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For sale: luxury villa with balcony, pool and Taliban death threat

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Residents are fleeing exclusive estate dreamed up by president’s brother        

    * James Palmer in Kandahar        
    * The Guardian,        
    * Friday September 12 2008        

The neat rows of new homes in the gated community sit behind freshly painted three-metre-high cement walls and rows of manicured shrubs.        

Pavements lined with imported eucalyptus trees border smoothly paved streets that fill at twilight with cyclists and walkers. Further back, another cluster of houses is being built, including an eight-bedroom villa with a pool, wraparound deck and balcony supported by doric columns.        

Residents at the Aino Mina housing development also have access to a mosque, two private schools, football fields, playgrounds and private armed guards on duty 24 hours a day. A hospital, supermarket, pizza parlour and golf course are also planned.        

But, despite luxuries rivalling those found in exclusive suburban communities in the United States, many owners are trying to sell or rent out their homes. Others have temporarily abandoned properties. The reason is as simple as the long-standing estate agent’s maxim: location, location, location.        

This upmarket residential neighbourhood is situated on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kandahar – one of the most volatile and lawless provinces of Afghanistan. Others call the area the heartbeat of the Taliban, the place where the group formed in the early 1990s and where it is, by all accounts, re-establishing itself today.        

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Sayed Hakim Kallmi, a 40-year-old hotel manager, said as he stood on the pavement outside his dream home in Aino Mina. He was watching his son and three of his six daughters play with neighbours. “There’s no security here.”        

According to Mahmoud Karzai, the driving force behind the project and younger brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, what is taking place is a clash between people who want a better life and those fighting any attempt at progress.        

“This is,” Karzai claimed, “a war against modernisation.”        

Aino Mina began with 24 hectares (60 acres) and an initial investment of $50,000 by five businessmen, including three Afghan-Americans, in 2002 shortly after a US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban. A $3m loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency that encourages investment from the American private sector in developing foreign economies, boosted the project.        

Today the project has grown to 800 hectares and $50m of investment. At least 300 homes have been sold. About half of those have been completed and a further 250 are under construction, according to the site manager, Mohammed Gul Pacha Khan.        

Karzai said he envisioned thousands of residents in a contemporary city on a par with any of its size worldwide.        

“Kandahar was once an economic and intellectual centre in Afghanistan, second only to Kabul, until the Taliban took it over,” said Karzai. “This was a dream come true for me because I was eager to build a modern city for the people with a proper water and electrical system, roads, sidewalks, trees, hospitals and schools.”        

A Taliban representative said his group opposed development because Karzai and the other investors were using government influence to enrich themselves.        

“This is the land of the people,” Qari Yousef Ahmadi said in a telephone interview. “The brother of Karzai is using it to serve his own interests and the interests of his friends.”        

Not so, the younger Karzai said. In fact, he countered, his group was providing affordable housing with modern amenities and building a tax base for the government, while creating approximately 1,000 jobs at a time when a weak economy and high unemployment were hindering development.        

“When the Taliban were in power,” he said, “there was nothing but dust and an undeveloped city with no signs of civilisation.”        

Taliban operatives have made no secret of their campaign to intimidate residents of Aino Mina. Ahmadi, who described himself as a spokesman for the group, said: “We seriously warn people not to buy here. Those who stay there and who buy there will be held responsible for the actions we take against them later.”        

Residents and workers in the development say the Taliban have targeted the area and maintain an unmistakable presence. During a sweltering July afternoon, a thickly bearded man in a shalwar kameez with a turban wrapped around his head rode a motorcycle along the nearly empty streets of Aino Mina with an AK-47 strapped across his back. The motorbike and the AK-47 both are long-favoured hallmarks of the Taliban.        

Despite the rider, a handful of construction workers at the project hauled wheelbarrows full of dirt, lugged slabs of concrete and scaled bamboo ladders. Naik Mohammed, 28, pointed to a two-story townhouse and said Taliban militants had recently looted the elegant dwelling and demanded protection money from its occupants.        

