View Full Version : [Afghan News] March 19, 2012


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03-19-2012, 04:46 PM
Afghanistan's private security firms given more time
AFP
Private security firms in Afghanistan have been given more time before having to suspend operations, the Afghan interior ministry said Monday.
Most of the companies will now be dissolved in the coming weeks, ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP. The majority had been due to close by Tuesday.
There are about 50 security companies operating in Afghanistan, down from more than a hundred in 2007, providing services for foreign troops, diplomatic missions and aid organisations.
But relations with the authorities have deteriorated and Karzai has accused the firms of breaking the law and taking business away from Afghans.
According to the manager of one medium-sized firm -- employing 1,200 people -- companies providing security to military and diplomatic institutions will escape the ban.
Customers of other companies who want to continue using armed guards will have to turn to the APPF (Afghan Public Protect Force), a for-profit force created by Kabul to take the place of private firms.
"Most of our clients simply do not want to go to APPF because of the trust. They don't trust its reliability, its management," said the security firm manager, who did not want to be named.
One of the concerns is that without sufficient vetting of personnel, insurgents or criminals may enter the APPF's ranks.
"We are not concerned about the quality of our guards but of our quality in general, so that we can satisfy our clients," Sediqqi said, adding that just under 2,000 men had been recruited.
After announcing the closure of private security firms, the Afghan government has repeatedly rolled back on its plans and extended the deadline.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion in 2001 private security firms rushed in to fill a vacuum created by a lack of adequately trained police and army forces.
But perceptions that personnel were little more than gun-toting mercenaries, roaming the countryside with impunity, made them deeply unpopular among Afghans.
There are about 130,000 US-led NATO forces fighting a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan in defence of the Afghan government, and all combat troops are due to leave by the end of 2014.

Afghan strategy in danger
By Tao Wenzhao
BEIJING, March 19 (Xinhuanet) -- The killing of 16 Afghan civilians on March 11 has provoked intense protests in Afghanistan, and not only further deteriorated relations between the United States and Afghanistan, but also jeopardized the US' Afghan strategy.
The US army in Afghanistan likes to regard itself as a liberating force that freed the country from the Taliban regime and set it on the road to democracy. But that is not how Afghan civilians see the US army, which they regard as an occupying army. The US soldiers are different from Afghan civilians in lifestyle, religion and cultural tradition, and the US soldiers are unwilling to take the initiative to try and understand and respect the Afghan civilians' religious culture.
Meanwhile, although the US army rotates its troops, many soldiers have returned to Afghanistan several times, and as the war has dragged on the troops have become increasingly demoralized and many soldiers suffer from depression. This has contributed to the series of recent incidents, such as insulting the bodies of Taliban soldiers, burning the Quran and other religious materials, and the latest incident involving the shooting of civilians.
Although President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all apologized for the killings and declared there will be a thorough investigation, so far it is only a lone soldier, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who has been accused of the killings. The Afghan government and civilians have demanded the US army hand over the soldier for a public trial. But the US army in Afghanistan enjoys extraterritoriality and is not governed by Afghan laws. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused the Pentagon of failing to fully cooperate with an investigation into the killings.
The killing of the 16 civilians, which included women and children, has angered Afghan civilians as well as the Taliban. Demonstrators have demanded the Karzai administration refuse to sign the agreement that will permit US advisers and maybe special military forces stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
After the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama announced plans to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, as the US' financial condition means it can't afford to spend any more on its forces in Afghanistan. The army began the withdrawal on July 1.
The Obama administration realizes that the US army cannot defeat the Taliban, never mind eliminate it, and has tried to win over some of the Taliban fighters by saying there is a difference between the Taliban soldiers that fight for belief and ordinary people that fight because of poverty.
But the shooting of the civilians has made it impossible for the US to contact and negotiate with the Taliban, which has vowed revenge on the US army.
The Taliban's attitude is quite clear, they want to join the process of national reconciliation, but on condition that all the foreign armies withdraw from Afghanistan.
Obama called Karzai to reaffirm plans for Afghan forces to take a lead in combat operations next year and assume full responsibility for security across Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the big issue surrounding the withdrawal of US troops is whether the Afghan government will be able to maintain basic stability on its own. At present Afghan security forces are unable to maintain nationwide public safety. But the longer the US army stays in Afghanistan, the more incidents there will be, which will further fuel anti-US sentiment among civilians.
Clearly Obama's Afghan strategy is in danger of hitting the rocks.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(Source: China Daily)

U.S. soldier rampage leaves Afghan families in pain
by Abdul Haleem, Yangtze Yan
KABUL, March 18 (Xinhua) -- "This soldier broke into the house of Samad, my brother in-law, and then opened random fire. His family lost 11 people including innocent women and children," a wailing lady Anar Gul murmured to Xinhua.
Samad Khan was the only survivor of his family because he was away from Balandi village when a runaway U.S. soldier went on a house-to-house shooting spree in southern Afghan villages last Sunday.
Anar Gul also escaped unhurt from the nearby Zangabad village of Panjwai district in Kandahar province. Revealing her ordeal, the upset lady said the soldier beat the door in a barbaric way in the pre-dawn bloodshed. "Fortunately my brother in-law was not at home that night and survived," whispered Anar Gul wiping off her tears.
"Are we Taliban? Even Taliban don't commit such crime. These Americans frequently search our houses with dogs and this time committed massacre," Anar Gul questioned, calling on the Afghan president to come and see what has happened to her family.
U.S. officials claimed that the tragic incident took place at mid night March 10-11 when a U.S. soldier walked out of his base in Panjwai district, entered a few houses in the neighborhood and opened indiscriminate fire killing 16 civilians including three women and nine children and wounding nine other villagers.
Disputing the U.S. claim, however, local witnesses said that a group of U.S. soldiers had committed the crime instead of one single soldier acting alone.
"These soldiers like a group of thieves entered the houses and committed massacre. I personally counted 15 dead bodies including some women and children," Zangabad villager Allah Gul, 57, told Xinhua.
Shortly Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the awful shooting spree and demanded explanation from the U.S. government. Karzai also called for the pullout of U.S. troops in 2013, a year earlier than planned by the United States and the allied nations.
On Friday when meeting with some relatives of the victims of the Kandahar massacre at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Karzai accused the United States of failing to aid the investigation into the killing by American soldier.
Meanwhile, both the Wolesi Jirga (lower house) and Mushrano Jirga (upper house) of the Afghan parliament in sharp reactions strongly denounced the gruesome incident and demanded public punishment for those behind the callous act in Kandahar.
After visiting the affected area, an investigation delegation of the parliament found out two groups of American soldiers totaling 15 to 20 troops carried out the attack in Panjwai district.
"What is wrong with us that both Americans and Taliban kill us? Why the U.S. soldier committed this crime and killed my brother?" questioned Rahila, another lady who lost her brother in the rampage shooting.
"The Americans killed my brother in this house at mid-night without any reason. He is no more with us but who will look after his five children?" said a crying Rahila while pointing out finger towards a mud house where his brother was gunned down by U.S. soldier.

