The Sydney Morning Herald
Chief Herald Correspondent in Kabul
November 22, 2008
THE sadness of the widow Zarghona’s Afghan story is its utter ordinariness. At the age of 30, she spends her days in a tiny, smoke-blackened shed, sitting cross-legged by a deep hole in which she bakes bread.
The smoke makes her eyes stream but Zarghona does not move. Swivelling from the hips, she leans to her left to grasp a ball of dough. Flattening and stretching it, she damps it with a splash of water before she drops forward to slap it to the side of the clay oven.
She wears a scarf, tied tight on her head. Two other women sit beneath their burkas – one black, the other blue – enjoying the warmth of the fire as they chat with the baker.
Zarghona knows exactly when the bread is cooked, hooking it from the oven with a length of wire. With the same expertise she keeps the fire just right, feeding it from a pile of kindling. When customers poke their heads into her smoke-filled space, she swivels to the right, swapping a loaf for the princely sum of four Afghanis – about 14 cents.
As a widow she has to work to survive – but it is lean pickings.
After paying rent for the shed and buying wood and ingredients, her little bakery clears about 1000 Afghanis, $34, a month. On a good day she sells 30 to 40 loaves.
Zarghona raises a smile but, given her circumstances, it seems almost rude to ask if her life in the new Afghanistan has improved. “Nothing has changed for me since the fall of the Taliban,” she says. “Except that my husband died of an illness two years ago.
“My children are still hungry and now that the nights are cold, I have to borrow quilts from neighbours for my girls.”
But at least in the new Afghanistan her girls can go to school to prepare them for a better life?
“No. They are aged eight and three. The eight-year-old must stay home to look after the three-year-old while I bake bread.”
Mashhad, Khorassan Razavi prov., Nov 22, IRNA
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said here Saturday that voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran has come a halt.
Guterres told reporters that this year, the project on voluntary repatriation Afghan refugees from host countries has slowed down and in case of Iran it has come to a halt.
He said insecurity is the main cause of a halt to refugees’ repatriation.
“Social, educational, health, housing and job related issues along with security are highly important factors which make the Afghans reluctant to return home,” he added.
United Nations News Service
November 21, 2008
Children are being killed, exploited and abused in ever-increasing numbers in Afghanistan as the violence across the conflict-ridden country worsens, the United Nations says in a new report released today.
The report on the impact on children of Afghanistan’s armed conflict shows that all sides to the fighting – which pits the army and allied international forces against the Taliban and other insurgents – have committed numerous violations and abuses against the young.
The Taliban is persisting in using children as suicide bombers, while international and Afghan forces have inadvertently killed dozens of children as they attempt to beat back the insurgency, according to the report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which detailed several examples.
“On 16 May 2008, a boy of approximately 12 years of age approached a joint International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)-Afghan National Army foot patrol in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province spreading his hands,” the report says. “The suicide vest he carried is believed to have been remotely detonated.”
In November last year, a suicide bombing that targeted parliamentarians on a road in northern Baghlan province led police and bodyguards to fire indiscriminately. Various independent reports indicated that the approximately 70 dead included 52 schoolchildren.
“Insurgent influence has intensified in areas that were previously relatively calm, including in the provinces closest to Kabul [the Afghan capital]. The number of security incidents rose to 983 in August 2008, the highest number since the fall of the Taliban in 2001,” the report adds.
It also notes that since the completion of the Government’s demobilization and reintegration of 7,444 under-age soldiers in 2003, there has been no monitoring of children vulnerable to further recruitment or re-recruitment.
A study of suicide attacks by UNAMA documented cases of children reportedly used as suicide bombers by the Taliban. Most were between 15 and 16 years of age and were tricked, promised money or forced to become suicide bombers.
Mr. Ban expresses concern in the report that there are children in the ranks of the Afghan National Auxiliary Police, conducting patrols, guarding police posts and carrying out checkpoint duties. In the south, two recently recruited 14-year-old boys were successfully released after an intervention with the authorities.
The Secretary-General also describes a number of disturbing cases involving children – especially boys – being sexually abused and exploited by members of the armed forces and armed groups. One case involved two police officers who were arrested for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in a south-eastern province, but later released after bribing the authorities.
“I encourage the Government of Afghanistan to implement more fully laws and programmes to prevent and punish sexual violence and to support victims, monitor grave sexual violations against boys as well as girls and work with my team in Afghanistan to study ways and means of combating harmful practices,” he writes.
By Zeeshan Haider
KACHAGARI, Pakistan, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Pakistan has reopened camps originally set up in the 1980s for Afghans who fled the Soviet occupation to provide shelter for those made homeless by offensives against Islamist militants on its northwest border.
“I never thought I would become a refugee in my own country. Never ever,” Ghulam Ahmed told Reuters at Kachagari camp on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar.
Grey-bearded, illiterate, with no idea of his age, Ahmed said he could only hope it was a bad dream as he sat atop a pile of blankets grabbed from relief workers for his family of eight.
A few years back, authorities began dismantling camps in and around Peshawar in a bid to persuade the Afghans to go home.
Peshawar had been a focal point for Muslim volunteers for the guerrilla war, covertly funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia, to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.
But the refugee camps later served as breeding grounds for Islamist militants who joined the Taliban and other groups to keep the cycle of violence spinning in Afghanistan. But in recent years the conflict zone has spread to Pakistan’s tribal lands.
Kachagari, near the Khyber tribal region, was closed for Afghan refugees last year.
Bulldozers destroyed the mud-walled homes the Afghans had built to replace the original tents.
Today in Kachagari, more than 1,700 tents, each meant for a family of six, have been pitched in the dusty earth among the ruins of the deserted Afghan homes.
