Serving you since 1998
March 2009:   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

March 13, 2009 

Officials: Obama's Afghanistan goals due soon
By Anne Gearan And Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writers – Fri Mar 13, 2:22 am ET
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration expects to announce new objectives for the flagging war in Afghanistan as soon as next week that place an onus on next-door Pakistan to contain extremism, defense and administration officials said Thursday.

UN chief to open meeting on Afghanistan's future
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press Writer – Thu Mar 12, 11:25 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he will open a conference this month on the way forward in Afghanistan with the message that any military surge must be accompanied by "a political surge."

Iran open to multilateral talks on Afghanistan
Thu Mar 12, 7:38 pm ET
OTTAWA (AFP) – Visiting Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie said Thursday his government welcomes multilateral talks with the United States and its allies on Afghanistan.

Iran 'ready' to aid Afghanistan'
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi Mar 13, 2009 Asia Times Online
Strategically placed between the two energy hubs of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea and enjoying relations with 15 nations in the Middle East, Caspian basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the larger Eurasian landmass

Iran denies reports of accepting invitation to attend Afghanistan meeting
www.chinaview.cn 2009-03-13 22:17:24
TEHRAN, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi on Friday rejected recent reports that quoted him as saying that Iran would attend an upcoming conference on Afghanistan, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

UNHCR and Pakistan sign new agreement on stay of Afghan refugees
13 Mar 2009 13:42:05 GMT
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 13 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency and the Pakistani government on Friday signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan until the end of 2012.

Afghanistan: New U.S. Administration, New Directions
13 Mar 2009 13:24:55 GMT
Kabul/Washington/Brussels, 13 March 2009: Jihadi extremism in Afghanistan cannot be defeated unless the Obama administration adopts new political, economic and military policies that empower Afghan civilian institutions.

How to Leave Afghanistan
By LESLIE H. GELB The New York Times March 13, 2009 Op-Ed Contributor
ONLY if our troop levels hit 100,000 and fighting floods over into Taliban havens in Pakistan will Washington be likely to look hard at the alternative policy for Afghanistan — withdrawing most American

Taliban demand $375,000 to free captive Canadian
From Friday's Globe and Mail March 12, 2009 at 9:38 PM EDT
BANNU, PAKISTAN and VANCOUVER — Taliban insurgents active in Pakistan's lawless tribal region have offered to free a Canadian woman held since November in return for a $375,000 (U.S.) ransom.

US drone kills 12 Pakistanis in Pak-Afghan border region
New Kerala - Mar 13 2:53 AM
Islamabad, Mar.13 : A unmanned US drone has killed at least 12 people in Pakistan's Kurram district near the Afghan border, a local official said.

West faces isolation in Afghanistan
The Guardian - Jason Burke - 12 March 2009
US President Barack Obama's latest statements on strategy for Afghanistan are full of good sense. “We are not winning,” he has admitted, something that has been patently obvious to anyone who has spent any time

Pakistan adds to US's Afghan woes
By Syed Saleem Shahzad – Asia Times online
ISLAMABAD - Despite the threat of arrest, Pakistani lawyers and activists on Thursday began a "long march" from the port city of Karachi to the capital Islamabad in an attempt to force the government to reinstate judges sacked in 2007.

Afghan villagers uprooted, then recruited
As rural refugees put strain on cities, Taliban build their ranks by preying on desperation
GLORIA GALLOWAY March 13, 2009 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Mohammed Hussain grows grapes and wheat on the farm in the Panjwai district that was passed down to him from his father and grandfather. But he no longer lives there.

Afghan gov't to build Agricultural Institute in Taliban hotbed
People's Daily - Mar 12 6:44 PM
The government of Afghanistan is going to construct an Agricultural Institute in Taliban former stronghold Kandahar in south Afghanistan and in this regard a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked Thursday.

Afghanistan's Drug Culture, A Way Forward
Nasir Shansab - 3/10/2009 Global Politician
The phenomenal growth of Afghanistan's opium production over the past seven years is a sign of the monumental failure of the Karzai government.

Russia to deliver 40 tons of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan
14:24 | 13/ 03/ 2009
MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian plane carrying 40 metric tons of humanitarian aid is expected to arrive in Afghanistan on Friday night, an emergencies ministry spokesman said.

Back to Top
Officials: Obama's Afghanistan goals due soon
By Anne Gearan And Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writers – Fri Mar 13, 2:22 am ET
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration expects to announce new objectives for the flagging war in Afghanistan as soon as next week that place an onus on next-door Pakistan to contain extremism, defense and administration officials said Thursday.

The White House objectives were expected to roughly parallel 15 goals contained in a 20-page classified report to the White House from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among them were getting rid of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and adopting a regional approach to reducing the threat of terrorism and extremism in both countries.

"We're just about done," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview with PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" on Thursday.

The review addresses "the safe haven in Pakistan, making sure that Afghanistan doesn't provide a capability in the long run or an environment in which al-Qaida could return or the Taliban could return," Mullen said, as well as the need for stability, economic development and better governance in Afghanistan, and the development of the Afghan armed forces.

An administration official said that although the review was not complete, one thrust was that Pakistan needed to recognize that combating extremism was in its own interest as well as that of U.S.- and NATO fighting forces across the border in Afghanistan. The official, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because the review was not complete.

President Barack Obama was expected to explain the redrawn U.S. objectives to NATO allies when he attends a NATO summit in Europe next month.

The in-house review coordinated by the White House National Security Council lays out objectives over three years to five years, although that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S. military could leave in that time, defense officials said.

The U.S. goal in Afghanistan must be to protect Kabul's fragile government from collapsing under pressure from the Taliban — a goal that can only be achieved by securing Pakistan's cooperation, increasing substantially the size of Afghanistan's national security forces and boosting economic aid in the region, according to senior military and intelligence officials.

Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met privately on Thursday with more than a dozen senators. Although the session was confidential, it was part of the administration's effort to recruit support for a trimmed-down U.S. mission in the war begun by former President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The White House review was expected to frame U.S. objectives in two major categories: strategic regional goals for stability in impoverished Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan and smaller-scale warfighting goals for the growing U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan.

Broadly speaking, the Obama administration was expected to endorse a doctrine of counterinsurgency that has military and civilian components and that scales back U.S. expectations for Afghan democracy and self-sufficiency. A main theme is the premise that the military alone cannot win the war, officials said.

The review was expected to focus on containing the Taliban and the proliferation of lesser-known militant groups, providing a greater sense of security and stability for Afghan civilians and increasing the size and proficiency of the Afghan armed forces.

"I would say that, at a minimum, the mission is to prevent the Taliban from retaking power against a democratically elected government in Afghanistan and thus turning Afghanistan, potentially, again, into a haven for al-Qaida and other extremist groups," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview with National Public Radio this week.

