,445 civilian casualties has recorded. This represents an increase of almost 39 percent on the 1040 civilian deaths recorded in the same period on 2007 during military operations against Taliban-linked insurgency.

Afghan President in a stern warning said last month that civilian casualties would not be tolerated anymore.

He also stressed that search of suspected houses must be conducted by Afghans or in coordination with Afghan authorities.

"We will work together as a team to defeat a common enemy. It is in the collective national security interests of the Afghans and coalition to secure Afghanistan, with more and more of that security being accomplished by ANSF (Afghanistan National Security Forces) over time.

Afghan President said that harming civilians would neither serve the Afghan government nor the U.S.-led war on terror. "Maintaining the support of the Afghan people is essential to defeating the terrorists," said the joint press release.
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Suspected US missile strike kills 27 in Pakistan
By STEPHEN GRAHAM Associated Press February 14, 2009
ISLAMABAD – Dozens of followers of Pakistan's top Taliban commander were in a compound when a suspected U.S. missile attack hit Saturday, killing 27 militants in an al-Qaida stronghold near the Afghan border, officials said.

The strike appeared to be the deadliest yet by the American drone aircraft that prowl the frontier, and defied Pakistani warnings that the tactic is fueling extremism in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.

In an interview unrelated to the attack, President Asif Ali Zardari said the Taliban had expanded their presence to a "huge amount" of Pakistan and were even eyeing a takeover of the state.

"We're fighting for the survival of Pakistan. We're not fighting for the survival of anybody else," Zardari said, according to a transcript of his remarks that CBS television said it would air Sunday.

Many Pakistanis believe the country is fighting Islamist militants, who have enjoyed state support in the past, only at Washington's behest.

Remotely piloted U.S. aircraft are believed to have launched more than 30 attacks over the past year, and American officials say al-Qaida's leadership and ability to support the insurgency in Afghanistan has been significantly weakened. But Pakistani officials say the vast majority of the victims are civilians.

After Saturday's strike, Taliban fighters surrounded the flattened compound in the village of Shrawangai Nazarkhel and carried away the dead and wounded in several vehicles. The village is in South Waziristan, part of the tribally governed area along the Afghan frontier considered the likely redoubt of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

The victims included about 15 ethnic Uzbek militants and several Afghans, said Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The seniority of the militants was unclear.

Two of the officials said dozens of followers of Pakistan's top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, were staying in the housing compound when it was hit. There was no indication that Mehsud was present.

Pakistan's former government and the CIA have named Mehsud as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani officials accuse him of harboring foreign fighters, including Central Asians linked to al-Qaida, and of training suicide bombers.

The accounts of Saturday's strike could not be verified independently. The tribally governed region is unsafe for reporters. The U.S. Embassy had no comment, while Pakistan's army spokesman was unavailable.

The new U.S. administration has brushed off Pakistani criticism that the missile strikes fuel extremist and anti-American sentiment and undercuts the government's own counterinsurgency strategy.

"The government is doing everything possible to stop it and I hope that America listens to the voice of the people of Pakistan," Pakistan's Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Saturday.

Yet many analysts suspect Pakistan has quietly agreed to the attacks in order not to endanger billions of dollars in American and Western support for its powerful military and its ailing economy.

The pro-Western government in Islamabad, led by Bhutto widower Zardari, has signed peace deals with tribal leaders in the northwest while launching a series of military operations against hard-liners.

However, government forces are bogged down on several fronts in the northwest, and Taliban militants have sustained a campaign that has included a string of abductions and other attacks on foreigners.

On Friday, the kidnappers of an American employee of the United Nations threatened to kill him within 72 hours and issued a grainy 20-second video of the blindfolded John Solecki saying he was "sick and in trouble."

Gunmen seized Solecki on Feb. 2 after shooting his driver to death as they drove to work in Quetta, a southwestern city near the Afghan border.

The kidnappers identified themselves as the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front, indicating a link to local separatists rather than to Islamist militants.

Fears for Solecki's safety are intense after Taliban militants apparently beheaded an abducted Polish geologist in early February. A U.N. statement said it was aware of the kidnappers' demand for the release of 141 women allegedly held in Pakistan and was seeking "urgent contact to discuss ways of securing his safe release."

Malik said the international community should know that the demands were "highly unrealistic."

"I have shared that list of 141 women with authorities and all intelligence agencies. It does not have any reality," he told reporters in Quetta.

Malik said authorities trying to free Solecki were following strong leads and he was hopeful they would succeed.
___
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.
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West risks repeating Soviet mistakes in Afghanistan
By Abdul Saboor
ALI MARDAN, Afghanistan, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The foreign warplanes swooped in just as the Afghan village of Ali Mardan was celebrating a wedding.

Bombs slammed into the crowded village square, killing 30 men, women and children. After the smoke cleared and the dead were buried, all the able-bodied men left alive took up arms against the invaders.

That was 1982 and the warplanes belonged to the Soviet Union, but 20 years after the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan on Sunday, U.S. and NATO troops are all too often making the same mistakes and could run the same risk of being driven out.

A string of bungled U.S. and NATO air strikes killed 455 Afghan civilians last year, according to the United Nations. Wedding parties seem to be particularly at risk, perhaps due to the crowds of people, some of them firing weapons in the air.

U.S. planes bombed two Afghan weddings last year alone.

Memories are long in Afghanistan and revenge is a duty.

In the mud-brick homes of Ali Mardan, close to the Afghan capital Kabul, villagers still visit the graves of those killed in the Soviet bombardment and keep photographs of the dead to remind the living of the cruelty of war.

"I was nine years-old. It was early in the morning during my sister's wedding when the jets bombed us," said Abdul Bashir.

"You can see I lost one of my eyes, and my teeth. My brother was wounded. My sister, father and my aunt were martyred," he said. "I can never forget."

QUAGMIRE
Soviet leaders were at first reluctant to respond to repeated requests from Kabul's Marxist government to send troops to help quash resistance from rural Islamic fighters, fearing getting bogged down in Afghanistan, just as the British had in the 19th Century.

But on Dec. 25, 1979, hundreds of Soviet tanks rumbled across the border into northern Afghanistan and large numbers of airborne troops landed at Kabul airport.

Despite deploying up to 120,000 soldiers, supported by 300,000 Afghan government forces, the Soviets failed to crush the insurgency by Afghan mujahideen fighters who were backed by U.S. guns and money and had bases inside neighbouring Pakistan.

Some 15,000 Soviet troops were killed before Moscow decided the war could not be won and pulled out its forces in 1989. By that time, 1 million Afghans had lost their lives and another 5 million become refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The tables are now turned and the United States is considering whether to send another 25,000 troops to add to the nearly 70,000 Western forces locked in a bitter stalemate with Taliban-led insurgents in south and eastern Afghanistan.

"I tell you this for sure, that if NATO and America put all their attention on fighting, and invest only in the military, they will not win," former mujahideen leader and ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani told Reuters.

PEACE THOUGH PROGRESS?
President Barack Obama's new administration is also planning a large increase in spending on development assistance to Afghanistan, more than seven years after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of one of the poorest countries in the world.

But the Soviets also tried to bring progress to deeply conservative and traditional Afghanistan and in many ways their record was more impressive than that of the West so far.

Most of Afghanistan's roads, ministries, major schools and hospitals were Soviet-built. Even now, many of the upper echelons of the civil service, army and police are Soviet trained.

The rows of apartment blocks around Kabul were all built by the Soviets. Though many are now shabby and pock-marked with bullet holes from the civil war, they are still highly prized as no public housing has been built since.

"These residential buildings are the achievement of the Russians," said Abdul Ghani Rahpore, who lives in one of the blocks. "Now there are 40 countries stationed in this country but they haven't made any achievements that benefit the people."

But any gains the Soviets made through development and building the Afghan government's capacity were scuppered by the resentment and anger their devastating bombing raids caused.

