[Afghan News] December 9, 2011 - 02-26-2012, 07:11 AM
By Associated Press, December 9
KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber struck a Sunni mosque Friday in northeastern Afghanistan, killing four people, just days after a deadly attack targeted Shiites in a rare sectarian attack in the capital.
An Islamic extremist group in Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack, raising already sharp tensions between the two neighboring countries.
Friday’s bomber blew himself up about 2 p.m. outside a Sunni mosque in the Ghazi Abad district of Kunar province, a hotbed of the insurgency in the east where the U.S.-led military coalition has shifted its focus after working to rout the Taliban from their strongholds in the south. Insurgents regularly cross the porous border from Pakistan to conduct attacks in Afghanistan.
The blast occurred on the last day of Ashoura, a Shiite festival marking the seventh century death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, but most of the congregation is Sunni and the targets appeared to be police and government officials.
Those killed included the district police chief, his bodyguard, an employee of the Afghan intelligence service and a civilian, said Gen. Ewaz Mohammad Naziri, the provincial police chief. Five other people were wounded in the blast, he said.
“It was a brutal act against Afghan Muslims inside a mosque,” he said. “They had gathered for prayers and he entered and blew himself up.”
Mosques have frequently been attacked in Afghanistan and suicide bombings have become more common as insurgents shift tactics to destabilize the country and erode confidence in the government and security forces as U.S.-led forces prepare to withdraw by 2014.
The bombing against a Shiite shrine on Tuesday was different because it was aimed at Shiites gathered to commemorate Ashoura. At least 56 people were killed and more than 160 wounded in the first major sectarian attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime a decade ago.
More than 2,000 people converged under tight security in a field west of Kabul to mark the last day of Ashoura and voice opposition to militant and terrorist groups that they say have been given sanctuary in Pakistan. Enlarged photographs of the bombing victims were hung at the site.
Mohammed Mohaqeq, a Shiite leader in the Hazara ethnic minority, said the international community must help prevent militant groups based in Pakistan from attacking sites in Afghanistan. He also called for those responsible for Tuesday’s deadly bombing to be prosecuted by the international courts.
Former Afghan President Sibghatullah Mojaddedi placed direct blame on the Pakistan intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.
“Don’t say it’s foreign intervention, say it is Pakistan and the ISI. All of us know it,” Mojaddedi said. “The ISI is recruiting terrorists, coming across the borders into Afghanistan and doing suicide bombings. God will get revenge.”
A man claiming to be from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, a Pakistan-based splinter group of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has carried out attacks against Shiite Muslims in Pakistan, called various media outlets to claim responsibility for the Kabul bombing and a nearly simultaneous attack that killed four Shiites in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
But Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas has dismissed any suggestions that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has links to the country’s intelligence agencies.
Abdullah Abdullah, a top opposition leader, said Afghans must unite to fend off those trying to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a vibrant, independent nation. “The future of Afghanistan is at stake,” he said.
Separately, in the south, a joint Afghan and NATO coalition force destroyed nine roadside bombs found while patrolling Friday in Maiwand district of Kandahar province, the coalition said. Another joint patrol in the same district uncovered nearly 1,550 pounds (700 kilograms) of marijuana seed, the coalition said.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
U.S. assures Pakistan of "early conclusion" of NATO attack inquiry
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- The United States Friday re- assured Pakistan of an "early conclusion of the investigation" into the last month NATO strike on two Pakistani posts which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, said the Foreign Ministry.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter called on Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and discussed the current status of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the U.S., said a statement of the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Minister stated that relations between the two countries must be based on mutual respect. She added that "the recent incidents have led to a re-evaluation of our terms of engagement."
"The U.S. Ambassador assured the Foreign Minister of an early conclusion of the investigation into the tragic incident on November 26 and to work together with the Government of Pakistan to normalize the relationship at the earliest," the Foreign Ministry statement said.
The NATO strike in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal region near the Afghan border on November 26 had caused rift between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Pakistan in reaction closed the supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan, asked the U.S. to vacate its airbase in Balochistan province and boycotted the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan.
The U.S. has been trying to revive normal ties with Pakistan since the strikes and now Pakistan has started the process to re- assess and re-evaluate relations with the United States.
Does the US military want Afghanistan to get even nastier?
In Afghanistan, insurgents are growing ever more sadistic in their attacks, as the suicide bombing of pilgrims in Kabul showed. But could the US war machine actually want to provoke the Taliban?
Guardian.co.uk By Jon Boone Thursday 8 December 2011
Even by Afghanistan's high standards, the massacre of Shia worshippers in Kabul on Tuesday 6 December was an act of stomach-churning brutality. A suicide bomber posing as a pilgrim on Ashura, one of the holiest days of the calendar of Shia Islam, had inveigled his way into the middle of a packed crowd of men, women and children. Witnesses watching from the rooftop of the nearby Abu Fazal shrine said body parts flew up into the air near the epicentre of the blast when the unknown bomber detonated himself.
The clearing smoke revealed a scene strewn with lifeless and often mangled bodies, lying in circles around the blackened area of tarmac where the bomber had stood. A young girl who had somehow miraculously survived was snapped by a photographer wailing into the air. Among the 55 killed there were no police officers or soldiers or anyone who might remotely be considered a "legitimate" target of the Taliban-led war against the Afghan government.
The Taliban itself was quick to condemn the attack in strong terms, while an extremist Pakistan-based movement called Lashkar- e-Jhangvi al Almiv has been fingered. If it really was a unilateral operation launched without the consent of the Taliban's leadership it is another worrying sign of how the insurgency in Afghanistan is spinning out of control, becoming crueller and ever more willing to inflict horrendous damage on ordinary civilians.
But not everyone thinks such horrors are an entirely bad thing. Indeed, some within the US war machine have long argued the emergence of a nastier insurgency could be really quite useful for Nato's war aims. So useful, in fact, that foreign forces should try to encourage such behaviour.
One of them was Peter Lavoy, a former chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, the body that examines data from across the US government's intelligence gathering machine and turns it into high-grade analysis that is rarely discussed publicly. At a closed-door meeting with ambassadors at Nato headquarters in Brussels in December 2008, Lavoy spelled out a strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan that has never been uttered publicly: "The international community should put intense pressure on the Taliban in 2009 in order to bring out their more violent and ideologically radical tendencies," he said, according to a State Department note-taker in the room. "This will alienate the population and give us an opportunity to separate the Taliban from the population."
His words, which we only know courtesy of WikiLeaks, are extraordinary because they have been proven at least partially right. They also differ fundamentally from the publicly stated strategy in Afghanistan. Known as population-centric counterinsurgency, or Coin, the fundamental principle is that foreign forces should try to keep ordinary Afghans safe from insurgents and thereby win their support.
