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News from Afghanistan


19.08.2008 15:13

Reference: Afghanistan News Center
www.afghanistannews center.com
News articles on Afghanistan:


Afghanistan happy with Musharraf's resignation
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Aug 18, 9:32 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S.-backed Afghan government welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation Monday, saying he "was not someone good for Afghanistan" and his departure will have a positive effect on the region.

Afghanistan has accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency of being behind an April assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai and the July bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which killed more than 60 people. Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, reiterated a standing Afghan government demand that Pakistan's military intelligence service cease its activities in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan's historic rival India, there were concerns that Musharraf's departure will leave a power vacuum. Officials have recently said they are worried Pakistan's new civilian government does not have enough control over hawkish elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence agency and that Pakistan-based militant groups will have freer rein with Musharraf gone.

The United States praised Musharraf for his role in the fight against terrorism.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said that Musharraf was an ally of the United States in words only. He said Afghanistan wants a Pakistani president that pursues peace by his actions, and not only through words.

Musharraf "was not someone good for Afghanistan," said Bashary. "We hope that someone good will replace him."

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sultan Ahmed Baheen, said Afghanistan is hopeful Musharraf's announcement Monday that he is stepping down will strengthen democracy in the two countries.

"Afghanistan wishes for a democratic and stable Pakistan, a government based on rules and laws," Baheen said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan share a long and porous border where senior al-Qaida figures including Osama bin Laden are believed to be hiding in lawless tribal regions. The U.S. has been pressuring Pakistan to do more to crack down on militants in the border region.

Karzai's spokesman Hamidzada said that regardless of who becomes Pakistan's next president, the increasing militancy of Pakistan's tribal regions need to be addressed.

"The root causes of terrorism, the safe havens and the breeding grounds outside of Afghanistan, will need to be addressed, and as soon as our international friends begin realizing this problem and addressing the root causes of terrorism, the better off we all will be," he said.

Musharraf announced in a televised address that he will resign as the newly elected ruling coalition prepared impeachment charges over attempts by the U.S.-backed leader to impose authoritarian rule on his turbulent nation.

Musharraf became a close ally of the U.S. after the Sept. 11,2001 attacks, supporting the war on terrorism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Musharraf "one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism" in comments hours after he announced his resignation. She said the United States would continue working with the Pakistani government and political leaders to fight extremism, address energy and food shortages and improve economic stability.

In India, there were concerns that Musharraf's departure could give militants a chance to intensify their activities.

"In this vacuum, they may see a period to step up activity. In this time of uncertainty, that is something that India needs to be alert to," said C. Uday Bhaskar, a defense analyst in New Delhi.

Indian officials said they hoped Musharraf's resignation would not affect the peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals. The process is at its lowest point in four years following the July bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan — an attack India also blames on Pakistan — and repeated shootings along the heavily fortified frontier in Kashmir, the Himalayan region at the center of the rivalry between the two South Asian nations.

While he is hardly a beloved figure in India, where distrust of Pakistan still runs deep, many in India acknowledge the key role Musharraf played in moving the peace process forward.

"Musharraf was a comfortable point of reference. Who do you speak to now?" Bhaskar asked.

He said that India now has three main concerns: What will be the reaction of Islamic militant groups in Pakistan, especially those fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir? How will Pakistan's military react? And "who controls the nuclear button now that Musharraf is gone?"

Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan were born in the bloody partition of the subcontinent at independence from Britain in 1947. They have fought three wars, held tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests and engaged in countless battles before peace talks got under way in 2004.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Pakistan as a "vital friend" and urged political unity to confront the country's most pressing problems.

"They need to come together to ensure that the recently elected government carries forward an economic and security agenda consistent with the long-term interests of the Pakistani people," Miliband said.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said the "continued dedication to fight terrorism in all its forms remain deciding factors" for Pakistan's future.

___

Associated Press reporters Kathy Gannon in Kabul and Matthew Rosenberg in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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Musharraf exit unlikely to undo Pakistan militants
By NAHAL TOOSI August 18, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The resignation of Pervez Musharraf removes a favorite bogeyman of Islamic militants both in and outside of Pakistan, but the government that forced him out is unlikely to change the policies that keep the jihadists fighting.

"It will take away a symbol of hatred but the essential issues don't end with Musharraf," said Shafqat Mahmood, a former government minister and political analyst.

The outgoing Pakistani president — who abandoned Pakistan's support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and sided with Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks — has been largely sidelined since February elections brought his foes to power.

But the new civilian government has done surprisingly little to change his policies in the militant-infested northwest regions bordering Afghanistan and wants to retain close ties with the U.S., supporting the international fight against Islamic extremism.