That is a lesson U.S. and NATO forces should learn from the experience of their former Cold War adversary.

"I don't think NATO has fully understood just how serious this issue is," said a Kabul-based Western analyst. "They certainly have done what they can to try to avoid civilian casualties from air strikes, but I just don't think they have grasped how central it is to informing the views of the nation."

Added Rabbani: "There have already been some mistakes during military operations and the mistakes are continually being repeated. This is the same mistake the Soviets made." (Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Dean Yates)
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Soviet vets, 20 years on, warn Obama on Afghanistan
By Conor Humphries – Sat Feb 14, 7:05 am ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Soviet veterans marking 20 years since their defeat in Afghanistan warned the United States it would never truly control the country, citing bitter memories of a fiercely proud people and unforgiving landscape.

The withdrawal of the last Soviet troops from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989 ended a decade of fighting that killed an estimated 15,000 Soviet troops and convinced a generation of soldiers they had been sent to fight a war they could not win.

The United States, preparing to pour more troops into Afghanistan to fight a growing Taliban-led insurgency, is reliving their nightmare, they said.

"It's like fighting sand. No force in the world can get the better of the Afghans," said Oleg Kubanov, a stocky 47-year-old former officer with the Order of the Red Star pinned to his chest at an anniversary concert in Moscow.

"It's their holy land, it doesn't matter to them if you're Russian, American. We're all soldiers to them."

Thousands of veterans, some in dress suits, some in combats, gathered Friday for a lavish concert organized by Moscow City Hall. As they embraced and posed for pictures before the show, many cited America's troubles as proof their campaign in Afghanistan had been hopeless from the start.

Reports that U.S. President Barack Obama plans to boost U.S. forces there to 60,000 revived bitter memories for members of the Soviet deployment that steadily climbed to a peak of more than 100,000 troops as the insurgency deepened in the mid-1980s.

There are 36,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan today, split between the 55,000-strong NATO force and separate U.S. missions, both charged with protecting a transitional government from Taliban forces.

"Numbers don't solve anything," said Shamil Tyukteyev, 59, who lead a regiment in Afghanistan from 1986-88. "You can't put a soldier outside every house or a base on every mountain. We saw it ourselves, the more troops, the more resistance."

PULL OUT
Soviet tanks and troops rolled into Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a puppet Communist government in Kabul.

But hopes of a swift victory were dashed as Soviet forces found themselves bogged down in a guerrilla war waged by a fierce mujahideen force that was backed by U.S. arms and money and had access to bases in neighboring Pakistan.

After a decade of pouring in more and more troops and money, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a withdrawal in 1989.

"They'll send more in and they'll lose more," Andrei Bandarenko, 42, a former special forces officer, said of the U.S. plans. "What does Obama know about the situation on the ground. We had our own fool, Gorbachev, who knew even less."

Two decades on, Bandarenko is still bitter at being forced to withdraw through the mountains in mid-winter temperatures of minus 27 degrees Celsius -- a trip he sketched for friends on a commemorative map pinned to the wall of the concert hall buffet.

The Soviet military leadership, he said, never came to terms with the difficulties of fighting a native force in barren mountains where temperatures could dive from 40 degrees Celsius to freezing within hours.

Like the United States, the Soviet Union tried to mold Afghanistan into a unified state, papering over an ancient web of tribal and ethnic rivalries, he said.

"There is no common language between the ethnic groups, between the clans," he said. "They are impossible to control."

The United States has rejected comparisons with the Soviet failure, saying that by battling Islamic militants and establishing a democratic society based on the rule of law it is bringing freedom to a country Moscow sought to subjugate.

That brought a wry smile from former helicopter pilot instructor Gurgen Karapetyan, 73.

"We went in with good aims too," he said. Soviet soldiers were told Communism would provide schools, roads and electricity, transforming a primitive society.

"I believed we could help the people, make their lives better," he said. "The Americans want to give them democracy, but they don't want it. They live by their own rules."

Yury Shaidurov, a 47-year-old former solider with tightly cropped grey hair and a chest full of medals, said the best lesson the United States could take from the Soviet experience two decades ago was to simply accept defeat.

"They'll never win," he said. "They have to run before it is too late."

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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Russians warn of Afghan parallels
Saturday, 14 February 2009 BBC News
As Russia marks the 20th anniversary of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, officials in Moscow are warning that US and Nato-led forces are making exactly the same mistakes as the Soviet Union made when it invaded the country in 1979.

The BBC's Richard Galpin has been speaking to experts and veterans, who remember the withdrawal after 10 years of occupation as a traumatic and humiliating experience.

Lt Gen Ruslan Aushev, a Hero of the Soviet Union, sports a moustache that hangs over his mouth like a heavy velvet curtain.

But from the dark morass emerge words of precision and directness that befit a much-decorated commander of the Soviet military venture in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"We were there for 10 years and we lost more than 14,000 soldiers, but what was the result? Nothing," he tells me as we sit in his office on one of central Moscow's most fashionable streets.

"[After the Soviet withdrawal] there was a second civil war and then the Taleban appeared. We wanted to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, but in fact everything got worse," he adds.

Such frank admissions of failure are common amongst the Russian veterans who are attending a series of commemorative events this weekend, exactly 20 years after the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan.

Experts say the Soviet government under Leonid Brezhnev had assumed their invasion in December 1979 would bring rapid results, stabilising the fledgling communist government in Kabul and thus ensuring the loyalty of an important neighbouring country at the height of the Cold War.

But instead of being able to leave within six months, the Soviet forces became bogged down in a protracted conflict with a tough and well-armed guerrilla force which received massive assistance from the West and the Muslim world.

Some of the Mujahideen, as the loosely-aligned groups of rebels became known, were radical Islamists for whom the fight against the godless communists was a jihad.

And crucially, the rebels enjoyed the support of the population.

Bitter experience

Now just 20 years later, the Russians are looking with astonishment at the way the US and Nato-led forces are waging their war in Afghanistan.

The view from Moscow is that the Western forces have learned nothing from the bitter experience of the Soviet Union.

Instead, they are falling into exactly the same trap.

One prime example is the current plan by the US to send tens of thousands of extra troops.

"Doubling their forces won't lead to a solution on the ground," says Col Oleg Kulakov, who served twice in Afghanistan and is now a lecturer and historian in Moscow.

"The conflict cannot be solved by military means, it's an illusion," he adds.

"No-one can reach any political goal in Afghanistan relying on military force. Frankly speaking, they are doomed to repeat our mistakes."

Parallels

There are many striking parallels.

Once again, invading foreign forces in Afghanistan are trying to stabilise a foreigner-friendly government.

Once again, they are facing a rebellion by Islamist militants who just happen to have a different generic name this time, "the Taleban".

Once again, the rebellion is growing in strength and has increasing support from the population as the occupation drags on inflicting a mounting number of civilian casualties.

Sir Roderick Braithwaite a former British ambassador to Moscow, fears that the US and Nato-led intervention in Afghanistan could prove to be as disastrous as that of the Soviet Union.

"We went in with a limited objective to start with, but like the Russians hoping that they could build socialism in Afghanistan, we hoped we could build democracy," he says.

"We haven't got enough troops there to dominate the territory and we have a government in Kabul whose authority barely runs inside the capital, let alone outside it."

"We have no long-term strategy and unlike the Russians we have been there for eight years without even beginning to plan to leave," he adds.

But other experts are not quite so apocalyptic.

"The mission now is quite different from the Soviet war," says Gregory Feifer, who has just written a book on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.

"Crucially even seven years into the occupation, there a critical mass of Afghans who still want the mission to succeed... there is still a small window of opportunity left."
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Nato is deeper in its Afghan mire than Russia ever was
Two decades after the Soviet withdrawal, ever more resources are being poured into a war with scant chance of success
The Guardian Jonathan Steele Saturday 14 February 2009
Twenty years ago tomorrow the last Soviet units left Afghanistan after a nine-year intervention that took 15,000 soldiers' lives. As they crossed the river Oxus I was in the air above them, the only foreign journalist to fly to Kabul that day.