Retired general: Afghan killings fallout could mean troops return within weeks
By the CNN Wire Staff March 19, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- As the attorney for an Army soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians prepared to meet his client for the first time Monday, a retired U.S. general suggested the fallout from the massacre could lead to American troops beginning to return home from Afghanistan within weeks.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales stands accused of a shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, allegations that have further strained already tense U.S.-Afghan relations and intensified a debate about whether to pull American troops ahead of the 2014 planned withdrawal.
After the March 11 shootings in two neighboring villages just outside a U.S. outpost in the Panjwai district, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded troops withdraw from villages and return to their bases. He said relations between the two countries were "at the end of their rope."
If U.S. troops are not allowed to return to the villages and resume their mission, "the United States mission is changed," retired Maj. Gen. James A. "Spider" Marks, a former commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, told CNN's Don Lemon on Sunday.
"Our commanders on the ground will determine that probably within about another week. Within a couple of weeks, it would not be unusual if there has not been a change in our posture inside those bases, that you can see forces coming back. It's not inconceivable that that could happen."
Karzai is pressing for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2013, a year ahead of the agreed-upon plan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear he intends to stick to the timetable set by NATO, though he is facing a growing demand inside and outside the United States to bring troops home early.
Afghans are demanding that the suspect in the shootings be returned to face trial in the country where the crime allegedly occurred, even as villagers and lawmakers question the U.S. military's account of what happened.
U.S. officials have said that Bales left his outpost and single-handedly carried out the killings in the villages that left nine children, three women and four men dead.
One villager, Ali Ahmed, told CNN multiple attackers had come into a home before dawn, asked his uncle where the Taliban were and shot him dead. But another villager, a boy, claimed it was just one person.
Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States insisted Sunday that his nation trusts the U.S. investigation into the rampage. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has promised Karzai a full investigation and said the United States will bring the shooter to justice.
Bales is currently being held at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the military is preparing charges.
"You couldn't imagine a more difficult case, I don't think," John Henry Browne, Bales' civilian attorney, told reporters shortly after arriving Sunday at the Kansas City, Missouri, airport.
"This case has political ramifications. It has legal ramifications. It has social ramifications."
Defense lawyer in Afghanistan massacre known for hard-core cases
Accounts from the military, Bales' family, friends and neighbors paint a portrait of a man who bore scars from wounds he received during previous combat tours to Iraq but remained passionately committed to service to his country, and deployed to Afghanistan in January.
Bales suffered a traumatic brain injury during a roadside bomb explosion and lost part of his foot in separate tours in Iraq, his attorney has said.
In between deployments, he settled down with his wife and their two young children near Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.
Family friends who knew Bales growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, Ohio, couldn't reconcile the allegations against the man they described as "quiet" and "very nice."
But the accounts also show a man facing enormous financial pressure, being forced to put his Lake Tapps home on the market last week while another property was foreclosed.
The family owned a townhouse in a modest, middle-class neighborhood in Auburn, Washington, about 30 minutes from the base, before purchasing a house in 2006 for $280,000 near Lake Tapps, about eight miles away, according to realty records.
Tim Burgess, whose Auburn townhouse shared a wall with that of the Bales family, described his former neighbor as "a really good guy (who) just wanted to serve."
"I know he just wanted to go back and serve overseas, that was his goal," Burgess recalled from their conversations, noting the two hadn't spoken in about five years.
Robert Baggett, president of the Riverpark Homeowners Association, said after the Bales family moved out there were occasional renters.
But several years ago, their townhouse was foreclosed upon, according to Baggett and Burgess. The Baleses also didn't pay homeowners association fees for "at least three or four years," Baggett said.
"We don't know what happened," Baggett said of the Baleses and their Auburn property, which Sunday had a notice posted on its door that read "Do Not Occupy."
CNN's Sara Sidner in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Paul Vercammen in Auburn, Washington, contributed to this report.

Russia against U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan
The Hindu
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has come out against the withdrawal of the international military forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
In an interview to the Afghan TV channel TOLO, Mr. Lavrov said the NATO-led forces should not pull out until they fulfil a U.N. mandate to establish a stable government and credible defence forces in Afghanistan.
“I don't think the goal has been achieved,” said Mr. Lavrov when asked whether the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should leave Afghanistan in 2014 as proposed.
“It is clear that problems remain in Afghanistan. We are especially concerned about terrorist activity in the north of Afghanistan. Terrorists are effectively being pushed towards the north, from where they infiltrate to the territory of Central Asian states adjacent to Russia,” he said according to a transcript of the interview posted on the Foreign Ministry's website on Monday.
The ISAF “must implement their mandate before they leave, and before they leave, they must report to the U.N. Security Council that the mandate has been fulfilled.”
The Security Council is due to review the ISAF mandate later this week.
Military bases
Mr. Lavrov also criticised the U.S. plan to maintain military bases in Afghanistan after 2014, calling the move “illogical”.
“If you need the military presence, then continue implementing the mandate of the Security Council. If you don't want to implement the mandate or if you believe that you have implemented it, but still want to establish and keep the military bases, that's not logical,” Mr. Lavrov said. “I also believe that Afghan territory should not be used to create military facilities that would cause concern of third parties.”
“We don't understand the purpose of the military bases, and, besides, the United States is talking to Central Asian countries about long-term military presence. We want to understand the reason and purpose of these plans. We don't think it would be helpful for the stability of the region.”