Mahmood said poverty, poor governance and anger at the U.S. presence in Afghanistan combined to strengthen the pro-Taliban movement on both sides of the border.

Although suicide bombings overall have dropped since last year in Pakistan, the insurgent threat is as pervasive as ever.

"It's a virulent cancer that is eating into our society," said defense analyst Ikram Sehgal.

The coalition government's efforts to strike peace deals with militants are in tatters, and — like Musharraf — it is back to relying on the military to try to root out the extremists.

"I think they don't have any option," Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a politics professor at Lahore's University of Management Sciences. "The terrorists are not going to surrender. They have long-term objectives in the region."

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar said Monday that the Islamist movement was "happy" that Musharraf has resigned, but he called for an end to "his policies" — mainly the use of the military.

"This is a positive change, but it is just the beginning," Umar said, promising, "If the government ends these policies, the Taliban will stop their activities immediately."

Militant attacks in various parts of the northwest are reported almost daily, and pro-Taliban insurgents have at times staged executions of people they claim are U.S. spies.

In recent weeks, a massive military operation against insurgents in Bajur, a tribal region, has killed nearly 500 people, the government says, and displaced more than 200,000.

Other operations, such as in Khyber tribal agency, have also sought to emphasize government authority, but they have only spurred militant promises of revenge.

Meanwhile, officials say militant attacks across the border in Afghanistan have surged because so many of the insurgents are finding refuge in Pakistan's tribal regions.

What Musharraf's departure could do is force the new government to focus on the Islamist threat, said analyst Talat Masood.

The ruling coalition's main parties have been distracted since they took power over how to deal with Musharraf as well as how to restore dozens of judges he fired last year.

Musharraf's own future home may depend on the militant threat against him. The outgoing president has already survived multiple assassination attempts and there is speculation that he may have to seek exile abroad for his own safety.

Umar said the militants weren't simply happy with a Musharraf resignation.

"He should also be awarded strict punishment, because he is a culprit of the whole country," Umar said.

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US warns of possible attacks at Afghan celebration
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Mon Aug 18, 6:24 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - • The top U.S. general in Afghanistan issued a rare public warning that militants are planning attacks during the country's Independence Day on Monday. Just hours before the alert went out, a suicide bomber killed nine Afghans near a U.S. base.

The warning by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said "credible intelligence" indicated that militants planned to attack civilian, military and government targets. A U.S. military statement said an increase in security and public awareness can "save Afghan lives, defeating the enemies' plan to discredit the Afghan government."

"We recommend to all Afghans to be vigilant at large public events and other locations where crowds gather and report suspicious behavior to security forces," the statement said.

Two hours before the warning was issued, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a U.S. base in the eastern province of Khost, killing nine Afghan laborers and wounding 13, according to Khost Gov. Arsallah Jamal. Security forces stopped a second attacker from detonating his explosives.

While Afghan, U.S. and NATO intelligence officials say they often hear of and disrupt plans by militants, rarely does the U.S. go to such lengths to publicize the threat.

All United Nations staff were ordered to work from home Monday as a security precaution, said spokesman Aleem Siddique.

The U.S. warning came one day after 7,000 police flooded the Afghan capital in advance of Afghanistan' s 89th anniversary of independence from Britain. Even the location of the official celebration was kept secret and was to remain closed to the public to try to minimize the risk that insurgents could again disrupt a national commemoration.

"All the time the enemy tries to carry out any kind of activity that it can, but the Afghan security forces are ready, and we have already taken measures to disrupt any enemy activity," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry.

In April, gunmen in a rented hotel room fired on Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a military parade in Kabul as he sat in the review stands. Karzai escaped injury, but the attack killed three people, including a lawmaker.

Taliban violence has spiked across Afghanistan in recent days, including an ambush on a NATO convoy on Sunday, attacks on police checkpoints and a roadside bomb targeting a police convoy. More than 90 people were killed over four days — most of them reportedly Taliban insurgents.

Kabul so far has been spared the violence afflicting much of Afghanistan, but there are signs the Taliban and other militant groups have gained a foothold in neighboring provinces. And the capital suffered spectacular bomb attacks this year against an international hotel and the Indian Embassy.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said more than 5,000 extra police were drafted for what he described as the biggest operation of its kind in Kabul since 2001, when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government. The ministry said police would search buildings and cars to "prevent any disruptive actions by the enemy."

Overall, insurgent attacks jumped by 50 percent in the first half of 2008 from the previous year, according to data from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a Kabul-based group that advises relief groups on security.

More than 3,400 people — mostly militants — have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

In other violence reported Monday, a bomb blast in the eastern province of Nangarhar killed two police on patrol late Sunday, said Ghafor Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Also, several militants were killed in two separate clashes with U.S.-led coalition troops in the eastern provinces of Kapisa and Paktika on Sunday, the coalition said. It did not provide an exact number of militants killed.