Russian friends in Moscow, where I was this newspaper's correspondent, doubted my sanity, convinced a bloodbath was bound to follow the Soviet exodus. I disagreed. The secular regime under Mohammed Najibullah that the Kremlin left behind had a firmer base than many outsiders realised, thanks in part to support from Kabulis who feared chaos and blood-letting if the mujahideen won the civil war.

Two decades later the ironies of America's war in Afghanistan are telling. When Richard Holbrooke, the new US envoy to the region, visited the country this week he may not have been aware of the Soviet anniversary. But the US-led intervention is already almost as long. At this stage of their war the Russians were preparing to leave. Now the US and Nato want to get further in, and if Barack Obama's plans for 30,000 extra US troops are met, along with efforts to get more from Nato, coalition forces will almost equal the 115,000 troops the Russians had at their peak.

Western casualties are considerably less, but Nato has been more successful. Like the Russians, the western alliance mainly occupies Kabul and provincial capitals. The countryside is vulnerable to attack or in the hands of the resistance - a mixture of Islamic fundamentalists, Pashtun nationalists, local tribal chiefs and mullahs, and Arab jihadis - just like the mujahideen who confronted the Russians. The difference is that the west and Pakistan supported and armed them in the 1980s. Now, using the profits of heroin-running, they are self-sustaining and harder to control.

Nato faces tougher challenges than the Russians. Twenty years ago the Taliban did not exist, suicide bombing was not in vogue, and the Afghan army and police were more effective. Kabul under Soviet rule was an oasis of calm, where girls went to school and unveiled young women attended university. The mujahideen fired occasional rockets into the city but caused too little damage to upset normal life. Note the contrast with today's siren-screaming armoured convoys and western offices hidden behind high walls and sandbags, and still the Taliban were able to attack three government buildings a few days ago.

The Soviet invasion violated international law and was condemned by the UN. But its goals were more modest than the US's in 2001. Moscow was not seeking regime change. It was trying to prop up a regime under threat from a mounting civil war. Although western hawks claimed the Kremlin planned to advance through Afghanistan to seize warm water ports in the Gulf, the true aim was limited. Moscow wanted to defend an allied government, contain the mujahideen (who were getting CIA support before Soviet troops invaded), and prevent Afghanistan becoming a pro-western bastion. This was shortly after the US was expelled from Iran and the Kremlin feared Washington wanted Afghanistan as its replacement.

Getting out was easier for Moscow than it will be for the US. International negotiations in Geneva gave the Kremlin the face-saver of "parallelism". The peace terms were that the Russians would leave when aid to the mujahideen ceased and an intra-Afghan dialogue was launched. This disguised any appearance of defeat. It even provided a good chance for the Afghan government to continue after Soviet troops withdrew. In fact, it lasted three more years.

The causes and consequences of the Soviet withdrawal and Najibullah's eventual fall have led to some of the phoniest myths of the cold war. Claims that US-provided Stinger missiles forced the Russians to give up and that this humiliation provoked the Soviet Union's collapse are nonsense. Moscow's ally Najibullah fell four months after the USSR died, when the Kremlin's new ruler, Boris Yeltsin, cut fuel supplies to the Afghan army and Abdul Rashid Dostum, the leading Uzbek commander, defected to the mujahideen. Until that moment, they had not captured and held a single city.

Another myth is that the west "walked away" after the Russians left. If only it had. Instead Washington and Pakistan broke the Geneva agreement by maintaining arms supplies to the mujahideen. They encouraged them to reject Najibullah's repeated efforts at national reconciliation. The mujahideen wanted all-out victory, which they eventually got, only to squander it in an orgy of artillery shelling that left Kabul in ruins and produced the anger that paved the way for the Taliban. If western governments are now paying a high price in Afghanistan, they have brought the disaster on themselves.

The Taliban will not drive Nato out militarily. The notion that Afghans always defeat foreigners is wrong. The real lesson of the Soviet war is that in Afghanistan political and cultural disunity can slide into massive and prolonged violence. Foreigners intervene at their peril.

Nato is in a cleft stick and the idea that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is the "right war" is a self-deluding trap. A military "surge", the favoured Obama policy, may produce short-term local advances but no sustainable improvement, and as yesterday's Guardian reported, it will cost the US and Britain enormous sums. Pouring in aid will take too long to win hearts and minds, and if normal practice is followed, the money will mainly go to foreign consultants and corrupt officials. Talking to the Taliban makes sense under Najibullah-style national reconciliation. But the Taliban themselves are disunited, with a host of local leaders and generational divisions between "new" and "old" Taliban. Worse still, since the war spilt into Pakistan's frontier regions, there are now Pakistani Taliban.

What of the better option, a phased Nato withdrawal? It will not produce benefits as clear or immediate as the US pull-out from Iraq. Most Iraqis never wanted the US in the first place. They know the destruction the invasion brought, have stepped back from sectarian war, and now have a government which has pressed Washington to set a timetable to leave. In Afghanistan the risks of a collapse of central rule and a long civil war are far greater.
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Going the Distance
The war in Afghanistan isn't doomed. We just need to rethink the insurgency.
The Washington Post By Seth G. Jones Sunday, February 15, 2009
On the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, lies the Kabre Ghora graveyard. It is believed to contain the graves of 158 British soldiers, diplomats and their families who died in the city during the Anglo-Afghan wars of 1839-1842 and 1879-1880. The name comes from the term Afghans use to describe British soldiers: "Ghora."

The original British gravestones have disappeared except for the remnants of 10, which have been preserved and relocated to a spot against the cemetery's southern wall. I have been to Kabre Ghora several times, but on my most recent visit, I noticed something new -- a memorial honoring soldiers from the United States, Canada and Europe who have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

Afghanistan has a reputation as a graveyard of empires, based as much on lore as on reality. This reputation has contributed to a growing pessimism that U.S. and NATO forces will fare no better there than did the Soviet and British armies, or even their predecessors reaching back to Alexander the Great. The gloom was only stoked by last week's brazen suicide attacks in Kabul on the eve of a visit by Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But it would be irresponsible to concede defeat. Yes, the situation is serious, but it's far from doomed. We can still turn things around if we strive for a better understanding of the Afghan insurgency and work to exploit its many weaknesses.

Media reports have inflated the insurgency's strength. A recent Newsweek cover article branded Afghanistan "Obama's Vietnam," arguing that the country has been infiltrated by a dangerous enemy that has repeatedly vanquished foreign invaders. In December 2008, the London-based International Council on Security and Development reported that "the Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, up from 54 percent a year ago." But on repeated trips to rural Afghanistan, including one late last year, I found that the Taliban control little actual territory.

Reporting on Afghanistan could use a dose of reality. I got mine last November, when I visited Zabol province in the south, along the border with Pakistan. Though the Taliban have pushed into several districts in the province, locals were blunt in private. "We hate them," one villager near the city of Qalat told me. "And we don't subscribe to their version of Islam. We just need help defending our towns and villages."

These sentiments are apparent in a range of public opinion polls. Just last week, an ABC/BBC poll indicated that only 4 percent of Afghans support a Taliban government. When asked who posed the biggest danger in the country, 58 percent of respondents said the Taliban. In addition, nearly 70 percent said that it was "good" or "mostly good" that U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001.

It's not difficult to see why. The Taliban subscribe to a radical interpretation of Sunni Islam grounded in Deobandism, a school of thought emanating from the Dar ul-Ulum madrassa established in Deoband, India, in 1867. The objective of senior Taliban leaders is to establish an extreme version of sharia, or Islamic law, across the country, which they refer to as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In the 1990s, the Taliban closed cinemas and banned music, along with almost every other conceivable kind of entertainment. In Kabul, they carried out brutal punishments in front of large crowds in the former soccer stadium.