Romney: Obama Mismanaging Karzai Relationship
Wall Street Journal By ADAM ENTOUS And KRISTINA PETERSON March 18, 2012
WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other GOP leaders on Sunday sharply criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, accusing him of mismanaging the military campaign and relations with the country's president, Hamid Karzai.
U.S. relations with Mr. Karzai have been badly strained over a string of offenses against Afghans by American forces, in particular last week's killing of 16 villagers, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. After the rampage, the Afghan leader surprised the U.S. by demanding that the American-led coalition pull its troops out of Afghan villages and accused Washington of blocking an Afghan probe into the killings.
Mr. Romney told Fox News Sunday that Mr. Obama undercut the war effort, and relations with Mr. Karzai, by publicly setting out timetables for when the U.S. would scale back its combat role in Afghanistan and for when it will complete the withdrawal of most American forces.
"This is leading Mr. Karzai to take action that's self-preservation in nature," Mr. Romney said. Mr. Obama "needs to be more engaged and interacting with not only our commanders there but also with leadership in Afghanistan."
Mr. Romney said that if he became president, he would work more closely with Mr. Karzai and consult with him "day to day," in contrast with Mr. Obama, who has had more limited contact with the Afghan leader.
U.S. officials say Mr. Karzai's behavior has, at times, been erratic and complain that he has been slow to combat corruption.
Mr. Romney hasn't called for accelerating the drawdown of the nearly 90,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, in contrast to some of his Republican rivals for the White House.
"I think it's very plain to see that the conditions there [in Afghanistan] are not going very well," Mr. Romney told Fox. "And I lay part of the blame for that on the lack of leadership on the part of our president, both in terms of his interaction with Karzai, with leaders there, as well as his relative detachment from our military commanders there, and the fact that he published a specific date for our withdrawal."
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona echoed Mr. Romney's criticism of the president. He said the military campaign in Afghanistan was "succeeding" but what Mr. Obama "keeps talking about is how quick we're going to withdraw."
"So put yourself in President Karzai's place," Mr. McCain told NBC's "Meet the Press."
"President Karzai has ambitions to stay there. One of his predecessors ended up being hung from a lamppost in Kabul. So instead of saying we're going to win this war all we hear about is plans for withdrawal."
Last week, Mr. Obama formally announced plans for the U.S. and its allies to shift to a train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan in 2013. Mr. Obama has brushed aside calls for accelerating the troop drawdown, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
U.S. officials have defended their investigation into last week's shooting rampage and dispute charges by Mr. Karzai that Washington officials have thwarted an Afghan investigation.
U.S. officials say they believe Mr. Karzai's harsher-than-usual criticism of the U.S. was directed at domestic audiences outraged by the conduct of U.S. forces. They have played down the implications of the rift with Mr. Karzai on U.S. war strategy.
Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Eklil Hakimi, told CNN's "State of the Union" that Mr. Karzai attaches "great importance" to his partnership with the U.S. and the international community.
"Our president is doing whatever any legitimate president would do: he is reflecting, somehow, whatever our people are saying. The situation there, especially with these very tragic incidents, is not that easy," the ambassador said."We do trust the U.S. We do know how important this relationship is and we are working as a partner to resolve all the issues."
Write to Adam Entous at adam.entous@wsj.com and Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@dowjones.com

Massacre will not derail Afghan-U.S. pact: senior official
By Hamid Shalizi | Reuters – Sun, Mar 18, 2012
KABUL (Reuters) - The massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier has not derailed talks on a pact with Washington which would allow some U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan after a 2014 withdrawal deadline, a senior Afghan official said on Sunday.
Washington and Kabul have been holding discussions for more than a year on keeping some U.S. special forces and advisers in the country - a highly sensitive topic for Afghans embittered by continued civilians deaths and more than a decade of war.
Relations between the two countries hit a new low when a U.S. soldier walked off his base in the southern province of Kandahar a week ago and gunned down villagers. After meeting the families of victims, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was at "the end of the rope" with Western countries.
But a senior Afghan official told Reuters anger over the killings had not wrecked or even delayed the negotiations.
Both sides still hoped to sign their Strategic Partnership Agreement before a May summit in Chicago on long-term Western backing for Afghan security forces, the official said.
"The talks have been going on and have not been affected by Kandahar incident," the official said on condition of anonymity. "The fundamental pillars of friendship between the U.S. and Afghanistan are still intact," the official added.
Karzai's spokesman told Afghanistan's Tolo Television on Sunday that U.S. and Afghan officials were also still discussing the possibility of having permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, another highly sensitive issue.
"There are still some ambiguous points that the U.S. needs to clarify to the Afghan government. When those points are clarified, the establishment of U.S. military bases will be agreed by signing a defensive document," Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told Tolo.
That document would be separate from the Strategic Partnership Agreement, he added.
Afghanistan is demanding U.S. troops stop all night-time raids on Afghan homes as a precondition of signing any agreement. Faizi said talks on that demand would start soon.
Before the Kandahar killings, relations between the United States and Afghanistan had already been strained by a series of blunders, including the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base last month.
The Taliban has promised to continue fighting until all foreign troops leave the country. Most NATO combat troops are due to leave by the end of 2014.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by Rob Taylor)

Afghan forces foil new year bomb plot: official
AFP – Sun, Mar 18, 2012
Afghan security forces have foiled a new year bomb plot with the discovery of nine tonnes of explosives hidden under bananas in the back of a lorry, Afghanistan's spy agency said Sunday.
The explosives were found in a truck from neighbouring Pakistan which had entered the eastern province of Nangarhar, spy agency spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told a press conference.
The attack was planned for Afghan new year celebrations on Tuesday in either Kabul or Nangarhar, he said. The find was made in early March.
"Nine tonnes of explosives were hidden under a banana consignment in a lorry. The owner of the truck has fled back to Pakistan, but his Afghan driver was arrested by the Afghan security forces," Mashal said.
Celebrations marking the beginning of spring and the Afghan new year, known as Nawruz, were banned under Taliban rule.

