View Full Version : [Afghan News] March 7, 2012


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03-08-2012, 04:25 PM
Graham: I’m almost ready to “pull the plug” on Afghanistan
By Josh RoginTuesday, March 6, 2012 Foreign Policy
If Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai doesn't change his tune fast on two key U.S. demands, the U.S. military should just pack up and go home and leave Afghanistan for good, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said today.
Graham, who has been one of the strongest congressional supporters for continuing the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, said today that unless Karzai relents on his demands that the United States immediately hand over control of Afghan prisoners and end night raids against insurgents, there is no way the U.S. can achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and therefore should just end its involvement there.
"If the president of the country can't understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners and if he doesn't understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban ... then there is no hope of winning. None," Graham said in the hallways of the Capitol Building just before entering the GOP caucus lunch.
"So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later."
Graham acknowledged that those two issues were crucial in ongoing negotiations over a U.S.-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement, which would provide the legal basis for the ongoing presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, the deadline President Barack Obama has set for transferring full control of the country back to the Afghans.
"I am going to pull the plug on Afghanistan from a personal point of view if we don't get this strategic partnership signed," Graham said. "Karzai's insistence that all detainees we have in our custody be turned over by Friday to an Afghan system that will let guys walk right out the door and start killing Americans again is a non-starter."
Graham, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations' State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, visited Kabul and met with Karzai late last month. Today he said he supports a U.S.-Afghanistan agreement for a post-2014 presence of about 20,000 U.S. troops, with three or four U.S. airbases and coordination in the military, political, and economic spheres.
"But I'm not going to support signing that agreement if Karzai insists that we end night raids, which are the biggest blow available to our forces against the enemy," he said. "If he requires that we end night raids, we'll have no hope of being successful."
Regarding the prisoners, Graham said that any follow-on U.S. force would be put at risk if U.S.-held prisoners, currently numbering over 3,000, were placed under Afghan control.
"I cannot go back home to South Carolina and tell a mother, ‘I'm sorry your son or daughter was killed today by a guy we had in custody but let go for no good reason.' We want Afghan sovereignty over prisoners but they're not there yet," he said. "That's not good governance. That hurts the Afghan villagers that have been preyed on by these people and it sure as hell puts our people at risk. I want an agreement but not at all costs."

Obama: 'Now is the time for us to transition' out of Afghanistan
Los Angles Times By Christi Parsons March 6, 2012
Washington - President Obama says the uproar in Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book on a NATO military base illustrates the need for the American military to transition out of that country.
Obama said the Koran burning and the violence in its wake show the difficulties facing American forces even as they reduce their combat role in the region.
"Yes, the situation with the Koran burning concerns me," Obama told reporters Tuesday. "I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it's an indication that now is the time for us to transition."
The U.S. was already planning its withdrawal from combat in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with plans to hammer out more details when the leaders of the NATO alliance gather in Chicago in May.
But the latest round of protests and violence underscore the reason for doing that on a tight time schedule, according to administration officials.
As negotiators try to work out the details of the transfer from international forces, one of the top demands of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is for Afghans to take over the U.S. prison at Bagram military base where the Korans were sent to an incineration pit after several enlisted troops reportedly misinterpreted an order to dispose of them.
Obama apologized to Karzai for the incident, but it set off several days of anti-American protests in which 40 people died.
Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. is still devoted to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan but emphasized that he doesn't want troops to stay beyond the point of shutting down Al Qaeda.
"We are not interested in staying there any longer than is necessary to assure that Al Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it doesn't end up being a free-for-all after ISAF [NATO's International Security Assistance Force] has left," Obama said in a news conference.
He said he's confident the exit strategy will work, even if it's "not going to be a smooth path."
"There are going to be bumps along the road," Obama said, "just as there were in Iraq."

6 UK soldiers missing, feared dead in Afghanistan
By the CNN Wire Staff March 7, 2012
(CNN) -- Six U.K. soldiers are missing and presumed dead after an explosion in southwest Afghanistan, the Defence Ministry said Wednesday.
The incident occurred Tuesday in Helmand province.
"I have the tragic duty to report that six soldiers are missing, believed killed, during a security patrol," said Lt. Col. Gordon Mackenzie, a spokesman for a task force of soldiers in the province.
The soldiers were traveling in a tracked armored vehicle when the blast occurred, a British military official said. The vehicle hit a landmine, setting off a substantial explosion, the official said.
Members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force reached the area, but will not officially confirm the deaths until they get into the damaged vehicle.
If confirmed, they could become the most British troops killed in one day in Afghanistan since six were killed on July 10, 2009, according to a CNN tally.
U.K. officials decried the attack.
"I utterly condemn those responsible for this incident who will ultimately fail to derail a mission that is protecting our national security at home and making real progress in Helmand Province, a testament to the bravery, commitment and professionalism of our Armed Forces," said Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

Four Afghans Killed In Bombing Near Pakistan Border
March 7, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Four civilians have been killed and around 10 others injured in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, according to Afghan police.
Officials said the bomb in the town of Spin Boldak had been planted on a motorcycle.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but authorities have already accused the Taliban of carrying out the attack.
RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, with AFP, AP, and Reuters reports

