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Archive for October 2007

Abandoning Afghanistan unfortunate: Carter

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Lalit K. Jha

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Former US president Jimmy Carter said on Thursday the Bush administration’s abandoning Afghanistan for an unnecessary attack on Iran was unfortunate.

Speaking to reporters at the UN headquarters here before meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Carter said: After the 9/11 tragedy, I have supported one of the rare times in my life a military operation in Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaeda and to capture Osama bin Laden.”

Known as a man of peace, Carter said: Unfortunately though that was abandoned unnecessarily, tragically by the United States as we shifted our attention to Iraq, which I believe was unfounded and not necessary.”

Thus the role of the international forces, he said, was very critical to peace and stability of the country, he felt and urged other states to remain in Afghanistan.

“Now the primary role in Afghanistan is still very important — one just to maintain peace, with the hope that we can have a free and democratic society there. It is pretty much a holding game. It is important that Canada and others participate.”

Responding to a question on Iran, the former president said: Any military attack on Iran would be a horrible mistake and a tragedy. What we should be doing is full negotiations, consultations with Iranian leaders to make sure they know that we do not intend to attack them militarily.

“I think the US and others should insist upon the total absence in Iran of any move towards developing any nuclear weapons,” Carter observed, concluding: I hope all those rumours are ill-founded and false.”

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October 29, 2007 at 3:43 am

Posted in Aid

AFGHANISTAN: Attacks threaten girls’ schooling in Shindand

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SHINDAND, 25 October 2007 (IRIN) – More than 1,500 female students have not attended classes for several days after unidentified assailants attacked their school in Shindand district in the western Afghan province of Herat, education officials told IRIN.

On 19 October, at around midnight local time, several grenades were thrown inside Naswan High School, breaking windows and causing minor damage to several classrooms, said Ghulam Hazrat Tanha, director of the Herat education department.

Officials say some students are gradually returning to school but locals are concerned about their children’s education, particularly for girls.

“Recent attacks on schools have frightened many parents and students,” said Tanha, adding that local residents had demanded the authorities ensure students’ security at schools.

Since 8 October, four attacks on schools have been reported in the restive district, none of which harmed students or school staffers, according to Haji Shah Alaam, Shindand district governor.

Two of the schools belonged to girls, Alaam said.

In Afghanistan, high schools are segregated, while universities do not follow this rule.

Shindand – with a majority of its population ethnically Pashtun – has been a hotbed of Taliban insurgency in the relatively calm Herat province.

Schools elsewhere in Herat, where the Taliban have a strong influence, have also experienced assaults.

Backtracking in Helmand

Meanwhile, education authorities in southern Helmand province gave warning about the shrinking numbers of functioning schools there.

In early October the director of Helmand’s education department told IRIN that more than 90 schools were functioning across the insurgency-torn province, while about 100 others, mainly in rural areas, were out of commission due to insecurity.

Three weeks later, officials say only 64 schools are open in Helmand – Afghanistan’s top opium-producing and most conflict-ridden province.

About 400 schools remain dysfunctional in southern Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of students deprived of education, concede officials in the Ministry of Education (MoE).

“Community schools and other local education facilities are closing down because of growing insecurity, Taliban attacks and lack of resources,” said Saeed Ibrar Agha, head of the provincial education department.

Immediately after the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001, Afghanistan took significant strides in education and has increasingly admitted millions of students to formal schooling.

There are now more than six million students, 35 percent of them female, in over 11,000 schools and education facilities around the war-ravaged country, the MoE reported in 2007.

By 2020, boys and girls alike should be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, according to target number two of Afghanistan’s revised Millennium Development Goal.

Dormitories needed

As more and more students from insecure rural areas flock to schools in the provincial city, education officials complain about the lack of capacity to absorb all newcomers in Lashkargah, capital of Helmand.

Almost all the rural students coming to schools in Lashkargah are boys, local officials say. Students who commute daily between the provincial capital and their homes in rural districts are also exposed to the risk of being targeted by elements that oppose education.

Moreover, travel is an extra financial burden for already impoverished parents.