Five disasters we’ll face if U.S. retreats from Afghanistan
By Marc A. Thiessen, The Washington Post
In the wake of the recent events in Afghanistan, sentiment is growing to speed the U.S. military exit. Half of the American people now want to get out faster, and Obama administration officials are reportedly debating doing just that. Which raises a critical question: What would happen if we pulled out of Afghanistan? Here are the top five disastrous consequences of a precipitous American withdrawal:
1. The drone war against al-Qaeda in Pakistan would likely cease. Eighty-three percent of Americans support targeted drone strikes against al-Qaeda leaders hiding in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Those strikes are dependent on forward bases in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. The U.S. no longer operates drones from inside Pakistan. We cannot effectively conduct targeted strikes from Navy ships because Pakistan’s tribal regions are more than a thousand of miles from the sea. Bagram airbase near Kabul is also too far away for anything other than dropping bombs from F-15s. So if we want to continue the drone war against al-Qaeda, we must have a U.S. military presence not just in Afghanistan but in the Pashtun heartland — and we can’t have that presence if the Pashtun heartland is on fire. The Afghan government is not likely to allow us to keep bases in this area if we were doing nothing to stabilize the country. And if the region falls to the Taliban, we will lose access to these areas completely. Loss of these bases would also mean the loss of the intelligence networks on both sides of the border enabled by the U.S. military presence — and thus much of the targeting information we depend on. As a result, direct strikes in Pakistan could effectively cease, the pressure on the terrorists would be lifted, and al-Qaeda would be free to reconstitute.
2. The risk that Pakistan (and its nuclear arsenal) falls to the extremists grows. With the pressure from the United States lifted, al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban would be free to ramp up their efforts to destabilize Pakistan. In a worst-case scenario, they could topple the government and take control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. In a “best-case” scenario, those within the Pakistani government who supported cooperating with the United States will be weakened, while those who have long argued for supporting the Islamists and terrorists against the United States will be strengthened. Either way, Pakistan becomes a facilitator of terror.
3. Al-Qaeda will regain its Afghanistan sanctuary. The purpose of our mission in Afghanistan, what American troops have fought and died for, is to drive al-Qaeda out and ensure they never reconstitute the Afghan safe haven they used to plan the 9/11 attacks. If the United States retreats now, al-Qaeda will be free to do so. Afghanistan will descend into civil war, and at least some swaths of Afghan territory will return to the control of the Taliban and Islamist radicals. They will not hesitate to allow al-Qaeda to return to its old Afghan sanctuary, where the terrorists can begin recruiting, planning and training again. We’ll be back to the pre-9/11 status quo antebellum.
4. Al-Qaeda would be emboldened to strike the United States again. Osama bin Laden made clear that he was inspired to carry out the 9/11 attacks by the U.S. retreats from Beirut and Somalia, and he promised his followers that this country would eventually retreat from Afghanistan in similar fashion. A precipitous withdrawal would fulfill bin Laden’s prophecy. Al-Qaeda will claim that it defeated one superpower in Afghanistan in 1989 and have now defeated another (a claim that will be bolstered by videos of al-Qaeda leaders setting up shop in former American outposts in Afghanistan). For the past decade, the al-Qaeda narrative has been one of defeat. That narrative would be transformed by a U.S. retreat. Instead of being seen as a failed leader hunted down by American forces, bin Laden will be viewed as a martyred prophet who did not live to see his vision fulfilled. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates will have a powerful new recruiting tool and will be emboldened to carry out new attacks on our homeland.
5. Iran would be strengthened. Iran has already achieved one of its major strategic objectives in the region — the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. A precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would allow Iran to achieve another. If the United States is seen as running from the fifth-poorest country in the world, it will send a signal of weakness that will undermine our ability to isolate Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran won’t fear us, our allies won’t trust us, and fence sitters will have no reason to stand with us — all of which will make a diplomatic solution harder and military action more likely.
This is just the beginning of the ripple effect that would result from a precipitous American retreat in Afghanistan. We keep hearing that we need to get out because support for the mission is plummeting. The reason support is plummeting is because is no one is explaining the consequences of failure to the American people. That’s the job of the commander in chief. It is one he has almost entirely abdicated.

Owner of Gulbahar Sentenced for Corruption
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 18 March 2012
The business owner of Gulbahar Center and Towers, Gulbahar Habibi, and two of his associates were sentenced to six years in prison, while the head of a group of forgers was sentenced to 18 years, head of the Anti Corruption Tribunal, General Abu Bakar, told TOLOnews.
Habibi was charged with paying US$150,000 for a forger to sign the first vice president Qasim Fahim's name on the Centre's construction papers.
The head of the group of forgers, Rais Mohammad, who also forged the signature of the second vice president Karim Khalili, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, Bakar said.
Habibi's associates, "mafia members Ghulam Qader and Ataulhaq are sentenced to six years of imprisonment," Bakar said.
Gulbahar Centre was built three years ago in the heart of Kabul and is currently one of the major and most modern mall and business centers in Kabul.
Based on the investigation, the deeds of Gulbahar Center were registered under Farida Farnood, wife of Shir Khan Farnood, the former chairman of Kabul Bank.
Shir Khan Farnood, considered one of the major players of the Kabul Bank's bankruptcy, was accused of embezzling US$500 million.
The income earned from the Gulhbahar Center will be reimbursed to what Farnood owes Kabul Bank.
The Anti Corruption Tribunal is awaiting decisions about Habibi's other properties by the Supreme Court.
"We have asked the Supreme to Court to decide about Gulbahar Habibi's properties and there will be a decision soon," he added.
Meanwhile, the Anti Corruption Tribunal head said investigations about a $35 million embezzlement of Kabul money and former chairman of Pashtany Bank Hayatullah Dayani and 13 others were pending.