Part of the strategy would be purely military, as the 17,000 additional troops Obama has approved for Afghanistan this year attest. Their role is to face off against extremists in the busy spring and summer fighting season and buy time for less tangible counterinsurgency tactics to take hold.

Administration and military leaders have given a glimpse into one such tactic, describing ways that Afghan and U.S. leaders might co-opt or pay off mid- and lower-level Taliban and other insurgents in rough imitation of a successful strategy to blunt the insurgency in Iraq.

The review overseen by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel drew on several generally bleak internal government assessments of the war done over the past six months. People familiar with those accounts sum up the conclusions much as Obama himself described the Afghanistan war in a New York Times interview last week: The United States is not winning.
___

Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.
Back to Top

Back to Top
UN chief to open meeting on Afghanistan's future
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press Writer – Thu Mar 12, 11:25 pm ET
UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he will open a conference this month on the way forward in Afghanistan with the message that any military surge must be accompanied by "a political surge."

The Netherlands government said it will host the one-day ministerialmeeting in The Hague on March 31 and invite Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran, as well as the United States and other nations contributing to military operations and reconstruction efforts in the war-shattered country. Aid donors and international organizations are also being invited.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed the meeting earlier this month, as President Barack Obama's administration formulates its strategy in Afghanistan.

Ban told a news conference that "Afghanistan is at another crossroads" with presidential elections scheduled for Aug. 20 and the security situation continuing to deteriorate.

The war against Taliban rule in Afghanistan seemed won when a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Islamist regime in 2001. But the militant movement has regained control of large swathes of the country, U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to reverse the gains, and the outlook appears increasingly bleak.

Last month, Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the record 38,000 American forces already there.

"This conference offers an opportunity to define a common way forward," Ban said. "Afghanistan is still going through a very fragile and volatile situation in terms of security and their domestic politics. Therefore we need to address all these issues from a comprehensive perspective."

The secretary-general said that when he met Obama at the White House on Tuesday he commended "his new and fresh look" at Afghanistan and said "strengthening military capacity will be absolutely necessary" to improve security.

"But any military surge, I emphasized to President Obama, must be accompanied by a political surge," he said.

"This political surge can be done by President (Hamid) Karzai and his government in engaging themselves with many other leaders both in the government and the opposition," he said. "And also by the international community's helping the Afghanistan government to strengthen and improve their relationship with neighboring countries."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iran open to multilateral talks on Afghanistan
Thu Mar 12, 7:38 pm ET
OTTAWA (AFP) – Visiting Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie said Thursday his government welcomes multilateral talks with the United States and its allies on Afghanistan.

But, he added, Tehran has yet to receive an official invitation from the US administration or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"We have received some news about Mrs. Clinton's overtures, but we have not received an official invitation to any summit," he said through an interpreter during an unofficial visit to Canada.

"I would like to add that any talks related to Afghanistan are important and we welcome them," he said. "This is positive -- any talks on Afghanistan, especially bilateral or multilateral talks on this issue."

Clinton said last week that Iran would be invited to a high-level conference on Afghanistan next month, should the event go ahead.

Before agreeing to attend, however, Mashaie said Tehran would like to know more about the summit agenda.

He commented that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force's results in trying to secure Afghanistan "have not been very favorable," adding that its security is of concern to its neighbors, especially to Iran.

He also said Tehran would like to cooperate with Canada "to ease the security crisis in Afghanistan and plan for the aftermath of the departure of its troops" in 2011.

Canada has some 2,750 troops deployed in southern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission to rout insurgents.

A roadside blast on Sunday claimed the life of a soldier on a routine patrol, bringing to 112 the number of Canadian casualties in the war-torn country since the start of its mission in 2002.

Mashaie was in Canada to meet with Iranian expatriates. He had no meetings planned with Canadian officials.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iran 'ready' to aid Afghanistan'
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi Mar 13, 2009 Asia Times Online
Strategically placed between the two energy hubs of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea and enjoying relations with 15 nations in the Middle East, Caspian basin, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the larger Eurasian landmass, Iran is positioned to play a pivotal role in promoting regional cooperation. This week's landmark summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) [1] again highlighted the increasingly important regional dimension of Tehran's foreign policy.

The ECO is an inter-governmental regional bloc initially set up by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan in 1964 as the Regional Cooperation For Development. The ECO was renamed in 1985, after a temporary hiatus following the 1979 Iranian revolution, and in 1992 inducted seven new members: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The ECO's stated aim is to promote economic, technical, cultural and low-security cooperation among its member states.

The so-called "ECO region" is vast, encompassing some 8.5 million square kilometers. The area is also marked by the unequal development of its members, ranging from industrial Turkey to agricultural Tajikistan, from wealthy Kazakhstan to devastated Afghanistan and oil-producing state Iran. With a population of more than 400 million, the ECO region's share of the global economy stands at only 2.8%. Despite decades of ECO-based efforts, even inter-regional trade has been slow to develop.

But the present global economic crisis, which is by definition also a crisis of globalization, has spurred new energy from the ECO to offset the downturn's debilitating consequences. From Iran's vantage point, withstanding the crisis necessitates a certain degree of de-globalization because the present Western capitalist-centric pattern of globalization has had adverse results on developing nations.

"The more a country has been linked to the world economy, and its trade [linked] to exchange based on the dollar, the more its economy has been damaged," Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stated in his opening remarks at the ECO summit. Ahmadinejad called for establishing proper mechanisms for an inter-ECO barter system, access to a single currency and the facilitation of trade and transportation.

In his concluding statement, Ahmadinejad waxed optimistic about "the sapling of the ECO" turning into a "strong tree" that could conceivably shield its members from the world financial meltdown. He also expressed satisfaction that the president of Iraq and the emir of Qatar attended the summit as "special guests".

Although lingering suspicion that certain members harbor "regional ambitions" is a limiting factor, the outlook for economic cooperation has improved. The group is now promoting the idea of an ECO free trade zone by 2015, a single ECO currency and integrated trade through the ECO Trade Agreement and Transit Transport Framework Agreement.

With Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai present, the summit was also an occasion to underscore the ECO's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A trilateral group of Farsi-speaking nations - Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan - was formed to promote cooperation, such as linking railways, importing Tajikistan's water and electricity into Iran via Afghanistan, and other issues.

Another reason for greater cooperation in the ECO is that terrorism, tensions over resources, drug trafficking and security threats are growing in the region. Combating these problems demands a collective effort as well as coordination and engagement with international organizations and outside powers.