Afghan Women Seen Losing Ground
Wall Street Journal By CHARLES LEVINSON March 6, 2012
KABUL - Afghanistan's government appears to be scaling back its support for women's rights to advance peace talks with the Taliban ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghan lawmakers and human-rights activists warned Tuesday.
A government-appointed council of 150 leading Muslim clerics last week urged the strict application of a conservative and literalist interpretation of Islamic law regarding women. The council said Afghan law should require women to wear the veil and forbid them from mixing with men in the work place or traveling without a male chaperone.
"Men are fundamental and women are secondary," the Ulama Council said in a statement on Friday, according to a translation by the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
President Hamid Karzai published the statement on his web site, fueling speculation that he backed the conservative clerics' position.
The Ulama Council's recommendations also included a number of other declarations that seemed to support Mr. Karzai's political positions, including backing peace talks with the Taliban and urging the handover of U.S.-controlled prisons to Afghan government supervision.
"This is a political statement; this is not an Islamic statement," said Shukria Barakzai, a female lawmaker from the capital, Kabul.
"The government thinks that 2014 is nearing and the foreigners are leaving Afghanistan and they want to reach out to the Taliban with such statements."
The council's positions are relatively standard orthodox interpretations of Islamic law, similar to those that would be issued by mainstream Muslim clerics throughout the Islamic world.
But such positions would mark a significant step backwards for women in Afghanistan were they to be enshrined in Afghan law.
They also come at a particularly jittery moment in Afghanistan. The U.S. and its allies are set to pull most of their troops from the country by 2014. The U.S. and Mr. Karzai both say they are intent on pushing forward with peace talks with the Taliban—a movement that has a long history of oppressing women.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged that the peace outreach to the Taliban won't mean backsliding on advances in women's rights over the past decade.
Women's rights advocates fear that any compromise with the Taliban as part of a peace deal could undercut gains they have made in the past decade, including the right to vote, hold public office and get an education.
"The future of women's rights in Afghanistan is more unpredictable that at any stage over the last 10 years," the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization concluded in a report published on Tuesday. "Most of women's important achievements over the last decade are likely to be reversed."
Mr. Karzai told a news conference on Tuesday that he supported the Ulama Council's statements, but said such recommendations would actually strengthen the status of women's rights in Afghanistan. "They declared the values of Islam and the principles for how to strengthen the position of women in accordance with Sharia," he said.
Indeed, some analysts in Afghanistan argue that, given the draconian way in which men treat women in much of rural Afghanistan, Islamic law could lead to an improvement in women's status.
The Ulama Council statement reiterated Islam's support for the right of women to inherit and own property, the right to collect a dowry upon marrying, and to choose whom she marries, all rights that many women are denied in much of the country. An Ulama Council member said the recommendations were part of the council's routine work and weren't written up in coordination with Mr. Karzai.
"This has nothing to do with politics," said council member Mohammed Khaliqdad Haqqani. "Whether the Taliban want to make peace or not, whether they want to join the government or not, we are obligated to follow Islam's instructions." —Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.

Taliban Leaders Captured in Afghan Raids, Isaf Says
TOLOnews.com Tuesday, 06 March 2012
Isaf and Afghan forces have captured four Taliban insurgents over the past two days, Isaf said in a statement.
Two Taliban leaders were captured in a joint Afghan and Isaf operation in Nad ‘Ali district of Helmand province on Monday, Isaf said.
"One of the leaders directed the emplacement of roadside bombs and attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in Nad ‘Ali district. The other captured Taliban leader coordinated ambushes and roadside bombings in Marjah," Isaf's statement said.
The troops fired no shots and detained one additional insurgent as a result of the operation.
The statement added that a Taliban facilitator was captured by Afghan and coalition troops in northern Kunduz province on Tuesday.
The facilitator provided weapons, ammunition and explosives to insurgents throughout the province for attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. Two additional suspected insurgents were detained during the operation.
Another Taliban leader was captured in an operation in southern Helmand province.
The operation was conducted in the Nad Ali district of the province and the leader directed insurgent activity throughout the Trek Nawa area.

NATO behaving like a law unto itself
By M. D. Nalapat
BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhuanet) -- Over the past decade, the overwhelming majority of NATO "kills" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been unarmed civilians. A large number of Iraqi, Afghan and Libyan civilians have lost not just their limbs but also their lives, because of "mistakes" made by NATO personnel in the field.
A look at the diaries kept by alliance troops in the different theaters of war show the casual way in which human lives are taken, often on just the merest suspicion of hostile intent.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, running was taken as evidence of hostile intent and troops would fire on the runner immediately, even in cases where the man shot and killed was unarmed.
The diaries and recollections of hundreds of soldiers, especially those of the US, but also those of other NATO countries, detail the "mistakes" made by NATO forces, all too often the "accidental" deaths of women and children furnish substantial evidence of war crimes and human rights violations.
However, so far there has been no serious effort to hold those responsible for deaths of innocent civilians accountable. Both the International Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Council have yet to take action against a single NATO soldier. The lack of attention given by the UN to the growing number of innocents killed by NATO military action is a damning indictment of its ineffectiveness and subjugation to the will of the US.
The impunity with which NATO personnel have killed and injured civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya has resulted in a sense among its personnel that they are "superior" to the people of these countries, all three of which are outside the charmed circle of those countries NATO considers "civilized".
As a result NATO soldiers have developed a casual disregard to the killing of civilians in combat zones. Aware that the chances of being punishment are so remote as to be non-existent, many are willing to act as both judge and executioner of "hostile" locals.
Since the Libyan operation, civilians also face a further threat, as a dangerous new policy has emerged, that of giving weapons to those disaffected with the government of a country that is a NATO target. In Libya, large numbers of civilians have been killed not only by the NATO bombardment but also by insurgents armed and funded by NATO. Indeed, to this day, people are being hunted down, tortured, arrested and killed in Libya in their hundreds, with no protest from Washington, London, Berlin or Paris.
So long as the companies of these Western countries can secure lucrative contracts from the medley of authorities that now rule Libya, it seems that these authorities are free to do whatever they want despite the UN resolution that specifically calls for the prevention of civilian casualties. Clearly such UN resolutions are interpreted by Western countries to suit themselves and thrown away once they have served NATO's political and commercial objectives.
In Syria as well, armed gangs are being encouraged to kill not just security forces but elements of the population that favor the recognized regime in Damascus. Such a policy has the potential to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East. And while NATO may gain from such unethical actions, the rest of the world is the loser.
But everything done by NATO indicates that it has set itself up not only as the enforcer of international law, but also the law itself.
The author is vice-chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group, and UNESCO peace chair and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.
(Source: China Daily)