Groups Report on the Continued Transfer of Detainees to Afghan Prisons
New York Times By MATTHEW ROSENBERG March 18, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Sometime before midnight Saturday, a pair of rights groups — one Afghan, the other American — quietly posted online a report on how American authorities have continued to send detainees to Afghan prisons even though coalition forces ordered a halt to such transfers last year because of concerns about torture.
The report was the result of months of interviews and digging, and it added important new details about what goes on in prisons run by Afghanistan’s police and intelligence service, and about how some American agencies may be abetting torture.
Yet neither rights group — the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations — announced the report’s release, and both have remained quiet about it.
The silence was by design, according to Afghans and Westerners involved in preparing the report. Afghan and American officials, all of whom were shown copies of the report weeks ago, have proven responsive to addressing the problems it raises, they said. In fact, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the intelligence agency, has now given the human rights commission access to its main counterterrorism detention center.
Publicizing the report, those involved in preparing it said, would risk putting officials on the defensive — and possibly send them lashing out at the human rights commission, which operates independently but is appointed by Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai.
The nature of the release also illustrates how the Afghan rights community, faced with the prospect of its Western backers slowly disengaging from Afghanistan, is redoubling its efforts to work from the inside.
It is a challenging task. The Americans are relying on groups and people with checkered records to ease their exit, and the Afghan government appears to be growing less tolerant of what it sees as Western-influenced criticism, feeling that much of what the rights activists say falls under that definition.
Getting both sides to address abuses substantively is paramount, and sometimes that means walking softly, said people involved in preparing the report.
Among the findings of the report, titled “Torture, Transfers, and Denial of Due Process,” were 11 “credible cases” in which detainees were transferred from American custody to an Afghan-run prison in Kandahar where there was evidence that inmates had been beaten and shocked with electric cables.
The United Nations had previously reported evidence of torture at that prison and others, prompting the NATO-led coalition to stop sending detainees to 16 Afghan prisons last summer.
The new report, while not groundbreaking, adds to the evidence of torture at Afghan prisons that was uncovered last year by the United Nations, and highlights the continuing challenge of trying to end the abuse.
Detainees cited in the report, which was first reported by The Associated Press, suggest that some transfers it documented took place after NATO suspended the practice, and may have been carried out by United States Special Operations forces or Central Intelligence Agency personnel who would not have been covered by the suspension. The report also said evidence of torture was found at a number of other prisons run by the police and the Afghan intelligence service.
The coalition said Sunday that the report had prompted it to stop transfers to 4 Afghan prisons that were not among the 16 identified by the United Nations last year. Of those 16, 14 have rectified their problems and are again receiving coalition detainees, NATO said. The coalition often hands over to the Afghans detainees who are not considered high value or an immediate threat.
Members of the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission cited the coalition decision to halt transfers at the four additional Afghan prisons, and the access members were granted to the Afghan intelligence service’s counterterrorism center, as evidence that the low-key approach was working, at least in some instances.
The approach also gives the commission a degree of protection at a vulnerable moment. The terms of three members, including one outspoken commissioner who had been accused by Afghan officials of being a tool of the West, were not renewed late last year, and they are awaiting replacement. The other six have not formally had their five-year terms renewed and can be easily replaced.
Anti-American sentiment is running high in Afghanistan after a series of American actions — Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, the burning of Korans, the deaths of 16 civilians believed to have been killed by a rampaging American soldier. President Karzai in recent days has portrayed Americans and their allies as the chief abusers of Afghans’ rights, and his government as their protector.
“Right now it seemed like not a good time to be making an issue of our abuses in a public way,” one commissioner said.
But the commissioner also acknowledged the panel’s risks in not taking its case straight to the public.
If the cooperation on the inside ceases, “we may not have the backing of the public,” the commissioner said.
In that case, the commissioner added, Afghan politicians “can accuse us of serving the Americans or the foreigners,” noting that such accusations had been made several times.
So as midnight approached Sunday, a link to the report remained buried on the home page of the commission’s Web site, which prominently featured instead a news release from Jan. 13 denouncing Marines for urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters.
Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

‘Significant’ Torture In Afghan Agencies: AIRHC
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 18 March 2012
A human rights group examining treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan detailed widespread torture within Afghanistan's intelligence and law enforcement agencies and called for urgent action to address it, in a new report released Saturday.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIRHC) called for the Afghan government to "hold to account" all those responsible for torture inflicted on conflict-related detainees, "including commanding officers", in the extensive 67-page report.
The report - entitled Torture, Transfers, and Denial of Due Process: The Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghanistan - said the Afghan government needed to do much more in addressing these violations of international law, especially given its demand for sovereignty over the detention of conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan.
"Urgent action is required, and the Afghan government, with the support of its international partners, must take immediate, effective steps to address mistreatment and torture of conflict-related detainees," it said. "The report raises significant, new areas of concern, including previously undocumented facilities where torture is taking place and the abuse of detainees transferred by international forces."
The researchers interviewed detainees who were still within or had been in detention facilities of both Afghanistan's intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Ministry of Interior (MOI).
The report revealed "credible evidence of torture at nine NDS facilities and several Afghan National Police facilities, including beatings, suspension from the ceiling, electric shocks, threatened or actual sexual abuse, and other forms of mental and physical abuse, which were routinely used to obtain confessions or other information".
The AIRHC called for list of recommendations to be put into place, including for the Afghan government to remove officials who use torture from their posts, with all investigations and the findings to be made public.
It asked for the AIRHC to have "full, unfettered, and confidential access to all NDS detainees and facilities".
And it said the government must "cease holding detainees incommunicado" - by notifying the detainee's family of the arrest as soon as possible, permitting family visitors, informing them of the reasons for their arrest within 24 hours, and ensuring access to legal counsel.
It called on the Nato-led mission to ensure foreign forces do not transfer detainees to facilities where there is real risk of torture.
The report said despite international efforts behind national monitoring programs, "the concerns raised in this report, including evidence of off-site abuse, and detainees' fear of reprisals for disclosing abuse, suggest that a post-transfer monitoring system may not be sufficient".
The report was based on long-term, regular detainee monitoring conducted by AIHRC and was legally mandated under Afghanistan Constitution, as well as on interviews with more than 100 conflict-related detainees between February 2011 and January 2012 with the assistance of the Open Society Foundations.