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Suicide attack kills 10 on Afghan Independence Day
by Sharif Khoram
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide car bomb blew up Monday outside a US military base in eastern Afghanistan, killing 10 civilian labourers, as the country marked Independence Day under the shadow of extremist attacks.

The blast, claimed by the insurgent Taliban, did not penetrate the base in the town of Khost and security forces were able to prevent a second suicide attack moments later, the US-led coalition and Afghan officials said.

It came amid heightened security as Afghanistan marked Independence Day, commemorating its final defeat of the British army in 1919.

Kabul was locked down with 7,000 police on patrol and checkpoints at nearly every city centre intersection as well as main entry points into the capital.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, said his group had carried out the suicide attack in Khost, 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with Pakistan.

The US-led coalition said insurgents detonated the device outside the base and that 10 Afghans were killed and 13 wounded. It said earlier that nine had died in the blast at its Salerno camp.

The casualties were labourers who had been waiting to enter the base for work, Khost government spokesman Khaibar Pashtun said.

"Moments later a second car bomber came and wanted to detonate his bombs. Police identified him and opened fire on him," a secretary to the Khost governor, Mohammad Bilal, told AFP.

He said the attacker was able to escape into the crowd and security forces destroyed the second bomb. "They wanted to disturb Independence Day," he said.

Reacting to the suicide bombing, President Hamid Karzai said in a statement that by killing "innocent civilians on Independence Day, the terrorists showed their hostility to the freedom of (the) Afghan people."

Later in the day he laid a wreath at the Minar-i-Istiqlal (Column of Independence) in the defence ministry grounds in Kabul during a small and tightly secured ceremony.

Karzai has marked Independence Day in previous years with an address at a large public gathering in the city stadium.

His last major public appearance in Kabul, on April 27, was disrupted when militants opened fire on a stage where he, ministers, diplomats and other senior officials were seated for a military parade.

Karzai survived but three people as well as three of the attackers -- said to be Taliban -- were killed.

The Taliban were driven from power in a US-led invasion in late 2001 because they would not hand over their Al-Qaeda allies wanted for the September 11 attacks on the United States.

However, they regrouped, with some of them taking refuge in Pakistan, to launch a snowballing insurgency that military officials say is attracting more Arab, Pakistani and other Muslim fighters.

The militia released an Independence Day statement saying Afghanistan was again under the "occupation" of "cruel crusaders" -- a reference to the mainly US and British troops helping Afghanistan fight the insurgency.

The statement called for Afghans to join jihad, or holy war.

The coalition and separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) meanwhile issued a rare warning of a "heightened security threat based on credible intelligence reporting."

"These reports indicate that the enemies of the people of Afghanistan intend to attack civilian, military and government targets during Afghan independence celebrations," a statement said.

UN staff were told to stay at home while other international personnel were told to restrict their movements.

In fresh violence Monday, a British soldier serving with ISAF was slain Monday when militants attacked a patrol in the volatile south, the force said.

A mine also blew up a police vehicle in the eastern province of Nangarhar and killed two policemen, an Afghan official said.
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Afghan woman, two children killed in British rocket fire
Mon Aug 18, 7:37 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan woman and two children were killed when British soldiers fired rockets at a compound in southern Afghanistan over the weekend to thwart a Taliban attack, the British military said Monday.

Another four civilians were hurt in the incident on Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, a British military statement said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under which the British troops serve, had said Sunday that four civilians were killed and three wounded in the rocket fire in Sangin district.

The British military statement said: "An Afghan woman and two children died in the Sangin area when UK forces fired rockets at Taliban fighters, unaware that civilians were in the vicinity of enemy fighters in a local compound."

"A further four civilians were injured," the military added.

One of the wounded, a child, was being treated in a French-run hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul and the three others were in a hospital at the main British base in Helmand called Bastion, the military said.

Helmand -- where most soldiers in the 40-nation ISAF are from Britain -- is a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, whom authorities say are being increasingly helped by Arab, Pakistani and other Muslim fighters.

There have been several incidents in the past weeks in which civilians have been slain in foreign military action against rebels, most often air strikes, risking the goodwill of Afghan people towards the international intervention.
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Factbox - Security developments in Afghanistan, 18 Aug 2008
August 18 (Reuters) - Following are security developments in Afghanistan reported until 0420 GMT on Monday:

KHOST - A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle at the gate of a foreign military base in the southeastern province of Khost on Monday wounding eight labourers, a provincial official said.

NANGARHAR - A helicopter of U.S.-led coalition forces made an emergency landing on Monday in Nangarhar province in the east, the U.S. military said, adding there was no report of injuries. It did not say why the aircraft made an emergency landing.