The idea that Nato may actually be trying to make the population less secure appalls observers. "It just goes completely against the ethos of the American military to take more risks in order to protect civilians," says John Nagl, a retired lieutenant-colonel who co-wrote the US army's field manual on countering guerrilla warfare. "I find it hard to believe elements of the US military would want to deliberately put more risk on to civilians."
But behind the scenes, powerful voices continue to argue for a harder-edged strategy that makes the lives of ordinary Afghans more miserable, not less. Michael Semple, a regional expert on the Taliban, says it is an outlook he runs across in discussions with Nato officials: "I have heard serious, thinking officers articulate the idea that provoking Taliban fighters into acts of extreme violence against the population could be taken as a sign of Coin progress, prior to the final victory when the people turn against them."
And evidence has been building up for some time that the Afghan insurgency is indeed becoming a lot nastier. In the view of some analysts, a turning point came in February when a group of gunmen rushed into a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad. What came next, as the high-definition, full-colour CCTV footage showed, was no ordinary bank job. The raiders did not try to force staff to open the safe or even scoop up the wads of money the cashiers had ready to pay the salaries of the many police officers and soldiers in the bank that day. Instead of stealing anything, the seven men, who were wearing police uniforms in addition to their suicide-bomb vests, methodically walked around the bank and shot customers and bank workers at point-blank range, killing dozens.
One cashier, who was hiding behind his desk, heard an attacker coolly order a man on the floor to stand up and recite a Kalima, a prayer Muslims say as they prepare themselves for death. "Before he finished, he shot him dead," said Ilyas Yousafzai. "The Taliban claim they are fighting for Islam, but they order people to recite their Kalima and then kill them. That is not Islam."
Such sadistic cruelty is, to say the least, counterproductive for a movement that has a heroic self-image as a force that swept out the warlords who had plagued the country in the 90s. In its own view, the Taliban brought security to a troubled land, a justice to oppressed civilians. It is a treasured reputation it has tried to burnish in the years since its re-emergence, even issuing codes of conduct in the name of Mullah Omar, the Taliban's one-eyed leader. The rules order fighters not to persecute civilians and generally not to repeat the errors of the mujahideen commanders who became heroes for fighting the Soviet occupation in the 80s but also villains for their corrupt and predatory warlord rule.
But there are plenty of examples of their deeds falling far short of their words. This summer in Gereshk, central Helmand, an eight-year-old boy was kidnapped by the Taliban in an apparent bid to get his father, Noor Mohammad, to hand over his police pickup truck. Unfortunately for the young boy, his father refused. "After two days they hanged my little innocent son, and threw him in the water canal," Mohammad said. "I never believed the Taliban would ever kill him. I thought they would set him free, but they did the cruellest thing possible. God will never forgive them."
In Kandahar province this year, four people working on a US-funded road project were kidnapped and had their ears sliced off.
In Paktia province, the researcher Kate Clark reports that the Taliban's far-from-perfect court system has broken down. Whereas in the past suspected "spies" would get a trial, ultimately sparing some, today an increasingly neurotic local insurgency moves straight to the throat-slitting stage when its suspicions are aroused.
The Taliban has not only grown increasingly fond of suicide bombings, something that was largely unheard of until around 2006, it has also made greater use of children, despite its own strict ban on using underage fighters. On 26 June, for example, in the southern province of Uruzgan, insurgents instructed an eight-year-old girl to carry a bomb to a police pickup truck, which they then remotely detonated, killing the girl but nobody else.
The suicide bombers often completely fail to harm what Taliban press releases call "stooge" foreign forces, or "puppet" soldiers of the Afghan government. Instead it is civilians that often pay the price. On 7 January, in the southern border town of Spin Boldak, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a public bath house, supposedly in a bid to kill the deputy commander of the border police. However, he was not even present. The explosion ripped through the building, killing 15 and wounding 20.
UN figures show the vast majority of civilian casualties are due to Taliban operations. Whether or not there is a deliberate effort to radicalise the Taliban, it appears to be an unavoidable side effect of trying to crush it militarily. And that is exactly what the US has been trying to do in the last two years.
The US-led decimation of the Taliban's mid-level leadership begins in top-secret intelligence hubs crammed with analysts scrutinising vast amounts of raw information gleaned from Afghan spies, interrogations and eavesdropping into mobile phone networks. After sifting through the data, a targeting "packet" is created and handed over to special forces teams who are sent out on up to six "kill or capture" missions every single night. Dozing in their traditional mud compounds in distant villages all over rural Afghanistan, the targets have no clue they are in the crosshairs of one of the most advanced intelligence and military machines the world has ever seen until they hear helicopters racing over the horizon.
Nagl says all this amounts to a revolution in the way war is fought. "In the history of counterinsurgency, we have never been this good at taking insurgents off the battlefield," he says.
And, it is working, say Nato's data crunchers, who pore over information in a windowless office in Kabul. They claim there are significant signs that the insurgency has weakened in the past year, including the loss of areas in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where the Taliban used to operate unmolested. Radio intercepts and other sources of intelligence suggest the Taliban is reeling: commanders struggle to resupply its men in the field, while some fighters apparently refuse promotions or even to step foot in Afghanistan, preferring the safety of Pakistan. There are also signs that the average age of Taliban commanders has dropped as the movement struggles to replace those who are killed or captured, leading to a new generation of less experienced and less capable insurgents taking the lead.
But despite all this apparently good news, Nato's generals know they have still not succeeded in their stated strategic goal of protecting the population. In fact, the data currently shows Afghans feeling less secure the more the insurgents are pummelled. As a senior official with Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), charged with supporting the Afghan government, put it recently: "Even though the Taliban are not present in the numbers they used to be, and even though they still don't enjoy popular support, do the people yet feel more secure? No, not yet."
This is largely because the Taliban has responded to its pounding by ramping up the number of homemade land mines it plants. Although they are intended to blow up Nato vehicles, more often than not they kill civilians.
Another cause for public discomfort is how Nato's intensified operations have changed the profile of insurgents in many areas, from disgruntled locals to vicious, hot-headed youth sent in from over the Pakistani border where they are indoctrinated in a network of madrassas.
"If you come into a neighbourhood that you grew up in you are probably going to have a harder time slapping around Grandma than if you are an outsider," says a senior Nato intelligence officer on the issue of "out of area" fighters. He believes the Taliban experienced this problem particularly acutely in Helmand this summer when, lacking enough local fighters, it "emptied out the madrassas" in Pakistan and sent teams of youngsters over the border. "The [US] marines soon saw these guys infiltrating in, carrying weapons openly," he says. "Then they started getting reports from locals of increased intimation and beatings."
Nagl believes all this is an indication that the Taliban is being degraded to the opening stage of Mao Zedong's famous three "phases" of revolutionary warfare. According to the Chinese revolutionary leader and insurgency theorist, phase one is essentially terrorism, involving attacks on easy targets such as mayors and police chiefs. (When the Taliban re-emerged in 2006, it did indeed specialise in burning schools and intimidating NGOs.) Phase two sees the emergence of larger teams of rebels capable of taking on government military forces to some degree. Phase three is full-blown conventional war.