Afghanistan Setbacks May Lead to Pre-Election U.S. Exit
By Noah Feldman - Mar 18, 2012 Bloomberg
A month ago, the one sure thing about Afghanistan was that the U.S. would not withdraw troops before November 2012, staving off potential disaster until after the elections.
Now that assumption is no longer certain.
In the last month, the American effort in Afghanistan hit a grim trifecta: inadvertent Koran burning; the killings of Americans inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry in Kabul; and the horrific Columbine-comes-to-Kandahar murder of 16 civilians, allegedly by an Army sergeant. The Pentagon will probably still be able to hold on for while. But let there be no mistake: America’s hold on Afghanistan is unraveling, and the troops may come home as quickly as military logistics will allow.
The basic logic for keeping large numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan began with the surge in 2010. The idea was that a technique that had worked for General David Petraeus and President George W. Bush in Iraq might work in Afghanistan as well. The odds were never good -- much worse than they had been in Iraq, partly because unlike Iraq’s Sunni Muslim insurgents, who are a minority, the Taliban belong to Afghanistan’s dominant Pashtun ethnic group.
Trying a Surge
But for President Barack Obama, it was worth a try. A withdrawal then would have been perceived as a victory not only for the Taliban but also for al-Qaeda and a still-living Osama bin Laden. And on the campaign trail, Obama had committed himself to the “right war” in Afghanistan. This had locked him into trying to win that struggle at a time when it was possible for his rivals to argue that the surge had made the Iraq war winnable.
Once it became clear to the Obama administration that the Afghan surge would not generate a clear victory over the Taliban, however, it moved to a fallback position: The continued offensive pressure by the U.S. would give the Taliban incentive to come to the negotiating table. No one would dream of describing that goal as “peace with honor,” but the strategic aim closely matched that of the U.S. in the later phases of the war in Vietnam.
Indeed, much of President Richard Nixon’s expansion of that conflict reflected Henry Kissinger’s judgment that although the war certainly could not be won, it would be impossible to negotiate meaningfully with the North Vietnamese in Paris unless the U.S. had some leverage. Increased force, then as now, was supposed to provide the incentive for the enemy to come to the table.
Yet, by last summer, that fallback position had itself fallen away, and little was left to keep the U.S. in Afghanistan except domestic politics. The Obama administration announced a speeded up withdrawal process, complete with target dates.
Strikingly, that final withdrawal date was planned for 2014, not this year. Clearly, the Obama administration did not want to risk a Saigon-like collapse and the rapid return of the Taliban before the election. Eventually, President Obama might have to confront the reality that the right war was ending even more disastrously than the “wrong” one. So the plan was to put off that historical re-evaluation until at least after the votes were cast and counted, when he had already been re-elected -- or when he had lost, and had nothing to worry about except his legacy.
There was nothing especially unusual about this caution. During the Iraq war, the Bush administration regularly made crucial strategic decisions informed by the timing of U.S. elections. The Iraqis took it in stride -- and themselves have been happy to subordinate American interests to their own domestic political concerns.
Chain of Tragedies
Yet we are now faced with another possibility entirely: a scenario in which, despite wanting to keep Afghanistan in check for a while longer, the Obama administration decides it cannot wait any longer and must begin to withdraw major numbers of U.S. forces ahead of time, no matter the consequences.
We have reached this point thanks to a staccato chain of events, any one of which was predictable individually, but which mean something vastly more significant taken as a group.
Any war gamer worth his salt would have modeled Afghan popular reaction after the desecration of the Koran by U.S. personnel. After all, the U.S. faced serious retaliation in Afghanistan and elsewhere when a minister in Florida simply announced plans for a book burning. A similar event, in-country, was sure to have worse results, even if the burning reflected gross negligence rather than intent.
Slightly less predictable was the breaching of security in the fortress of the Interior Ministry -- not by an attack from the outside but from within, by a ministry employee. The message was not simply that the Taliban could infiltrate the innermost chambers of government. Worse, it suggested that people who might originally have taken jobs out of loyalty to the government were now potential killers. The response, also predictable, was to withdraw all NATO personnel from ministries -- in effect ending the governance aspects of the U.S.-led mission before the military ones could be wound down.
Most predictable of all was the horrific spectacle of an American soldier gone rogue, killing women and children in a door-to-door massacre. Hundreds more people died at My Lai in Vietnam in 1968. And 24 died at Haditha, Iraq. But both of those tragedies arose from routine operations gone haywire. Kandahar was truly an example of the lone gunman, both totally deviant from the goals of military discipline and also symptomatic of what can happen when a body of men is under unimaginable pressure and looking defeat in the face.
Calm After Massacre
It is notable that the Kandahar massacre didn’t have anywhere near the public reaction of the Koran burnings. From the standpoint of many Afghans, it would seem, innocent civilians are killed all the time in their country. The moral distinction between collateral damage and intentional murder seems stark to us, who must bear the responsibilities of the use of force on a large scale and from the air. But for the person whose family is killed, the difference may seem less salient.
Nevertheless, the American position in Afghanistan becomes more tenuous each day. Large crowds of angry Afghan civilians would make a sustained presence harder and harder. President Hamid Karzai last week called for coalition troops to end patrols in villages and retreat to bases, while the Taliban, who have known since last summer that it was all over but the waiting, shut down nascent negotiations with the U.S.
In terms of U.S. politics, concern with losing American lives is coming to outweigh desire for salvaging some sort of victory. Should the Obama administration decide to abandon ship this year, it is not even clear who will object. Yes, it will be a black day for Afghanistan women, human-rights advocates and all those who bravely and perhaps a little foolishly took the side of democracy and hope. But it is hard to imagine any very great criticism of Obama, even from a Republican candidate in a heated election.
The American public knows the war is over. The Afghan public knows it. The tragedy, unfortunately, is just beginning.
(Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University and the author of “Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices,” is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this article: Noah Feldman in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at noah_feldman@harvard.edu.

U.S. Readies for Spring Clash With Taliban
In Afghan War's Last Fighting Season, Strategy Is Aimed at Protecting Kabul
Wall Street Journal By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV March 18, 2012
SHARANA, Afghanistan - Mountainous eastern Afghanistan, with its proximity to Kabul and to insurgents' Pakistani havens, is about to become the war's final battleground with a large American combat force arrayed against the Taliban.
The snows here that shut down mountain passes and blanketed insurgent hideouts for the winter are melting. This means that the annual fighting season—the last in 11 years of war with U.S. combat forces leading the fight—will begin soon.
"They are going to come out at us very hard in the east," predicts U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai stunned the U.S. last week with his demand that coalition forces pull from Afghan villages to bases. Sunday the government qualified the demand, saying it will be the subject of negotiations that could take months. Senior American officials say the coalition isn't changing its campaign and deployment plans.
American commanders expect the insurgents will try to kick-start their offensive as soon as during the Nowrooz Afghan New Year festival that begins on Tuesday. The east is of crucial strategic significance, both to the insurgents and to the Afghan government.
"What most of the insurgent networks share in common in our part of the country is a desire to disrupt the stability of Kabul," Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the commander of the coalition's Regional Command-East, said in an interview.
Fighting in the east's challenging terrain, Gen. Allen says, is likely to be "much tougher" than the coalition's recent campaigns in the south. Unlike in the south, fighting usually dies down in eastern Afghanistan after the first snows. It was especially so during this year's unusually cold winter.
The southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand were the focus of President Barack Obama's troop surge in 2010, with operations there since then driving down insurgent activity in the Taliban's birthplace.
In the east, by contrast, insurgent attacks rose 20% last year. These included spectacular strikes on Kabul, such as the storming of the Inter Continental Hotel in June and the daylong battle with insurgents near the U.S. Embassy that shook up the Afghan capital in September.
In preparation for the expected insurgent offensive, Gen. Allyn says, the U.S. and allies are putting in place a layered plan to protect the Afghan capital, "so that the insurgent faces at every step of the way resistance of an offensive nature."
Senior American commanders initially planned to reinforce the east this year with some of the troops—as many as a brigade—freed up as a result of military progress in the south.
This plan has now been scrapped, in part because of concerns that achievements in the south aren't sustainable enough.
Gen. Allyn says troop levels in his command will remain constant at 23,000 U.S. service members and more than 7,000 forces from France, Poland and other allies, until October.
There are currently some 90,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Under current plans, the 33,000 surge troops will all be gone by October.
Senior military officials say the U.S. will transition to an advisory role next year, and only about a couple of U.S. combat brigades—each with 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers—should be left in Afghanistan by early 2014.
With the mission this year focused on the vital objective of protecting Kabul, Gen. Allyn says he plans to confront the insurgents by shifting the troops under his command to the critical southern approaches to the capital. Forces are being thinned in provinces northeast of Kabul, such as Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman, to reinforce the provinces south of the capital, such as Logar, Wardak, Ghazni and Paktia, he said.
"There are several areas [the insurgents] will contest heavily, and some of those will be in central Wardak and Logar," the general explained. "They have support zones there that enable them to be within a day's march of Kabul."
The Taliban say they are ready for such moves. "Wherever the enemy boosts its numbers we move to another part where they are outnumbered," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
He added that the Taliban plan to focus on suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and ambushes, including new tactics to foil Special Operations Forces night raids.
Here in Paktika, a province south of Kabul bordering Pakistan, insurgents have already become active again, distributing threatening letters to locals and laying roadside bombs, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Curtis Taylor, commander of the 3-66 Armor Battalion.
"The mid-grade leaders are already in town," he said. "You're going to see the beginning of more regular kinetic activity starting with Nowrooz, and the real fight will begin in early May."
Col. Taylor's battalion, working with U.S. Special Forces, has been setting up village self-defense forces, known as the Afghan Local Police. There are now 510 ALP men at eight sites in the battalion's part of the province, with the numbers expected to rise to 1,200 in coming months, Col. Taylor said.
These village militias are able to immediately identify local Taliban—something that has begun to prompt the insurgents to swap local fighters, intimately familiar with the terrain, with less capable outsiders. "He can't send the guys who know the area because they also know the villagers," Col. Taylor said.
These ALP reinforcements are supposed to compensate for the reduced American footprint here. Come summer, Col. Taylor's task force, numbering some 900 soldiers, will be replaced here by a Cavalry squadron of approximately 400 troops.
Nine of the battalion's 13 platoons were out on operations on a recent day, showing their presence in the villages and helping Afghan security forces establish authority. "We're pushing the enemy," Col. Taylor said, "as they're trying to get set up." —Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com