Suspicion rises between Western advisers, Afghans
AP By DEB RIECHMANN March 7, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - "Shoulder to shoulder" is the mantra of the NATO-Afghan military partnership. Now, after Afghan soldiers and police turned their guns on their foreign partners during outrage over the Quran burnings, even Western advisers – not just combat troops – are looking over their shoulders.
The deepening distrust is jeopardizing the U.S.-led coalition's strategy of training Afghan security forces and helping government workers so that international troops can go home.
The advisers do a variety of jobs. While some focus on the battlefield, others pore over geological surveys, lure outside investors or make sure that key mountain passes are clear of snow. They work closely with their Afghan counterparts to build a government strong enough to fend off threats and attacks from the Taliban and other militants trying to destabilize their country.
There has been lingering distrust for years. Afghan soldiers and police, or militants dressed in their uniforms, have shot and killed more than 75 U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2007.
But tensions soared Feb. 25 when two U.S. military advisers were found dead with gunshots to the back of the head inside the Afghan Ministry of Interior, one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the capital, Kabul.
The two were among six U.S. troops killed by Afghan security forces during a week of demonstrations over the burning of Islamic books and Qurans at a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan. President Barack Obama and U.S. military officials say the burnings were a mistake and not intentional.
Hours after the military advisers' bodies were found on the floor of their office, Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, took the unprecedented step of recalling hundreds of coalition personnel working in more than two dozen government ministries in Kabul. He said the decision was made "for obvious force protection reasons." Britain, France, Germany and Canada quickly followed suit, putting much of the West's mentoring and advising work on hold.
"It's a declining relationship. It has been for years," said Martine van Bijlert, co-founder of the Afghan Analyst Network in Kabul. "You won't be able to fix that. The big question is `Will it remain a workable relationship?' I think it's possible. It could settle down, but it won't fully settle down to the old level."
"These advisers are crucial, especially in the security sector when we're talking about transition," said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul. "Certainly the Afghan government can function without them, but if they don't return, it will take a toll on the financial situation of the government. Many of these projects financed by donors require the presence of these advisers."
Allen is determined to get the advisers back into the ministries as soon as possible – when he deems it is safe enough to do so, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a coalition spokesman. The coalition has not disclosed the total number of advisers who work in the ministries.
Their work has not completely stopped, he said.
"Though they are not physically standing beside them, the advisers are still in daily communication with their Afghan counterparts, as Gen. Allen directed to keep the lines of communication open," Cummings said. "We are committed to our partnership with the government of Afghanistan. ... Tens of thousands of Afghan and coalition troops continue to effectively work together on significant missions every day."
A few dozen advisers critical to the mission have trickled back to work, but with additional security, Cummings said.
A senior Western adviser who oversees advisers in several ministries said that when they go back they probably will be required to wear body armor and travel in groups with armed escorts. The adviser said they also might have to get permission to visit the ministries, reducing day-to-day contact with their Afghan partners.
Some advisers, such as the ones involved in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands program, will balk at increased security, the adviser said. The U.S. established the program in September 2009 to create a team of military and civilian experts who could develop close working relationships with their Afghan and Pakistani counterparts.
Contractors who serve as advisers generally are not so eager to rush back to the ministries, and some told the adviser they are ready to head home.
The adviser and all others who spoke on condition of anonymity for this article did so because of increasing tensions in the NATO-Afghan relationship.
Restoring trust between Western advisers and their Afghan counterparts will be challenging.
"If an adviser gets killed and you're an adviser, it's going to be difficult," said Nadia Gerspacher, a senior program adviser for the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.
"Is it going to make people less trusting and feeling more insecure in the ministry? Probably," said Gerspacher, who has been in contact with advisers in Kabul since the killings.
An international security contractor said he could feel the tension when he visited an Interior Ministry office the day after the U.S. advisers were killed. Usually Afghan police there greet him with "Salamou Aleikom," meaning "Peace be with you." This time, 14 or 15 armed policemen standing in a hallway outside the office were silent, he said. The policemen asked an interpreter whether the Western contractor was American or British. He and a colleague soon left.
An Afghan National Police general at the Interior Ministry said he felt ashamed by the killings and would welcome the advisers back.
They are the teachers for Afghanistan's new system of providing security and if they don't return, the work being done to reform the unprofessional and corrupt policemen will collapse, said the general. A lot of work has been suspended since the killings, the general said.
Another official at the Interior Ministry said the Western advisers' morale had been shattered.
When two Western advisers visited his unit a few days ago, he tried to break the tension. Jokingly, he shook his finger at them, smiled and said: "You've been absent for four or five days. Your pay will be docked." He said that he has developed strong bonds with a few of the Western advisers and will consider them good friends forever.
Some ministries aren't so dependent on the advisers, according to an official at the Finance Ministry. He said the advisers were badly needed three or four years ago, but that the ministry was now staffed with talented, well-trained Afghan employees who no longer need the 20 to 25 well-paid Westerners who currently work there. The ministry could hire five Afghans with the salary paid to one Westerner, he said.
___
Associated Press writers Amir Shah, Rahim Faiez and Patrick Quinn in Kabul contributed to this report.