Perhaps with these issues in mind, Iran has accepted an invitation from Italy to participate in the Group of Eight summit on Afghanistan, to be held in Trieste in June. This conference will discuss the "spillover" of conflict in Afghanistan and ways to secure the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have already begun a trilateral initiative in this regard. (See US, Iran seek to end Afghan narco-traffic, March 10, 2009.)

In fact, this week's ECO summit was an important step towards narrowing the regional outlooks of Iran and Pakistan by providing a timely forum for an exchange of ideas between leaders.

An Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan axis
An important axis of cooperation between the Islamist states of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan is on the horizon. Barring unforeseen developments, closer cooperation between the three nations is imminent. This is particularly so if Iran and the United States - the main backer of Kabul and Islamabad - can patch up differences and reach a reasonable understanding on Afghanistan.

To this aim, visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gul apparently carried a "goodwill message" from the US government, perpetuating Ankara's important role as a bridge between Tehran and Washington. Although Iran and the US remain at odds over Iran's nuclear program, the two countries do have a convergence of interests on regional issues.

But resolving vexing regional issues is no easy task. As Iran's former ambassador to Pakistan Mahmoud Musavi puts it, the region has a "scrambled image that is nearly impossible to decode". In a recent interview with the Iranian press, Musavi said the Taliban "are a part of Afghan society" and that US efforts to uproot the Taliban have failed as the Taliban have "managed to maintain 80% of their forces in Afghanistan". According to Musavi, the Taliban control up to "95%" of Pakistan's Swat Valley.

As a result, Iran is not disquieted by reports of US President Barack Obama's recent overtures toward "certain elements within the Taliban", a move favored by Karzai. The big question is whether some kind of power-sharing scheme can be worked out between Kabul and the Taliban ahead of Afghanistan's elections scheduled for August.

This possibility is highly unlikely. Meanwhile, given the recent admission by a US commander that some important parts of the country are "out of control", what role can Iran play in stabilizing Afghanistan?

Increased Iranian assistance to Afghanistan
Iran should increase its economic assistance to Afghanistan and help train the Afghan army and national police. Tehran should also implement some of the recent bilateral agreements, such as a railway link from Khawaf to Herat city. At the same time, Iran must show greater flexibility in coordinating its Afghanistan's policy with international organizations and the European Union.

As a main victim of Afghanistan's burgeoning drug trade, Iran should bolster Kabul's capacity to thwart smugglers. For example, there are virtually no border police in Helmand province, where most of the drugs are being trafficked. Kabul's eradication efforts have been hampered by lack of security, poor planning and inadequate equipment and funding. A comprehensive anti-narcotics campaign requires support by Iran and the ECO. In light of growing reports that smugglers are opening now routes on the Arabian Peninsula, the problem also afflicts the Arab and Muslim worlds.

This is one reason why Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have been invited by Italy to take part in the G-8 summit on Afghanistan. Any direct dialogue on Afghanistan will also deal with the expanding threat of Sunni radicalism from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. Such talks could be part of a broader dialogue between the GCC and ECO, particularly since Iraq has expressed interest in joining the ECO.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, at a pre-summit press conference, explicitly referred to Iraq's request to join the ECO. This is an important development because Iraq, an Arab country, has been shunned by the GCC and has virtually no prospect of membership due to its dominant Shi'ite government and alliance with Iran, Iraq's top trade partner.

The decision by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani to attend the ECO summit is an important signal. With the Persian Gulf's doors shut rather indefinitely, the post-Ba'athist order is now poised to forge a new identity as a part of the ECO region.

This process is now fully underway. A new regionalization of Iraq's foreign and economic policies - in line with Iran's regional aspirations - has been taking shape that would directly impact the politics of the Persian Gulf by expanding the ECO's reach in the vital oil region.

The decision by Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamed bin Kalif al-Thani to be a special guest of the ECO summit represents yet another milestone in ECO-GCC relationship. The ECO region is important for the GCC's trade purposes with Iran potentially acting as a corridor between the GCC states and the ECO's landlocked Central Asian states.

An important prerequisite for any meaningful progress is Iran's ability to deflect allegations that it harbors "hegemonic intentions" with respect to its neighbors. Tehran must also shed its inflammatory rhetoric, such as the recent outburst by an Iranian Tehran religious dignitary in Bahrain that has angered the Arab world and prompted Morocco to sever diplomatic ties.

Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, used this week's ECO gathering to emphasize Islamic unity by highlighting the role of the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Conference "to resolve disputes". Iran is not keen on viewing its role in regional and multilateral organizations as a "zero-sum" game, regarding such groups as complementary to each other.

It is now entirely up to Saudi leaders to set aside their recent anti-Iran rhetoric in favor of constructive engagement. After all, Iran has a "strategic position in the ECO region", to paraphrase an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

"Iran is ready for cooperation to aid Afghanistan," the spokesperson said at the closing of the ECO meetings.

Note 1. For more background on ECO, see Afrasiabi and Pour Jalali, Regionalization in a competitive Context, The Case of ECO, Mediterranean Quarterly. Also, see the three-part article by Afrasiabi on ECO in Eurasianet: ECO strives to improve transportation and communication networks and the chapter by Abbas Maleki on regionalism in Iran's foreign policy, in Maleki and Afrasiabi, Iran's Foreign Policy After September 11 (Booksurge, 2008).

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. His latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iran denies reports of accepting invitation to attend Afghanistan meeting
www.chinaview.cn 2009-03-13 22:17:24
TEHRAN, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi on Friday rejected recent reports that quoted him as saying that Iran would attend an upcoming conference on Afghanistan, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

"It is necessary to say that I didn't have any public or private interview or talks with media during this week as I was busy all the time with participating in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Tehran," Qashqavi said.

On Thursday, Fars news agency and some other local media quoted Qashqavi as saying on Wednesday that Iran had accepted the U.S. invitation to a conference on Afghanistan and it was open for talks to help resolve the crisis in the war-torn country.

On Monday, visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who participated in the ECO ministerial meeting, told Fars that "We are much eager to see a more active role of Iran in regional policies."

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would invite Iran to attend an international conference on Afghanistan on March 31.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham said later that Iran would consider U.S. invitation to attend the meeting on Afghanistan as it considered stability in the neighboring country a priority.

"If they (Western countries) need us, they should offer (an invitation). We will review it based on a stance that we will help Afghanistan," Elham said.

The United States severed its ties with Iran in 1980. Since then, Washington has been trying to beef up sanctions against Tehran for being involved in anti-U.S. activities and for allegedly developing nuclear weapons secretly.

Iran has denied the charges and insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Editor: Yan
Back to Top

Back to Top
UNHCR and Pakistan sign new agreement on stay of Afghan refugees
13 Mar 2009 13:42:05 GMT
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 13 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency and the Pakistani government on Friday signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan until the end of 2012.