"The Taliban have been knocked down to phase one and you see what you would expect to see, with the resulting risk of alienating the civilian population," Nagl says. "If we can get the civilian population on our side in the south, in their heartlands, we can knock them back to phase zero."
But will the civilian population ever come completely over to the side of the Afghan government and its foreign military backers? The Nato intelligence official, drawing from a thick pile of graphs and bar charts, points to some encouraging signs: 2011 has seen record numbers of tip-offs from locals revealing where caches of weapons and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are hidden. There has also been brisk interest in signing up to the Afghan Local Police scheme, a US special forces-mentored programme that recruits villagers to defend their own communities.
In one interesting case in August, in the Nawa district of Helmand, furious villagers stoned to death a Taliban commander and his bodyguard after the insurgents had killed an old man accused of collaborating with the government. But although the Taliban has long been extremely unpopular, there is precious little sign the public will risk their lives in a big way to defy them.
Sceptics say US strategists are basing their strategic thinking on the "awakening" in the Iraqi province of Anbar in 2006, when the population turned conclusively on the al-Qaida-led insurgency. But bad though the situation in Afghanistan currently is, it is nowhere near the level of violence and destruction that held sway in Iraq.
Optimists call for patience. "We will go through a period of rising violence when we don't know if success is over the hill," predicts one former adviser to Nato's top general in Afghanistan last year. "It's like the theory of how passengers respond to a plane hijacking, where the first lot of people will get hurt and killed if they try to resist," he says. "They only have a chance when the whole mob rises up with a 'let's roll'."
But it is a depressing reality that so far it is mostly foreigners who get blamed for the Taliban's outrages, with many Afghans identifying their misery not with the insurgents, but with the international troops seen as the source of fighting. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's bomb in Kabul, some furious young Shia men at the scene denounced both the Pakistanis and the Americans.
And, as the Nato adviser acknowledges, compared with some other successful counterinsurgencies, people might think twice about rising against the rebels if they don't think they will get much help from a weak and often corrupt Afghan government.
"For all the implied Coin hope that the nastier Taliban will find it more difficult to survive, in the presence of a failing government, extreme violence may be an effective tool of social control," says Semple.
Worse still, some analysts fear the new generation of Talibs created by Nato operations will crowd out wiser members of the old regime who are interested in a negotiated, political settlement to the conflict. "The fact that they are a coherent group is a good thing," says Clark. "It is much better to have a Taliban that actually has a structure you can deal with and implement peace if it so wished, rather than a fragmented, abusive movement more strongly aligned to al-Qaida."
Killing off potential peacemakers within the insurgency is a real concern, says Nagl, who thinks those insurgents who might be interested in reconciling should be put on a special list that would protect them from Nato's night-time hit squads. "But it is not at all clear that we are any good at that because people who understand reintegration and reconciliation are Afghans and people who do the targeting are Americans," he admits.
Others call for a more radical approach to bringing the war to a close that would entail trying to make the Taliban behave better, including confidence-building measures such as ceasefires. That, it is hoped, would then form the basis for peace talks between Afghans. A better-behaved movement would also make the majority of Afghans who never supported them, and are increasingly worried that they might one day return to power, more inclined to some sort of a negotiated compromise.
Semple says he had assumed that a strategy to improve behaviour "was almost orthodox" among US diplomats. But, he notes, the soldiers running the war in Afghanistan are still wedded to military operations they believe will eventually lead to victory, even if it makes life miserable for many Afghans along the way.
"We didn't intend to make the Taliban nastier," a Nato military officer in Kabul says. "But if it helps us, we're not going to complain."
UK's "Secret Cinema" takes shadowy screenings to Afghanistan
By Daniel Magnowski Fri Dec 9, 2011 1:43pm EST
KABUL (Reuters) - In a dusty, dimly lit Kabul basement, British cinema fan club 'Secret Cinema' launched their first movie event outside Britain on Thursday evening, bringing costume, audience participation and light-hearted mystery to the high-security Afghan capital.
The group has built up a following in Britain by showing critically acclaimed films in unusual locations, creating a fun atmosphere for film buffs and, crucially, keeping the name of the movie under wraps until the lights go down.
The key to choosing Kabul, whose potholed roads, sketchy communications and ubiquitous security emplacements do not easily lend themselves to meticulously planned art events, was the desire to show a dimension of the city beyond violence, fear, and the ongoing military campaign.
"People say 'the Taliban will come' ... but there's also lots of other life going on, not just the terror," said Fabien Riggall, creative director and founder of Secret Cinema, speaking from London.
"The idea is that anyone, anywhere should have access to film ... I'm very passionate about the idea that culture should be made available to people."
Riggall was inspired by Afghanistan-based artist Travis Beard, who earlier this year organised a music festival in Kabul -- a rare event in a city better known worldwide for suicide attacks like Tuesday's huge blast at a Shi'ite Muslim festival which killed more than 50 people.
"Kabul is starving, it's thirsty for more cultural activities," said Beard, who organised Thursday's screening.
The select group of Western and Afghan film fans who gathered after sundown had been given clues about the film via Facebook, but the exact location of the screening was only revealed shortly before the screening began.
"In the West, a lot of time you'd advertise an event and promote it a lot, but you can't do that here, so we do 'stealth promotion' ... everyone know's it's on at six o'clock on Thursday, but no-one knows the location until they SMS us," Beard said.
As with most activities in Kabul, security is a factor.
"We're not trying to exclude people, but because of the security situation we need to be careful about who's invited to the event," Beard, dressed in costume matching the film, the identity of which organisers want to keep secret during a run of similar events in London.
Organisers want to extend the appeal of showing classic films in unusual environments beyond the foreign professionals who live in Kabul.
"We can get an audience that's interested in something besides going to the cinema and seeing Bollywood -- we're trying to give them something else," Beard said.
"We're really trying to broaden the invitation list, we don't just want expats hanging out with expats. There's quite a strong community of Afghans here who are artistically minded."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Canadian troops in Afghanistan to hand over Afghan prisoners to US authorities
By Associated Press, Saturday, December 10, 12:30 AM
TORONTO — Canada says prisoners captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan will now be handed over to the United States, not local authorities.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Friday that the government has completed a new transfer agreement enabling the delivery of Canadian-captured prisoners to the U.S. detention facility at Parwan, north of Kabul.
The new agreement reverses a policy under which suspected Taliban fighters were sent to Afghanistan’s notorious intelligence service or Kandahar’s Sarpoza prison.
About 950 Canadian soldiers remain in Afghanistan in a training, noncombat role following the end of the combat mission last summer. This means they will rarely, if ever, engage in prisoner captures.
Baird did not explain how Canadian soldiers would now be in a position to take prisoners.