Kimberley Motley: Afghanistan's only foreign defence lawyer
BBC News By Stephanie Hegarty 6 March 2012
Kimberley Motley is perhaps an unlikely candidate for Afghanistan's only foreign defence lawyer. A young mother of three and former American beauty queen, she left the US for the first time less than four years ago.
In that time she has become a lifeline for foreigners as well as Afghans trapped in the country's struggling judicial system.
Last year Ms Motley took on one of the most high-profile cases in the country - defending a woman named as Gulnaz, who was jailed for adultery after she was raped by her cousin's husband.
That case led President Hamid Karzai to issue his first presidential pardon for a case defined as a moral crime, a move that arguably showed new commitment on the part of Afghan government to defending the rights of women.
As an outsider in the Afghan legal system, Motley feels she is in a unique position to get things done.
"I don't think Afghan lawyers would have gone that far," she says of Gulnaz's case. "There were other Afghan lawyers who knew about the case who did not think it was a good idea to submit a pardon application."
She doesn't speak Pashto and uses an iPad app to translate tracts of Sharia law from the Koran. She argues with prosecutors through a group of legal translators whom she has trained to interpret and translate not just her words but also her body language.
Interrogating witnesses is not an issue because prosecutors have yet to bring one witness to trial in any of the cases she has defended.
But by refusing to conform she has met with plenty of opposition. She regularly receives anonymous emails threatening her with rape or death.
Motley credits her ability to deal with adversity to her unusual childhood, in a rough part of northern Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Hers was the only mixed race family in a neighbourhood that was divided along ethnic lines. Her African-American father was serving in the US air force when he met her mother, a North Korean woman living in Seoul.
They moved back to the US to start a family but after her father left the military he was seriously injured in a car accident at work. His insurance company refused to pay out and the family plunged into poverty.
"People in my neighbourhood were often in and out of prison," Motley recalls. "Apart from mine, I don't remember anyone else having a two-parent household and there was a lot of drug-dealing."
Despite their difficult situation, her parents instilled discipline and an entrepreneurial attitude in their four children. Motley worked from the age of nine and the money she earned went into the household coffers, helping to pay for private school and tutors.
Her parents pushed her to study medicine but the injustice of her father's insurance case inspired her to become a lawyer instead.
She worked as a public defence lawyer for eight years in the US during which time she got married and had two children.
She was ready for a new challenge when her best friend dared her to take part in the Mrs Wisconsin beauty pageant. Though she only did it for fun she managed to win and went on to compete in Mrs America in 2004.
In 2008 she went to Afghanistan with the US Department of State to help train local defence lawyers. It was the first time she had left the US and the system there was far from what she was used to.
"It was so unusually chaotic and it just made no sense to me at all," she says.
Countless problems besiege a legal system that is recovering from decades of conflict. Nearly every day she sees the rights of defendants violated by courts that fail to uphold due process.
"This is the only place that I've seen where procedure trumps law," she says. "If the unwritten procedure says this is the way we do things, then that's how it's done."
Many defendants are denied access to lawyers, they are refused the chance to offer their own defence or even to speak in court. She has seen people convicted with little or no evidence by overworked and under-resourced courts.
"In addition to that there was a lot of unfortunate corruption in the system," Motley says. "People would pay to get lesser sentences and it was pretty obvious."
According to Abdul Wakil Omari, head of media at the Afghan Ministry of Justice, the ministry is in the process of a wide programme of reforms.
"We have identified, dismissed and arrested around 60 judges in the capital Kabul and the provinces over the past two years," says Omari.
The ministry also says it has arrested hundreds of others involved in corruption.
Motley, for her part, says she has never paid a bribe. She is determined to export the values she learned as a public defence attorney in the US to Afghanistan.
Motley's first case was that of an African woman who had been arrested for drug smuggling. The woman's Afghan lawyer had failed to show up in court and the date for her appeal was three months overdue. There was nothing that Motley could do.
"That really depressed me and also motivated me," she says.
Though she has a better understanding of the legal system now, her work hasn't gotten any easier.
Since she has gained a reputation as a successful litigator she says she has found it more difficult to practise.
"I have to go through extra hoops that other people don't have to go through," she says.
"There is no good reason for opposition other than I'm being effective."
Through her consultancy practice she has amassed a wide range of corporate clients in the telecommunications, aviation, oil and gas and entertainment industries.
The profits from these cases have enabled her to take on about 30% of her cases free of charge.
But she still comes under criticism from some people in Afghanistan's intellectual circles who accuse her of using cases like Gulnaz's to gain notoriety and media attention.
Some have said she failed to protect Gulnaz from a blaze of publicity.
"I treated her like an adult woman," Motley says. "Here in Afghanistan a lot of the time, women aren't treated as adults even though they are of adult age.
"As her attorney I gave her the pros and cons and she chose to speak."
Motley is also criticised for choosing not to wear a headscarf. It is an unusual - though not illegal - decision in Afghanistan, even among Western women. Initially she did cover her head but found it affected her performance in court.
"To do my job I need to be me," she says. "And being me is not wearing a headscarf."