The letter of mutual intent was signed in Islamabad by UNHCR Representative Guenet Guebre-Christos and Minister of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Najamuddin Khan.

It sets out measures to be taken regarding the temporary stay of Afghans in Pakistan, their gradual and voluntary repatriation, and international support to Pakistan for hosting one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

There are currently some 1.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 percent residing in refugee villages and the rest scattered among host communities.

Under the new agreement, SAFRON will take measures to extend the validity of the Proof of Registration (PoR) cards issued to Afghan citizens living in Pakistan until the end of 2012. The current PoR cards, issued during an extensive registration exercise in 2006, are due to expire at the end of this year.

In addition, the ministry undertakes to revise the government's current strategy for the management of Afghans living in Pakistan beyond 2009 and to support the extension of the current tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan until the end of 2012.

Welcoming the agreement, UNHCR's Guebre-Christos said the agency was committed to supporting the safe, voluntary and gradual repatriation of Afghans at a pace that recognizes the current reintegration challenges in Afghanistan.

"This is a responsible move by Pakistan, which recognizes both the realities on the ground in Afghanistan and the importance of robust systems to legalize and manage the temporary stay of Afghans in Pakistan," she said.

UNHCR has also agreed to raise funds to support the Registration Information Project of Afghan Citizens (RIPAC) to improve the quality of registration data and to update and correct the PoR cards so that information about the Afghan population remains current.

In addition, UNHCR will engage the international community to fund the US$140 million Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) programme – benefitting Afghans and Pakistanis – over five years. Under RAHA, UNHCR and its UN partners will support development projects in 21 districts of Pakistan, mostly in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province, which together have hosted most of the Afghan refugees in the country.

Development projects under the RAHA scheme will help people rebuild livelihoods, boost employment prospects, revive agricultural and irrigation systems, and repair rural roads. Other aspects of the programme will improve health and education services, and restore the environment in those areas most affected by the hosting of refugees.

Today's signing builds upon previous agreements within the tripartite framework, including the 16th meeting here in August 2008, which acknowledged that future planning for the voluntary return of registered Afghan refugees should reflect reintegration challenges and ground realities in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, almost 3.5 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan with UNHCR assistance. Overall, some 4.3 million Afghans have returned home from Pakistan, Iran, and other countries with the agency's help.
By Ariane Rummery In Islamabad, Pakistan
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan: New U.S. Administration, New Directions
13 Mar 2009 13:24:55 GMT
Kabul/Washington/Brussels, 13 March 2009: Jihadi extremism in Afghanistan cannot be defeated unless the Obama administration adopts new political, economic and military policies that empower Afghan civilian institutions.

Afghanistan: New U.S. Administration, New Directions,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation in Afghanistan after seven years of U.S.-led intervention and highlights what should be done and what should not be done for the country to find a path to stability. A policy review by the Obama administration has reopened debate about how to defeat the forces of violent global jihadism – al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors – in Afghanistan and in neighbouring Pakistan.

“The Afghanistan crisis is the outcome of decades of internal conflict”, says Crisis Group President Gareth Evans. “No short-term solution will resolve the crisis overnight. Time and patience are needed to build the infrastructure and institutions to stabilise the Afghan state and root out or neutralise jihadi influence.”

“The Taliban today is not a standing army but rather a disparate network of groups”, says Joanna Nathan, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “It does not have significant public support among a population tired of war, and the vast majority of people remain far more fearful of what would happen if foreign troops were to leave rather than stay.”

Because the Bush administration’s “war on terror” put short-term efforts to the fore, after seven years, Afghanistan lacks robust representative Afghan institutions. This is partly a result of the U.S. administration leaving the agenda too much in the hands of the U.S. military. Civilian institutions must now reassert their authority in Washington. The new administration should learn from past mistakes and above all focus U.S. efforts on enabling the Afghan government to expand its reach and legitimacy through the provision of security, rule of law and public services to its citizens.

What is needed in Afghanistan itself is the creation of a resilient state, which will only emerge if moderate forces and democratic norms are strengthened. It requires robust institutions that can uphold, and are accountable to, the rule of law. Only when citizens perceive the state as legitimate and capable of delivering security, good governance and rule of law, will Afghans be able to resist jihadi pressures and overtures.

“The Obama administration must also send clear signals to the Pakistani military that there will be a very high price to pay for tacit or explicit support for jihadis, local or regional”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “This is the minimum necessary to dissuade Pakistani spoilers from trying to destabilise the Afghan enterprise.”
Back to Top

Back to Top
How to Leave Afghanistan
By LESLIE H. GELB The New York Times March 13, 2009 Op-Ed Contributor
ONLY if our troop levels hit 100,000 and fighting floods over into Taliban havens in Pakistan will Washington be likely to look hard at the alternative policy for Afghanistan — withdrawing most American forces and refocusing our power on containing, deterring and diplomatically encircling the terrorist threat. But by then it will be too late.

President Obama is now confronting the classic problem from hell: either do more to stave off defeat and hope to get lucky, or withdraw and face charges of defeatism and perhaps new terrorist attacks. Mr. Obama’s goal is to “ensure” that Afghanistan is not a sanctuary for terrorists, which effectively restates his campaign call for victory there. Thus, he recently decided to add 17,000 American troops to the more than 35,000 already in Afghanistan. But his goal of eliminating the Taliban threat is not achievable.

Mr. Obama needs to consider another path. Our strategy in Afghanistan should emphasize what we do best (containing and deterring, and forging coalitions) and downgrade what we do worst (nation-building in open-ended wars). It should cut our growing costs and secure our interests by employing our power more creatively and practically. It must also permit us — and this is critical — to focus more American resources and influence on the far more dire situation in Pakistan.

We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, as the last seven years have shown. Numbers are part of the problem: most Taliban are members of Afghanistan’s majority tribe, the Pashtuns. More confounding, the Taliban and their Qaeda allies have found in northwestern Pakistan a refuge that has proved almost impregnable. These factors make overcoming the enemy in Afghanistan infinitely harder than it was in Iraq.

What we can do is effectively reduce the risk of terrorist attacks from Afghanistan against its neighbors, the United States and its allies. We can do this in a way that would allow for the withdrawal of American forces, though economic and military aid would continue.

The first step is to provide significantly increased economic support, arms and training to friendly Afghans as United States combat forces gradually depart over, say, three years. We could use the intervening time to increase present counterinsurgency operations to better protect Afghans and give them a boost to fight on their own, if they have the will.

The second step is to try to separate less extremist elements of the Taliban from their leadership and from Al Qaeda. Mr. Obama is already considering reaching out to Taliban moderates, and he could do this through the Afghan government and covert contacts. No group is monolithic once tested with carrots and sticks, as we saw in Northern Ireland and Iraq.