“They told the owners to pay $200,000 and they would allow them to live there peacefully and they won’t kill them,” Mohammed said. “The family left the next day.”        

However, Mohammed, who earns about $4 a day for a 12-hour shift, added that neither he nor any of his co-workers had been threatened.        

But Mohammed Sadiq, 38, who bought an eight-bedroom house in the project, said the kidnapping of two Aino Mina residents last month had hurt sales. “Building has slowed,” said Sadiq, who also is a construction manager for the development. “People are afraid to buy because of the Taliban.”        

Not all residents are as concerned. Some even say they feel safer on the development than in the city, where roadside bombs targeting Nato and government security forces explode with sickening regularity, crime is rife and religious extremism is prevalent.        

Mohabatullan Sayed Gul, 42, an electronic parts shop owner who has lived for five months in a three-bedroom ranch-style house complete with a flourishing garden of tomatoes, aubergines and cauliflowers fortified by a towering cement wall, said he moved there primarily for the private girls’ school available to his three daughters.        

“This is a modern place where modern people live and girls are free to go to school,” said Sayed Gul. He had received threatening letters at the doorstep of his previous residence in Kandahar from Taliban militants warning him to refrain from sending his daughters to school. “There are many people in the city who don’t want girls to receive an education.”        

Others are packing up.        

Kallmi, the hotel manager, spent the day preparing his wife and seven children to leave the house they were renting for $150 a month. The previous owner also had left because he did not feel safe. As Kallmi moved furniture and stacked bundles filled with personal belongings, he said he would leave the next day and go north.        

“I was very happy in this environment,” Kallmi said. “I’m sorry I have to leave.”        
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008        


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September 13, 2008 at 3:19 am

Posted in Governance, Security

Where the good die all too often

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Tribune correspondent Kim Barker experiences firsthand Afghanistan’s lawless spiral of terror and corruption: Another person killed, like too many before, working to better his country       
By Kim Barker | Tribune correspondent       
September 12, 2008       

KABUL, Afghanistan — Mohammad Alim Hanif knew he would be killed, but he didn’t want to give up being a judge.       

“My life is in danger, and no one will listen until a judge is killed,” Hanif told me in July as we sat in his office, talking about the difficulty of sentencing drug traffickers.       

Maybe people will listen now. Last week, as Hanif drove to work, he was shot in the heart. He died at the hospital.       

It was but one small tragedy I have seen that barely rated a mention in Afghanistan, let alone the rest of the world. But the slaying of Hanif, and the fact that it seemed to matter so little in this country where so much appears to be going wrong, tells a larger story about what is happening in Afghanistan, about who might be winning and the country’s direction almost seven years since U.S. troops helped drive out the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.       

As a journalist who has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan on and off for more than five years, I have known a number of people who have been killed, one by one: the men who said the right things, who stood up to militants, to corruption, to drug traffickers.       

Some were not entirely clean—after almost three decades of fighting, it is tough to find someone without bloodstained hands — but all wanted their country to succeed.       

Every time I arrive in Kabul, I hear the list of the dead. There was Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the scholar who came back from Australia to help rebuild his country. In March 2003, he was the governor of eastern Khost province and he invited me for a large dinner at his house, the first time I ate a meal sitting on cushions on the floor.       

In September 2006, Taniwal, a gentle and hopeful man, was killed by a suicide bomber.       

Mohammad Akram Khakrizwal, the head of security for southern Kandahar province when I met him in April 2003, told me that the Taliban wanted everyone to grow up illiterate and uneducated like them. He was fearless, built like a wrestler, and he later became police chief of Kabul.       

In June 2005, while Khakrizwal was at a funeral for a prominent cleric killed by insurgents, a bomb ripped through the mosque, killing him and 19 others.       

‘What have you done?’       

I saw his brother a year later. Mohammed Akbar Khakrizwal was his tribe’s leader in Kandahar, and he laughed when he saw me wearing an all-encompassing burqa, which covered my face and body, my attempt at a disguise that would allow me to travel unnoticed.       

“Oh, what have you done to yourself?” he asked, cracking up. “For 100 years, no one will recognize you like this. No one will touch you.”       

