[Afghan News] January 7, 2012 - 03-01-2012, 09:06 AM
VOA News January 7, 2012
A commission set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai is making serious accusations against a U.S.-run prison.
In a report released to the media Saturday, the commission accused the United States of abusing and torturing Afghans held at a prison neat Bagram air base, north of the capital of Kabul.
The report contains few details of the alleged incidents. But commission member Mohammad Amin Ahmadi told reporters detainees listed a slew of complaints, ranging from being denied access to a lawyer to being tortured with gas. He said some prisoners also complained that they were still held even after being cleared of any wrong doing.
Commission President Gul Rahman Qazi called on the U.S. to hand control of the prison to the Afghan government immediately, echoing similar demands made by President Karzai.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul told the Associated Press Saturday that American officials only received the commission's report after members spoke to the media. He said the U.S. investigates all allegations of prisoner abuse.
Afghan and U.S. officials have been involved in a series of discussions on how to transfer prisoners from U.S. to Afghan control.
President Karzai to Introduce New HRs Commissoners
TOLOnews.com Friday, 06 January 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to introduce new commissioners to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
President Karzai's Chief Spokesman, Emal Faizi, on Tuesday said that discussion were continuing between the President and Afghan civil society representatives.
According to Mr Fazizi, the President has asked civil society for a list of proposed commissioners.
President Karzai, according to his spokesman, will soon have his second meeting with civil society representatives when the final list of commissioners to be introduced to the Human Rights Commission will be finalized.
It comes as the working terms of some human rights commissioners including Nader Naderi, Fahim Hakim and Maulawi Ghulam Mohammad Gharib were recently over and President Karzai decided to introduce new commissioners to replace them.
Iran Starts Military Exercise Near Afghan Border
January 7, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reports say Iran has begun a military exercise near its border with Afghanistan.
The semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' ground forces, as saying the maneuvers near Khvat, about 60 kilometers from Afghanistan, are “aimed at boosting security along the Iranian borders."
The exercises come after Iran’s naval exercises in the Persian Gulf increased tensions with the United States amid threats and counterthreats over security in the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil-shipping route.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently approved sanctions that aim to stop countries buying Iranian oil and European Union officials are weighing a similar move, sparking Iranian officials to suggest them might seek to shut down the strait.
compiled from Reuters reports
6 militants captured in Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Six militants have been captured by Afghan National Police (ANP) in two separate provinces overnight, police said Saturday.
"Two armed militants were detained by ANP after they were positively identified placing an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) along a road in Noor Gram district of Nuristan province overnight, " provincial police chief Zahid Nuristani told Xinhua over phone.
Earlier Saturday, the country's Interior Ministry confirmed in a statement that ANP during a raid arrested four armed insurgents in southern Uruzgan province while placing an anti-vehicle mine Friday night.
"Four armed insurgent, who were planting an anti-vehicle mine along a road in Nangyali area of Dihrawud district, were detained and an AK-47 gun, an anti-vehicle mine and a remote control device were found in their possession," the ministry said in the statement.
Seven civilians, including six children, were killed when a bomb planted in a garbage bin went off in Tirin Kot, the provincial capital of Uruzgan province, 370 km south of capital Kabul on Friday.
20 armed insurgents arrested in Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Twenty armed insurgents have been detained in a series of military operations in Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, the country's Interior Ministry said on Saturday morning.
"During the past 24 hours, Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army and NATO-led Coalition Forces launched five joint operations in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand and Khost provinces detaining 20 armed insurgents," the Ministry said in a press release.
The ANP also discovered and confiscated five AK-47 guns, three pistols, two different types of weapons, 466 kg of hashish, 20 kg of explosive materials, one vehicle and one motorbike, it added.
The ANP also discovered and defused two anti-vehicle mines and one BM-1 rocket as a result of separate operations in Kandahar and Laghman provinces in the same period of time.
Afghan officials often use the word "insurgents" referring to Taliban. However, the insurgent group, who launched in May 2011 a rebel offensive against Afghan and NATO forces, has not to make comments yet.