The Taliban are no exception. While most of them want to drive America out, they have no inherent interest in exporting terrorism. As nasty as the Taliban are, America’s vital interests do not require their exclusion from power in Afghanistan, so long as they don’t support international terrorists.

Third, while we should talk to the Taliban, Washington can’t rely on their word and so must fashion a credible deterrent. The more the Taliban set up shop inside Afghanistan, the more vulnerable they will be to American punishment. Taliban leaders must have good reason to fear America’s military reach. Their leaders could be hit by drones or air strikes. The same goes for their poppy fields, from which they derive considerable income. Most important, Mr. Obama must do what the Bush team inexplicably never seemed to succeed in doing — stop the flow of funds to the Taliban that comes mainly through the Arab Gulf states. At the same time, he could let some money trickle in to reward good behavior.

Fourth, President Obama has to ring Afghanistan with a coalition of neighbors to show the Taliban they have no place to seek succor, even after an American departure. The group would include China, India, Russia, NATO allies, and yes, Iran. They all share a considerable interest in stemming the spread of Afghan drugs and Islamic extremism. China and Russia should be more willing to help in this anti-Taliban effort as the American military presence recedes from their sensitive borders.

Then there’s Pakistan, both the heart of the problem and the key to its solution. The peaceful future of the region depends on the resolve and ability of Pakistan’s secular and moderate religious leaders to provide decent government to their people. China, India, Iran and Russia might cooperate with Washington simply because there’s no motivation greater than the nightmare of extremists controlling Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

India in particular wants to combat extremism in Pakistan. It could do that by reducing its forces on the border with Pakistan, for example, thereby allowing Pakistani moderates to focus their attention more on the growing and already formidable extremist threat within.

Withdrawal need not mean defeat for America and victory for terrorists, if the full range of American power is used effectively. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger proved that by countering the nasty aftereffects of Vietnam’s fall to communism in a virtuoso display of American power. They did this by engaging in triangular diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union; brokering a de facto peace between Israel and Egypt; and re-establishing American prowess in Asia as a counterweight to emerging Chinese power. By 1978, three years after Saigon’s fall, America’s position in the area was stronger than at any time since the end of World War II.

I don’t know whether the power extrication strategy sketched out here would be less or more risky than our present course. But trying to eliminate the Taliban and Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is unattainable, while finding a way to live with, contain and deter the Taliban is an achievable goal. After all, we don’t insist on eliminating terrorist threats from Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Furthermore, this strategy of containing and deterring is far better suited to American power than the current approach of counterinsurgency and nation-building.

President Obama and Congress owe it to both Afghans and Americans to explore a strategy of power extrication before they make another major decision to expand the war.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former editor and columnist for The Times, is the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the forthcoming “Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy.”
Back to Top

Back to Top
Taliban demand $375,000 to free captive Canadian
From Friday's Globe and Mail March 12, 2009 at 9:38 PM EDT
BANNU, PAKISTAN and VANCOUVER — Taliban insurgents active in Pakistan's lawless tribal region have offered to free a Canadian woman held since November in return for a $375,000 (U.S.) ransom.

The demand came in an interview near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with Qari, a man who preferred to identify himself only by his first name.

Qari says he's a close aide of Gul Bahadur, the Taliban head in the volatile North Waziristan region who is alleged to be responsible for the kidnapping of Beverly Giesbrecht, a West Vancouver woman who was in the area working as a freelance journalist.

Ms. Giesbrecht, 52, also goes by the name, Khadija Abdul Qahaar, after converting to Islam in 2002. She is the publisher of a pro-Islamic website, Jihad Unspun.

Glen Cooper, a close friend of Ms. Giesbrecht's, Thursday declined comment on the report.

Officials at the High Commission for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in Ottawa, said they knew nothing of the proposed deal.

Emma Welford, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Canada, said she has “no new information,” but added that Canadian officials have been working with Pakistan to get Ms. Giesbrecht's safe release.

“We are pursuing all appropriate channels,” she said. “We are working to secure the best possible outcome.”

Ms. Giesbrecht was seized at gunpoint along with two local assistants while travelling in the Bannu district, a gateway to the North Waziristan tribal belt, which borders Afghanistan.

Earlier reports had the Taliban offering her release in return for a large cash payment and a prisoner exchange.

But Qari said money alone could now secure her release.

“Once negotiators approach the Taliban … then definitely they will work out the timing and conditions for her release,” he said.

Qari said the demand for the release of Taliban prisoners detained elsewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan was dropped in order to speed up a transaction.

It is believed the abducted Canadian woman is being kept somewhere on the border region of North Waziristan.

“She is safe and sound, for she is very precious for us. She has the freedom to interact with our female folk, whom she has got used to. Inshallah [God willing], she will not be harmed and we are confident that our demand will be accepted by the concerned government,” Qari said.

“She is provided with the best available facilities including food, medical care,” he said, although he acknowledged he had not seen her himself.

“She seems to be very encouraged with the reports that Taliban will spare her life in exchange for ransom,” he said.

The Canadian hostage is a sensitive issue in the area, with most of locals refusing to speak on the matter.

People in the area have been decapitated for allegedly being “spies for U.S forces.”

A local man, with a thick black beard and turban, said people have been told not to discuss “her abduction issue or her whereabouts.”

Weary tribesmen in the region are feeling greater insecurity because of a growing number of kidnappings and ongoing attacks by U.S. drones on suspected Taliban strongholds.

“If the tribesmen offer Taliban any food or even shake hands with them then the Pakistani security forces label them as sympathizers … But on the other hand when we provide [Pakistan] security forces … with drinking water, then the Taliban consider us as their foes,” said a Waziri tribesman, requesting not to be named.

There have been recent reports that a spate of kidnappings of Pakistani and foreign officials in the area have been triggered by the Taliban's need for money.

Muhammad Haroon, a local tribesman, said the Taliban are facing serious financial constraints at a time when their rivals are also under the grip of global financial crunch.

Some circles within the hard-line militia say Taliban leader Mullah Omar has issued directives to Pakistan-based Taliban heads to stop internal conflicts and concentrate on ejecting foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Back to Top

Back to Top
US drone kills 12 Pakistanis in Pak-Afghan border region
New Kerala - Mar 13 2:53 AM
Islamabad, Mar.13 : A unmanned US drone has killed at least 12 people in Pakistan's Kurram district near the Afghan border, a local official said.

"Taleban militants have sealed off the area and are retrieving bodies from the rubble," said a security official.

This was the fifth drone attack on Pakistan territory since Barack Obama became US president.

Pakistan is critical of the tactic because, it says, civilians are often killed, fuelling support for militants.

The target of the missiles was a training camp run by a local Taleban commander.