Karzai Backs Afghan Clerics Over Stronger Restrictions On Women
By Frud Bezhan March 7, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has backed a statement from the country's top religious body calling for stronger restrictions on women's freedoms.
On March 2, the Ulema Council issued a statement saying that men and women should not mix in the workplace or schools and that women must always be accompanied by a male relative when they travel.
Speaking at a news conference in Kabul on March 6, Karzai maintained that the statement did not call for restrictions on women but rather protected the standing of Afghan women.
“Regarding the statement from Afghanistan's Ulema Council, they didn’t propose any limitations [on Afghan women]," he said. "In their [statement], they announced Islamic principles and values relating to the defense and reinforcement of women's position. This [statement] is in accordance with a Shari’a view of our country, which all Muslims and Afghans are committed to."
The statement from the Ulema Council, which was published by Karzai’s office, is not legally binding.
'Women Are Secondary'
The council statement renounces the equality of men and women enshrined in the Afghan Constitution and insists instead that "men are fundamental and women are secondary."
The clerics also supported men's right to commit violence against women in cases where there is a "Shari'a-compliant reason."
But other sections of the document defend women's rights, notably speaking out against forced marriages and the practice of exchanging women as a kind of currency to settle family and tribal disputes.
Overall, however, the statement calls for restrictions that are reminiscent of the Taliban era.
Afghan rights activists have condemned the statement and said they fear the Afghan government is giving in to the Taliban as Kabul tries to reach a peace settlement aimed at ending its decade-long battle with the insurgents.
Under the Taliban, women were barred from receiving an education and working outside the home and could only venture outside if they were wearing a burqa and were accompanied by a male relative.
Ahmad Zia Langari, a commissioner at Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, claimed the council's statement is an injustice that tramples on the dignity of all Afghan women.
"In no Islamic country do we see that women are totally separated from men and cannot work in the same workplace," she said. "Even in Saudi Arabia these kinds of limitations don't exist. Logically, if we suppress women this much -- controlling their movement, conversations, and relations with others -- then we are actually damaging women's dignity as human beings."
Strict Islamic Practices
The Ulema Council's statement is just the latest sign of the increasing pressure on Afghan women to adhere to strict Islamic practices.
Last month, the Afghan government asked female television presenters to wear head scarves and avoid heavy makeup after conservative members of the upper house of parliament complained about noncompliance with Islamic beliefs.
Karzai’s endorsement of the council's position will almost certainly raise the ire of the Obama administration, which has a history of tensions and differences of opinion with the Afghan leader.
A State Department spokesman in Washington told RFE/RL that U.S. officials are "aware" of Karzai’s comments and are "studying" the matter.
In Germany, Heiner Geissler, a senior politician from the ruling Christian Democratic Union party, warned that Afghan women will suffer when foreign forces withdraw. Geissler said foreign forces should remain in Afghanistan until Afghan police and soldiers are fully prepared to assume responsibility for protecting the rights of all Afghans.
The independent newspaper "Cheragh" said on March 6 that the Ulema Council's statement was "a reminder of dark pages in the history of Afghanistan when terrorists misused the tools of high Islamic education."
The "Daily Afghanistan" newspaper wrote that the many promises made to women about equal rights seem to have been forgotten and that Afghanistan's women seem doomed to become "second-class citizens" as they were under the Taliban.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and Washington correspondent Heather Maher contributed to this report

Afghanistan's teen brides who set themselves alight
AFP By Claire Truscott 07/03/2012
HERAT, Afghanistan - Flayed by a fire she began herself, Aatifa's childlike frame is painstakingly wrapped in thick bandages -- her shrieks of "Allah" echoing around the hospital ward where surgeons prepare to graft skin back on to her skeletal torso.
Her wide blue eyes alternating between flashes of anger and wells of tears, the 16-year-old Afghan girl struggles to explain what led her to douse her own body in petrol, step outside and light a match.
Married at the age of 14, the young carpet-weaver, who has nine brothers and sisters, said her mother-in-law criticised her housework and encouraged her mechanic husband to beat her for allowing her mother to visit too often.
She complained to authorities but was berated for causing trouble. Later told that her husband hated her and would marry a second woman, she swung between anger and depression before carrying out her masochistic deed.
Aatifa poured petrol over her head and, once outside her home, lit the flames that engulfed two thirds of her body. Her brother found her and smothered her with his clothes before neighbours took her to hospital.
"I just wanted to kill myself, this was my goal," she said, her bone-thin arm etched with flaring purple burn scars. "What can I do? I'm not useful anymore. I want to get a divorce, it's better to stop everything."
Bound by early marriage into a life of domestic disharmony, dozens of girls like Aatifa in Afghanistan's sophisticated but conservative main western city of Herat are choosing a brutal form of escape by setting themselves on fire.
In the past one year alone, doctors at a burns unit at the city hospital have seen 83 cases of self-immolation, with nearly two-thirds proving fatal.
The disturbing phenomenon is considered to be a cultural import from neighbouring Iran. But feuding between poor and uneducated families who marry off their daughters as young teens is usually at the heart of the problem.
"Sometimes it's for very small reason they burn themselves, and most of them complain about the in-law's family," said chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the burns unit, Ghafar Khan Bawa.
"There's an accumulation of depression, stress and domestic violation and then the woman just seeks a way of getting out of the situation. A way of expressing their anger, a way of expressing their depression."
Police, tribal elders, Mullahs and courts all exist to resolve family disputes which are common within Afghanistan's impoverished and illiterate societies. But it is considered culturally taboo for a woman to complain.
"There's a defect in the system because a woman cannot complain here. And if they were not accepted before burning themselves, then how will they be accepted with disfigurement and deformities and disabilities?" added Bawa.
Sitting propped up on a pillow at home across town, 18-year-old Zarkhuna's occasional smile is largely concealed by an enveloping neck brace, while her body scarred by 65 percent burns is clothed in a black burqa and red blanket.
She said the family of her husband, a rickshaw driver, had seemed nice before marriage, but when his mother and sister moved into their family compound fighting erupted.
Now banned from seeing their 10-month-old baby since she set herself on fire four months ago, she said she hopes not to divorce, but for her near-fatal action to provoke a peace settlement between the families.
"My husband wasn't cruel to me. But my mother and sister-in-law were complaining all the time about my job -- they became jealous," she said.
"The mother and sister wanted me to be under their control not under my husband's. If he behaves nicely with me I will continue with him."
Her father has said she must not take the case to the authorities, but leave their fate to God's will.
"I leave those people to God. I just want them to pray for my daughter because they're also poor people and I didn't do anything against them because they're also poor," said her father, Khor Mohammad, moving prayer beads and wearing a thick white turban. "I don't think the government can help us."
Herati women's rights advocate Suraya Pakzad said that early marriage and family feuds commonly caused dangerous levels of stress for women in the home, with many too young to cope with the wifely roles expected of them.
"Maybe not all of them decide to die, it's just a warning for their family to stop, and they never thought fire would immediately go to all of their body," said the head of the Voice of Women's Organisation in Herat.
The organisation operates two shelters for women, although all cases must be referred through the government. Once they realise there could be other options for escape she said the self-harming teens all wish things could be different.
"Whenever we meet them and talk to them they say they really regret what they did."