The Taliban were -- and still are -- deeply unpopular. Most Afghans don't subscribe to their religious zealotry, which the founders of Deobandism wouldn't even recognize. And the rapid collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, barely two months after the war started, served as a striking testament to the group's weak foundation.

Yet the insurgency, which has engulfed parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, does not consist solely of the Taliban. It is fractured among more than a dozen groups, including the Haqqani network, led by Pashtun militant Jalaluddin Haqqani; mujaheddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami; Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi; al-Qaeda and many others. A bevy of Pashtun tribes, criminal organizations, militia forces and government officials from Pakistan, Iran and even Afghanistan sometimes cooperate with the insurgents. The largest and most powerful group is the Taliban, though they have only limited influence over other groups.

The leaders of many insurgent groups are united by a common hatred of U.S. and allied forces, as well as opposition to President Hamid Karzai's government, which they view as having sold out to Western infidels. But they have very different ideologies and support bases. Some, like al-Qaeda, have a broad global agenda that includes fighting the United States and its allies (the far enemy) and overthrowing Western-friendly regimes in the Middle East (the near enemy) to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate. Others, like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, are focused on Afghanistan and on re-establishing their extremist ideology there.

Foot soldiers join the insurgency for a variety of reasons. Some are motivated by money. "Some insurgent groups pay better than we do," one U.S. soldier in the southern province of Kandahar told me recently. "It's basic economics." In some areas, he said, the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army pay recruits roughly $100 per month, while the Taliban have paid $150 or more. Others are motivated by tribal rivalry or are coerced by insurgents, who sometimes threaten villagers or their families unless they cooperate.

What's more, several insurgent groups have a history of fighting one another. In the mid-1990s, the Taliban and forces loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar engaged in intense battles in southern and eastern Afghanistan. They also competed for funding and logistical support from Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI. After suffering repeated battlefield losses to the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan and being marginalized by the ISI, Hekmatyar fled to Iran in 1997.

Nevertheless, insurgent groups have waged an increasingly deadly war against international and Afghan forces. From 2007 to 2008, the level of violence increased 33 percent, the number of improvised explosive devices increased 27 percent and civilian deaths increased 46 percent, according to U.S. Defense Department estimates. Perhaps more telling, a recent Asia Foundation poll indicated that nearly two-thirds of Afghans say that they have "some fear" or "a lot of fear" when traveling from one part of Afghanistan to another.

U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan have often failed to take advantage of fissures across organizations, as well as between insurgent leaders and their fragile support bases. Also, the security challenges there don't stem from a strong insurgency but rather from a weak and ever more unpopular government. "It's a race to the bottom between the government and insurgents," one villager in the eastern city of Asadabad told me. Opinion polls show a growing belief that government officials have become more and more corrupt and are unable to deliver services or protect the public.

As Dennis C. Blair, the new director of national intelligence, acknowledged last week, "Kabul's inability to build effective, honest and loyal provincial and district-level institutions . . . erodes its popular legitimacy and increases the influence of local warlords and the Taliban." In short, the government's unpopularity has created a vacuum that is being filled by insurgent groups, all of which enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan.

Although U.S. government officials have become increasingly vocal about the need to undermine the insurgent safe haven in Pakistan, the bulk of recent U.S. unmanned Predator drone strikes and Pakistani operations have been in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of that country. They have targeted senior leaders from al-Qaeda as well as other organizations, such as the Haqqani network, who share a safe haven in the tribal areas.

But there have been virtually no U.S. or Pakistani operations in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, currently home to the Taliban's core leadership. U.S. and NATO estimates indicate that the inner shura is located in the vicinity of the dusty town of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, where senior Taliban officials gathered after fleeing Afghanistan in 2001. Here, the Taliban have subdivided into a range of political, military, religious and other committees to help provide strategic guidance to a fractured insurgency.

Yet the Taliban have been left alone in Quetta. There have been no Pakistani operations such as the ones in the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions, where Pakistani army and paramilitary forces have razed houses and destroyed tunnels in an effort to uproot local militants. Nor have U.S. cross-border strikes targeted the key insurgent headquarters. Successful operations will require better protection of the Afghan population and more effective disruption of safe havens such as Quetta.

The Afghanistan war is not intractable and has not yet reached a tipping point. There are no easy solutions to the conflict. But a better understanding of the insurgency, the differences among its various factions and their fragile support bases -- and a strategy that can exploit these vulnerabilities -- might keep the United States from following so many earlier occupiers into the Afghan graveyard.

seth.g.jones@gmail.com

Seth G. Jones, author of the forthcoming book "In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan," is a political scientist with the Rand Corp.
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Bombs kill Afghan district chief, four police
Sat Feb 14, 4:15 am ET
KABUL (AFP) – A roadside bomb killed a district chief in eastern Afghanistan Saturday while four policemen died in another blast blamed on Taliban insurgents in the volatile south, police said.

The bloodshed came as new US envoy Richard Holbrooke was due to meet President Hamid Karzai in Kabul as part of wide-ranging talks to review the US role in the effort to defeat Taliban violence.

A bomb was remotely detonated to explode as the chief of Nadir Shah Kot district in eastern Khost province left his home, a provincial police officer, Gul Dad, told AFP.

The chief, Batiul Zaman Sabari, died of his wounds in a US military hospital, he said. His driver and a guard were also wounded.

Sabari was attacked while on his way to a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of the Soviet army, the police officer said.

It was not known who carried out the attack. Eastern Afghanistan, however, sees regular violence blamed on Taliban insurgents.

In the volatile south, where a Taliban insurgency is also intense, four policemen were killed Friday in a bomb blast 10 kilometres (six miles) outside of the city of Kandahar, police said.

"This was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan," Kandahar police chief Mutiullah Qateh told AFP, using a term that refers most often to the Taliban.

Roadside bombs are a key Taliban weapon against government and international forces in an insurgency that has gained pace since the hardliners were removed from government seven years ago.
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Norway to provide financial support for Afghanistan election
STOCKHOLM, Feb 14, 2009 (Xinhua) - Norway will provide financial support for the Afghanistan presidential election to ensure there is a larger degree of independence, according to reports reaching here from Oslo on Saturday.

The Norwegian contribution will be 70 million kroner (about 10.3 million U.S. dollars). It will be coordinated by the U.N., and will among other things, be used toward setting up an independent election commission and an independent complaints commission, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said.

The Afghanistan presidential election is to be held on Aug. 20.

"It is important the election be carried out in a way that ensures the broadest possible participation," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was quoted as saying by NRK.

Norway, which has 580 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, is also a big contributor to the rebuilding process of the war-battered country.
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The Surge Afghanistan Needs
The Wall Street Journal - Opinion By ANN MARLOWE FEBRUARY 13, 2009
More local security forces and a better constitution are keys to success.

The Taliban's synchronized suicide bombings on government buildings in Kabul this week will no doubt intensify President Barack Obama's desire to bring security to Afghanistan. On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama pledged to make the country the centerpiece of his foreign policy, calling for an Iraq-like surge of thousands of troops. Recently, he and Vice-President Joe Biden have also made it clear that they've lost patience with President Hamid Karzai's weak leadership and his toleration of corruption.

But the surge that Afghanistan needs isn't in U.S. troops, it's in strengthening governance and Afghan security forces. Without improvements in these areas, no president and no amount of troops can stabilize Afghanistan.

Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, currently in the region, should make it clear to the Afghan people, if necessary through a blunt announcement, that the U.S. prefers Mr. Karzai not seek another term. Mr. Holbrooke should also meet immediately with the Afghan Parliament to discuss what can be done to improve governance, and to discuss possible changes to the disastrous 2004 Afghan constitution.