Tortured Afghan Girl Wants In-Laws Jailed
VOA News January 7, 2012
A 15-year-old Afghan girl who was brutally tortured, allegedly at the hands of her in-laws, wants them jailed for their crimes.
Sahar Gul spoke to a reporter from her hospital bed Saturday, saying her husband, sister-in-law and father-in-law needed to be put in prison. She accused them of giving her electric shocks and beating her with cables.
Police found Gul last month in a windowless room in the basement of her husband's house in northeastern Baghlan province. They said she had been severely beaten on her face and legs.
She told investigators she had also been tortured with pliers and that her mother-in-law shaved her head and pulled out her fingernails.
The doctor treating Gul said Saturday that the teen is getting better by the day and that her injuries are only 30 to 40 percent healed. The doctor also said that Gul still suffers emotionally.
Police began searching after her family reported her missing. Officials say Gul was locked in the small, windowless room after her in-laws tried to force her into prostitution and she refused.
The Interior Ministry said Sahar Gul's mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been arrested and police are seeking her husband and father-in-law. The Associated Press reports Gul's husband is a soldier in the Afghan military.
Gul, from the northern province of Badakhshan, was married about seven months ago when she was just 14 years old. Investigators say she was locked away about two months later, but Gul said the torture began right after she was married.
Afghan laws set the marriage age for girls at 16, and Gul's marriage was not officially registered at a court, as is the case with most marriages in the country.
Almost half of Afghan women are married early, before the age of 16. Young mothers are particularly vulnerable to pregnancy and birth-related death and morbidities.
President Hamid Karzai ordered an official Interior Ministry investigation, saying whoever used violence against Gul will be punished.
News of Taliban Office in Qatar Sparks Flurry of Speculation
VOA News January 6, 2012 Ayaz Gul
Islamabad - The New Year in war-ravaged Afghanistan has dawned with hopes the country can finally move towards a peace process bringing the bloody conflict there to an end.
For the first time since the U.S.-led coalition invaded the country 10 years ago, the Taliban this week disclosed they are engaged in talks with U.S. officials and have reached a preliminary deal to set up a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar. In addition, the insurgent group says it has also asked for the release of its prisoners being held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced that his country agrees with the plan to open a Taliban office in Qatar, and with Washington’s efforts to talk with the insurgent group, as a way to prevent further conflict and the deaths of Afghan civilians.
Neighboring Pakistan has reacted cautiously, declining to say whether it is involved in the peace process. However, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated her country's support for any Afghan-led effort aimed at political reconciliation in the war-torn country.
"The stability of the region is one of Pakistan’s core national interests because Pakistan has suffered for too long because of lack of stability in the region," she said. "So any move, any effort towards reconciliation, towards national stability in Afghanistan, has a direct positive effect on Pakistan, so Pakistan would obviously be supportive of that."
According to Kabul-based analyst Omar Sharifi, it would be premature to tie too many hopes to the Taliban’s announcement that it has agreed to open a political office, but that there are reasons behind President Karzai's public support for the move.
"They welcomed the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, but the logic behind this, of course, is [that] they would love to see a kind of contact address for the Taliban," he said. "More importantly, they would very much like to see the exclusive Pakistani monopoly over the Taliban [be] somehow eased or loosened."
Pakistan’s military is also accused of maintaining close ties with the anti-U.S. Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents, based in the Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan. But Pakistani observers like Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador to Afghanistan, insist that any Afghan peace arrangement not involving Islamabad would be difficult to implement.
"Because there are still many Afghan refugees in Pakistan and ... many Taliban leaders come and go, so Pakistan’s position would be very pivotal," he said. "I am sure that at some point in time the Pakistanis will have to be brought on board."
American officials have refused to comment directly on their reported contacts with the Taliban, but have suggested it could help move toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict. U.S. Ambassador to Islamabad Cameron Munter, however, dismissed suggestions Pakistan is being kept out of the process.
“We are both committed, both Pakistan and the United States, to a peaceful, successful, prosperous Afghanistan," he said. "We are committed to working together to try to achieve those goals ... not only about our cooperation together, but our cooperation with regional partners to make sure that a settlement that is reached in Afghanistan is something that is satisfactory for everyone in the region."