One more hurdle in Afghanistan: Justice
USA TODAY By Tom A. Peter, Special for USA TODAY 06/03/2012
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Ahmad Jan lives just a few miles from the capital of this restive province and its government-sanctioned court.
Even so, if he or his neighbors have a legal matter, they prefer to go to the Taliban or tribal elders for a ruling.
"The Taliban courts don't disturb people and tell them to wait for a long time before hearing a case, or demand bribes," says Jan, an out-of-work laborer. "When you go to the Taliban and ask them for help, they tell you that they need a certain amount of time to study your case, and then they will tell you to come on a special day."
NATO and Afghan forces have had success this past year pushing Taliban forces out of rural areas, especially in southern Afghanistan. These military wins are considered key milestones on the long and daunting road out of Afghanistan — with a targeted withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of 2013.
But the reluctance of everyday Afghans like Jan to embrace a pillar of the Western-backed government — its judiciary — shows the limits of a decade of U.S. nation-building efforts in a country with deeply rooted traditions and a citizenry with fluid allegiances.
"The limited, unresponsive, and unreliable nature of the Afghan justice system is a central source of Afghans' grievances with their government and has opened the door to Taliban shadow governance," according to the U.S. State Department's Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy. "As long as the population views the government as weak or predatory, Taliban approaches to security and justice will continue to be accepted."
Establishing effective, impartial courts and other government services in rural areas like Paktika is considered critical to shifting Afghan loyalty to the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai. Coupled with the buildup of Afghan army and police forces, the Obama administration hopes that Afghans will be able to maintain security in regions cleared of Taliban by NATO troops in time for the U.S. exit.
But the uneven court system is just one of the many obstacles facing allied forces. Taliban loyalists remain in hide-outs and might be simply waiting out the U.S. withdrawal. Pakistan's military has not moved against militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, which is based on its soil and causing chaos south of Kabul. Doubts have risen about the vetting of Afghan security forces, some of whom killed NATO troops following the accidental burning of some Qurans that led to violent protests over the past couple of weeks.
Yet the justice system is still held out as perhaps the best hope for stabilizing the Afghanistan government while depriving the Taliban of a necessary road back to power.
The Taliban's way
Afghanistan's court system had for centuries consisted of tribal elders hearing complaints and making swift decisions. The rulings were based partly in Islamic law and also Pashtunwali, a code of conduct developed by the indigenous people of Afghanistan known as the Pashtuns. The law became much harsher in the mid-1990s after a group of Pashtun clerics trained in fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan emerged as victors in a civil war following the collapse of a Marxist government in Kabul. Known as the Taliban, the clerics brought order to strife-ridden parts of the country but under a mix of Pashtunwali and strict Islamic law, or sharia.
"We cannot change the Taliban," says Sami Yusufzai, an independent analyst in Islamabad, Pakistan. "The Taliban is a really religious force. They don't believe they can adjust with society."
The world first learned of the harshness of the Taliban's sharia system when a secret video was smuggled out of the country in 1999 showing a woman dragged before 30,000 people at a soccer match and shot in the head for adultery. Reports from Amnesty International and others said children were being forced to testify against their parents for moral crimes, and then made to witness their executions.
"Administration of justice was swift and harsh," according to the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that advises the United Nations on conflict resolution.
New crimes included not wearing a full burqa or a full beard, listening to music, sending girls to school and having sex outside of marriage — the penalty for which could be death by stoning.
Rights groups — having documented these abuses for years — saw the overthrow of the Taliban as an opportunity for an impartial and fair justice system. Indeed, the U.S. military's counterinsurgency doctrine called for the creation of institutions that would address people's grievances and thus turn their allegiance to the pro-Western government of Afghanistan.
Since the regime overthrow in 2001, the United States has spent $70 billion on the reconstruction of Afghanistan and developing government institutions. Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone toward establishing provisional courts in cities and providing training for lawyers and judges. The fiscal year 2011 request alone set aside $250 million to improve the justice system, but problems persist.
"Despite the significant resources devoted to the security sector and a greater focus on the police in recent years, the U.S. and its NATO allies have failed to help build a functioning justice system that can enforce the rule of law," according to a 2011 report by the International Crisis Group. "Strengthening formal judicial institutions is at least if not even more vital to restoring state legitimacy as building the national security forces."
Where the U.S. can't lead
Paktika has fewer than 10 judges when it needs closer to 70, according to the International Security Assistance Force, the U.S.-led command that oversees military operations in Afghanistan. Efforts are underway to bring in more, but in their absence even locals not loyal to the Taliban will use its expedient but controversial courts.
"They've got to come up with a way that's acceptable to them to resolve conflict," said U.S. Army Maj. Eric Noble, the 172nd Infantry Brigade's judge advocate in Paktika province. "We're not looking for the U.S. solution to Afghan conflict resolution and rule of law. We're looking at what do they find as acceptable."
Many people in rural areas like Paktika have shunned government justice because they consider it unfair and corrupt. According to the State Department's strategy report, the Karzai government needs to create "predictable and fair dispute resolution mechanisms to eliminate the vacuum that the Taliban have exploited with their own brutal form of justice."
But half the Afghan population sees courts as the most corrupt government institution in the country, according to a 2010 Integrity Watch survey of Afghan perceptions of corruption. Only two-thirds of Afghans said they have access to courts, and a full quarter said they "felt deprived of justice" because of corruption and a system fed by bribes.
Mohammed Wali, a student in Kabul, says he wound up in the court system after he got into a fight with a cousin. He said his cousin took his case to the district courts and bribed the police to have Wali, his father, and one of his uncles arrested. The men then had to pay a $250 bribe to be released, an enormous amount considering per capita income is $502 per year.
"We cannot say that there is no corruption in the courts and justice system," said Abdul Wakail Omari, the head of public affairs for the Afghan Supreme Court. "We cannot deny it, but the problems are not as much as people are saying."
Over the past 10 years, Omari says, 50 to 60 judges have been arrested and disbarred for taking bribes, along with dozens of other court employees, prompting the formation of a special commission to investigate corruption.
The State Department agrees that courts in the capitals of many Afghanistan provinces have improved, with better-trained judges and lawyers who do not demand bribes.
But most of Afghan justice takes place not in the cities but in the hinterlands, where tribal elders oversee laws and where Taliban insurgents continue to mete out sentences in villages where Afghan and U.S. troops lack a strong presence. So the State Department has been focusing on improving these informal courts convened by tribal elders.
Even the most optimistic analysts won't dispute that after more than a decade in Afghanistan, the allied-directed court system is at best a work in progress. At worst, experts say, it's a serious impediment to the survival of the current government.
"You would not find any other example in Afghan history of a court system that is as corrupt and untrustworthy as the courts are right now," said Hassan Walasmal, an independent analyst in Kabul.
One obstacle to improving rural justice, though, is that well-educated lawyers and judges are seldom interested in moving to rural areas where Taliban justice has held sway. The pay is poor; running water and smooth dirt roads are rare. Lawyers who take the postings must often work with illiterate government officials and, in a place like Paktika, insecurity and violence.
Informal justice has often arisen as a concern for human rights groups. The United States Institute for Peace points out that judges sometimes settle matters by awarding women as compensation or forcing them to marry. Women are also excluded from decision-making. And justice is often not final, as shoddy record-keeping means the same disputes can resurface.
"Traditions control life in Afghanistan more than the laws or rules," says Rohullah Qarizada, head of Afghanistan's Bar Association. But locals say tribal justice is improving.
"There is a change in their decisions, and now tribal courts mostly fine people money," said Nadir Khan Katawazai, a member of parliament from Paktika province. "These tribal justice systems get good results, and it doesn't create problems that could last well into the future."
Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director, Sam Zarifi, said the Taliban is already taking advantage of power vacuums in areas like Kunduz province, with disturbing results.
A cellphone video last year in Kunduz showed a woman standing in a 4-foot hole in the ground, her face hidden by a blue burqa. A Taliban leader read off the charge of adultery, and men then rushed forward and pelted her with rocks. After a large rock hit her head she fell over, her burqa red with blood. A man then walked up and shot her with an AK-47.
"Anyone who knows about Islam knows that stoning is in the Quran, and that it is Islamic law," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid explained at the time. "There are people who call it inhuman, but in doing so they insult the prophet. They want to bring foreign thinking to this country."