ZABUL - The Interior Ministry said nine Afghan guards protecting a convoy of supplies for foreign forces were killed in a Taliban ambush on Sunday in Zabul province in the south.

KAPISA - Multiple insurgents were killed during a clash with U.S.-led coalition forces in Kapisa province, near Kabul, on Sunday, the U.S. military said.

PAKTIKA - Several militants were killed during a clash with Afghan and coalition troops in southeastern Paktika province on Sunday, the U.S. military said.

KABUL - More than 7,000 police have been deployed in the capital, Kabul, for Independence Day on Monday, the Interior Ministry said.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment about any of the reported incidents.

(Compiled by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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Jihadis shift attention to war in Afghanistan
Afghan and NATO officials are seeing a rise in numbers of foreign fighters in Afghanistan at the same time US officials say attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq have sharply dropped.
By Caryle Murphy | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor from the August 18, 2008 edition
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - In the wake of setbacks suffered by Al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan is becoming the preferred destination for Muslims, particularly from Arab nations, seeking to wage jihad against the West.

"You can predict that Afghanistan is reemerging as a battlefield," says Nicole Stracke, a security and terrorism researcher at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center.

At the same time, jihadi websites affiliated with Al Qaeda have been giving renewed emphasis to the war in Afghanistan, especially in recruitment advertisements, after years of highlighting the battle against US forces in Iraq, says Brian Glyn Williams, associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

"The perception on many Al Qaeda websites is that the momentum has come around to the side of the insurgency and that Afghanistan is winnable" as opposed to the war in Iraq, which is "no longer seen as a sure thing," says Mr. Williams.

That is a big change from four years ago, he adds, when "all the interest was in Iraq." Afghanistan "might be forgotten by the West but Al Qaeda never took their eye off the ball," he says. "They're biding their time." Both he and Stracke say that the refocus on Afghanistan began in mid-2007 with the weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Coincidentally, they noted, Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan increased.

"By 2007, jihadist websites from Chechnya to Turkey to the Arab world began to feature recruitment ads calling on the 'Lions of Islam' to come fight in Afghanistan," Williams wrote in the February 2008 issue of CTC Sentinel, the online journal of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. "It appears that many heeded the call. This was especially true after the Anbar Awakening of anti-Al Qaeda tribal leaders and General David Petraeus' 'surge strategy' made Iraq less hospitable for foreign volunteers."

Stracke added that in the past six months, AQI "has lost a lot of fighters," especially ones in its "second layer of leadership, the ones who recruit and plan operations." As a result, she says, many new recruits are going instead to Afghanistan.

But the commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, offered a cautious judgment of the new trend in an interview last month with the Associated Press. "We do think that there is some assessment ongoing as to the continued viability of Al Qaeda's fight in Iraq."

While Al Qaeda is "not going to abandon" Iraq or "write it off," General Petraeus added, "what they certainly may do is start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan."

He noted that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq "has been reduced very substantially," from a peak of 80 to 100 per month to about 20. AQI attacks have dropped since late spring 2007, from more than 120 per month to less than 40 per month during the past three months, according to a Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) spokesperson in Baghdad.

The spokesperson said in an e-mail that AQI's networks could no longer take in new recruits as before, "causing a backup or stovepipe of foreign fighters attempting to enter Iraq." The spokesperson added that MNF-I "has no indications" that Al Qaeda's leadership "is making a strategic shift in resources." Instead, it sees "a tactical shift in where these terrorists go to fight, thus allowing these terrorists a better opportunity to enter the fight sooner rather than later."

In Afghanistan, Western and Afghan officials report an increase in foreign fighters in the Taliban's fight. But officials are reluctant to disclose nationalities. "Last week, we arrested a group of fighters in the south and there was not a single Afghan amongst them," says Mohammad Zaher Azimi.

Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, spokesman for NATO'S 40-nation International Security Assistance Force, said that "it is clear that there is an increase in foreign fighters behind the insurgency in Afghanistan, facilitated by the porous border with Pakistan. This has made the current fighting season a tough one."

General Blanchette added that the ISAF "has no evidence to suggest there is increased movement of insurgents from Iraq to Afghanistan as of now."

Williams, who did research in Afghanistan last year, says that "US and Afghan Army troops have found documents on dead Arab fighters on many occasions across Afghanistan." He estimated that "several hundred Arabs" operate in "the most dangerous" Afghan province of Kunar under the leadership of an Egyptian. Others are operating under the patronage of Jalaludin Haqqani, an Arabic-speaking Afghan guerrilla.

The total number of Arabs fighting in Afghanistan is not huge – Williams estimates between 1,000 to 1,500. But he says that they have introduced nefarious tactics such as suicide bombings.

