[Afghan News] April 5, 2012 - 04-05-2012, 04:42 PM
By Eltaf Najafizada and James Rupert on April 04, 2012 Bloomberg
An Indian security guard, cradling a Kalashnikov assault rifle, shadowed two Indian engineers as they inspected the concrete shell of the parliament building they are constructing -- in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Erecting the new seat of government is part of a push by India to seek both profit and a greater strategic role in the nearby country, where Taliban guerrillas battle the government with support from within Pakistan, India’s arch-rival.
India, having spent $1.5 billion over a decade on Afghan roads, power lines, schools and the parliament, now is proposing what may become Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investment: $11 billion to build an iron mine, steel mill and railroad.
“India is showing its commitment to an unprecedented ambition and role in Afghanistan,” said C. Raja Mohan, a senior fellow at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “Stabilizing the northwest of the subcontinent, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is absolutely India’s top foreign- policy priority, because most of our threats come from there.”
India’s planned Afghan iron mine would help companies such as Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. (JSP) and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. (RINL) by giving them shares in an estimated 1.8 billion tons of ore, for which global prices have more than doubled in the past three years. Afghanistan may see its geographic and economic isolation reduced as India follows China in promising money to build the country’s first major railroads.
India Backs Karzai
As Afghan anger over the shooting of 16 civilians by an American soldier last month increases calls for an accelerated U.S. exit, India is seeking to position itself as a rival to China in investment in Afghanistan and as an anti-Taliban force to help the government of President Hamid Karzai.
“Instability and radicalism in Afghanistan pose a threat to our common security,” Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said in a December speech at a conference in Bonn on Afghanistan’s future.
“The Indian and Chinese investments will contribute to Afghanistan’s stability” as the U.S. withdraws its main combat forces between now and 2014, said Ali Jalali, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington and a former Afghan interior minister.
“They not only will bring jobs and infrastructure, but these two powerful governments will have a greater direct interest in seeing that all actors in Afghanistan behave moderately,” Jalali said in an interview in New Delhi.
Hajigak Iron Mine
India’s expanded role in Afghanistan is anchored in its plan to mine iron ore from mountain ridges at Hajigak, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Kabul. India’s government backed a group of seven Indian state-owned and private companies that won three of four blocks.
The Indian group, the Afghan Iron & Steel Consortium, or AFISCO, has offered to build a steel plant and railroad, and in December asked for $7.8 billion in government loans and guarantees, two people with direct knowledge said then.
“They have sought certain assurances regarding the financing,” Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said at a March 21 press conference in New Delhi. “When they made their bid they were confident that they would have the ability to do it,” he said. “This matter is still under discussion.”
AFISCO’s biggest owner, state-controlled Steel Authority of India Ltd., or SAIL, hasn’t said when iron production might begin, although the New Delhi-based company says full development of the mine and railroad may take eight to 12 years. Hajigak would be SAIL’s first expansion beyond India.
The Afghan deposit would offer needed future ore supplies for other AFISCO partners, such as JSW Steel Ltd. (JSTL), where profits fell in the quarter ending in December after an Indian court banned mining in Karnataka state.
India’s mines ministry has assembled a second group of state companies, including SAIL, National Aluminium Co. Ltd. (NACL) of Bhubaneswar and Kolkata-based Hindustan Copper Ltd. (HCP), to bid on licenses to mine copper or gold offered by the Afghan government, according to Mines Secretary Vishwapati Trivedi.
That bid may be combined with a separate offer being assembled by private Indian companies, he said in a March 21 interview in New Delhi.
The parliament rising on the outskirts of Kabul is further evidence of the broad engagement envisioned by Singh and Karzai, who holds two degrees from Himachal Pradesh University in northern India. In October, the two leaders signed a strategic partnership that will increase the numbers of Afghan students at Indian universities and may let India train Afghan army troops.
For Pakistan’s military, which dominates national security policy after having ruled the country for more than half the time since independence in 1947, India’s growing role in Afghanistan appears as a threat, said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
“We have always this perception that India will use Afghanistan against us,” he said in a phone interview.
Since the 1980s, Pakistan has backed Afghan guerrilla groups such as the Taliban’s Haqqani network in attacking Afghan governments, including Karzai’s, Gul said March 26. The goal, he said, was to keep Afghanistan from aligning too closely with India and from reviving old Afghan sovereignty claims over ethnic Pashtun parts of western Pakistan.
Pakistani officials, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, have said for years that Indian spies in Afghanistan foment insurgency by ethnic Baluch and Pashtun guerrillas near the Afghan border. “We have proof to show that,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit in an interview in Islamabad Feb. 9. “We don’t want to say more than that in public,” he said.
No ‘Solid Evidence’
Gul and other independent analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador in Kabul, say there is no evidence for Pakistan’s claim of Indian subversion. “We say these things because of our India-centric policy,” Mohmand said by phone Feb. 24 from the northwestern city of Peshawar. “But we don’t have any solid evidence to prove that.”
Taliban or allied Islamic militant fighters killed at least 58 Indians and Afghans in two suicide bombings of India’s embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009. India accused Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, of assisting the first attack, which Pakistan denied.