There are three big structural problems enshrined in that document. First, the 34 provincial governors are not elected, but appointed and removed at will by the president. Second, members of parliament are elected on a provincial rather than on a district basis. And third, provincial councils are elected on a provincial rather than on a district basis and have no official policy role. Another issue is the absence of political parties.

Mr. Karzai's shuffling of notables from one governorship to another has been reactive, removing governors who either threaten him, criticize him, or are so incompetent that the American military has complained about them. He has swapped some provinces' governors twice in a year; Ghazni had four in 2008. The current system treats Afghan citizens like subjects, forced to suffer whatever their appointed local despot decides. Is it surprising that most Afghans don't stand up to the Taliban?

The system of parliamentary elections also disservices Afghans, since some provinces are the size of European countries and vary considerably in terrain, economy and ethnic composition. Under the current electoral system, the top vote-getters represent a province, but may come from only one district of a province, usually the richest and most populous, and from one tribe or ethnic group. (Imagine the members of the House of Representatives from California all hailing from Los Angeles or San Francisco and all being white men.)

Since provincial councils are also elected province-wide, Afghan citizens can't hold their representative accountable for local conditions, and representatives don't have ties to specific constituencies. (Imagine the entire New York State Assembly coming from Brooklyn.) Worse, these representatives, despite being closest to the people, serve nothing but an advisory role, and it's mainly the American military that listens to them at all.

Mr. Karzai lobbied the United Nations hard to discourage the formation of political parties, and he got his wish. This is the major reason why the country is in the laughable situation of having no declared opposition candidates for a (late) presidential election slated for August. Without parties, power aligns along traditional tribal and ethnic lines, and provides ample opportunity for drug gangs and foreign governments to buy politicians. Any Afghan MP will tell you that the Pakistanis, Iranians and Russians buy MPs.

In terms of security, the U.S. must throw additional support behind Afghan security forces, particularly those who fight the insurgency on the most grass-roots level, the Afghan National Police (ANP). We've poured a lot of money into the ANP since we took over training from our NATO allies -- the current annual budget is around $800 million -- but we should be spending more. It's more effective, and cheaper, than anything we can do with our troops in many areas.

At present, Afghanistan only has a fraction of the number of police it needs. Some 77,000 cops serve a nation of 32 million people, most of them in villages scattered across one of the most mountainous countries in the world. In the east and south, they are under attack from insurgents wielding automatic weapons and planting improvised explosive devices.

This already small force is being eroded by a shocking combat death rate and resulting high attrition. Last year 1,215 out of 77,000 police were slain by insurgents, and an additional 2,600 police were wounded or missing in action. This amounts to one out of 20 cops killed or wounded in 2008.

The numbers are worse when viewed on a local level, because most of the deaths are occurring in a handful of frontline provinces where Afghan police are consequently quitting in droves. Last year, police pay was raised to $180 a month for the lowest-tier job in the most dangerous provinces, but this is still less than private security firms offer for safer work.

With increased American support, the ANP can become a success story like the Afghan National Army. A widely respected institution, the army is modernizing rapidly, with 41 of its 69 battalions "capable of independent planning, execution, and sustainment of counterinsurgency operations," according to American military trainers. Increasing the size of the army is a good idea. So is paying current soldiers enough so they remain in the army.

The Taliban's increasing boldness and the incompetent presidency of Hamid Karzai are symptoms of deeper problems: illiteracy, a nonexistent civil society, undeveloped national institutions, and pervasive corruption. Reversing these trends will take years. But within the term of Mr. Obama's presidency, there's much that can be done to restore Afghanistan to order.

Ms. Marlowe is a New York-based writer who travels frequently to Afghanistan.
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Big Picture in Afghanistan
New York Times, United States By Peter Catapano February 13, 2009
In the Washington Post today, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that a recent cover story in Newsweek suggesting that Afghanistan might become “Obama's Vietnam” was full of “trite analogies” but “performed a public service by bringing up one of the biggest mistakes the United States made in Vietnam: backing the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, in 1963.”

Boot points out that Diem's successors were even more damaging to the U.S. war effort in Vietnam, and advises not to make the same mistake in Afghanistan.

Given recent events in Afghanistan — a gun battle in which five children were killed, the deadly Taliban attack in Kabul and a warning from the U.S. national intelligence chief Dennis Blair that the Afghan government is failing to counter the Taliban, all on the heels of Richard Holbrooke's arrival today in Kabul, where tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan were made explicit — the pressure to replace President Hamid Karzai is mounting.

To make his point, Boot turns to Iraq, noting U.S. unhappiness with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in early 2008, when things seemed to be going wrong. One year later, he says, Maliki's position is strong: “Maliki only looked weak at a time when conditions in Iraq were so dire that any leader would have had trouble exercising authority. Improvements in security have led to improvements in governance.”

Joe Klein, writing at Time's Swampland blog, thinks Boot's Iraq analogy is off base:

First of all, it's perilous to compare Afghanistan to any other place–and particularly Iraq. As General David Petraeus has found in the course of his policy review, Afghanistan is vastly poorer than Iraq, with extremely low rates of literacy outside the major cities; it also lacks even Iraq's tenuous and recent history of central control. It is an agglomeration of valleys and tribes, with little to hold it together.

Also, Maliki was not nearly as corrupt as Karzai seems to be. According to the U.S. military, Karzai allies run shadow governments in the two main opium producing provinces. In Helmand, the Karzai operative is a former governor who was caught in possession of nine tons of opium. In Kandahar, it is Karzai's brother. But the corruption extends well beyond the poppy crop. There's also the case of the 5,000 missing policemen. My host in Afghanistan, the NATO Commander Egon Rommes, was horrified by the fact that the funding for these officers simply evaporated. In another case, a former employee at the Ministry of Finance told me that she had found a $350,000 payoff written into a government contract.

At CQ Politics's SpyTalk, Jeff Stein examines the question of whether the U.S. has run out of patience with the Afghan president. Stein quotes “a former practitioner of U.S. covert action” (that's a spy) who agreed with Klein's corruption charges but might also side with Boot's advice to go easy on Karzai:

“Pushing him out,” agreed the covert action veteran, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he did not want to attract the attention of his former employer, “won't solve the corruption problem, and in fact may increase instability.”

At ABC's The Numbers, Gary Langer, the director of polling at ABC News, has some advice for Holbrooke. The gist, not surprisingly, is to look at the numbers; specifically “a regression analysis suggesting that the root causes of growing discontent in Afghanistan stem from a panoply of issues – not solely security, not just road building or school openings, but a range of security, economic and development concerns.”

Langer concludes: “In short, Holbrooke's visit to Kabul is a start – but to get the full picture he'll need to go far more broadly, and far deeper, than a sit-down with the local brass.”
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Afghan cop a rarity in force rife with corruption
By Archie McLean Canwest News Service February 14, 2009
ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- The line of cars on the dusty Afghan road is growing longer. It's the equivalent of morning rush hour here and villagers are becoming impatient with the delay of their shopping trips.

Muhammed Khan and his police officers - on patrol in Taliban territory with Canadian soldiers - don't panic. They calmly and methodically search each vehicle, patting down the men and checking the cargo for explosives or other suspicious material. Running a vehicle checkpoint may be a simple task for a professional police force, but this is the Afghan National Police, an organization that is often, and rightly, criticized here for incompetence, drug use and corruption.

Khan's unit is the exception. He strictly enforces a no-drug-use policy and has no patience for corruption. His Canadian mentors say if the fledgling force had more commanders like Khan, their job would be redundant.

"We wouldn't need to be here," says Master-Cpl. Gary O'Brien. "These guys are more seasoned than some of our soldiers."

Khan and his officers have proven themselves time and again to the Canadian soldiers, including in numerous firefights, some as long as five or six hours.

Khan began working in this violent corner of Afghanistan three years ago. He is based out of a police substation in Pashmul, in eastern Zhari District. Despite the fact that he is an ethnic Hazara - a northern minority group that has fought periodic wars with the Pashtuns - the Canadians say he knows his turf like a seasoned beat cop.