Avalanche And Attacks Add to Woes Of Afghans
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN March 6, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Rather than a respite after Afghanistan’s frigid winter, the start of the spring thaw has brought deadly avalanches and insurgent attacks.
It took a full day for news of a massive avalanche in the snowbound reaches of Badakhshan Province, in the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains, to reach Faizabad, the provincial capital. The avalanche swept through the tiny village of Sherin Nazim on Monday, burying most of the houses in snow. Reports reaching Faizabad from the area said that so far at least 37 of the village’s roughly 200 residents had been found dead.
As of Tuesday evening, rescue teams sent by the government and the Afghan Red Crescent had not yet reached the village, which is cut off from Faizabad for six months of the year. Heavy snow and strong winds in the mountains slowed the teams’ progress and posed a continuing risk, said Abdul Marouf, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Badakhshan. “Hundreds of families in neighboring villages are also under the threat of avalanches,” he said.
The governor, Shah Waliullah Adeb, tried to reach the village himself, Mr. Marouf said, “but he got caught by an avalanche and has been rescued” by an Afghan National Army helicopter.
The closest hospital to the village is across the border in Tajikistan; injured survivors were being taken there, Mr. Marouf said. There is no road to the village, so people in the region generally travel on foot or horseback using rough paths, and even in good weather the journey to Faizabad can take 10 to 12 days.
Meanwhile in eastern Afghanistan, bomb attacks occurred in Khost Province and in Jalalabad, the most important city in the region, and several attacks and firefights were reported in Kunar Province, where Taliban fighters tried to storm a jail in Asadabad.
The explosion in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, was the third in less than a week. A remotely detonated bomb went off in Pashtunistan Square, near the center of the city and the main bazaar. The target appeared to be a top officer of the border police in the region, who was passing by in a Ford Ranger truck; he was unhurt, but another border police officer was wounded.
A suicide bombing on Monday struck a police checkpoint near the provincial governor’s office, killing an intelligence officer and wounding 12 people. And last week, during protests over the recent Koran-burning episode, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near the entrance of the Jalalabad air base as people were arriving for work, killing nine.
In Kunar Province, the Taliban attacked the local jail in the provincial capital on Tuesday, and NATO helicopters were called in to help the Afghan jail guards fight them off. The helicopter crews pursued the insurgents into a forested valley nearby and killed four of them, but a child who was there gathering firewood was killed as well, said Mohammed Ewaz Nazeri, the provincial police chief. He said the child was hit by Taliban gunfire.
Also in Asadabad, two men who the police said were Pakistanis were caught entering the city with suicide vests and light weapons, an Afghan intelligence officer said. Pakistani citizens often move back and forth across the nearby border, and there have been reports that Pakistani insurgents have taken refuge on the Afghan side of the border when pursued by Pakistani security forces.
In another attack in Khost, a bomb on a bicycle detonated in the city, wounding five people, said Gen. Sardar Mohammed Zazi, the police chief.
Reporting was contributed by Sangar Rahimi from Kabul, and employees of The New York Times from Nangarhar, Khost and Kunduz Provinces in Afghanistan.