Taliban face the music in Pakistan
By Ashfaq Yusufzai Asia Times - Mon Mar 19, 4:25 am ET
PESHAWAR - Not so long ago, Gul Pana's pursuit of a career as a professional singer in Khyber Pakthunkhwa province would have invited certain death at the hands of the Taliban.
But times have changed in Pakistan, and Gul is glad that the present provincial government has picked up enough courage to stand up to the Taliban's terrorism and promote music and other cultural programmes.
"I enjoy music and, at the same time, I am able to earn money for my family through singing," the pretty young diva tells IPS. "The people cannot be kept away from listening to songs."
Cultural activities were unthinkable in Khyber Pakthunkhwa as long as the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) or United Council of Action - an alliance of religio-political parties - ruled the province from 2002 to 2008 with backing from the Taliban militia.
After the MMA lost elections held in 2008 to the left-wing, socialist Awami National Party (ANP), bombing attacks by the Taliban on CD shops, cinemas and schools in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) increased briefly.
On the night of January 2, 2009, the Taliban brutally executed Shabana, a popular female dancer in Swat and strung up her body from an electric pole. That year, local singer Ghani Dad was killed in Swat while he was returning home from a music session.
But the tide began changing against the Taliban after the Pakistan army launched operations against militancy in the region in 2009 and the United States military stepped up drone strikes targeting top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders holed up in Pakistan's northwest.
"We have opened the 600-seat Nishtar Hall for cultural activities and want to defeat terrorism through music and art," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber Pakthunkhwa's culture minister, tells IPS.
Hussain wants to reverse the policies of the former MMA government which banned musical concerts and other cultural events, considering them to be un-Islamic.
Hussain says the revival of music and cultural activities was also part of the government's campaign to send across the message that the Pashtuns are a liberal people and opposed to terrorism.
Over two-thirds of Khyber Pakthunkhwa's 21 million people are Pashtuns, an ethnic group that straddles the Pakistan-Afghan border and provides the main support base for the Taliban.
"The Nishtar Hall, which remained closed for six consecutive years, now regularly hosts events where enthusiasts enjoy music, drama and other activities," Hussain said, indicating the most visible sign of the government's determination.
Reviving cultural programs across the province has been welcomed by the entertainment-starved Pashtuns, known to be traditionally fond of music, art and dance.
"We came to watch our favorite singers and dancers. The night was fun-filled and we enjoyed ourselves," said Zawar Ali, a resident of Mardan, one of the 25 districts of Khyber Pakthunkhwa.
Ali, who attended the musical night at the Nishtar Hall along with 10 of his friends, said he was thankful to the ANP-led government for defying the Taliban, who have now taken to attacking mosques and funerals.
On March 11, a suicide bomber attacked a funeral ceremony in Badhber village, on the outskirts of Peshawar, killing 15 mourners and narrowly missing his target, ANP politician Khush Dil Khan.
Pakistan began to be directly affected by terrorism after the ouster of Taliban rule in Afghanistan by the US towards the end of 2001, as part of the war-on-terror following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
When their government was toppled in Kabul, the Taliban's leadership crossed over the porous border into Pakistan and concentrated in the FATA from where they began targeting government installations, schools and music and CD shops.
"The Taliban destroyed 600 music and CD shops in Khyber Pakthunkhwa over the past five years. They also forced several singers to leave the province," said Sher Dil Khan, president of the province's CD Shops Association.
"With a new government ruling Khyber Pakthunkhwa, attacks on CD shops have stopped," Khan said.
"During Taliban days, the majority of the singers, dancers and other people related to showbiz left the province," said Gulzar Alam, a crooner, who fled to Karachi himself. Gulzar and other singers are now signed up for back-to-back cultural programs.
The government has even started construction for an art academy where talented youths will be provided training in singing, dancing and playing musical instruments.
"About 100 youths have expressed willingness to undergo training in different genres and we are going to start training programs very soon," said Khyber Pakthunkhwa's director for culture, Pervaiz Khan Sabatkhel.
The province has been traditionally rich in music and art. "People organized musical events to celebrate their weddings and other festive occasions. They cannot be forced to stop listening to music or watching dramas. It has always been a part of their lives," Sabatkhel said.
Minister Hussain says his government is providing security to the CD shops and singers so they can carry on their business fearlessly.
"We have broken the command and control system of the Taliban and they cannot come back. We hope that art and culture activities will increase in the days to come," he said.
(Inter Press Service)