Separately, representatives of the Afghan insurgent group led by fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar also traveled to Kabul this week to meet with President Karzai, General John Allen, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker, Washington’s envoy to Kabul.
Hekmatyar's Pakistan-based son-in-law, Ghairat Baheer, led the three-member delegation to the Afghan capital. Speaking to VOA at his residence in Islamabad, Baheer described talks with the Americans as "very frank, detailed, direct and useful."
"I think the Americans seem to be more pragmatic and realistic then they were before," he said. "We believe if the Americans are serious in their withdrawal from Afghanistan [by end of 2014], if this is a formal and final stance, then the rest of the issues could be subjected to negations."
The United States plans to withdraw all its combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But most observers believe that without sustained international backing, deep divisions among various Afghan factions including the Taliban could return the country to a civil war-like situation, much like the one Afghanistan experienced after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in the 1990s.
Canada picked its Kandahar moment
The Globe and Mail By Doug Saunders Saturday, Jan. 07, 2012
What on earth were we doing in Kandahar? Now that it’s all over, that question hangs in the air. Decades hence, students will be stumped by that question in much the same way I was when my high-school textbook opened to Canada’s place in the Boer War. It was full of sound and fury, but signifying exactly what? How did we pour five years, more than $18-billion and 158 lives into something so large and nebulous? How do we avoid repeating the mistake?
The process that led from Canada’s modest 2001 participation in the Kabul operation into the five-year semi-colonial Kandahar odyssey that began in 2006 remains something of a mystery. I’ve heard diplomatic and military officials of very high rank tell me they don’t really know how Canada became embroiled. Al-Qaeda had already been banished from Afghanistan by the time we entered the south. Our soldiers were professional, extremely courageous, calmly civilized and never quite sure what had caused them to be there.
We now have some surprising answers. A team of analysts with London’s Royal United Services Institute, a security think tank, gained unprecedented access to the confidential documents and British official records of the decision by NATO members in 2003 and 2004 to expand the Afghan war. Matthew Willis analyzed the Canadian decision, which was deeply entwined with Britain’s. His paper, to be released this month, describes a decision made in secret by senior Armed Forces officials, without the knowledge of NATO or probably of Canada’s prime minister.
“The Canadians and the British,” a senior NATO official told Mr. Willis, “hammered out the whole thing without NATO’s assistance, behind closed doors. We were not aware of the details.”
While Canada was ostensibly fighting as one member of the 42-nation NATO International Stability and Assistance Force, the decision to establish a base in Kandahar, the most dangerous province, was negotiated in London without the knowledge – and against the advice – of the Brussels-based military alliance. NATO had been pressuring General Raymond Henault, then head of the Canadian Forces, to set up a mission in the provinces of Chaghcharan or Herat.
But Canada’s military officials had other ideas – and most were rooted in Canada’s experience, five years earlier, in Bosnia. They had come to dislike fighting with some other countries – Mr. Willis writes of “the Canadian leadership’s aversion to partnering with the Italians or certain other European nations.”
The generals also felt that the Bosnia and Kosovo missions hadn’t won Canada much international fame or recognition. Those had been real coalitions, and Canada had blended into the background.
“The reason went well beyond a Canadian desire to be patted on the back,” Mr. Willis writes, citing his interviews with Canada’s military leaders. “It was about being able to make one’s voice heard in the political and military fora where mission-defining decisions were being taken, including, not least, plans for the use of Canadian soldiers. It was thus also about improving Canada’s ability to exert its influence in accordance with its interests and values.”
Prime minister Paul Martin must have known that Canada’s troop commitment, just shy of 3,000 soldiers, was the most it could muster, and might not have been enough for a large and deadly province (it did prove to be inadequate). But the generals pressed ahead. Part of it, they told Mr. Willis, was a desire to please Washington.