“We need to open a dormitory for students coming from rural areas to schools in Lashkargah,” said Ibrar Agha. “We look forward to donors to help us build one.”

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October 29, 2007 at 3:43 am

100-km road asphalted in Nimroz with Indian assistance

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Pajhwok / October 27, 2007

Asphalting of a 101 kilometres Indian-funded road was completed in the southwestern Nimroz province on Saturday. Similarly, construction of a 17- kilometre road was launched in the southern Ghazni province.

India had provided 70 million dollars assistance for the scheme, a provincial official told Pajhwok Afghan News. The road linking provincial capital Zaranj with the Khashrud district has a width of 7.3meters and passes over 68 bridges – big and small.

Public Works Director Habibullah Obaidi claimed work on asphalting the road was carried out to international standards. It would facilitate residents of the province in general and the two districts in particular.

Governor Dr Ghulam Dastgir Azad acknowledged the project that got under way in September 2004 had provided employment opportunities to more than a thousand people. Another 113km road between Khashrod to Dil Aram district is also being built with financial support from India.

Meanwhile, a 17-kilometer road linking Ghazni City with Khwaja Omari district is being built at the cost of $3.2 million provided by the US-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Engineer Zia, head of the Alfa Construction Company, promised the projected would be executed in a year.

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October 29, 2007 at 3:42 am

Posted in Aid, Development

A scourge woven into the fabric of Afghanistan

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Tom Hyland
The Age (Australia)
October 28, 2007

THE opium poppy symbolises the complexities and dilemmas confronting Afghanistan and its allies.

There are no easy answers in dealing with the crop that has made Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer, supplying 93 per cent of the illegal opium trade.

Opium cultivation accounts for 60 per cent of the Afghan economy and 90 per cent of its exports. More than three million people, 14 per cent of the population of 23 million, depend on it for their income.

The bulk of the cultivation is centred in the southern provinces — and it’s no coincidence that this is where the Taliban insurgency has erupted over the past two years.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in August that “opium cultivation is now closely linked to insurgency,” with the Taliban using drug money to arm, supply and pay its guerilla fighters.

Australia has direct interests in this. It’s not just that law enforcement agencies are warning that heroin made from Afghan poppies could soon flood our streets.

The opium trade also has a direct bearing on the security of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Oruzgan province, where Australia’s troops are based, is one of the country’s biggest opium producers, with 9204 hectares under poppies this year, according to the UNODC report. That figure is slightly down on last year, but it’s still double what it was four years ago.

The Afghan Government’s half-hearted poppy eradication program is compromised by official corruption. But the major obstacle is a lack of security in growing areas and resistance from farmers.

The UNODC argues that foreign military forces in Afghanistan have a vested interest in supporting counter-narcotics operations. But it says foreign forces instead tacitly accept opium trafficking along the border with Pakistan as a way to extract intelligence information.

Australian troops don’t take part in poppy eradication; they have their hands full with reconstruction, trying to restore stability, and fighting the Taliban. They regard dealing with the drugs as essentially a police function.

But there’s another reason, recently spelled out by Lieutenant-Colonel Mick Ryan, former head of Australian reconstruction troops in Oruzgan. The drug trade plays a key role in the province, adding to a complex environment that presents Australian troops with “constant and multifaceted challenges”, he wrote in The Army Journal.

Opium is the largest component of the local economy, involving a large proportion of farmers and others. “As a consequence,” Lieutenant-Colonel Ryan wrote, “any effort to disrupt the drug trade incurs hostility from the local people and active and violent resistance from drug traffickers and major dealers”.

So here’s the Catch 22: opium provides the cash that funds the insurgency, but forcibly eradicating the drug trade fuels the resentment that is the seedbed of the insurgency.