Afghan Women Wary Of Taliban Talks
By Frud Bezhan December 8, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghan women are demanding that their voices be heard in the ongoing international dialogue over Afghanistan's future after 2014, when foreign troops leave amid hopes that a peace settlement can be reached with the Taliban.
As the United States and its NATO allies prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, women fear that their newfound rights may be undermined in peace talks with the Taliban -- which denied women the right to work, receive an education, or even leave their homes during the militia's five-year rule.
Shukria Barakzai, a prominent female member of the current Afghan parliament, believes women must be involved in the peace process, while adding that the international community must provide assurances that women's rights will not be used as bargaining chips in any negotiations.
"At that time [after the Taliban was ousted in 2001], they only accepted and talked about women's rights," she said, adding that "this is the time that they should tell us by which way and under which conditions they will support Afghan women politically, economically, and socially."
Barakzai, who is wary of reconciliation with the Taliban, adds that the Afghan population would only accept the group's return to the political fold if it were to lay down its weapons, accept the Afghan Constitution, and join the political process as a national political party.
"There is no chance of the Taliban itself [coming] back as a regime, to be back and take power as the way they were before," she said.
Barakzai bemoans the lack of women's participation in international gatherings like the Bonn II conference on December 5. Only a handful of female delegates attended the one-day conference held to map out Afghanistan's future.
Barakzai insists that women not only participate in the peace process but that all discussions regarding the peace and reconciliation process -- at both the domestic and international level -- should involve women.
"[It] is important for us as women to be in every single corner and to be very active," she said. "In the meantime, I don't think anybody should use women as a [token] showpiece for local and international gatherings."
Barakzai added that Afghan women's voices are indispensable and that lasting peace and prosperity cannot be reached without them.
"You can't be ignoring half the population," she said. "Even if they want to ignore [women], tomorrow they have to reach out to us because whenever there are elections everybody knocks on the doors of women."
In the past decade, women have made significant inroads in Afghan society.
The end of Taliban rule coincided with greater opportunities for women. Millions of girls are now back in school. Women are working, particularly in the major cities, as professionals in various fields. The country has a female provincial governor, while dozens of women serve as members of parliament and the senate.
But those initial gains are under threat, according to a recently published UN report, which said that Afghan women still face widespread restrictions on their freedom of movement, while their access to work and rights have steadily tightened and violence against them has soared.
The report said the Afghan government has "not yet succeeded" in implementing a 2-year-old law intended to protect women from abuse, including rape, forced marriage, and the trading of women to settle disputes.
The report says the law is enforced by authorities in only a small percentage of cases.
This document was published as the case of a 19-year-old Afghan rape victim hit the headlines around the world.
'Forced To Marry' Her Rapist
Gulnaz, who only goes by one name, was imprisoned in 2009 for adultery after being raped by a relative. She says her husband's cousin bound her hands while she was alone one day at home and raped her.
She initially kept quiet about the crime due to fear, but soon found out that she was pregnant with the rapist's child. When she went to the police, they arrested the rapist but also detained Gulnaz for adultery.
Her child, now 9 months old, was born inside prison. Gulnaz received a 12-year sentence but was pardoned last week by President Hamid Karzai.
Although there have been no reported conditions for her release, Gulnaz was quoted as saying, "I am obliged to marry him, even though I can't look at him."
U.S. Looks To NATO For Afghan Funding
Wall Street Journal By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV DECEMBER 9, 2011
BRUSSELS - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday pressed coalition allies to make concrete commitments to funding Afghan security forces over the next decade.
Speaking after a meeting in Brussels of foreign ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other coalition members, Mrs. Clinton said she was hopeful that the allies will come to NATO's summit in Chicago in May "prepared to pledge long-term funding" for the Afghan military and police.
"I encouraged our allies to better define NATO's enduring partnership with Afghanistan," Mrs. Clinton said, "including its post-2014 mission to support the Afghan national-security forces, and to provide a strong base on which Afghanistan can build a stable, peaceful future."
Afghan and allied officials in Kabul estimate the cost of maintaining the Afghan security forces—slated to reach 352,000 men by fall of 2012—at between $4 billion and $6 billion a year.
That is far beyond the means of the Afghan government. Without foreign assistance stretching over a decade, many Western and Afghan officials say, the Afghans won't be able to fill the security vacuum left by the planned pullout of most U.S.-led combat troops in 2014.
Many NATO allies have been perplexed by the U.S. drive over the past two years to bulk up the size of the Afghan military and police, voicing concerns that such a large force would be unsustainable—and complaining that they hadn't been consulted. Some of these nations now resent being asked to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars a year to pay for it, especially as European economies are reeling from the euro-zone debt crisis.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday that nations outside the Atlantic alliance, and outside the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, should help foot the bill. In addition to troops from NATO countries, the coalition in Afghanistan includes sizable forces from countries such as Australia, Georgia, Sweden, South Korea and New Zealand.
"We will finish the job to help create a secure Afghanistan—for our shared security," Mr. Rasmussen said. "But the whole international community has a stake in a stable and secure Afghanistan. And the whole international community must help achieve it."
An international conference uniting the NATO allies with countries including Russia, China, Iran and India, held Monday in the German city of Bonn, has already promised to provide financial aid to Afghanistan in the decade after 2014. Concrete commitments are slated to be made at a pledging conference in Tokyo in July.
In Brussels, at the two-day NATO conference that was attended Thursday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Moscow and the alliance sparred over NATO's missile-defense plans, as well as NATO's role in toppling the Libyan regime.
NATO says its planned missile shield, which includes a new radar system to be deployed in Turkey, aims to protect Europe from Iran and other Middle Eastern threats. Russia, however, is seeking binding guarantees that the planned system wouldn't be used against it.
The two sides agreed to continue negotiations on the matter, even as NATO officials said the deployment of the missile-defense project will go ahead. Russia didn't repeat Thursday an earlier suggestion by its ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, that the missile dispute may be linked to Moscow's cooperation with the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
In his only comments on Afghanistan at the Brussels conference, Mr. Lavrov described the conflict there as "a challenge to our common security."
NATO's so-called Northern Distribution Network, which has greatly expanded over the past year and which runs through Russia and the Central Asian states, provides the coalition with an increasingly important alternative to Pakistani supply routes.
The NDN, which accounts for at least half of coalition supplies, turned into a vital lifeline after Pakistan closed its border to NATO convoys last month, in protest over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in an errant U.S. airstrike near the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Mrs. Clinton on Thursday hailed the NDN as "a very good example of Russia-U.S. and Russia-NATO cooperation" that is "mutually beneficial to all of us."
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at firstname.lastname@example.org
Afghan police arrest spurned brothers for acid attack
By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police have arrested four brothers who threw acid over a woman who had refused to marry one of them, also attacked her mother and two sisters with acid, and brutally beat her father, the interior ministry said on Friday.
Seventeen-year-old Mumtaz, the eldest of three daughters, had been pursued for two years by a local gunman considered a troublemaker by the family.
