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Archive for August 2008

New Claims Of Afghan Civilians Killed In US-led Strikes

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August 30, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP)–Two senior Afghan police officers alleged Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition killed five civilians in air strikes aimed at Taliban insurgents, but the force denied causing any civilian casualties.

The claims come after the coalition was also accused of killing more than 90 people, including 60 children, in air strikes in the west a week ago – a charge it denies.

“Five civilians, including two women and a child, were killed in an air strike by coalition forces early this morning,” Sayed Sakhidad, criminal investigation police chief for Kapisa province outside Kabul, told AFP.

Five Taliban were also killed, he said.

Kapisa’s deputy provincial police chief Abdul Hamid Hakimi also said “five civilians and as many rebels, including a militant commander, were killed in the strikes.”

He gave the names of the civilian dead, whom he said were from the same family and included two females and three males, one of them 17 years old.

The coalition dismissed the allegations. “There were no civilian casualties in that incident,” a spokesman said.

The coalition said in a statement earlier that “several militants” were killed in the operation in Kapisa’s Nijrab district, which started Friday.

Troops were looking for a Taliban commander involved in smuggling weapons and attacks on foreign soldiers when they came under attack from a compound, the coalition said.

The troops then ordered militants to leave the compound.

“Several women and children exited the compound and were moved to a safe area at which time coalition forces again came under AK-47 and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire,” the statement said.

“Coalition force responded with precision air strikes, killing several militants.”

Allegations of civilian casualties are difficult to verify.

Investigations teams from the United Nations and Afghan government have said more than 90 civilians were killed in the western province of Herat a week ago in what would be one of the deadliest incidents in the past seven years.

But the coalition rejects the number, admitting though that five civilians were killed.

Kapisa, where French troops have recently deployed to reinforce U.S. soldiers, has seen an uptick in unrest, as has much of Afghanistan, despite the presence of nearly 70,000 international soldiers in the fight against rising extremism.

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August 31, 2008 at 2:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Thousands more Afghan school books torched: ministry

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KABUL, Aug 29, 2008 (AFP) – Unknown attackers torched about 8,300 new textbooks headed for schools in northeastern Afghanistan, the education ministry said Friday, days after 100,000 were destroyed in a similar incident.

The books were unloaded from two trucks on Thursday and then set alight, ministry of education spokesman Hamid Elmi told AFP. The drivers were unharmed, he said.

“More than 8,300 school books were torched when the trucks entered (Nuristan province),” he said. “The religious books were included in those torched by the opposition of the government.”

The term “opposition” refers to Taliban and other radical Islamic factions involved in a wide-ranging insurgency that targets troops as well as government institutions and development projects.

About 100,000 books were destroyed in a similar attack in the central province of Ghazni on Monday.

Insurgents have particularly targeted schools, one of the successes of development since the fall of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime which neglected the education sector and refused to allow girls into lessons.

Violence left 220 pupils and teachers dead in 2007, the education ministry said last month. The UN’s children’s organisation UNICEF said in April that there had been 236 attacks on schools in 2007.

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August 30, 2008 at 2:48 am

Posted in Education, Security

UN criticizes Afghan decision to free rapists

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By AMIR SHAH
Associated Press
August 28, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan – The United Nations has criticized Afghanistan’s government for freeing two men convicted of raping a woman in northern Afghanistan after they served only a portion of their 11-year sentences.

The release of the men will send the wrong message to other perpetrators of violent crimes against women, Norah Niland, the U.N.’s chief human rights officer in Afghanistan, said in a statement this week.

Three brothers who were fighters for a regional militia commander were convicted of raping a woman in the village of Ruyi Du Ab in the northern province of Samangan in 2005, Afghan officials said.

The militia commander, named Karim, was a stepbrother of the woman’s husband, said Habib Rahman, the head of criminal investigations in Samangan. Rahman said the rape was carried out because of tribal disputes.

After raping the woman and cutting her with a knife, the brothers took her pants and hoisted them on top of a mosque, Rahman said. They forced her to walk home partly naked, he said.

Shortly afterward, Karim went into hiding. The three were convicted and sentenced in 2006 to 11 years in prison, according to the provincial governor, Enayatullah Enayat.

Their sentence was upheld by Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, the U.N. said. One of the brothers died in custody, Rahman said.

Afghan officials said the mother of the rapists wrote to President Hamid Karzai after the death of one of her sons, asking him to pardon the other two. They were freed in March, Enayat said.

They are now “back in the neighborhood where the crime was perpetrated and where the victim and her family continue to live,” Niland said in a statement this week.

Although the circumstances of the release are not clear, “this is clearly an injustice against the victim, the victim’s family and all Afghan women,” Niland said in a statement.

But the U.N.’s Niland said freeing the convicts sends the wrong message to other crime victims. “Such injustice can only promote a culture of impunity for violence perpetrated against women,” Niland said.