He raises the “contentious question why the senior Canadian military leadership, and the defence and foreign affairs departments, persisted in pushing the mission forward. Ostensibly, the military was seeking redemption after a decade of unremarkable performances in unremarkable (read: peacekeeping) theatres; or perhaps it wanted to show the U.S., the Canadian public and other key allies that it really could do combat if called on.”
“Implicit and sometimes explicit in all of the above,” he concludes, “is the idea that Canadian planners were pursuing a principally national agenda divorced from the NATO plan and heavily conditioned by beliefs about what would go over well in Washington.”
It is discomforting to think that this dangerous war was prolonged beyond the ouster of al-Qaeda in order to further interests of organizational pride and stature. But this was a big part of the decision.
This may well be the reality of modern war, as we saw in Libya this year, where a handful of countries forged an ad hoc alliance in confidential meetings far outside of NATO’s vision and without all its members – a cafeteria NATO, if you will. It is a less formal process, but one whose miscalculations can cause years of damage.
Afghans fear for sustainability of economic boom
Financial Times By Matthew Green January 6, 2012
Dubai - US generals measure the war in Afghanistan by numbers, seeking to distil a messy conflict into neat graphs of troop levels, roadside bombings and suicide attacks. To gauge hopes for the country’s future, they might consider a new indicator: sales of Red Bull.
On the one hand, surging imports of the straw-coloured energy drink – now a staple at wedding parties thrown by the Kabul elite – are emblematic of Afghanistan’s galloping economy. They also signal danger: the booming business of war has fed a rise in consumption without fostering enough of the private investment needed to underpin more durable growth.
As a security handover to Afghan forces looms in 2014, fears are growing that cuts to donor aid and spending by Nato could trigger a slowdown, placing a new kind of pressure on the fragile state.
“I think Afghanistan’s economy will collapse as soon as international forces leave,” says Mehrabuddin Hamidi, a shipper and car parts dealer who lives in Dubai, the adopted sanctuary for a generation of Afghan oligarchs who fear being killed or kidnapped at home.
Not everyone is so gloomy, betting that the private sector has gained enough momentum to thrive even if assistance starts to dwindle.
Hayatullah Achakzai, another Dubai-based trader, says he will export more than 70 cargo containers of Red Bull to Afghanistan next year, compared with five in 2009, to slake the thirst at weddings, where status-conscious hosts have come to view the soda as a classier beverage than Fanta or Coke.
“The economy is good, don’t worry about that,” Mr Achakzai says. “Every day we are getting more consumers.”
To prove his point, he produced a box of Kent cigarettes, popular under the peaceful reign of King Zahir Shah who was ousted in 1973. To satisfy evolving tastes, Mr Achakzai reintroduced the premium brand to Afghanistan in 2010.
On the surface, the economy has changed radically since the overthrow of the Taliban: cities are clogged with imported Toyotas, gleaming towers have mushroomed in Kabul, donors have revamped the road network and new media empires are thriving. Gross domestic product expanded by an average of 9.1 per cent between 2003 and 2010, according to the World Bank.
Foreign cash has driven the boom. Afghanistan received some $15.7bn in civilian and security aid this year – a figure roughly equivalent to the nominal value of GDP.
Nato has spent huge sums on logistical and other contracts snapped up by an emerging class of plutocrats. At the same time, drug barons are prospering – the World Bank says opium exports are worth the equivalent of a third of Afghanistan’s official economic output.
But there has been a relative dearth of commercial investment in the kind of industries or farming that might drive broader-based growth once Nato’s presence shrinks. Allies pledged not to abandon Afghanistan at a conference in Bonn last month, but economic crises in the US and eurozone are raising pressure on spending. Usaid, the US development agency, halved its Afghan budget to $2bn this year, and more reductions may follow.
The cuts have a knock-on effect.
Wages for multi-lingual, computer-literate Afghans have fallen by up to 25 per cent in the past year as donors cancel projects, says a contractor who employs several thousand people. Kabul’s once white-hot property market has cooled: his rates for renting office space are 30-40 per cent lower than a year ago.
Haji Obaidullah Sader Khail, chairman of the Afghan Business Council in Dubai, says 80 per cent of members – including the owner of a juice factory in the Afghan capital – have frozen investment plans due to concerns over whether the army and police will cope as Nato scales back.