In May, an Al Qaeda-linked website announced the death of two of its fighters in Afghanistan, including one who had played a prominent role in AQI: Abu Suleiman al-Oteibi. Both he and the second man, Abu Dejana al-Qahtani, were later identified as Saudis.

Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, doubts that many Saudis are going to Afghanistan because of "more awareness now among young Saudis that what is going on [in these places] is not real jihad."

• Anand Gopal contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Tom A. Peter from Basra, Iraq.
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Taliban to Canada: leave Afghanistan or else
Sun Aug 17, 8:44 PM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Taliban militants have threatened more attacks like the one last week in Afghanistan that killed two Canadian humanitarian workers, unless Canada pulls its troops out of Afghanistan, Canadian media said.

In an online letter, the Taliban also called on Canadians to pressure their government into withdrawing its soldiers from the NATO-led contingent in Afghanistan, "and follow a neutral policy regarding Afghanistan," CBC public television said.

Otherwise, the militants warned, "the Afghans will be obliged to killed your nationals."

CBC said it had confirmed the letter's authenticity after talking to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in Kandahar province.

"Events such as Logar will happen again," the letter warned, referring to the August 13 ambush in Afghanistan that killed Canadian aid workers Jacqueline Kirk and Shirley Case, Trinidadian- American aid worker Nicole Dial and the group's Afghan driver.

Kirk was a dual British-Canadian citizen.

"The Afghans did not go to Canada to kill Canadians. Rather it is the Canadians who came to Afghanistan to kill and torture the Afghans to please the fascist regime of America," the Taliban said in their message.

After Wednesday's murders, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada "remains steadfast in our commitment to the people of Afghanistan and will continue to work with the Afghan government and the international community to improve the lives of Afghans."

Canada maintains a contingent of 2,500 soldiers in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, and has seen 90 of them killed since the start of its mission in 2002.
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50 couples tie the knot in Afghanistan
Sun Aug 17, 3:14 PM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - About 50 Afghan couples tied the knot in the western city of Herat late Sunday, an Islamic charity said, in what is believed to be the first mass marriage in the country.

The men and women were married at a ceremony attended by about 1,500 guests and paid for by the Islamic charity, Comfort Aid International, an organiser said.

"These couples are mainly from poor communities and could not afford the big costs of a normal wedding," said Mahdi Haidarpour, who heads Comfort Aid International in Herat.

The event cost about 30,000 dollars, which included a 600-dollar cash present for each couple, Haidarpour said.

Like most weddings in deeply conservative Afghanistan, the brides and grooms were separated for the ceremony.

Marriage is a costly affair in destitute Afghanistan, involving huge dowries, expensive gifts and lavish parties with hundreds of guests.
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Afghanistan: Drought in north hits animal husbandry, threatens livelihoods
MAIMANA (FARYAB PROVINCE), 18 August 2008 (IRIN) - A severe drought affecting northern parts of Afghanistan has dried pasturelands, reduced water sources and caused the deaths of thousands of animals, local people and officials said.

Officials in the worst affected provinces said tens of thousands of animals had perished due to lack of water and fodder, and also because of drought-related diseases over the past five months.

Herders at a market in Maimana, the provincial capital of northern Faryab Province, said they were selling their animals at a very low price to avoid flocks being lost for nothing.

"I have already lost 20 sheep and several goats because of drought," said a middle-aged herder, Rajab. "I want to sell the remaining at any price," he said, adding that he was selling a sheep for as little as US$24 compared to about $100 only a year ago.

In Faryab's neighbouring province, Samangan, officials at the department of agriculture said that of the roughly 1,400,000 animals in the province up to 40 percent had been sold at cheap prices, and about 30 percent had perished due to drought.

"There is no food and no water for animals," Shahnawaz Sharar, director of Samangan's agriculture department, told IRIN.

Similar problems were reported in Balkh, Jowzjan, Herat and Badghis provinces.

Vulnerable

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) has said that up to 80 percent of rain-fed agriculture - over one third of domestic production - had failed because of inadequate rainfall. Lack of rain had also dried up most pastureland.

Large swaths of Afghanistan have been suffering the worst drought since 2000, according to satellite imagery by the US Geographic Survey.

The current problems come in the wake of an unusually cold winter [http://www. irinnews. org/Report. aspx?ReportId= 76910] which killed over 315,000 animals.

Aid workers are concerned that repeated blows to livestock and animal husbandry - a prime livelihood for millions of people - continue to push vulnerable communities into high-risk food-insecurity and grinding poverty.

"Those who sell their animals cheaply will soon fall into extreme poverty because in fact they are selling their only source of living," said Katib Shams, director of the department of agriculture in Balkh Province.