Six months ago, with her parents' support, she turned him down and got engaged to a relative, but shortly before the wedding, a group of gunmen burst into their home and attacked the whole family.
"This is the worst kind of brutality against women and the most critical punishment has to be given to them," said Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the interior ministry.
Mumtaz was the most severely injured and is being treated in India. Her mother and two sisters are in a hospital in Kabul.
Her father, who was beaten, has been released from hospital. He still has severe back and head problems, and is worried that he cannot afford to stay with his family in Kabul for long.
Police in the northern city of Kunduz detained three of the brothers on Thursday when they tried to arrange a meeting of elders to seek forgiveness from the family. The fourth was arrested on December 1.
Kunduz police are now seeking to arrest two or three more people the family has accused of attacking them, Sediqi said.
"Very soon it will be clear how many people were involved in the case," he said.
According to Sediqi, the four detainees are accused of "entering the house, beating the family and pouring acid, carrying an illegal weapon and stealing 50,000 Afghanis."
The family told police that six or seven armed men burst into their home in the Bulk Awal area of Kunduz -- the largest city in the region -- in the middle of the night on November 30.
"They beat me with a weapon and took me to another room, then they beat my family and poured acid on them," Sultan Mohammad, the father of the family, told Reuters on Friday.
He said the men had split open his head when they attacked him with their guns, and then tied his hands so he could not stop the assault on his wife and daughters.
Acid is used intermittently as a weapon in Afghanistan, but not always against women. In the conservative Taliban-influenced south and east, it has been thrown at girls attending schools.
With foreign combat troops set to return home by the end of 2014, some activists inside and outside Afghanistan fear that women's rights may be sacrificed in the scramble to ensure the West leaves behind a relatively stable state.
Acid attacks have also targeted men. In January, veteran Afghan journalist Abdul Razaq Mamon, a presenter, commentator and author, was left with burns to his hands and face after acid was thrown at him in Kabul.
(Editing by Jan Harvey and Ron Popeski)
British will not extend Afghan operations
Financial Times By James Blitz, Defence and Diplomatic Editor December 8, 2011
British troops will not extend their area of operations in Helmand province next year to maintain security following the withdrawal of thousands of US marines from Afghanistan, Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, said on Thursday.
As the US prepares to withdraw some 33,000 troops from Afghanistan, defence ministry officials had expressed concern that Britain might be forced to spread its operations in Helmand to compensate for the drawdown of American marines.
But Mr Hammond has for the first time stated that the UK will not bow to US demands to spread out its forces from central Helmand – where British operations are concentrated – in order to maintain security in the province. Instead, he insisted that security in areas to be vacated by the US marines would have to be maintained by the Afghanistan National Security Forces, aided by American “enablers” such as helicopters and fast jets.
“We are not, and will not, extend the area of operations or the role of our forces,” Mr Hammond told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank, on Thursday. “We are not going to provide backfilling for a drawdown of US marines in [Afghanistan’s] Regional Command South West.”
Mr Hammond continued: “I am clear that we will be able to manage with whatever drawdown pattern the US finally determines upon. We will continue to have access to the ANSF in Helmand and to US enablers. We will not be expected to backfill for American troops. US commanders understand that, people in the White House and Pentagon understand that, we could not have been clearer.”
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced that the US would fully withdraw the 33,000 US troops who “surged” into Afghanistan in 2010 to suppress the Taliban.
Defence experts believe that the US could end up withdrawing 10,000 troops from Helmand next year as a result of this decision. However, Britain is undertaking a much more modest reduction next year, withdrawing only a small number of its 10,000 UK troops in Afghanistan.
“The defence secretary’s comments are a significant statement of policy,” said Malcolm Chalmers, a senior academic at RUSI. “The US military would have wanted the UK to be more flexible next year, holding open the possibility of taking on additional areas in Helmand if things get difficult. What Mr Hammond is making clear is that this is not going to happen.”
Britain appears to be taking the view that gaps in security in Helmand after 2012 will have to be filled by Afghan forces. The Nato operation will also rely on the deployment of mobile rapid reaction forces to reinforce volatile areas. “The risk to such a stance, however, is that it does lengthen the reaction time to any Taliban offensive and allows the insurgency a greater window of opportunity,” says Mr Chalmers.
Kabul pushes mineral concessions
Financial Times By William MacNamara December 8, 2011
Afghanistan is attempting to accelerate development of its rich mineral deposits by offering four to five concessions of iron ore, oil, copper, gold, and other minerals for international tender every year.
This week, the country opened a tender process for four large copper and gold concessions, which had been discovered and planned for development decades ago before Afghanistan’s civil war.
While railroads for mineral exports are only beginning to be developed in a mountainous country where Nato and Afghan forces are battling a stubborn insurgency, Afghanistan’s mining minister says he expects international competition for up to five mineral concessions per year from 2012.
Afghanistan’s ambitions for its resource sector gained ground in November when a consortium of Indian steel companies won the rights to develop Hajigak, a vast iron ore deposit. The award of the Hajigak concession was the most significant mining tender process in Afghanistan since 2008, when Metallurgical Corp of China won the rights to the Aynak copper deposit.
A consortium led by Jan Kulczyk, Poland richest man, is expected to bid for at least one of the gold concessions now on offer, after Mr Kulczyk met the mining minister this week. The consortium, which was put together by JPMorgan, is already developing a gold deposit in Afghanistan.
“Besides making some money from it, I think it’s great for the Afghan economy to have something besides poppies,” said Peter Hambro, the London-based gold mining entrepreneur, who is another investor in the Kulczyk-led JPMorgan consortium.
Wahidullah Shahrani, the minister of mines, said the government expected to offer “a huge oil basin” for tender in March 2012, followed by “a big gas field on the border of Turkmenistan”. In the summer of 2012, “another huge iron ore deposit” near Hajigak was to come up for tender, he added.
The government had set a target for the mineral sector to yield 25 per cent of gross domestic product by 2016, the minister said in a meeting attended by advisers to the US Department of Defense.
“These tenders will help us move forward toward self-sufficiency,” Mr Shahrani said. “We know what the contribution of oil, gas, and minerals should be to our GDP, given that we are a country heavily dependent on international aid, which is not sustainable.”
But the timeframe for rebalancing the economy is ambitious. Billions of dollars will need to be raised to build not only the mines and oilfields but also the transport infrastructure necessary for export.
MMC, the Chinese company developing the Aynak copper mine, has commissioned China Railways Corp to construct a railway to the unbuilt mine. But the railroad is in a design phase that will take 18 months, and there remain huge security challenges that may delay the projects.
Bombings in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif killed more than 55 people on Tuesday, when Afghan officials announced the new gold and copper concessions. The violence led President Hamid Karzai to cancel a trip to London, where he was due to meet Mr Kulczyk and other potential investors in the next round of mineral concessions.