The camp was only reopened on Sept. 28 and it now hosts more than 11,000 people, mostly from the Bajaur tribal region where a military offensive began in August to clear out Taliban, al Qaeda and other militant groups.
The military says more than 1,500 militants have been killed while 73 soldiers have also died in fighting in Bajaur since August, though no independent verification of casualties is available.
Unlike past offensives, the military has relied heavily on air power to push back the Islamist guerrillas.
DESTITUTE AND DESPERATE
At the entrance of Kachagari, two hospitals built with Saudi aid for Afghan refugees have been converted to offices for the camp management.
Scores of tribesmen jostled for food, blankets, tents and cooking oil supplied by U.N. and other aid agencies.
“I had my own grocery shop in Bajaur. I had some agricultural land. I was not that poor,” Ahmed said.
Security guards brandished batons to restore order among the desperate men.
Nearby, dirty-faced children, some without any trousers, played in the dust, oblivious of what was happening around.
“This is now our fate. It happens here daily,” said 25-year-old Aslam Khan, as he watched the miserable scene.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is providing non-food items such as tents, blankets, sleeping mattresses and kitchen kits. It also provided funds for levelling the ground to set up the camp.
UNICEF has set up latrines, provided drinking water, and opened makeshift schools.
Kilian Kleinschmidt, Assistant Representative of the UNHCR, said U.N. aid agencies launched an appeal for $54 million under their Humanitarian Response Plan in September to help these displaced people.
He said only around half the amount had been received.
However, he said, they planned to revise the appeal in view of the growing numbers of people fleeing the conflict zones.
Klienschmidt said nearly 35,000 displaced people had been registered in two camps in Kachagari and seven other camps elsewhere in the northwest.
“By mid-December, we expect up to 70,000 people will be in these camps,” he added.
Jalozai, one of the oldest camps east of Peshawar, was closed this year. It will be reopened on Tuesday, Klienschmidt said.
WIDENING CONFLICT ZONE
Besides Bajaur, security forces are battling militants in nearby Swat Valley.
Pakistani officials anticipate that a crackdown will be launched next in Mohmand tribal region neighbouring Bajaur.
Social scientists say the longer people stay in these camps, the greater the risk becomes that jobless young men will turn to crime and militancy.
“Many of these people are poor. The first and foremost thing for them is to survive and because of this they are more prone to get into militancy,” said Johar Ali, a professor of sociology at the University of Peshawar.
One American aid worker and his driver were gunned down and an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped and his guard was killed in Peshawar this month. Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate was kidnapped from the city in September.
Kleinschmidt said security in these camps was a major concern for aid agencies.
“We need to ensure that the camps remain safe and the people there understand that it’s not acceptable that … they involve in any (other) activities.” (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Bill Tarrant)
Xinhua / November 11, 2008
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement release here on Tuesday that the organization continued the relief operations in war-torn Afghanistan though security constraints hampered humanitarian assistance.
“The ICRC continued to respond to the needs of people affected by the armed conflict, though security constraints still hamper humanitarian operations in many areas,” the statement said.
It noted that “hostilities continue to claim the lives of Afghans, international aid workers and foreigners and access to remote areas remains a major problem in most parts of the country.”
Meanwhile, ICRC said it sent a team of about 11 medical-health expatriates working in different sectors of Miwais hospital with their Afghan counterparts in Kandahar province where has been the hot bed of Taliban militants.
ICRC, according to the statement, continued to monitor the situation of refugee families coming from neighboring Pakistan into Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan where the international organization has already carried out two rounds of emergency material assistance distribution.
Moreover, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society are carrying out an important emergency humanitarian response in benefit of vulnerable families affected by this year’s drought-food crisis in north and north-western Afghanistan.
November 11, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) – More than 100 convicted murderers, rapists and kidnappers are on death row in Afghanistan awaiting President Hamid Karzai to sign the orders for their execution, a senior judge said on Tuesday.
Crimes such as kidnapping, rape and killing have sharply increased in recent years in Afghanistan where the Taliban , ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, carried out public executions for similar acts.
Five people have been executed since Saturday after Karzai approved the sentences following repeated appeals from many ordinary Afghans to mete out the punishment as enshrined in the country’s constitution and ordered by Islam.
“We have 125 people who have been sentenced by various courts to the death penalty and are to be executed after Karzai’s approval,” said a senior Supreme Court judge who declined to be named.
An official at the presidential palace confirmed that lists of those sentenced to death by the courts have been sent to the president for him to approve their execution.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Gereshk, Helmand province
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Officials in southern Afghanistan say they have seized almost 18 tonnes of poppy seed – potentially enough to produce 30 tonnes of heroin.
The seizure in Gereshk in Helmand province has been described as the biggest of its kind to date.
The operation was part of an aggressive counter-narcotics strategy launched by Helmand’s new governor, Gulab Mangal.
If cultivated, the seeds would have produced enough opium for heroin with a street value in Europe of $1.5bn.
It was enough seed to plant 7,000 hectares of poppies – by comparison last year law enforcement teams here eradicated less than 3,000 hectares.
This is the first time counter-narcotics police have carried out a search outside the main provincial town, Lashkar Gah.
It is also the first time they have searched for seeds in an attempt to pre-empt the planting season which is just beginning.
Helmand governor Gulab Mangal took office earlier this year.
He is trying to increase public education, describing poppies as a product which is both damaging to local populations and which raises funds for the Taleban.
He has just launched a massive programme to distribute free wheat in Helmand to encourage farmers to switch from poppies.
But some farmers say they have to grow poppies to survive, because other options like wheat simply do not bring enough income.