The US does not confirm drone attacks but no other countries have the power to deploy such weapons in the region.
--- ANI
Back to Top

Back to Top
West faces isolation in Afghanistan
The Guardian - Jason Burke - 12 March 2009
US President Barack Obama's latest statements on strategy for Afghanistan are full of good sense. “We are not winning,” he has admitted, something that has been patently obvious to anyone who has spent any time in the country in recent years. He could have added too that the US and its allies are not losing either. Instead there is just a vicious stalemate, a trial of patience as much as a trial of force, in which those Afghans caught in the crossfire — figuratively, or increasingly literally — are the losers.

With this stalemate, various factors external to the immediate battle for control over terrain or the population gain greater significance. There is the regional situation. Can we expect a significant improvement on the Pakistani side of Afghanistan's eastern and southern border in the near future? There is the question of domestic support for the war in the West. Are Europeans and Americans going to allow their political leaders to commit men and money to the war indefinitely? There is the crucial internal question: Are we likely to see a major improvement in terms of governance in Afghanistan in the near future too? The answer to all these questions is probably no.

Obama's team is aware of all these problems. One area they think they can make an immediate difference in is military strategy and military-political strategy within Afghanistan. It is therefore inevitable that the surge in Iraq is looked to for inspiration, not least because it is seen to have brought quick results.

The surge involved more troops, of course, but also a new strategy, carefully constructed by men like Gen. David Petraeus himself and his key adviser, David Kilcullen, an Australian former army officer and political anthropologist. It was based on getting troops out of bases and among communities and on understanding what drove the insurgents and giving them reasons for stopping fighting.

In Afghanistan in recent years I have been repeatedly struck by the extreme isolation of Western forces from the people they are supposed to protect. From desert camps like the British Bastion in Helmand or Kandahar air force base — enormous constructions in the middle of nowhere — troops effectively conduct intermittent raids into enemy territory. Changing this will be difficult but a new strategy will require it. As Kilcullen notes in his recently published book, “The Accidental Guerilla,” the aim must be to “protect the population,” not just win land.

This, of course, the Taleban understood years ago. Their strategy was multilayered — social, political, cultural and military. Combat actions usually came after lengthy groundwork building parallel administrations in target areas, as I found when reporting from Wardak province in August last year.

The Petraeus-Kilcullen approach, and they are far from the first to have thought of it, involves “disaggregating” the Taleban and Al-Qaeda. The first element is to peel off the Taleban from the international militants who pose the most serious threat to the West. The second is to break up the Taleban themselves by peeling off “moderates.” This is what Obama was talking about in his most recent interview.

Again, such initiatives are not new. They have been happening at a local level for several years and the Afghan government has tried to bring so-called moderate Taleban to the negotiating table. But this has not worked on a general scale for two main reasons. First, those Taleban who are willing to meet and talk have little influence. Second, because those who do have influence feel, possibly rightly, that they are winning at the moment, and thus have no need to compromise. At a local level there have been some small successes, but that is it.

The real problem currently is that the Taleban has been able to appropriate the role of defenders of the culture, religion and political interests of the Pashtun rural conservative constituency in the south and east of the country. The gaping hole in the Western strategy in Afghanistan is the lack of a political vehicle that would allow this constituency to feel their interests were represented in Kabul.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Pakistan adds to US's Afghan woes
By Syed Saleem Shahzad – Asia Times online
ISLAMABAD - Despite the threat of arrest, Pakistani lawyers and activists on Thursday began a "long march" from the port city of Karachi to the capital Islamabad in an attempt to force the government to reinstate judges sacked in 2007.

In just a few weeks, the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan will begin another leg of its to-date eight-year-old long march to oust foreign forces from the country.

The tumult in Pakistan, which is increasingly loosening President Asif Ali Zardari's grip on power, and the next round of fighting in Afghanistan - expected to be the fiercest yet - are inextricably linked and are fast spiraling out of control.

On Wednesday, hundreds of lawyers and opposition figures were arrested, and the same fate could befall the marchers. Orders have also been issued for the detention of Nawaz Sharif, head of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and his brother Shabhaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab province.

The marchers want Zardari to honor his promise to reinstate the judges who were sacked by former military ruler president General Pervez Musharraf, including Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. In these tense political times, Zardari has little time to cope with the "war on terror".

Ahead of the resumption of battle in Afghanistan now that the weather is warmer, the Taliban have a virtual siege all around the capital Kabul. They have significant control in the vital districts of Wardak, Logar, Parwan and Kapisa.

A second strategic ring to reinforce this siege comprises the provinces of Kunar, Nooristan and Ghazni. The four vital entry and exit routes for the Taliban's supply lines - Nimroz, Herat, Nangarhar and Kandahar - are also heavily manned by the militants.

In addition, after striking peace deals with the Pakistani security forces, the newly formed United Front of Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas is ready to pump at least 15,000 to 20,000 fresh fighters into Afghanistan. These are expected to start crossing the rugged - and unmanned - border in April.

United States President Barack Obama has promised an additional 17,000 US forces for Afghanistan, in addition to the 38,000 already on the ground, as well as greater numbers for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), whose forces now tally about 55,000.

Even as the numbers of the combatants increase, the US is exploring alternative ways to deal with the problem. Unlike the George W Bush administration's war doctrine of hitting Pakistan's tribal areas with Predator drones to take out key militant leaders, Washington is attempting mediation for peace.

United States Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, claimed that at least 70% of the Taliban's guerrillas in Afghanistan were mercenaries and could be persuaded to lay down their arms. This follows on the US stepping up its calls for outreach to "moderate" elements of the insurgency.

"Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated," Biden said. "Another 25% or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. Roughly 70% are involved because of the money."

In a weekend New York Times interview, Obama floated the idea of engaging with non-radical members of the insurgency, as Afghanistan heads toward August 20 elections that will test its ability to govern itself.

However, it appears that Washington has already missed the boat. The reason is the all-time high domination of al-Qaeda-influenced militants - the neo-Taliban - who are not willing to make any deal short of the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces and the restoration of the Taliban regime.

Despite the killing of a large number of important al-Qaeda commanders, these hardliners have a strong presence among the Pakistan militants allied with the three main commanders - Mullah Bradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anwarul Haq Mujahid. These three have pledged their allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has transformed the Taliban into an ultra-conservative force compared to a few years ago when the Taliban were a Pashtun tribal movement.

Interestingly, Washington earlier rejected a similar proposal made by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office which described 80% of the Taliban as reconcilable and 20% as not so. On the basis of this theory, the British Embassy and the United Nations supported a move to start negotiations with the Taliban in 2007. They sent one UN and one European Union official to Helmand province to hold talks with the Taliban commander there.