Karzai was traveling abroad with his chief spokesman, and his office was not available to comment Thursday, but the U.N. said the Afghan government was investigating the circumstances of the release.

___

Associated Press writer Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.

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August 29, 2008 at 2:48 am

Afghan inquiry into freed rapists

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Wednesday, 27 August 2008 06:44 UK

By Kate Clark
BBC News

An Afghan woman in Kabul on August 25, 2008
Human rights groups say women in Afghanistan suffer abuse with impunity

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has announced a full investigation into the case of two rapists who have been freed on a presidential pardon.

The case was raised by the BBC after it discovered that the victim, Sara, had been forced into hiding by the release of the men.

Sara and husband Dilawar only found out the rapists had been freed when they saw them walking around their village.

The case highlights the endemic corruption in the Afghan legal system.

‘Questionable justice’

Dilawar said they were stunned, particularly when they found out President Karzai had apparently pardoned the rapists.

“Our appeal to the president is how on earth a rapist who was involved in disappearance of my son was released. What a decision is this? What a justice system is this?” he said.

The president’s office has refused to speculate on how the pardon could have been signed.

But the suspicion must be that corruption – which is widespread across the Afghan justice system – has managed to penetrate the president’s office.

A spokesman for Mr Karzai told the BBC that the acting attorney general would lead a commission of investigation.

“We are taking this with extreme seriousness,” he said.

It had been a horrifying case which started with the, as yet, unsolved disappearance of the couple’s son.

Dilawar said after his wife publicly accused a local commander of the disappearance, she was gang-raped, knifed with a bayonet and left half naked to find her way home.

Sara alleges the commander used connections to escape justice and he was released by a local court.

But three other men were eventually put on trial, found guilty of rape and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

One of them died and the other two were given a presidential pardon in May.

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August 28, 2008 at 2:48 am

Afghans check reports foreign forces killed civilians

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KABUL, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Afghan authorities were checking on Sunday reports more than a dozen civilians were killed by a foreign forces air strike in an area to the northeast of the capital, an official said.

Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops while hunting Taliban insurgents are highly sensitive for the Western-backed Afghan government and its allies as the incidents feed popular resentment.

The latest reported incident occurred on Saturday after a group of foreign soldiers came under attack by suspected Taliban insurgents in Tagab district of Kapisa province, an official in Kabul said, quoting provincial authorities.

‘We do not have a lot of details now and are checking the reports saying more than 12 civilians were killed and 18 more wounded,’ the official said on condition of anonymity.

Other officials could not be reached immediately for comment about the reports of deaths.

Some 400 non-combatants have been killed so far this year during operations of NATO and U.S.-led forces as well as Afghan troops, according to Afghan officials and aid agencies.

Tagab lies some 90 kms to the northeast of Kabul and is located to the east of Bagram air base, the hub of operation of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Troops from NATO and the U.S.-led military have clashed with suspected militants on several occasions in Kapisa in recent months and provincial officials in the past have complained of some civilian deaths.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing Jerry Norton)

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August 24, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Afghan empire’s last symbols under threat

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By Sayed Salahuddin
Sun Aug 10, 9:06 PM ET

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) – For more than eight centuries the “Towers of Victory” — monuments to Afghanistan’s greatest empire — have survived wars and invasions, but now weather and neglect could cause them to come crashing down.

From its base in the Afghan city of Ghazni, the dynasty of Sultan Mahmoud Ghaznavi extended its rule to stretch from the River Tigris in modern day Iraq to the River Ganges in India.

The two toffee-colored minarets, adorned with terra-cotta tiles were raised in the early 12th century as monuments to the victories of the Afghan armies that built the empire.

Since then, Afghanistan has more often been victim of invasion than the perpetrator of them.

The upper portions of the Towers of Victory have eroded away over time, so now only the bases remain — though they still stand at around 7 meters (24 feet) tall.

“If attention is not paid, there is the possibility they will be destroyed,” said Aqa Mohammad Khoshazada, a senior official with Ghazni’s culture and information department. “Floods and rain in spring and snow in winter all end up around the minarets.”

Ghazni is regarded as the cradle of Afghan culture and arts and during his rule Mahmoud had attracted 400 scholars and poets to his court. But the sultan was also an iconoclast who destroyed hundreds of Hindu statues during campaigns to introduce Islam into India.

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Mahmoud died in 1030. His son, Sultan Masud, built one of the minarets. The other was erected by another successor.

The Ghaznavis’ rule lasted for more than two centuries.

The city was then razed to the ground by Allauddin Ghori from central Afghanistan, who earned the nickname of “World Burner” for the massacre of Ghazni’s people in an orgy of destruction and looting.

The city flourished again, only to be destroyed again by a son of Ghenghiz Khan in 1221. But the minarets survived.

Ghazni changed hands between British and Afghan forces several times in the 19th century suffering more sieges and massacres. More fighting during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, followed by the civil war of the 1990s, also left their mark on Ghazni.