Heroin, the facts

Where it comes from:

(Drugs seizures in Australia, 2006-2007):
– South-East Asia (Golden Triangle): 61.9 per cent
– Afghanistan: 23.6 per cent

What it’s worth:

Afghan farmers can earn $US5200 ($A5700) per hectare of opium or $US546 per hectare cultivated with wheat

What it costs:

About $50 for a 0.1 gram hit

SOURCES: AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE, UN

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Written by afghandevnews

October 29, 2007 at 3:42 am

Posted in Drugs

Bamiyan’s Buddhas revisited

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By Roger Cohen
The International Herald Tribune

Sunday, October 28, 2007

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan: People still speak of the Buddhas as if they were there. The Buddhas are visited and debated. A “Buddha road” just opened. It boasts the first paved surface in Afghanistan’s majestic central highlands and stretches all of a half-mile.

But the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan are gone, of course, replaced by two gashes in the reddish-brown cliff. They were destroyed in March 2001, by the Taliban in their quest to rid the country of the “gods of the infidels.” The fanatical soldiers of Islam blasted the ancient treasures to fragments.

“It is easier to destroy than to build,” Mawlawi Qudratullah Jamal, then the Taliban information minister, noted on March 3, 2001. True enough, but few in the United States or elsewhere listened.

Memory, however, is another matter. It is stubborn and volatile and hard to eradicate. The keyhole-like niches in the rock face are charged. Absence is presence. The visitor is drawn into the void as if summoned, not by vacancy, but by the towering Buddhas themselves.

Yet they are in pieces. Nasir Mudabir, 29, a director of the site, ushered me into a makeshift shelter where boxes filed with sandstone and plaster fragments from the two Buddhas are kept. Metal remnants of the bombs that destroyed them are preserved separately: They are jagged where the stones are smooth to the touch.

Why keep evidence of the barbarians’ arsenal? “It’s part of the story,” Mudabir said. “It’s history, bad or good. Instead of going forward, we went backward.”

Bamiyan, an island of peace in an uneasy land, lies half-forgotten in its sacred valley. Oxen plow potato fields. Pale poplars trace golden lines. A war-blasted bazaar lies in dusty ruin. Mud-colored mountains, their geometric folds and pleats as intricate as robes by Vermeer, rise to snowy peaks.

Hazara refugees, who have returned from Iran after Afghanistan’s decades of conflict, eke out an existence in Taliban-despoiled caves once covered with bright murals.

That this is a holy place, sought out by Buddhist pilgrims over the centuries, is written in light, form and stone.

The smaller, eastern Buddha, known locally as “Shamama,” stood 125 feet tall and has now been dated to the year 507. The larger, called “Salsal,” rose to 180 feet. It was constructed in 554. One theory holds the builders were dissatisfied with the first and erected its neighbor in the pursuit of perfection.

I climbed the steep staircase in the rocks beside Shamama’s absence, reaching a rickety platform at the level of the vanished Buddha’s head. “The head was comfortable,” said Mohammed Qassim, my guide. “Ten people could sit and sip tea.”

They could. I sat on the Buddha’s head myself in 1973, gazing in wonder. The Afghan king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, had just been ousted after a 40-year reign. The coup would soon usher in the turmoil that has taken Afghanistan backward.

We knew nothing of that. We were travelers without a map. The “hippie trail” had taken us, at the wheel of a Volkswagen kombi called “Pigpen” (named for the Grateful Dead drummer who died that year), from London across Iran to this noble, generous country.

Looking again, after 34 years, at this beautiful place, first from the top of the smaller niche and then from the larger, (“Twenty people could sit on this head,” said Qassim), I wondered: Was it my own innocence that was gone or the world’s?

Nobody could make that journey now. Nobody could even drive from Kabul to Kandahar in safety. The unknown shrinks. Fear spreads. Experience gets diluted.

The Cold War ended, only to be replaced by the explosive conflict of secular and theocratic worlds. What began here in March, 2001, has spread. The Taliban are back, sort of, seeping across the Pakistani border in a campaign fed by an Internet-borne jihadist message. The Web is a force multiplier for any guerrilla movement.

This was the Afghan burning of the books. The Nazis burned Brecht. The Taliban, then sheltering Osama bin Laden, bombarded the “un-Islamic” Buddhas. The burning presaged war. The destruction presaged 9/11: two Buddhas, two towers.