Calls for aid

Officials in the drought-stricken northern provinces have called for urgent humanitarian assistance to the affected communities.

They have demanded animal feed (fodder and grain), assistance to provide water, and technical help to rehabilitate animal husbandry.

Mohammad Rahim Mirzad, head of the department of animal husbandry at the MAIL, told IRIN donors had not responded to their previous calls for help.

"We know that many herders have been badly affected and desperately need assistance. we will continue to call for help," said Mirzad, adding that of the country's estimated 21.7 million livestock at least one percent (over 200,000 animals) had perished because of cold weather, drought and disease over the past 12 months.
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‘Taliban threat’ to Afghan drug trade
By Jon Boone in Lashkar Gah The Financial Times August 18 2008
Traffickers on the Afghan-Pakistan border are dumping stocks of opium on rumours that the Taliban is preparing to crack down on poppy smuggling.

Farmers in Helmand and Kandahar, the two southern provinces at the heart of Afghanistan’s booming drugs industry, report hearing a similar rumour, that poppy cultivation will be stopped by the Taliban next year. This may have started from an attempt by the insurgent movement to bolster opium prices for its financial benefit but which has now backfired.

In its latest survey of drug prices, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that traffickers in Peshawar, the Pakistani border town that acts as a conduit for much of the drug supply coming out of Afghanistan, were reacting to “the threat coming from the Taliban who said they would stop drug business”.

“We have heard these rumours for a couple of months now, but we would be surprised if the Taliban did do that because they rely on poppy to pay for the fight against foreign troops,” Abdul Raziq, a farmer in Musa Qala, told the Financial Times.

Any attempt to crack down on the booming poppy industry might seem surprising considering the vital role it plays in funding the Taliban insurgency, although drug enforcement officials say the Taliban has always been unhappy about its reliance on revenue from an activity that is strictly forbidden in Islam.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UNODC, has estimated that the Taliban earned about $100m (€68m, £53.6m) in revenue last year by taxing traffickers.

Before the Taliban government’s overthrow in Kabul in 2001, an effective poppy eradication campaign significantly increased the value of stockpiled opium, which can be kept for many years without deteriorating.

In recent years opium production has boomed, as farmers exploit the lawlessness and insecurity of Afghanistan’s south to grow large poppy crops. This has caused the price of opium to hit rock bottom.

Last month saw the lowest recorded price yet for both fresh and dried opium. In early 2007, a kilogramme of fresh opium fetched $100; in July, it commanded just $58.

In a murky market highly susceptible to hearsay, the traffickers – or other local powerbrokers described by the catch-all term “Taliban” – could be spreading the crackdown rumour to discourage production.

Others experts are less certain, saying that estimated stockpiles of opium and heroin are so enormous that even a drastic decline in poppy cultivation next year would make little difference.
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Slow Pace of German Afghanistan Aid Criticized
Deutsche Welle - Aug 18 6:45 AM
Bureaucracy is hampering and even stopping the flow of German aid to Afghanistan, according to Green politician Alexander Bonde. But the German development ministry have denied his claims.

Bonde told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that of the 70 million euros ($103 million) that the Germany's Development Ministry (BMZ) allocated for rebuilding projects in Afghanistan in 2007, 20 million euros was never spent.

He said that the slow pace of the aid contradicts the government's claims that civilian reconstruction remains its top priority in Afghanistan.

It is a problem that could be set to continue this year. The ministry had only spent a third of its reconstruction budget in the first six months of 2008. Bonde blames German bureaucratic hurdles for the delay.

The Development Ministry denied Bonde's accusations, calling them "unjustifiable and false," according to the DPA news agency.

The ministry spokesman said that half of the money earmarked for Afghanistan is part of long-term authorizations. Germany's long-term commitments in Afghanistan are transferred over the course of several years because most of the programs take place over a three or seven-year duration, the ministry said.

Bonde said he wasn't satisfied with this answer. "My criticism is based on official numbers from the Foreign Ministry," he said. "As long as the BMZ doesn't provide other concrete numbers, the denial has no value," he said in a written response reported by the DPA news agency.

He called for a clarification from the government on what money has actually been spent.

Sensitive to criticism
Germany's left-right coalition government has come under repeated criticism for putting military aid ahead of humanitarian help. Germany has about 3,500 troops taking part in a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). German police officers are also involved in training Afghan security forces.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Afghanistan in July and emphasized Germany's involvement new roads and schools. Civilian aid remained the focus of German help to Kabul, Steinmeier said.

Unpopular mission

Yet even as Germany's top politicians emphasize humanitarian aid, the government has been pushing for an increase in the number of peacekeeping troops.