Additional reporting by Matthew Green and Jan Cienski
Obama Tells Accusers To 'Ask Bin Laden' About Perceived Appeasement
December 9, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. President Barack Obama has rejected accusations from Republican presidential aspirants suggesting that his foreign policy is timid and amounts to "appeasement" of America's foes by saying they should "ask Osama bin Laden."
Bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, was killed by U.S. commandos who raided his hideout in Pakistan in May in a daring operation ordered by Obama.
Questioned about the Republican barbs on December 8 in Washington, Obama told reporters, "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top Al-Qaeda leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement."
Republicans have been stepping up political attacks on Obama as they prepare for their nomination process to begin in earnest in January ahead of the November 2012 election.
compiled from agency reports
An Afghan mountain pass won by the US holds challenge for Afghan forces
By Associated Press, December 8
GULRUDDIN OUTPOST, Afghanistan — U.S. forces scored a strategic victory against the Taliban four months ago when they seized a mountain pass that had enabled suicide bombers to make their way from Pakistan to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
But as American troops draw down in the war, it will fall on Afghan soldiers and police to hold this dirt road in eastern Afghanistan’s Taba Kakar mountains. So far, the signs are not encouraging.
The district police chief was a drug addict who was fired at the end of November only after he punched a U.S. military translator, according to American soldiers. He then sold or stole everything from electronics to teacups, even removing the batteries from the remote control for the heating unit supplied by the Americans.
The Afghan soldiers aren’t much help either. Westerners working in the area have found them to be unmotivated and undependable. The soldiers go out on few patrols and are mistrusted by the local population because most are from a different ethnic group.
The U.S. plans to hand over more and more volatile areas like Gulruddin before the end of 2014, when the Afghans are expected to oversee security nationwide. If the Afghan government cannot hold these key gateways, insecurity could quickly spread.
At Gulruddin, that could come as early as next summer. After the snows melt and the traditional fighting season begins, the Afghans may be asked to hold the pass with a lot less help from the Americans.
The U.S. force in Afghanistan is already shrinking, and President Barack Obama has pledged to pull out 33,000 American troops by the end of 2012. That’s a third of those deployed in the country at the peak of the U.S. military presence in June.
As recently as June, the Gulruddin area of Paktika province was an insurgent sanctuary.
Fighters crossing from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan would travel by motorcycle for a day and a half over remote mountain tracks, sleeping in caves to evade U.S. surveillance, then funnel through Gulruddin pass into the unfolding valley below. In the first few villages, they’d find sympathetic locals with spare beds and warm meals. They’d recover their strength, resupply and continue the remaining 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the capital on a clear and flat road.
Back then, U.S. and Afghan forces were attacked whenever they approached Gulruddin. Insurgents would dress up in Afghan army uniforms and shake down passing vehicles. And buried bombs regularly devastated trucks.
So the Americans decided to shut down what they called the “Taliban Motel 6.” In late July U.S. special forces attacked nearby Marzak village, considered a key Taliban refuge, and killed nearly 100 insurgents. After the fighting subsided, U.S. troops intercepted a trailer truck piled high with bodies — some in coffins, some just loose corpses — that was headed back to Pakistan.
U.S. forces used the relative calm they had won to establish a presence at the pass. They brought in backhoes and carved a road up the hill to an overlook where they built an army outpost at 8,600 feet. On the road below, they erected a vehicle checkpoint. In September, Afghan soldiers moved into the outpost and police started manning the checkpoint.
The first couple weeks did not go well. The Taliban shot rockets at both the outpost and the checkpoint. The attacks then started to diminish in October and there were none in November.
Although the U.S. offensive appears to have decimated this year’s supply of insurgent fighters, there will likely be more next spring after border passes are clear of snow. U.S. commanders say new insurgents have arrived in Marzak even in the past two months.
U.S. military commanders in Paktika have recommended that the province be one of the last in Afghanistan to lose American forces. But higher-level commanders may be forced to make reductions, and the Afghan government is considering taking over parts of the province as early as July, according to U.S. military officials.
“We may be seeing some districts moving forward a lot sooner than what people are recommending, because the process is a political process,” said Lt. Col. Rafael Paredes, the deputy commander for U.S. forces in Paktika.
In previous negotiations with international forces, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has lobbied to transition areas that international forces think are still too insecure, according to a Western official familiar with the discussions. The official spoke anonymously to discuss private talks.
It’s an issue still under debate — whether to transition difficult areas while a sizable U.S. force remains in the country, or to give these areas as much time as possible before handing them over to Afghan security forces.
The approximately 100 U.S. soldiers who are responsible for the area surrounding Gulruddin are defiantly optimistic. They say they expect to have until the end of 2014 and that they can have Afghan forces ready by then. It will succeed, they say, because it has to.
“This is the area that can’t fail,” said Capt. James Perkins, the commander of Apache company of Task Force 3-66 Armor, based out of Grafenwoehr, Germany.
So Perkins is taking the training of the Afghan forces as seriously as any battlefield operation.
“Mission success for us is the quality of the Afghan security forces we leave behind,” he said. A poster with that same mantra is taped on the wall inside each of the latrines at Apache Company’s small base.
About 50 Afghan soldiers and a handful of police currently man Gulruddin pass. U.S. soldiers provide tarps to keep the snow from seeping through their roofs, U.S. advisers file the paperwork to get ammunition for the police, and U.S. liaisons put pressure on the local government to hire Afghans they trust for posts or fire those they don’t like.
Perkins said both forces in the district, Sar Hawza, have a long way to go — the army even more so than the police. The supply lines are also dismal: The Afghan soldiers couldn’t patrol for a month recently because they had run out of fuel and Kabul had not provided more.
The government administrator for the district was killed in early November by a hidden bomb in an unmarked grave in a cemetery. His nephew has just been named the new administrator.
A police commander who works closely with the U.S. forces said he sees improvements but the situation is still precarious.
“Last year most of the people in Sar Hawza seemed to me to be with the Taliban. Now only half of them are,” said Commander Mahmood, who goes by only one name. He said fighters who used to carry their weapons openly through the market now hide them at home.
“The security condition is very good right now, but the Taliban are still trying to find a way to attack,” Mahmood said.
To keep Sar Hawza district from gradually slipping back into the hands of the insurgents, the Americans are counting on a new government-sponsored militia program called the Afghan Local Police. About 30 men in the district are working for the program so far — all locals who are expected to have more invested and more at stake that the traditional security forces.
The idea is that the local force will help keep the insurgents out of the communities, taking pressure off the soldiers and police trying to hold the pass. It’s just not clear when these three forces will be ready to stand on their own.
“We go to the Americans whenever we need something: They help us with fortifications, sandbags and things like that,” said Lt. Hashmatullah Najirabi, the Afghan army commander at Gulruddin. “They do a lot because our Afghan army is just not self-sufficient right now.”
A Real Afghan Leader
Twenty-three-year-old Lt. Ahmaduddin Ahmad is an example of the Afghan National Army at its best.