"He knows everybody and they know him," O'Brien says. "They've got a lot of respect in the community."

O'Brien and the other police mentors live full-time with Khan and the 13 officers under his command at the Pashmul south station. At other stations, the Canadians and Afghans live segregated lives, but not here. They often share meals, with the Canadians barbecuing steaks and the Afghans providing cilantro salads, naan or other local foods.

The Afghans relish the closeness with their Canadian counterparts. At one point, they heard the Canadians were ordering more concrete barriers for the compound. They panicked, O'Brien said, because they thought it meant the end of their cozy life there. The Canadians had to reassure them that the barriers were only for protection, not exclusion.

The job of a police officer in Afghanistan is a tough one. They are poorly paid, making roughly $100 a month, and face a constant threat of insurgent attacks.

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform detonated himself inside a police station in Uruzgan Province, north of Kandahar. The blast killed 21 officers and injured another 12. Afghan police are considered a "softer" target for strikes compared to the better-armed and better-trained army. More than 1,000 police officers died last year, more than three times the number of Afghan soldiers.

Corruption in the force is endemic and officers routinely defect to the Taliban.

According to the International Crisis Group, a Belgian think-tank that specializes in international security, corruption is eating away at their public support.

"Institutional capacity is being corroded by corruption. With money-making taking precedence over merit in the appointment process and blocking real reform, effectiveness and community trust are being eroded."

That's why officers like Khan are vital. On a break from patrol, he says his policing philosophy is simple: "I accept my law and I take pride in my work."

Corruption and drug use shouldn't be tolerated because they're illegal and police officers are supposed to uphold the law, Khan says.

"That's really bad. And it's the fault of their commanders - they should tell their officers not to it."

The solution to better policing in Afghanistan is more training at the regional centre in Kandahar, Khan says.

O'Brien would add to that better pay.

"The biggest thing that's stopping them is the corruption. And that wouldn't be happening if they were paid a decent wage," O'Brien says.

Despite their success, these Afghan officers are far from perfect. At one point in the day, they conduct a thorough search of a compound, which turns up a pair of spent Canadian artillery shells. But before Canadian engineers can examine them - CLANK - a sound comes from inside the room.

"Don't throw that!" yells Capt. Nick Arakgi, one of the mentors. "Talib, get out of there!"

"I'm getting the hell out of here before we get blown up," says a nearby officer, walking out of the compound.

O'Brien is apologetic.

"They're the best in the area, sir, but they still do things that make me shake my head."

O'Brien says that sort of thing is common, particularly as patrols drag late into the day.

"They're like kids in a Wal-Mart. After four hours, they're done."

Indeed, a few hours later, one of the Afghan officers is horsing around and tosses a lit flare in front of a bunch of resting Canadian soldiers. It earns some angry shouts from the soldiers, who don't appreciate a lit fuse thrown anywhere near them in a war zone.

Policing in rural Afghanistan remains a combination of soldiering and what Canadians would recognize as regular law enforcement. The goal, says Arakgi, who is a Peel Regional Police constable in his civilian job back home, is to move them more toward the law enforcement side.

Khan is on the front lines of that transition. For example, he actually enforces drug laws, a rarity among Afghan police officers. Last week, he burned 13 1/2 kilograms of hash and has been known to burn drug crops in the field.

But good policing relies on a good relationship with the community. Arakgi and O'Brien say the only downside to Khan's Hazara heritage is that it will stop him from moving up the ladder in the local police force. Khan, who speaks only some Pashto, isn't concerned. He's just a cop, doing his job in a tough neighbourhood.

"My job is to provide security," he says. "Your people, the Canadians, are here to provide security. It's the same thing for me. I'm in my own country providing security."
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Anyone But Karzai?
The Washington Post By Max Boot 02/13/2009
The Push for New Afghan Leadership Misses the Big Picture

The recent Newsweek cover story "Obama's Vietnam" was full of trite analogies. There is no more reason to think that the war in Afghanistan will be "another Vietnam" than there was to think that Iraq would be "another Vietnam," as so many people once claimed.

But Newsweek's editors may have performed a public service by bringing up one of the biggest mistakes the United States made in Vietnam: backing the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam, in 1963. President John F. Kennedy and his aides thought Diem was a divisive, ineffective leader, and they feared that the war could never succeed with him in power. It turned out, though, that Diem's successors were even worse and that his overthrow set off a long period of instability that handicapped U.S. war efforts.

Why is this relevant today? Because senior U.S. officials increasingly blame our woes in Afghanistan on that country's leader, Hamid Karzai. The trend was already evident last February, when then-Sen. Joe Biden walked out of a dinner with the Afghan president in Kabul. Yesterday, the new director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, condemned "Kabul's inability to build effective, honest and loyal . . . institutions." More and more, senior administration officials signal that they want to replace Karzai.

Such talk takes me back to January 2008, when, during a visit to Iraq, all the discussion I heard among Iraqi politicos and U.S. officials was about whether to push out Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The consensus seemed to be that Maliki was a weak leader and scheming sectarian who was more interested in serving his Iranian "masters" than the people of Iraq. The only disagreement was over who should take his place. The inability of various political parties to agree on a successor was pretty much all that kept him from being ousted.

Just a few months later, Maliki acted against all expectations by rushing troops down to Basra to take on fighters led by Moqtada al-Sadr, to whom he was supposedly beholden. The success of that campaign then encouraged him to clear the Sadrists out of the eastern Baghdad district known as Sadr City. With those actions, Maliki dispelled the impression of weakness and earned newfound popularity with ordinary Iraqis, who rewarded his party with a strong showing in the recent provincial elections. Today, just a year from the low point, the concern is that Maliki may be growing too strong.

What brought on the change in Maliki's behavior? It's likely that he reacted to the changing conditions brought about by the U.S. troop "surge." The strategy developed by Gen. David Petraeus was to use U.S. reinforcements to target al-Qaeda in Iraq first because he knew that this group of hardened terrorists was the primary "accelerant" of violence. The sense of menace induced by al-Qaeda provided a justification for the thuggish activities of the Mahdi Army, which claimed to be protecting the Shiites. Reduce Sunni terrorism, Petraeus reasoned, and you also reduce Shiite support for the Sadrists. And that's exactly what happened. With al-Qaeda in Iraq all but defeated, Maliki felt free to move against the Mahdi Army.

In other words, Maliki only looked weak at a time when conditions in Iraq were so dire that any leader would have had trouble exercising authority. Improvements in security have led to improvements in governance.

There is no reason the same dynamic can't operate in Afghanistan. It wasn't so long ago that Karzai was seen as a model leader. Remember when many despaired of Iraq's future because it didn't have a leader of Karzai's caliber? Some of the early hype may have been exaggerated, but Karzai was reasonably effective from 2003 to 2005, when the Taliban was still licking its wounds and security conditions were fairly "permissive." It helped that Zalmay Khalilzad was the U.S. ambassador. A native of Afghanistan, Khalilzad was close to Karzai but also tough on him, pushing him to crack down on corruption and improve regional governance. After Khalilzad left in 2005, U.S. policy seemed to drift, and the Taliban staged a resurgence.

Karzai has many shortcomings, particularly his inability or unwillingness to battle corruption and the drug trade in which his brother is implicated. But is there any reason to think someone else would be more effective? U.S. officials eyeing elections scheduled for August are high on possible candidates such as former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah. Yes, those men have impressive credentials. But at one time, U.S. officials also saw Ayad Allawi as the savior of Iraq. Next they settled on Ibrahim al-Jafari, only to push him out and wind up with Maliki, whose reputation has yo-yoed. The American record in picking leaders for foreign countries seems spotty at best.