Germany's participation in the ISAF mission is unpopular at home. But, the government has said that it needs more troops to improve security in Afghanistan, which is currently experiencing an upsurge in violence orchestrated by the Taliban. Berlin has proposed further increasing the number of troops to 4,500
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MP: sack Logar officials for rise in violence
Written by www.quqnoos. com Monday, 18 August 2008
Female MP says security will improve once officials are replaced
THE ONLY way to restore security to the violence-racked province of Logar, which borders the capital Kabul, is to sack its officials, the province’s Member of Parliament has said.

MP Shakeela Hashimi warned on Sunday that security had deteriorated rapidly in the province, forcing people to doubt the government’s ability to maintain control of the country.

"At night all the districts are captured by the government’s opposition forces and even the province is under their control in the afternoon," Hashimi said.

She urged the government to sack the current officials and replace them with "hard-workers".

She warned that, if Logar fell into the Taliban’s hands, then Kabul would soon follow suit.

Last week, Taliban militants stopped a car carrying three female aid workers and shot them and their Afghan driver dead, forcing their organisation, the International Rescue Committee, to suspend its activities in the country.

Hashimi said the governor of Logar should resign or face the boot along with the province’s security chief.

Logar lies about 60km south of the capital Kabul.
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The Afghan women jailed for being victims of rape
In Lashkar Gah, the majority of female prisoners are serving 20-year sentences for being forced to have sex. Terri Judd visited them and heard their extraordinary stories
Monday, 18 August 2008 Independent, UK
Beneath the anonymity of the sky-blue burqa, Saliha's slender frame and voice betray her young age.Asked why she was serving seven years in jail alongside hardened insurgents and criminals, the 15-year-old giggled and buried her head in her friend's shoulder.

"She is shy," apologised fellow inmate Zirdana, explaining that the teenager had been married at a young age to an abusive husband and ran away with a boy from her neighbourhood.

Asked whether she had loved the boy, Saliha squirmed with childish embarrassment as her friend replied: "Yes."

Ostracised from her family and village, Saliha was convicted of escaping from home and illegal sexual relations. The first carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, the second 20. These are two of the most common accusations facing female prisoners in Afghanistan.

Two-thirds of the women in Lashkar Gah's medieval-looking jail have been convicted of illegal sexual relations, but most are simply rape victims – mirroring the situation nationwide. The system does not distinguish between those who have been attacked and those who have chosen to run off with a man.

Sitting among the plastic flowers around his desk, where an optimistic United Nations scales of justice poster competed for space with images of Afghanistan' s President, Hamid Karzai, Colonel Ghulam Ali, a high-ranking regional security officer, explained sternly that he supported the authorities' right to convict victims of rape. "In Afghanistan whether it is forced or not forced it is a crime because the Islamic rules say that it is," he claimed. "I think it is good. There are many diseases that can be created in today's world, such as HIV, through illegal sexual relations."

But there are signs of progress. A female shura, or consultative council, was established in Helmand province last week to try to combat the injustice of treating an abused woman as a criminal, and not a victim. British officers and Afghan government officials from the province's reconstruction team are also overseeing a project to build humane accommodation for the 400 male and female prisoners.

Inside the fortified compound of the prison in Lashkar Gah, Helmand's capital, the 330 male prisoners laze about in the shade of their straw huts. The prison security was was recently upgraded with new razor wire and guard posts following the attack on Kandahar's prison in which more than a 1,000 inmates escaped, including 400 Taliban. Past the main gate, inmates – whether on remand and awaiting trial or convicts – are incarcerated alongside 50 insurgents.

In a separate area are the female "criminals" – the youngest is just 13 years old – along with their small children, who must stay with their mothers if no one else will claim them. Their only luxury is a carpet, two blankets, basic cooking facilities and two daily deliveries of bread. They have neither medical care nor, as Colonel Ali acknowledged, "basic human facilities", such as washing areas, electricity and drinking water. All this he hopes will be rectified when the new building his finished.

Pushing her five-year-old son's arm forward imploringly, Zirdana, 25, pointed to the festering wound buzzing with flies. The little boy was just two months old when his mother was convicted of murdering her husband, his father. Zirdana had been handed over to him at the age of seven, as part payment in a financial dispute. She gave birth to the first of her children when she was 11 and was pregnant with her fourth when her husband disappeared and she was accused of killing him. Her three older children were taken from her by her brother-in-law. "When I first came to jail I cried so much blood was coming out of my mouth. My husband's brother told me he would give my children back when I came out of jail but he has become a Talib. Nobody comes to see us in jail. There are a lot of diseases," she said.