Dina Fesler opens a unique school in Afghanistan
Dina Fesler went to Afghanistan to learn how to teach U.S. students about the country. Now she's opened a school there
By David Conrads, Correspondent March 19, 2012 at 10:02 am EDT The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com
Northfield, Minn. - While growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Dina Fesler never aspired to be a teacher, never mind the founder of a school. But when, after 15 years as a fashion designer, she and her husband, Brad Leonard, adopted a baby girl from China, her worldview expanded, and her career took a new turn.
Today, instead of women's clothing, Ms. Fesler designs innovative social studies courses for middle school students. As a result of that work, in 2011 she started a school in Afghanistan called Bridges Academy, a nascent project that brings together students from rival ethnic groups.
That she would take on such a huge task didn't surprise her admirers.
"Dina is one of those people who really believes she can make a difference in the world," says Kristi Holden, a homemaker and part-time art history professor in Northfield, Minn. She met Fesler in 2009 in connection with a fundraiser for Iraqi and Afghan children. "Not from a standpoint of grandiosity, but because she thinks it's the right thing to do. She's a really enthusiastic person, and her enthusiasm is infectious, so it's easy to get swept up in her vision and to want to try to help."
In 2009, as executive director of Children's Culture Connection, a nonprofit organization she founded in Northfield, Fesler traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, to gather video footage to help create an academic course on Afghanistan. She visited a cross section of local life: weddings, funerals, schools, museums, and family dinners.
She also visited Charah-e-Qambar, a squalid refugee camp for internally displaced people, mostly Pashtuns who had fled their homes in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold and center of some of the most intense fighting of the war.
Even her Afghan guide, a former Red Cross medic, was stunned at the living conditions in the camp and by the large number of seriously ill children living there.
At one point, a man thrust a dying baby into Fesler's arms, begging her to take his child. "You couldn't have a pulse and walk away from that," Fesler says.
Calling on favors from donors and other contacts worldwide, she cobbled together an impromptu medical mission, arranging for nearly 400 children from the camp, including that baby, Rahim, to be taken to hospitals in Kabul over a period of six weeks. (Rahim, at first not expected to survive the night, is now a healthy toddler.)
When her medical detour concluded, Fesler realized that a unique opportunity had opened up now that she had gained the trust of the inhabitants of the camp, who otherwise viewed foreigners with distrust and hostility. She saw an opportunity to help the refugees and enhance her curriculum – designed to promote understanding of cultures around the world through immersing young Americans in Afghan culture.
"How do you get 14-year-olds in America to care about Afghanistan? You entertain them and connect them, in some way, with their Afghan peers." Fesler says. "Everything I've done in Afghanistan has, in some way, been in service to the curriculum we're developing."
She first tried to start a modest but desperately needed briquette manufacturing operation in the refugee camp. Six older boys were trained in the low-tech process of turning scrap paper and other waste into briquettes useful for cooking and heating.
The venture failed because of resistance from camp elders. But the training opened the eyes of three of the boys to possibilities beyond the misery of Charah-e-Qambar, possibilities that required them first to get an education.
Fesler found a progressive school in the Dashti Barchi district of Kabul, a neighborhood populated by members of the Hazara ethnic group, that would accept the Pashtun boys. She also arranged for a car to take them on the hour-long drive to and from the school.
"I didn't think they'd last a day," says Fesler. She worried that the school's structured day might be too much for older teens with no foundation in classroom learning or support from their families. But, she says, "I decided I'd feel worse if I didn't at least give them a chance to try it."
In fact, the boys adjusted to the rigors of school, made friends among the Hazara, and took their first steps along the path to literacy. But due to the contentious ethnic and religious situation in Afghanistan, having Pashtun boys traveling to the Hazara district was a grave security risk to all the students at the school, and the boys were asked to leave at the end of the semester.
After trying unsuccessfully to find a new school, Fesler enlisted the help of Abuzar Royesh, a young Afghan who had spent 11 months in Minnesota while in high school. Together they rented an empty room in the same Dashti Barchi district, hired a teacher, and Bridges Academy was born.
"In the beginning, I thought that Dina would be just like all the other foreigners who come to Afghanistan just for a short time and then leave," says Mr. Royesh in an interview via Skype from his home in Kabul. "Once I got to know her, I saw that she really wants to help the children of Afghanistan. And she wants to show the children of the United States, through the curriculum she's developing, that there is much more to Afghanistan than war."
Royesh now serves as director of Bridges Academy. Fesler keeps in close touch with him from her base in Minnesota and travels to Kabul twice a year. While in Kabul, she arranges an exchange of video recordings made by the Afghan students and teenagers in the US.
From its modest beginnings, Bridges Academy has tripled in size, and today nine students – six Pashtuns from the refugee camp and three Hazaras from the neighborhood – are learning diction, math, Persian, and reading in a one-room school. Fesler hopes to grow the school to 20 students by the end of 2012 and, in time, to enroll children from other ethnic groups.
"The way that Pashtuns and Hazaras are learning together, side by side, is unprece­dented," Fesler says. "Bridges Academy is not just a place to teach these boys to read and write, but to help them start to see and understand the larger world, to get them to think in new ways and to question what they had previously been taught...."
The early results in Afghanistan have impressed Fesler's colleagues and collaborators: "She's such a dynamo!" says Maren Swanson, a lawyer in Northfield who has worked with Fesler for several years and now serves as the president of the executive board of Children's Culture Connection. "She's so creative and so articulate. She really believes in fostering global connectedness to benefit children around the world. She inspires me."
"She's a fast-paced, energetic individual who cares greatly for people in need," adds Jerry Johnson, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., and sells medical devices. He met Fesler in 2008 when both were working separately with a children's organization in Vietnam and has followed her activities in Afghanistan closely. "She has a God-given calling to work with people in need, specifically children in need."
Fesler hopes that the cross-cultural connections she and Bridges Academy are fostering will increase understanding and tolerance and, ultimately, result in peace.
"I want these kids to have the ability to lead their own lives, make their own decisions, and think for themselves," Fesler says. "Peace is what you get from people who are transformed and empowered."
• To learn more, visit www.childrenscultureconnection.org (http://www.childrenscultureconnection.org) and click on "Special Projects."

www.afghanistannewscenter.com (http://www.afghanistannewscenter.com)