Heinrich Heine noted that “When they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings.” When Buddhas buckle, people will be crushed.

There is talk of reassembling the Buddhas, or of using solar power to beam laser holograms of their forms onto the cliff. I say, reassemble one, for hope, but not both. Absence speaks, shames, reminds.

Peace and love was our mantra back in 1973. So what I take from Bamiyan revisited are children in the early morning, the girls in white hijabs, walking toward a newly-built primary school, dust dancing behind them. I fear for their world, and ours, but fear is not the answer.

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October 29, 2007 at 3:41 am

Posted in Culture and Arts

Abdul Bari, Afghanistan: “I go to school risking my life and my parents’ lives”

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October 28,  2007 (IRIN) – LASHKARGAH, Abdul Bari, 13, and his two brothers have had to leave their home in Nad Ali District and rent a room in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, in order to go to school. Taliban insurgents have attacked and closed down over 100 schools in different parts of Helmand Province, including one in Abdul Bari’s village that he used to go to. Abdul Bari told IRIN about the problems he faces in his quest for education.

“My father is a doctor and wants us to be educated and become doctors and engineers. After the Taliban burnt a school in our village and told villagers to send their children to Madrasas in Pakistan for their education, my father sent us to Lashkargah to continue our studies.

“We have rented a room in a market [in Lashkargah]. It’s so noisy here that I can’t concentrate on my studies. I’m also scared because I see people from my village that come here to buy things and I’m afraid that when they see us going to school they will tell other villagers and that will endanger our parents.

“My family can’t move to Lashkargah and live with us because our home, our land and our cows are in our village and they can’t abandon everything.

“I miss my parents. I haven’t seen them for over three months now. We wanted to go to our village for the recent Eid holiday but we changed our plans after a dreadful incident occurred.

“One of our classmates, who was coming from Musa Qala District, was identified by the Taliban on his way to Lashkargah by bus. The Taliban cut his neck and wanted to kill him but passengers on the bus begged them not to and so saved his life. He’s now in a hospital in Lashkargah. When I visited him there he cried and said he missed his classmates and school. But he said he couldn’t come back to school because the Taliban made him swear that he wouldn’t go to school again.

“The Taliban have also told people in rural areas not to send their children to schools in Lashkargah or they will kill them. The Taliban say schools drive Muslims to profanity and Christianity. I know this is untrue… but people are frightened by their threats. Some people have stopped their children from going to school.

“My father says we should continue our education even if the Taliban kill him. My father says gaining knowledge is good and will secure our future. He says it’s better to die while gaining knowledge than die illiterate.

“I want the Americans and other foreigners to defeat the Taliban and restore peace and security in our village and in all our country so that we can go to school freely and without fear.“

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October 29, 2007 at 3:40 am

Posted in Education, Security

Australian soldiers backed out of Dutch-led Afghan operation

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Sun Oct 28, 3:52 AM ET

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian soldiers did not fight in a heavily-criticised Dutch-led assault on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan because of concerns about differing rules of engagement, the military said Sunday.

Some 52 civilians were reported to have died in the battle in the Chora Valley in southern Uruzgan province in June, prompting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to slam the “indiscriminate and unprecise operations” of the foreign forces.

A spokesman for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said that Australian officers were involved in the planning of the operation and in manning vehicle checkpoints but did not take part in the June 16-17 combat.

“As the situation in the Chora Valley deteriorated… ADF personnel in Afghanistan became aware that Dutch procedures for this operation differed from Australian targeting procedures and expressed their concerns, including at senior levels,” Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said.

Nikolic said Australian troops shared the same concerns as NATO soldiers about civilian lives being placed at risk by Taliban fighters who were choosing to attack from inside heavily populated areas.

“Australian forces operate under rules of engagement that aim to avoid and minimise civilian casualties,” he said.

While unable to discuss the rules of engagement for Australian forces, Nikolic said they were consistent with the objectives of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

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Written by afghandevnews

October 29, 2007 at 3:40 am

Posted in Security