Wall Street Journal By ANNE JOLIS DECEMBER 9, 2011
Sangisar, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan - Last week NATO announced that 40,000 troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Is it even remotely realistic that the Afghan National Army can sustain what fragile security foreign militaries have managed to achieve? Ask the U.S. soldiers here in southern Afghanistan, and the question will generally elicit a laugh and an "[expletive] no, ma'am."
The 170,000-strong force is improving, they say, but not quickly enough for either the drawdown schedule or for the ongoing threats to Afghan security. This week's bombings in Kabul and elsewhere indicate that, along with a patient and vicious insurgency, the ANA could also be facing a new wave of sectarian radicals in suicide vests. But the army's desertion rates are high, and nearly every American service-member I speak with has some story of ANA corruption, civilian abuse, or fecklessness or cowardice that result in injury or worse.
The operative word though is "nearly." On a patrol last week through this pocket of western Kandahar, the men of the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, tell of a different Afghan army. "The ANA we work with will save your life," says Sgt. Sean McLean, 37, of Tampa, Florida. "They're like our brothers."
The chief reason for this discrepancy goes by the name of Ahmaduddin Ahmad, a platoon leader whose 45 soldiers, along with the Battalion's so-called "Dog Company," keep watch over this area.
Over lunch at an ANA compound here, Sgt. McLean points in the distance to a small squad of Afghan soldiers led by a slight man—the only one walking with neither armor nor rifle. "There he goes now," says Sgt. McLean, with a respect approaching that which American soldiers reserve for their own leaders. "That's his pissed-off walk."
Earlier in the day, the locals of Sangisar told us they "love the ANA." But one family reported that Afghan soldiers became violent during a routine house search. Lt. Ahmad, having heard of the abuses, now stalks toward the disgruntled household to find out which of his soldiers fell out of line.
He is "no-nonsense, and believe me, when he hears of any nonsense, he puts a stop to it," Sgt. McLean says, adding "Somebody's going to get it now."
"He's the real deal—a legit, U.S.-style leader," adds Cpt. Luke Beazley, 32, of Nashville, Tennessee, who commands Dog Company.
The legend builds: Dog Company troops tell of the "Afghan John Wayne," the native of northern Panjshir Province who knows every inch of his southern territory. He'll pluck IEDs from the dirt and disarm them with his bare hands; he charges insurgents wielding rockets as if they were plastic swords. Unlike many ANA leaders, he not only accompanies his men on their most dangerous missions—he goes in first. The Tajik soldier respects and engages the Pashtun peasants, and for all the Taliban he's tracked and killed, his standing orders are for his men to hold fire until they're directly threatened.
By mid-afternoon, the storied warrior returns to the compound. With Oakley sunglasses propped on his cropped black hair and a pistol wedged discretely in a thigh-holster, the 5-foot-10-inch 23-year-old isn't much to quake at. But as he approaches, his soldiers—many older and brawnier—snap to attention.
One of them informs Lt. Ahmad that an American journalist would like to chat. He invites me into the compound's cramped wooden shack, swarming with flies, pours tea, lights a Marlboro Red and issues the smile of a man with bigger concerns than Western press fame.
We start by dispelling some of the myths. Though they hail from the same province, he is no relation to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the late, original "lion of Panjshir." Nor is Lt. Ahmad "fearless."
"I get scared like everyone else," he says. "But all I can do is my best. Whatever I'm doing, whatever my duty is, I want to do it right. And a soldier has to be brave, even when he's afraid."
He possesses no preternatural powers, though Dog Company's men say he beats both canine and contraption at locating IEDs. "I use my eyes and my brain," he says. "I see something suspicious, and I do something about it."
The hardest part of his job, he says, is the task he's just completed: "When my soldiers are bad, when I have to discipline them"—often with a slap, a belt-whipping or a rock-crawl—"I hate it. I don't want my soldiers unhappy. But I can't have them trampling civilians."
Lt. Ahmad says his reverence for life—rare in a country that's known only war for two generations—was forged early in his soldiering days, when he killed a young man who turned out to be innocent. Afterwards, he went to the boy's father and handed him his gun. "'You must shoot me now,'" he says he told him. Instead, the grieving father forgave his error. Lt. Ahmad says "the memory never leaves me."
I tell him the only qualms his American partners have raised is that his bravery is apt to get him killed—particularly because he shuns body armor.
He shrugs. "I'm not a big guy. A helmet, a heavy vest—that stuff would slow me down. I tell you, I'm not 'fearless.' I just need to be light and fast."
After attending some college in Kabul, the shopkeeper's son—who's never left Afghanistan—joined the ANA three-and-a-half years ago. He received six months of training from the British Army and then six more with the ANA. He loves history, and says that if and when stability comes to Afghanistan, he will return to school and study law.
"That's why I'm doing this," for himself and his country. "I want security, I want education, roads, clinics, industry—I want for there to be one peace in Afghanistan."
He acknowledges that the notorious corruption overseen by Afghan President Hamid Karzai "makes things harder" as he tries to convince Sangisar's skeptical locals to buy into the government that the ANA represents. But Lt. Ahmad is "a soldier, not a politician." Were he to receive an audience with Mr. Karzai, all he would ask is that he "makes his own army strong."
Lt. Ahmad gestures around him at the reinforced compound, the uniformed Afghans and their weapons. "All of this? This is provided by America." Manpower aside, U.S. taxpayers bankroll about 90% of Afghanistan's security costs, according to the Government Accountability Office. "So I would ask [Mr. Karzai] how long he imagines this will go on. We need to start doing this for ourselves."
Given the funding, weaponry and logistical capability, Lt. Ahmad says there is no reason ANA can't stand on its own. "If the leader is good, the soldier is good," he says. "And believe me, there are others like me. There are better than me."
If so, they'll need to stand up soon.
Miss Jolis is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.
Supply Trucks Set Alight At NATO Terminal In Pakistan
Friday, December 09, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Pakistani police say as many as 20 trucks were ablaze after a rocket attack on a NATO trucking terminal in the southwestern city of Quetta in Baluchistan Province.
Senior police official Malik Arshad said unknown gunmen fired bullets and a rocket at the NATO oil tankers and the ensuing blaze engulfed 15 to 20 vehicles.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban have in the past said they carried out similar attacks to disrupt supplies for the more than 130,000 U.S.-led international troops fighting in Afghanistan.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Most supplies and equipment required by foreign forces in Afghanistan are usually shipped through Pakistan, although U.S. troops increasingly use alternative routes through Central Asia.
compiled from agency reports
Afghanistan soccer team reaches semifinals of SAFF Cup in India amid tragedy
Associated Press December 8 , 2011
It should have been one of the greatest days in Afghanistan soccer history. As is so often the case in this war-ravaged country, a cause for celebration was overshadowed by tragedy.