Afghan Elders Describe Cruelest Winter in Charahi Qambar Camp
The Huffington Post By Salena Tramel Journalist and international development consultant 06/03/2012
For the residents of the Charahi Qambar refugee camp, it's been a long five years since they fled the U.S.-led destruction of their villages and put up tents in this destitute Kabul neighborhood. The majority is of Pashtun descent, from Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, a warlord-torn region notorious for opium production. One would think that the 6,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) camping there for a half-decade have seen it all. But over the winter, it was not bombs but snowfalls that crushed shelters and threatened lives.
The tarps of Charahi Qambar run alongside one of the capital's outskirt roads and extend deep into the horizon -- juxtaposed with stunning views of the Hindu Kush. Our three-person Global Exchange delegation pulled up next to the tent-and-adobe city in a beat-up Corolla hatchback with an Afghan driver and guide. Several of the camp's elders came to meet us. They greeted us cautiously and pulled us inside the winding pathways ankle-deep with mud that turn to thick sheets of ice by night. We ducked into one of the tents and kneeled atop thin carpets on the freezing dirt floor.
As one of three Americans, and two women, among a few dozen Afghan tribal leaders, initial awkwardness faded into a feeling of welcome as green tea and conversations began to flow.
A group of six elders, elected by Charahi Qambar's IDPs, governs the camp -- a structure similar to the Council of Elders in the villages where they used to live. "We lost everything," said one of them, Ismael. He explained that as a farmer back in the Helmand Province, his harvests included staple foods like wheat and corn, along with seasonal vegetables. After NATO forces destroyed his home and livelihood, Ismael came to Kabul as a refugee. Today, his family survives on meager aid handouts. And as a camp representative, he cares for some 850 families, as well.
This winter brought the lowest temperatures in at least 20 years to Kabul, and in impoverished Charahi Qambar, supplies like firewood quickly dwindled. When a 70-year-old woman and seven children under the age of 5 froze to death in their camp, the elders experienced interchanging feelings of helplessness and outrage. "We are humans like everyone else, and our children shouldn't have to die," said Khoja Mohamed, also a chosen representative. "All we are asking for is a real home where we can be safe again," he lamented. He reiterated his point by using a Pashto proverb that says everyone should have a graveyard -- a place to rest -- in both life and death.
Others around the circle told us what brought them to Charahi Qambar. One man spoke of his uncle's daughter, who was killed in his village by a NATO bombing campaign. Another said that he lost his business when U.S. jets bombed the local bazaar. Bearded and wearing turbans, the elders emphasized that their choice of appearance was part of their culture. "We feel targeted by Western forces because of the way we look," said Ismael, "And most don't take the time to understand our religion."
The recent Qur'an burning at Bagram Airfield sent ripples of anger through Charahi Qambar. Some elders called for protests in the camp but opted for patience when President Karzai pleaded a peaceful reaction. "We have to respect our leader," said Khoja Mohamed, "But if you could take out my heart, you could see the pain. We are Muslim, and after all we have been through, they burned our holy book." Khoja Mohamed pointed out that the international community, including Western troops, were guests in Afghanistan. "No matter what, we will not punish many for the actions of one. We know how to separate the bad from the good, and we hope that your country can learn to do the same," he said.
In Charahi Qambar and the other 40 camps around Kabul, IDPs and their elders wait for an end to a winter -- both figuratively and literally -- that has lasted far too long.

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