In June, he was gunned down by men on motorcycles, used often by the Taliban.       

And there were Mullah Naqib and Abdul Hakim Jan, two pro-government elders, and Habibullah Jan, a member of parliament from Kandahar who told me in June 2006 about a funeral for a pro-government cleric killed by the Taliban that only four people were brave enough to attend. All are gone now.       

The list of the dead is long and telling, a bitter story of failure in this war-torn country. Some were killed by militants, some in old rivalries, but rarely is anyone arrested.       

The bigger crime seems to be that the Afghan government cannot protect the men who are so clearly targets. If someone really wants to kill an official, it’s impossible to always prevent that. But it is possible to make it harder.       

As head of appeals for the drugs court in Afghanistan, Hanif, in his 50s, was an obvious target, responsible for putting away drug traffickers, some of the most powerful people in Afghanistan, where the drug trade is estimated at more than $4 billion a year. Everyone with any influence reportedly has their hand in drugs—the Taliban, government officials, relatives of government officials.       

‘We will kill you’       

But unlike some judges, Hanif was honest. He refused bribes. And he put away the mostly small-time drug traffickers who ended up in his court, no matter the threat.       

Hanif recently started receiving anonymous phone calls and text messages warning that people were watching him. “Soon, we will kill you,” one message said. Sitting in his office in July, Hanif looked frail and worried. Pending cases were stacked on a coffee table.       

Yet Hanif did not have an armored car, like government ministers or powerful warlords. He did not have security guards or police protection or even a gun. He did not have a safe place to live.       

“The government said, ‘We will give you armored vehicles,’ ” Hanif told me in July. “They said, ‘We will give you police to take care of your security.’ But they give us nothing. We can’t even go and pray in the mosque, because if people find out what we do, who we are, we will be in trouble.”       

Somehow these people found Hanif. This story is an obituary for him, and for the Khakrizwals, for Taniwal and Habibullah Jan and Mullah Naqib—and, in some eyes, for Afghanistan. Because for Afghans, the constant parade of deaths makes them feel they are losing their country, one small tragedy at a time.       
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune  

Written by afghandevnews

September 13, 2008 at 3:16 am

Posted in Governance, Security

Afghan anti-drug judge shot, killed

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Alim Hanif

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 5 (UPI) — A 65-year-old judge in Afghanistan, who headed an appeals court dealing with drug cases, was killed in Kabul, authorities said.

Central Narcotics Tribunal Appeals Court Judge Alim Hanif was shot as he was leaving for work and later died at a Kabul hospital, the BBC reported.

No details were immediately available on the shooting but the report said his killing may have meant to be a warning to those who want to eradicate the country’s drug trade.

Court officials described Hanif as being committed to dealing with drug problems in the country, taking a tough stance on drug trafficking and imposing stiff sentences on offenders, the report said.

Written by afghandevnews

September 5, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Drugs, Governance

IOM assists Afghan gov’t to strengthen rule of law in NE provinces

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KABUL, Sept. 2 (Xinhua) — International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided a grant to help Afghanistan government improve judiciary, law and order in the country’s northeastern provinces of Kunduz, Badakhshan and Takhar, a press of the body said Tuesday.

“Supporting the Rule of Law, IOM’s Support to Provincial Governance (SPG) program has awarded a EURO 219,463 grant (around 318,221 U.S. dollars) to an initiative designed to strengthen the rule of law in the northeast provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan,” the press release added.

The initiative is co-funded by the European Union and the Government of Germany, it further said.

Justice system, according to the press release is fragile in the mentioned provinces and the support would enable the government to strengthen judiciary there in the provinces.

“This initiative will enable legal institutions to contribute towards peace and stability, an essential cornerstone towards Afghanistan’s sustainable development,” the press release emphasized.

The project will enable 225 law professionals including judges, prosecutors and attorneys to receive training on key legislative matters such as fair trials and family law, the press release further said.

Italy has been playing leading role in improving justice system in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Written by afghandevnews

September 3, 2008 at 3:00 am

Posted in Governance

UN criticizes Afghan decision to free rapists

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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

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