“Now we’re not moving in Kabul without guns, without armoured cars,” he says. “If the international community leaves Afghanistan I’ll need a tank to get from the airport to my office.”
Afghanistan is banking that mining can shore up the economy: Steel Authority of India and China’s CNPC have won bids to develop iron ore and oil concessions in recent months, but mining contributes less than 0.3 per cent of GDP and the sector will take years to bloom.
There are bright spots. Trade is thriving in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and will expand with the opening of a railway to Uzbekistan. A link to the Uzbek grid has boosted power supply in Kabul, while the Asian Development Bank is financing a final, north-western section of a country-wide ring road.
Some say the best short-term hope for jobs lies in bolstering credit-starved family businesses, but security is all. Mr Achakzai, the soft drinks baron, does not feel safe enough to open an office in his native Kandahar, though he does believe Afghanistan’s thirst for caffeine-laced soda bodes well. “Business is good,” he says. “Everybody’s drinking Red Bull.”
Despite Possible 'Reset,' Pakistan Keeps Afghan Border Closed To NATO
By Charles Recknagel, Daud Khattak January 6, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Pakistan has blocked NATO supply trucks from entering Afghanistan since November 26, when NATO attacks killed two dozen Pakistani border guards.
So far, the only public signs in Pakistan are that the border will continue to remain closed indefinitely.
On January 6, the chairman of Pakistan's Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Mian Raza Rabbani, said the embargo would remain so long as relations with NATO remain fraught.
That came as Rabbani announced his committee has finalized its recommendations for new terms of engagement between Pakistan and U.S.-led NATO forces and will hand its recommendations to Pakistan's prime minister early next week.
He gave no hint of what the recommendations contain.
Once the new rules of engagement are approved by parliament, they will be the trigger for discussions with Washington over the two countries' partnership. If the two sides agree, NATO supplies could again cross the Pakistani border into Afghanistan.
"We are discussing all this. Whatever our foreign policy lines are for the U.S. and NATO, the committee is working on this,"
said parliamentarian Khurshid Ahmad, a member of the National Security Committee. "This will be a complete package. If the U.S. agrees to work on our terms, well and good. But still we have not finalized this."
But if Islamabad wants to reset relations with Washington on its own terms, there are also signs it may now be feeling the pressure of Washington's July decision to withhold $800 million in aid.
Rabbani's committee is reported to have received briefings by top government financial officials on the impact of the U.S. aid cut as it finalized its recommendations.
That suggests that Islamabad could put more room for negotiations into its final "reset" with Washington and NATO than Rabbani's public statements imply.
Islamabad's ban on NATO supplies is the longest blockade by far since the start of the Afghan war in 2001.
Pakistan has partially closed the supply routes before, notably for 11 days after crossborder NATO air strikes in September 2010 killed three Pakistani soldiers.
But the November 26 attack, in which NATO helicopters mistakenly struck two border posts, killing 24 soldiers, particularly enraged Pakistan as a symbol of deteriorating trust between the allies.
Today, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remains as firmly closed to NATO as it was immediately after the November 26 attack.
Muhammad Asghar, the deputy commissioner of Qala Abdullah District in Balochistan, confirmed this week that trucks carrying NATO containers continue to be sent back from the Chaman border crossing to Karachi.
"This [turning back] is a step taken in accordance with the policy of the government of Pakistan," Asghar said. "We have nothing to do with what kind of equipment is [in the containers]. That is a custom's matter."
NATO's second route through the Khyber Pass in northern Pakistan is equally blocked, with border guards subjecting even non-NATO contracted trucks to strict checks to verify they are not carrying any alliance supplies.
NATO has said publicly that it has sufficient alternate routes to supply its forces and that it expects the blockade to be lifted.
The two supply routes through Pakistan account for about one-third of all cargo that NATO brings into Afghanistan.
Another one-third of NATO's supplies are flown directly into Afghanistan, while the remaining cargo goes overland along the Northern Distribution Network, which passes through Central Asia from the Caucasus or Russia.
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