Under American pressure, the Afghan government expelled the officers and relations between the US and Britain were tense for a few months. So much so that the appointment of Lord Paddy Ashdown as the UN's special representative for Afghanistan was opposed by the Afghan government under American pressure.

In 2001, before the US invasion of Afghanistan and the ouster of the Taliban, then-Pakistani president Musharraf advised Washington that there were two kinds of Taliban. The one group was militant, the other moderate. He pleaded to engage the moderates, but the Americans said Pakistan was too sympathetic towards the Taliban and rejected the proposal.

After the defeat of the Taliban, Musharraf met president George W Bush and reportedly pointed out that the US was making a blunder by focussing all of its operations on Kabul and leaving the rest of the country to be tamed by the air force.

Musharraf pointed out that Afghanistan had eight power centers - Herat, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunar and Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika, Khost and Pansher. He suggested that if Bush wanted to consolidate American control, he needed to immediately negotiate with the various warlords in those regions and strike separate deals.

The advice was ignored and the US made deals all over Afghanistan only with commanders associated with the Shura-e-Nazar. This council was formed by the late Ahmad Shah Massoud of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that was made up of mostly non-Pashtun groups.

The result was that the powerful commanders associated with the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and those who were allied with the Taliban were overlooked and then melted into the Taliban-led insurgency.

A good example of this is the most powerful commander in the Kunar Valley, Haji Kashmir Khan. He welcomed the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and went to Kabul along with his loyalist commanders to greet Hamid Karzai, the new president.

However, being a close aide of Hekmatyar, he was not given any positions in Kunar - these went to rival commanders associated with the Shura-e-Nazar. Khan returned disgruntled to his sanctuaries in the mountains and to this day he is Hekmatyar's main protector. Hekmatyar has regrouped the scattered command of the Hezbe-e-Islami and they have carried out several successful operations and form an important part of the insurgency.

In addition, over the years a new generation of fighters has taken over command in many areas. They are ultra-conservative and make a mockery of Biden's claim that 70% of the Taliban could be bought off.

Mian Raza Rabbani, the leader of the House in the senate and a top member of the lead party in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), this week resigned. He was apparently miffed after a close friend and a new entry in the PPP, Farooq Naek, was nominated as the party's candidate for the position of chairman of the senate.

This has been interpreted as the first major sign of dissent against the leadership of Zardari, who has already developed a series of differences with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, another senior leader of the PPP.

This inter-party unrest could not come at a worse time, given the troubles on the streets with anti-government elements and the rampant militancy in the tribal areas. In effect, all state operations are crippled, including Pakistan's commitment to the "war on terror". The gridlock in Islamabad directly affects neighboring Afghanistan as all containment strategies against the Taliban, directly and indirectly, have to be routed through Pakistan.

The military, due to its extreme unpopularity during the eight-year Musharraf era that ended in 2007, is unlikely to be in any position for "adventurism", such as a coup.

All the same, General Headquarters in Rawalpindi has activated its forces and informed the authorities in Islamabad that it will directly supervise security in Islamabad. This is the first time security has been taken from the Ministry of Interior.

Zardari is in a difficult spot over the reinstatement of the judges, especially ex-chief justice Chaudhry. In an American-brokered deal with Musharraf, Zardari was given a presidential pardon for all corruption cases that were pending against him, allowing him to take political office. Were Chaudhry to return, he would in all likelihood challenge the presidential order.

American officials are now talking to opposition leader Sharif, Aitazaz Ehsan, the leader of the lawyers' movement, as well as Chaudhry, with a view to the possible ouster of Zardari, who only took office last September.

On Thursday, US envoy Richard Holbrooke called on Gillani at the National Assembly and spoke to him for 15 minutes. According to sources who spoke to Asia Times Online, he expressed concern over the political turmoil and urged the premier to show restraint. Earlier, US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Peterson met with Sharif.

The US still wants a government comprising secular and liberal political parties to support the "war on terror" and the military surge against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With first pick Zardari looking more and more like a loser, a change of horses in mid-stream beckons, but such maneuvers in volatile Pakistan are never easy.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan villagers uprooted, then recruited
As rural refugees put strain on cities, Taliban build their ranks by preying on desperation
GLORIA GALLOWAY March 13, 2009 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Mohammed Hussain grows grapes and wheat on the farm in the Panjwai district that was passed down to him from his father and grandfather. But he no longer lives there.

"We were waiting for the promised stability and security but it just didn't come," he said this week through an interpreter.

Mr. Hussain, his wife and their eight children fled to Kandahar city about a year ago. They left their home, their vineyards, their cow and their chickens.

"In the city we don't have those things," Mr. Hussain said. "But in the city there is no fighting and no bombs."

Massive numbers of people have already been forced from their villages in the fighting zones, and the numbers are going up as security continues to deteriorate.

It is a displacement that is fostering social upheaval and crime. It is straining the limited resources of a city with little food and shelter to offer. And it is creating a growing legion of young men with no land to farm and no jobs - young men who are ripe pickings for the Taliban.

The exodus from the rural areas into Kandahar "is increasing day to day due to the ongoing conflict within these districts," said Javed Amin, the operations manager for Mercy Corps, one of the few aid groups still operating in Kandahar.

"It's not clear how long they will be staying here and when the situation will get normal enough for them to return back safely to their families and their houses."

Mr. Hussain said his village of Sperwan in Panjwai district had two different governments by the time his family fled. During the day it was ruled by NATO forces. During the night it was ruled by the Taliban.

The constant warring forced nearly everyone to move to safer ground, Mr. Hussain said. Some went to the Arghandab district, north of Kandahar, where the insurgents had yet to become a dominant force. Most went to Kandahar.

But the city presents its own problems. The streets are rubble. Robbery and kidnappings are commonplace. Housing is expensive and hard to find. And there is no work.

"My young son tried every day to find a job but he can't find a job," Mr. Hussain lamented.

There are constant pressures for unemployed young men to join the army or the Taliban. Mr. Hussain said his son will not succumb to either option. Eventually, he said, he will get a job with the government, a "secure job."

But not everyone can afford to be discriminating.

"The people are jobless and they have no other option," Mr. Amin said yesterday. "And if anyone is paying them for any reason to do anything, they will be ready. If the number of Taliban insurgents is increasing, this is the reason. Because they are being paid. [The men] must feed their families. There is no legal way to find a job and find money for their families so they have no other option."

The only way Mr. Hussain can make a living is to continue to farm the land he left behind. That means he must make regular trips back to Sperwan over roads that have been planted with mines.

Many of his former neighbours do the same commute. And many have been killed making the trip, he said. "But this is my obligation, to go there and to come back."

Ghulam Hazrat once lived in Pashmul in the Zhari district. He and his wife and his seven children moved to Kandahar 2½ years ago.