So instead of obsessing about Karzai's faults, perhaps we should focus on the real problem: lack of security. Efforts to improve the security situation cannot be held hostage to efforts to improve governance. As in Iraq, the solution in Afghanistan should come from sending reinforcements to implement a classic counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on protecting the people. Only when the security situation improves will Afghanistan's president, whoever that person is, be able to function with any degree of effectiveness.

Max Boot, a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, is most recently the author of "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today."
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Afghan TV stations find censorship line is blurry
By HEIDI VOGT Associated Press February 14, 2009
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The young Afghan woman in a headscarf spends all day staring at other women's bodies and Hindu idols on her computer screen, then covering them up.

It's Laila Rastagar's job to turn Indian and Korean soap operas into family viewing in this conservative Muslim country. Dual flat-screen monitors illuminate the 22-year-old's face in the dark cubicle as she draws a blurry square with her mouse to obscure a collarbone, then a kneecap, then a Buddha statue.

She's one of a crew of such editors employed by Tolo TV, Afghanistan's most popular station, to censor shows in an attempt to balance its programming at the intersection of radical Islam, traditional values and the West.

Television has flourished in Afghanistan since the hard-line Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. Eleven private stations and one state channel now broadcast in the capital. More than 80 percent of city residents own televisions, along with more than 20 percent of rural dwellers, according to the Asia Foundation. For the rest, there are kebab restaurants with flat-screen TVs and teahouses with smaller sets playing in the corner.

But in recent years government regulators have gone after more Afghan TV stations for their content, reflecting an increasing desire to control Afghan culture as extremist violence has worsened. Some stations have gone more conservative and others more defiant as the culture war builds over what's legal, and what's Afghan. The baseline of acceptability can be hard to define in a country that has swung from miniskirted university students in the 1970s to mandatory burqas under the Taliban and now is trying to settle somewhere in between.

Tolo TV removes what it thinks will spark anger. Uncovered knees and low necklines are off limits, along with the nape of the neck, the upper back, the sliver of stomach left exposed by an Indian sari, teens dancing together in a disco and a kiss on the cheek. References to religions other than Islam are blotted out.

Rastagar concentrates on making the deletions seamless. She replaces one long take of the shocked face of a man who finds out his wife is cheating on him with three drawn-out takes, plus a slow zoom-in. The extra time allows her to cut out the shots of a Buddha statue.

The pixellated squares are a last resort, she says. "It draws more attention to what's missing than if it had been left alone."

After two years, she can work through a show quickly. It takes her only 15 minutes to edit her way through each half hour of a soap opera.

A male colleague's sole job is editing the U.S. thriller "24." A number of people take on the music videos — the skimpy outfits and dancing make them the hardest. Sometimes half the screen has to be filled with blurry squares.

Tolo TV, with its 60 percent market share, plays a key role in defining Afghanistan's contemporary culture. The channel has grabbed viewers with locally produced news and entertainment, winning people away from cheap pirated DVDs of American and Indian movies.

But there's still a lot of airtime to fill. Indian and Korean soap operas are some of the most popular programs, along with music videos from regional stars. Afghans also adore American programs like "Barney" and "24."

Five Tolo employees crowd around a TV in a little room and mark down the time of unacceptable scenes on a sheet that gets sent to editors like Rastagar. A set of rough guidelines is taped to the wall, but the censors say they don't really look at it. They know what's acceptable to the average Afghan household, a poor family who pack into a sitting room warmed by a wood-burning stove during a couple of hours of evening electricity to watch the latest shows.

The decision-makers are middle-aged men quick to make fun of their task of banning small patches of skin, but they also say they're providing a service. Asked if they ever have to censor the Afghan content, gravelly voiced Abdullahi Abir laughs and says "Unfortunately, no!" as he pulls his scarf over his mouth to hide a grin. "The Afghan girls wear too many clothes for that."

But there have been incidents. Last spring, the Information Ministry reprimanded Tolo for showing Afghan men and women dancing together on a film awards program. And Abir, who has been a Tolo censor for four years, says increasing government pressure has pushed them to raise their bar of acceptability in the past two years.

Afghanistan's government tried to ban a number of Indian soap operas in April, saying the shows were too risque and did not represent Afghan culture. Most networks complied, even though the shows are large moneymakers. Tolo refused and said the ministry did not have the right to ban entire shows, only offensive parts. The issue has gone to the courts and litigation is pending.

The media laws in Afghanistan are vague, commanding broadcasters to stay "within the framework of Islam." Self-censorship can be the best way to pre-empt angry letters from a government-established oversight commission.

Tolo, which means sunrise in the Afghan language of Dari, was started in 2004 by Afghan siblings who grew up in Australia. They set up a censorship policy early on in response to calls from viewers about the amount of skin and foreign religion.

"We're a commercial operation. So we rely on viewers. In many countries that means sensationalism, but over here it's mostly single-TV families," says Jahid Mohseni, chief executive of Moby Media Group, which owns Tolo. "At the end of the day, when everyone sits down together, the mother or the father is not going to let everyone watch programs that they think are inappropriate for their children."

But the information ministry says stations like Tolo are the problem — run by Afghans who grew up abroad and have now returned en masse. More than five million Afghans have flooded back into the country since 2002.

"This is a society that has not yet emerged from war. And our young generation who grew up maybe in Pakistan, in Iran, they don't have knowledge of our culture," Information Minister Abdul Karim Khurram says.

Khurram says Tolo's owners are "drugging the people" with low-quality entertainment shows while providing fuel to extremist insurgents.

There's a pervading sense in Afghanistan that religious violence will break out if the state does not enforce religious conservatism. In other Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, censorship of TV programs is common, along with fashion magazines and cosmetic product labels.

Yet some stations are much more liberal with their broadcasts than Tolo. Emrose TV, whose name means 'Today,' broadcasts foreign music videos and soap operas without any editing or blurring. The station started only nine months ago and still has a very small viewership.

"You can see the same thing on a DVD or through a satellite dish. We're just showing the original as it was made," says Najibullah Kabuli, the owner of Emrose. "The state TV shows women singing without headscarves on ... so what's the difference between that and the top of a woman's chest?"

Emrose was recently called in front of the oversight commission for broadcasting inappropriate content, and particularly for not sticking to religious programming during the Islamic holiday of Ashura in January. Other stations aired religious songs the entire day.

"If they want to watch religion, they can watch the other channels," says Najibullah.

Tolo's problem, he says, is that it wants to appeal even to the most extremist Muslim clerics. Tolo's bosses agree that they're going for mass appeal and want more Afghan content, but it comes slowly and is more expensive. The channel has created a competitive singing show called "Afghan Star," similar to "American Idol." It also has comedy shows and news programs — many very critical of the government.

In one of the most popular shows, people recite the Quran in front of Islamic scholars. Many of the reciters are women.

There are two televisions at Babuuwali Restaurant in Kabul, one always tuned to news and the other to entertainment. During lunchtime the owner puts on a DVD of an Indian movie, with nothing blurred out. Many men who come in say it's fine for them to watch, but it's not healthy for their country.

"In our society, people say 'it's democracy' ... They use democracy to justify putting anything on TV," says Ramatullah Kamal, a 32-year-old construction worker. He says freedom has to have limits: "The dancing, the legs, it is against Afghan culture."
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Afghan-Born German Gets Life for Honor Killing of Sister
Deutsche Welle 02/13/2009
In a case described by prosecutors as an "honor killing," an Afghan-born man was sentenced on Friday by a Hamburg court to life in prison for having stabbed his own sister to death.

In a crime that outraged Germany, the 24-year-old, identified as Ahmad-Sobair O., killed his sister Morsal on May 15, 2008, a day after she approached welfare officials in Hamburg for protection from her brother. He said he had objected to the pretty schoolgirl's lifestyle, her clothing, and her attempts to distance herself from her family.

The case gained nationwide attention, amid a controversy over whether Muslim immigrants were importing the archaic central Asian custom of honor killing to Germany.