Ghazni’s Towers of Victory stand several hundred meters away from each other and lie at the bottom of a hill.

Holes and ditches, made by illegal excavations for antiquities and buried treasure collect water and are now undermining the foundations of the minarets.

One has panels of bold Kufic lettering on the top. The tops of the towers are capped with corrugated iron, after the upper sections came down in an earthquake.

But despite repeated appeals and warnings, Afghanistan’s impoverished central government, fighting a Taliban insurgency, has allocated just $100 dollars in six years to fill some of the holes around the towers, said Sayed Wali the head of the culture department in Ghazni.

“They are under threat and we have no resources to stop it,” Wali said.

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August 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts

AFGHANISTAN: Justice Is Hard to Import

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By Tarjei Kidd Olsen

OSLO, Aug 11 (IPS) – Norway has announced a small but significant grant for reforms of Afghanistan’s justice sector, which observers say is still severely underdeveloped seven years after the U.S. invasion.

Norway’s contribution of six million dollars will go to Afghanistan’s justice sector reform programme, with a total cost of 27 million dollars. It is intended for everything from legal reform and staff education to rehabilitating buildings, providing computers and other communication equipment, and creating legal assistance offices to aid the most vulnerable such as women, nomads and refugees.

“There are serious challenges as regards training, infrastructure and all these issues. After all, Afghanistan has faced constant conflict for the past three decades,” police advisor Henning Høgseth at the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (NUPI) told IPS.

“The reform of the judiciary has gone really slowly. Norway’s foreign department has sent judges and state lawyers and prison officials to train the Afghans, but few other countries have contributed trainers for any part of the judiciary at all. Then there is a challenge as regards international jurisprudence and the Afghan constitution, which are not completely compatible, as well as local traditions — the elder councils and Sharia laws,” he said.

On top of this the security situation in many parts of Afghanistan appears to be spiralling downhill due to a rise in banditry, as well as an increase in attacks by Taliban insurgents and their allies in the south and east. In a recent statement 100 aid agencies warned that increased instability was threatening to make it impossible to operate in some areas of the country.

“Justice sector reform is central to efforts by the Afghans and the international community to build a sustainable state founded upon the rule of law and a democratic system of governance, but progress is affected by the security situation,” the foreign department said in a written statement to IPS, without elaborating.

“Increased violence will of course affect reform efforts,” Høgseth said. “Last year almost a thousand policemen were killed in attacks by bandits and the Taliban, and if the mainly bandit attacks on help convoys across the country now begin to increase, it will have an enormous effect on the general situation,” he said.

Justice reform is one of the so-called pillars of the Afghan government’s U.N.-conceived Security Sector Reform framework (the others relate to rebuilding the police and army, battling the Afghan heroin trade, and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants).

“There has been some progress with police reform after the United States stepped in with a teaching course right before Christmas that is almost an exact copy of what they did with the Afghan army. The real delays relate to justice reform, by which I mean the criminal justice system, the courts, the prison service, and so on,” Høgseth said.

“In general the approach simply hasn’t worked. DDR was handed to Japan, and the police reform was meant to be Germany’s responsibility; the U.S. took the army, Italy took justice reform and Britain took counter-narcotics, but the whole process has been inadequately coordinated.”

Høgseth believes it will be necessary to relinquish more control over the reform process to the Afghans themselves.

“We can’t just blame the Afghans for lack of progress with the reforms, as they were handed a system that had been decided almost before it hit the ground, to put it like that. What is needed is local institutional capacity building — the handing over of responsibility to Afghans themselves — we’re not the ones that are going to run the country after all,” he said.

If this does not happen, Høgseth fears that it will take a very long time to rebuild Afghanistan.

“If you pump too much money into a post-conflict area without having an administration and a bureaucracy capable of handling the funds, you just get more corruption and waste.”

Norway’s foreign department acknowledges that corruption is a problem.

“A precondition for the efforts at justice reform made by Norway and the international community is that the Afghan authorities actively combat the corruption that exists within the justice sector both centrally and out in the provinces,” it said in its statement.

The six million dollar contribution will go into a multi-donor fund administered by the World Bank. A committee headed by Afghanistan’s justice minister Sarwar Danish is supposed to implement the projects, but, Høgseth cautions, the Danish will not necessarily have much say.

“I can’t be exactly sure what will take place on the ground between the justice minister and the World Bank, but I do have a feeling that everything is quite closely controlled internationally at the moment. There are a lot of funds going into Afghanistan, but the government is only allowed to control a small percentage. The rest is controlled by NGOs and international organisations.”

According to Norway’s foreign department, the committee headed by Danish will work “in close cooperation” with a board comprised of the different donors, including Norway.

“The establishment of the multi-donor fund as part of the justice reform efforts is a big step in efforts to speed up progress. The mechanisms for administering the funds that have been set up are expected to promote an effective execution of programme activities and cooperation between donors and the Afghan authorities, as well as between the donors,” the department said. (END/2008)

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August 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Governance