Next to her, Dorkhani, 55, sobbed so much that the glint of her tears shone through the mesh of her burqa. Married for four decades to a relatively wealthy man from Nowzad, the couple had fled to Lashkar Gah after a family dispute. When he returned to Nowzad, to try and reclaim his money, he disappeared. "The ones who killed my husband, they have money and they threw me in jail. I am 100 per cent innocent. I have no one, no brother to look after me," she said, explaining that those with cash could buy their freedom.

Last week, in Helmand, the new Women and Children's Justice Shura met and voted in its constitution with the help of advisers from the Afghan Human Rights Committee and support from the Women's Affairs Department, as well as a government legal adviser.

The shura, made up of 20 influential women, mostly teachers, hopes to tackle the inequality of the system by first ensuring that women in the province become aware of their basic right: not to have to endure abuse.

Earlier this year a report by Womankind, Taking Stock: Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On, revealed that violent attacks against women, usually in a domestic setting, are at epidemic proportions – 87 per cent of women complain of such abuse, and half of it is sexual. More than 60 per cent of marriages are forced and, despite laws banning the practice, 57 per cent of brides are under 16. Many of these girls are offered as restitution for a crime or as debt settlement. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.

In the UK, the MP Malcolm Bruce, chairman of the House of Commons International Development Committee, warned: "There is a dangerous tendency to accept in Afghanistan practices which would not be countenanced elsewhere, because of 'cultural' differences and local traditions."

The shura is hoping to provide a place where women can report abuse and create a separate centre for women and girls incarcerated for running away. It would be a compromise of custody without the stigma of being thrown in jail.

"They are very aware of the inequality in the system," said Royal Navy Lieutenant Rebecca Parnell, a member of the Cimic, or civil-military co-operation, team. "The most refreshing thing is that there are plans coming from the Department of Women's Affairs. It is not just us pushing our ideas on to them." The military aid team has programmes for monthly health checks and trauma counselling in the prison as well as vocational training in carpet weaving, tailoring, literacy and basic health education.

As she was led away to her jail cell yesterday, Dorkhani lifted her burqa to reveal a sun-battered face streaked with tears and pleading eyes: "Please, please take our words somewhere where people will be kind and help us."

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American University of Afghanistan Kicks Off Third Academic Year
NewswireToday - /newswire/ - Kabul, Afghanistan, 08/17/2008
The American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) today welcomed students, faculty, and staff to its campus for the beginning of its third academic year.

"The opening of the third year brings us significantly closer to our goal of graduating our first class," said Dr. Thomas Stauffer, President and Chief Executive Officer of AUAF. "It's also an opportunity to see both how far we've come in a relatively short period of time and think about next steps to confirm academic freedom and global standard higher education."

Sixty classes are being offered to students this semester. They include new courses in business administration, information technology, and liberal arts, including an 'Introduction to Law' class developed through a cooperative agreement between AUAF and Stanford University Law School in the United States.

New facilities available this fall consist of a larger academic library, classrooms, computer laboratories, and a science laboratory. New facilities, refurbished with support from the United States Agency for International Development, are designed to increase the quality and quantity of the University's offerings.

The past year has seen considerable growth and progress for the institution. Due to gains made in the spring and summer semesters, enrollment has more than doubled from a year ago. Total undergraduate enrollment stands at approximately 180, while total enrollment in all student categories is 350. During the same time period, AUAF’s Professional Development Institute has provided short-term professional training to over 400 individuals.

In June 2008, United States First Lady Laura Bush announced new funding for AUAF over the next five years. This $42 million (USD) funding package will account for over half of the University's projected operating expenses during this period. The grant will be supplemented by funds raised through donations, with emphasis placed on scholarships for deserving students.

The American University of Afghanistan is the country’s only private, not-for-profit institution of higher education, offering modern, internationally- supported degree programs and advanced general education. The university is open to all qualified students from Afghanistan and the region who seek to promote their country’s future through quality higher education.

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Agricultural fair set to kick off in Kabul
Written by www.quqnoos. com Monday, 18 August 2008
Fair expected to attract foreign investors in hope of boosting trade
AN INTERNATIONAL agricultural fair will be kick off in Kabul’s Badam Bagh gardens on August 20.

The Minister of Agriculture, Ubaid Ullah Ramin, said on Sunday that fresh and dry fruits, grains, plants, animal products and Afghan carpets will be put on display for the three-day fair.

"The purpose of holding this exhibition, which we spent $37,000 on, is to find markets for Afghanistan’s agricultural crops, and support the Afghan farmers," he said.

He added that 60 private sector representatives from America, Germany, Turkey, Tajikistan and India will visit the exhibition.

The fair is the brain child of the Ministry of Agriculture and is supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Minister Ramin said Afghanistan’s private sector representatives will hold talks with foreign investors about boosting trade with foreign countries.



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