"I couldn't stay there," he said. "There was fighting every day."

Mr. Hazrat has set up a store that sells building materials. But business is not good because there are no homes being built. There is a great need for housing in Kandahar, but few can afford to buy.

When they first arrived, Mr. Hazrat's family of nine moved in with relatives who gave them two rooms. They stayed there for four months until they could afford to rent a house.

Today, his children go to school. But he worries about their safety on the crime-ridden streets of Kandahar.

Still, Mr. Hazrat said, "the city is more secure than Pashmul. I don't hope to go back."

Said Mohammed is also a new arrival in Kandahar. Like Mr. Hussain, he came from the Panjwai.

Three years ago, the NATO forces told him to move out of the village of Zangabad where his family had their home. Mr. Mohammed, his wife and their family of nine children moved into a tent village on the eastern edge of Kandahar known as Khana. After about a year they were able to afford a rental house.

Mr. Mohammed also makes trips back to his farm, risking his life to keep his family fed.

"If I leave the vineyards, they will dry," he said.

But the violence is ever present. On Monday, there was fighting near the village and one of his relatives was killed.

Since the family moved to Kandahar, their house has been looted and most of their possessions stolen.

One day he arrived to find the Taliban had taken up residence. "They said 'You have not made jihad, so this is your jihad. We are using your things,' " Mr. Mohammed said.

Another day it was a group of Canadian soldiers who had occupied his home.

Today, he said, the area is relatively quiet. It is also ruled by the Taliban. The NATO forces came with the promise of security, he said.

"But unfortunately insecurity has increased and they have lost the villages."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan gov't to build Agricultural Institute in Taliban hotbed
People's Daily - Mar 12 6:44 PM
The government of Afghanistan is going to construct an Agricultural Institute in Taliban former stronghold Kandahar in south Afghanistan and in this regard a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked Thursday.

Afghan ministries for Agriculture, Rural Rehabilitation and Education signed the MoU and the project would be financed by Canada, a joint press release issued here said.

Some 1,000 students will enroll to the institute and acquire knowledge on agriculture, plant production, animal husbandry, agriculture economic/ business and marketing and rural development so as to be able to act as skilled staff in public and private service, the press release added.

This is the first time that such educational institution has been established in south Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgents often target Afghan and the U.S.-led forces stationed in the region.
Source:Xinhua
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan's Drug Culture, A Way Forward
Nasir Shansab - 3/10/2009 Global Politician
The phenomenal growth of Afghanistan's opium production over the past seven years is a sign of the monumental failure of the Karzai government.

Some of us may have forgotten that in 2001, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan had been eradicated. Whether the Taliban terminated cultivation to keep the price of opium from hitting the floor for reasons of overproduction the year before or simply wanted to be in the good graces of the international community is, at this time, unimportant.

What is important is the fact that Mr. Karzai took over a country that was free of poppy farming. What is also important to note is that

Afghanistan today, seven years into the Karzai regime, produces 90% of the global opium production, and the trade with narcotics constitutes 40 to 60% of Afghanistan's economy. While drug kingpins and warlords have essentially taken over the country, President Karzai is, at best, reduced to a figurehead or is part and parcel of the narco-system that has emerged over the past seven years.

Be that as it may, the lack of economic progress, the lawlessness and endemic corruption are consequences of Mr. Karzai's incompetence and the drug culture that is holding the country in its grip. Whether the swelling illicit drug trade has triggered Karzai's failure or the government's corruption and lawlessness have set off the illicit drug trade seems to be a chicken-and-egg question. It is certain that they are intertwined and feeding on each other. Afghanistan is on the brink of being lost to the insurgency. Things cannot continue as they have over the past seven years.

o avoid a calamity, the United States and its allies must change their approach. They must act decisively and swiftly. The fact that some 70% of the country has fallen under Taliban control and the holding of national elections have been rendered impossible, provides an opportunity to give Mr. Karzai a graceful exit and install an interim government for a predetermined period.

The choice of government ministers, other high-ranking officials, and judges must be made with extreme care. Education, work experience, management ability, and moral strength must be the guiding principles in the choices.

The present system of parceling out government positions to warlords and their families must be abandoned. The choice must fall on people who consider a government position as an opportunity to serve, not as a position to improve their personal financial wellbeing.

The interim government, with international support could then implement the changes that are urgently required to bring peace to Afghanistan.

The changes must have military, political, and economic elements. There already is a measure of consensus on the military component.

President Obama has taken the first step by authorizing the deployment of another 17,000 troops, with more to be deployed later.

The political and economic changes must come from the Afghans themselves, and the interim government must be tasked to do the following:

1) Trim the bloated government. A smaller administration would operate more efficiently and cost less.

2) Clean up the executive, with special emphasis on the judiciary and the police.

3) Together with U.S. and NATO forces, re-establish security.

4) Begin in earnest the fight against poppy cultivation. To succeed, this step must be fully and sincerely be supported by the international community, especially the neighboring countries, and the consumer nations. For example, a regional drug enforcement agency could be formed and consumer nations and rich Arab countries could support with funding.

5) Work closely with donor nations to better plan, coordinate, and execute economic reconstruction with the aim of creating well-paying jobs. Reconstruction must breathe hope for a better future in people's minds.

6) Modernize school curricula and widen access to education.

7) Rewrite the constitution and draft new civil and penal codes. The body of new laws must be firmly anchored in modern legal concepts and reflect the ethical and social values of the 21^st . Century.

8) By the end of its tenure, the interim government must have prepared the ground for national and provincial elections. A concentrated effort must have been completed to make the Afghan people understand how important it is that they participate in the effort as free individuals, freely expressing their own choice.

It is now clear that the opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan has been squandered. With a new administration in place in Washington and President Obama's decision to change U.S. policy toward the region, the international community has another opening and the Afghans a second-perhaps a last-chance to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Russia to deliver 40 tons of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan
14:24 | 13/ 03/ 2009
MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian plane carrying 40 metric tons of humanitarian aid is expected to arrive in Afghanistan on Friday night, an emergencies ministry spokesman said.

The humanitarian load for the impoverished state comprises essential goods "from food and medicines to tents and clothes," the spokesman said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russia continues its deliveries of wheat flour to Afghanistan, where about 300 people died last year of hunger and cold during an unusually severe winter. Some 18,000 metric tons of flour in 275 rail carriages are expected to be delivered.

As of March 13, a total of 140 rail cars, or 50%, have arrived in the Afghan city of Hairaton on the border with Uzbekistan, while another 70 are on their way. Under favorable conditions the deliveries of high-quality flour to Afghanistan are expected to be completed by mid-April.

Russia also plans to give the Afghan government 50 Kamaz trucks later this year.
Back to Top


 Back to News Archirves of 2009
 
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).