The term refers to a Muslim daughter being executed by the males of her own family, who jointly decide she has disgraced the family's honor through her sexual behavior. However, Muslim women have been killed by their families for things such as refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, wearing Western clothing, or even on the basis of rumors about her behavior.

The defense rejected the honor-killing explanation, contending that the immigrant family had been simply dysfunctional. O. admitted the stabbing after his arrest, but declined to testify in court. A court-appointed psychologist said O. had a personality disorder that made his temper uncontrollable.

Prosecutors, who had sought an exemplary sentence to deter future honor killings, asked in vain for the psychologist to be dismissed and a mistrial declared.

Defense lawyers welcomed the psychologist's testimony. They said O. killed his sister in a fit of sudden passion and did not deserve the most severe penalty. Defense lawyer Thomas Bliwier denounced the "politicking" in Germany over the case.

Witnesses said Morsal and her brother had a relationship that was a mix of love and hatred, with the spirited, fun-loving girl refusing to bow to her domineering older brother.

Defendant showed remorse in court

Morsal, who had won a civic prize for setting up a peer-counselling project at her school, had complained several times to youth-aid counsellors about her brother and parents. The brother killed Morsal after seeing her walking with boys and being told by his own friends that Morsal would become a prostitute.

Just before the trial ended, the defendant, who had several previous convictions for assault, suddenly burst into tears and sobbed that he had never meant to kill Morsal.

"She was my own sister," he shouted.

German campaigners against honor killings demonstrated outside the courtroom. Heidemarie Grobe of the group Terres des Femmes insisted that Morsal's death fitted the honor-killing pattern.

"It's fixed in the roles inside the families," she said. "The brother usually claims the monopoly of force over the sister."

Terre des Femmes estimates 50 women have been killed in the past decade in Germany for reasons of supposed honor.
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Karzai's Great Gamble
IWPR By Jean MacKenzie 02/13/2009
It all started with Dost Mohammad Khan.

In 1838, the wily Afghan emir, disappointed in his British allies, chose to flirt with his powerful northern neighbours, the Russians. The Russians were only too happy to oblige, but it cost Dost Mohammad dearly. The irate British deposed him, invaded the country, and installed a corrupt former ruler. It took three years and a bloody war to get Dost Mohammad back on the throne.

Known as the Great Game, or, more poetically, the “Tournament of Shadows”, the long and vicious ballet between the Great Powers over the fate of Afghanistan has continued for over 170 years. All too often, it has resulted in war, death and destruction for all the parties involved.

Now they're at it again.

Afghan president Hamed Karzai, hand-picked and supported by the United States, has lost his status as darling of the West. This has been obvious since at least last June, when he returned from the Paris donor conference in a frankly bellicose mood, apparently having been given the word that his seven-year blank cheque had expired.

It has been painfully clear since Barack Obama became president of the United States. Ever since the US election on November 4, officials have been severely critical of the Karzai administration.

So the Afghan president has resorted to the time-honoured tactic of the emirs – bring in the Russian bear.

Last November, Karzai quietly sent a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The content was not made public, but the answer certainly was.

On January 24, Karzai's administration leaked Medvedev's response, which was full of assurances of friendship and offers of cooperation on defence.

Karzai lost no time in capitalising on his new chumminess with Russia. In an address to graduates of the National Military Academy on January 25, Karzai warned that “if the United States does not help us, we will ask other countries for planes and tanks”.

While he did not name his new partner, most observers believe he was referring to Russia.

The Afghan defence ministry added fuel to the fire.

“An Afghan government delegation may go to Russia in the near future,” said defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi. “The details of the assistance will become clear at that time.”

The Russian embassy declined requests for an interview.

Many observers have viewed Karzai's tactics with dismay, fearing that it can only lead the country further into chaos.

“Whenever Afghan leaders have a problem with the West, they turn to Russia, and vice versa,” said Habibullah Rafi, of the Afghan academy of sciences. He pointed out that it was seldom in Afghanistan's long-term interests to encourage rivalry between its allies of convenience.

“When Daoud Khan was prime minister in the 1960s, he repeatedly asked western countries for military cooperation, but they did not respond,” said Rafi. “So he turned to the Soviet Union.”

After he became president, Daoud Khan prided himself on his ability to juggle the superpowers, deriving benefit from both.

“I am happiest when I can light my American cigarettes with Russian matches,” he is quoted as saying.

But he lit more than a cigarette: he ignited a fire that toppled his regime and led to the Soviet invasion of his country, setting the stage for the current crisis.

Karzai would do well to be cautious with the Russians, added Rafi.

“Russia was defeated here once,” he said. “If it gets involved again, it will take out its frustration on us.”

Afghanistan could once again become the football in a match between world powers, warn analysts.

“Russia is not alone,” said Ahmad Sayedi, a former diplomat. “Iran is with it, as well as China. We are in the middle of an economic war, and these countries want to challenge the West and NATO.”

By responding to Karzai's overtures, Russia is trying to show that it can assume its old dominion over the region, say some.

“Russia is giving Afghanistan the green light because it wants to show that they can ensure the security of the area themselves, with no need for the United States and NATO,” said political analyst Wahid Muzhda.

But the old days of superpower rivalry are gone, say others, and Russia is no longer the giant it once was – so Afghanistan could do well to strike up a friendship with its northern neighbour.

“Times have changed, and if Afghanistan has the freedom to have support from all countries, in order to strengthen its army without creating friction between East and West, it will benefit the country,” said Ghafour Liwal, head of the Centre for Regional Studies.

Russia, he added, showed every sign of cooperating with the US in the region, granting transit rights for non-lethal supplies to American troops in Afghanistan, and recently hinting that weapons shipments might also be permitted.

Russia has taken a back seat in Afghanistan over the past seven years, as the US and its allies have pursued their war on terror. But it has kept its hand in, as witnessed by the aborted deal to train police and counter-narcotics officers in 2008.

Eighteen officers had been selected, and given visas and tickets for Moscow, but the trip was cancelled the day before their scheduled departure. Afghanistan cited technical difficulties, but Russia reacted strongly.

“We think there are foreign advisers in [the interior and counter-narcotics] ministries who are sabotaging this process,” said Zamir Nabievich Kabulov, Russia's ambassador to Kabul, speaking to the media at the time. “This shows their lack of transparency and impartiality, and the Americans' intentions in the area of counter-narcotics will come into question.”

But when the big powers squabble, it is often ordinary Afghans who pay the price.

“We lost everything because of these military [rivalries],” said Ehsanullah, a Kabul resident, referring to the country's foreign-sponsored civil wars. “We do not want to get caught in these games again.”
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Afghan diplomat Mohammed Fagirad charged in all-day wife beating
New York Daily News - NY Local BY Nicole Bode Saturday, February 14th 2009
An Afghan diplomat was charged Friday with beating his wife "like a dog" for more than 15 hours in their Queens home, prosecutors said.

Mohammed Fagirad, 30, a vice consul at the Afghanistan Consulate, brutalized his wife inside their Flushing home from about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday until nearly midnight, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

During the attack, Fagirad bit, slapped, choked and beat the 22-year-old woman with a belt, pushed her down a flight of stairs and sat on her chest, prosecutors said.

At one point, prosecutors said, Fagirad threw his wife up against a wall, held her there by the neck and then let her drop to the floor, where he beat her with a belt.

Fagirad told police his "wife was a dog and he was going to treat her like a dog," prosecutors said.

When Fagirad left the home, his wife fled and went to the 109th Precinct stationhouse, where she filed a domestic violence report, prosecutors said. She then returned home.

When Fagirad returned, he demanded his wife's cell phone and called police to file a counterclaim, prosecutors said.

The woman, who was not named, was hospitalized for bruises and scratches to her neck and back.

Prosecutors said Fagirad's limited diplomatic immunity only covers work-related infractions.

He was awaiting arraignment last night in Queens Criminal Court.
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