On Wednesday, the national team beat Bhutan 8-1 to advance to the semifinals of the South Asian Football Federation Cup for the first time.
The victory in New Delhi came a day after a bomb exploded in the capital, Kabul, killing more than 50 people, including four family members of one of the team’s players, Mustafa Madar. Two former national team members and an Under-17 team player also were wounded.
Each player who scored against Bhutan embraced Madar, who was on the sidelines. Following the game, coach Mohammed Yusuf Kargar dedicated the win to the victims of the attack.
“We were so happy when we came here, but on hearing this sad news, I just cannot stop crying. Now I have to control myself as we have a chance in this tournament,” Madar was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
In a country where violence is routine, financing is difficult to come by and soccer facilities are limited, it’s no surprise the Afghan national team is No. 178 in FIFA’s world rankings. Of the eight South Asian teams playing in the SAFF Cup, Afghanistan is ranked higher only than Bhutan.
But the Lions of Khorasan have impressed so far in their three group games at the tournament. After holding regional giant India to a surprising 1-1 draw in their opening match in Delhi, Afghanistan defeated Sri Lanka 3-1 and then swatted aside Bhutan to book a spot in the semifinals against Nepal on Friday.
“Against Bhutan, I had asked my players to play a little easy as Bhutan are a little weak opposition,” Kargar said. “In the semifinals, we will be more serious. Let’s see what happens and hope for the best.”
Nepal, in the last four for the first time since 1999, will prove a tougher opponent. The team is coached by Graham Roberts, a former England international and Tottenham, Chelsea and Rangers defender.
“Our aim was to get into semifinals and now we are focused for the semifinals match,” Roberts said. “We have a long rest and we will inject some energy in the team. Playing three matches in six days is really difficult. Players are tired.”
Soccer has had a lot of setbacks in Afghanistan over the past 30 years. In 1980, the national team sought asylum in Germany following the Soviet invasion. When the Taliban took over in the 1990s, it initially banned the sport and used the country’s stadiums for executions.
After matches resumed in the country, there were reports of some players being arrested for having haircuts that were too long or beards that weren’t long enough.
Afghanistan didn’t play any international matches at all from 1984 to 2001. In 2004, nine players disappeared from a training camp in Italy and were later found in Germany, causing the national team to be temporarily disbanded.
The sport has re-emerged in recent years and there are now two professional leagues in the country — the Afghan National League and the Kabul Premier League.
“The leagues are improving but the federation has little money,” said goalkeeper Hamidullah Yousufzai, who plays for the team Kabul Bank. “Clubs are usually tied to institutions who fund them but you can guess how profitable it is. We don’t play as many competitive matches as we’d like to, nor do we earn much, which is why most senior team players are not full-time footballers.”
Eight of the 20 players picked to play in the SAFF Cup were either born or raised overseas. The highest-profile player in the squad is Bilal Arezou, who scored four goals against Bhutan and plays professionally in Norway.
Others play in India, in Germany’s fifth-tier league or for amateur teams in the United States and Cyprus.
Yousufzai believes the Afghan team just needs more financial support in order to improve.
“With no offense to our federation, whatever tournament we are going, they pay us peanuts,” he said. “India on the other hand has a lot of financial support, but the outcome doesn’t show in the way they play. If we get 10 percent of their annual expenditure, I bet the match which ended 1-1 would have been 5-1 in our favor.”
Herat Prison Offers Refuge for Abused Women
While critics say conditions inside are too soft, prison aims to equip inmates for life outside.
IWPR By Sahar Azimi 8 Dec 11
Afghanistan - Desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Feroza tried every escape route she could find. When told her father that her husband-to-be was a reputed drug addict, he wasn’t interested. Then she contacted the government department for women’s affairs in the western Afghan city of Herat, but they too would not listen.
Eventually she left home. Her father responded by getting her jailed, under Afghan laws that count running away from home as a punishable “moral crime”.
After she was let out, she sought refuge at a women’s shelter, but when she moved back to stay with relatives, they promptly got her imprisoned again.
Now the 23-year-old is finding that life in the women’s wing of Herat prison is better than the alternatives on the outside.
“I can watch television and talk and laugh with my friends. The food is good and there’s no psychological or physical pressure. Why shouldn’t I be happy here?” she said. “Jail is much better than living with a person whom you don’t love.”
The women’s section of Herat prison has around 140 inmates, most of them there for “moral crimes” or acting as mules for drug traffickers.
In Afghanistan, the loosely-defined term “moral crime” is often applied to women who run away from home or refuse to get married. These are not offences in the written criminal code, but it is common for courts to impose jail sentences of up to a year on women deemed guilty of them. (See Afghan Runaways Flee Forced Marriages for more on this issue.)
In a country where prison conditions are often poor, the Herat facility has made an effort to improve standards. Prison governor Abdul Majid Sadiqi said female detainees had access to television and radio, and there was talk of introducing a computer suite, a sports field and a kindergarten for children living with their mothers.
One major advance has been a programme to teach both male and female inmates skills that will help them survive when they are released. The women study embroidery, tailoring, carpet weaving, and shoemaking, and get a cut from sales of the goods they make. (See Herat Convicts Retrained for Life Outside.)
The women’s group Neda-ye Zan lobbied hard for the improvements at the prison, and also runs safe houses to help women when they are released but not ready to return to their families.
“It is a source of pride for us and all the other institutions that work with women in Herat,” the organisation’s head Soraya Pakzad said. “We have succeeded in protecting women’s rights. We will never allow these facilities at the prison to be removed.”
That is exactly what critics of the prison regime want to happen. Herat’s chief prosecutor Maria Bashir – the only women to hold such a role in Afghanistan –warns that being too soft on prisoners will only encourage them to reoffend, and would like to see harsher conditions for recidivists, in particular.
Abdul Rauf Mokhles, a lecturer in Sharia law in Herat, agreed that provision for the inmates was “excessive”, and that imprisonment should have a deterrent purpose.
“Prison officials are sending criminals a message that if they want these facilities, they need to commit a crime,” he said.
Similar sentiments were expressed by many Herat residents.
“Prison is a place for regret. It isn’t a place people should be interested in returning to,” shopkeeper Abdul Salam, 52, said.
Shokria Nemati, a 46-year-old female teacher, said people used to be afraid of the word “prison”, but that was no longer the case.
“Although I’m against the mistreatment of prisoners, I don’t agree with having facilities that will cause crime levels in society to rise,” she added.
Abdul Qader Rahimi, who heads the Herat branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, rejects the argument that humane treatment will lead to reoffending.
“I don’t think the facilities [at Herat jail] will make people consider reoffending,” he s
aid. “It is when the prison environment is problematic that prisoners will return to society as angry and stunted individuals.”
Inside the prison, Golsum, a 44-year-old convicted of smuggling heroin, said she could not wait to be released, whatever conditions were like inside.
“Even if a prison is like heaven, it is still prison,” she said.
Sahar Azimi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Herat.
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