Other Taliban attacks have killed Indian doctors and aid workers in Kabul and construction workers building a highway in southwestern Afghanistan.
Karzai’s government has deployed dedicated troops to protect a Chinese-owned copper mine at Aynak, south of Kabul, Afghanistan’s biggest mining investment now underway. While no Taliban attacks have been recorded there and Afghanistan promises similar protection for India’s iron mine, the railroads envisioned to carry ores would be more difficult to defend against guerrilla attacks.
India’s AFISCO intends to overcome Pakistani suspicions enough to transport the iron ore back to India through Pakistan, said Sandeep Jajodia, managing director at Monnet Ispat (MISP), a New Delhi-based steel company that is a member of the group. While Pakistan bars Indian exports across its territory to Afghanistan, it lets Afghan companies ship to Indian markets and this year relaxed strictures on its own imports of Indian goods.
“Shipping the ore via Pakistan is a logical possibility, but it’s a call we will have to take much later, considering how trade relations between India and Pakistan develop,” Jajodia said in a March 27 interview.
India also is considering construction of a rail line from Afghanistan to Iran’s port of Chahbahar, which would give it a transport route that Pakistan can’t control.
There’s more at stake for India than a predictable neighborhood. Its drive for Afghan iron and copper ore is key in Singh’s plan to create 100 million jobs by raising industrial production to 25 percent of GDP by 2025, said Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, a retired Indian ambassador who serves on a government task force reviewing India’s national security needs.
“An essential part of our long-term national security is expanding industry,” Parthasarathy said in an interview in New Delhi. “The pacing of this will depend on stability as the Americans manage their end game. But when the time comes we’ll have streams of Indian construction crews, technicians and plant going in.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at email@example.com; James Rupert in New Delhi at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at email@example.com
Government-Backed Militia Attacked in Afghanistan
VOA News April 5, 2012
Gunmen in Afghanistan's western Farah province stormed the outpost of a government-back militia, killing at least eight of its members.
Afghan officials said the attack took place late Wednesday in the Khaki Safed district. They said the attackers targeted the district's Afghan Local Police, which was created with the help of the U.S. military.
The officials said the gunmen killed the guard outside the post before entering the compound and opening fire.
In northern Afghanistan, authorities say a suicide bomber killed a commander of local police and one of his bodyguards Thursday in the Keshm district of Badakhshan province. At least six people were wounded in the blast.
The attacks on local police followed a suicide bombing early Wednesday in northern Afghanistan that killed at least 13 people, including three U.S. troops.
Local officials said the attacker detonated his explosives in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province, as the troops were filming interviews at a local park.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack.
The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, on Thursday called the attack in Faryab despicable, and condemned “the cold, heartless way in which the enemies of peace carried out this attack.”
So far this year, nearly 100 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan. Violence continues as coalition forces have begun withdrawing from Afghanistan and transferring security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts.
Taliban claims attack on Afghanistan outpost that killed 10
April 05, 2012 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan – Gunmen attacked an outpost of a government-sponsored militia in western Afghanistan and killed 10 members of the security force, officials said Thursday.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
Militants armed with assault rifles stormed the outpost of the militia known as the Afghan Local Police late Wednesday in Farah province's Khaki Safed district, said provincial police chief Shamsul Rahman Zahid.
They shot a guard who was posted outside, then pushed into the compound and opened fire on those inside, said Abdul Khaliq Noorzai, the district administrator.
Another two militia members were dragged outside and shot dead, said Zahid. Four militiamen survived the attack, he said.
The Afghan Local Police are a force created with the help of the American military. They have been described as an armed neighborhood watch. The members come from the local community and receive a small government salary to man checkpoints and oversee security in their area. They receive a few weeks of training before starting the work.
The attacks appear to be part of an increase in violence at the beginning of the spring fighting season. During the harsh Afghan winter, snow often blocks roads and fighting dies down.
The death toll from a separate attack Wednesday by a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle rose Thursday to 13, including three American soldiers, according to NATO and U.S. forces. Previously the toll was reported to be at least 10.
The Taliban are targeting Afghan and NATO security forces as they fight to assert their power and undermine U.S. efforts to try to build up the Afghan military, which will take the lead in combat responsibility over the next couple of years.
Afghan police arrest Taliban loyalist, seize 13 pistols
KABUL, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police arrested a Taliban loyalist and discovered 13 pistols in his possession in eastern Nangarhar province on Wednesday, Interior Ministry said in a statement released here Thursday.
"The police arrested a Taliban loyalist in the border Town of Torkham on Wednesday while he was taking 13 pistols illegally from Pakistan to Afghanistan," the statement said.
Torkham is a border town in eastern Nangarhar province which connects Afghanistan to the Peshawar city of Pakistan.
Taliban militants fighting Afghan government have yet to make comment.
U.S.-Afghan deal could delay operations, curb raids
By Hamid Shalizi | Reuters
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S.-Afghan talks on a judicial veto for Kabul over military raids on Afghan homes at night could delay anti-insurgent operations and curb the use of what coalition generals see as one of their most effective weapons, senior Afghan officials said.
Night raids seeking suspected militants, hated by most Afghans but supported by NATO as a counter-insurgency tactic, are seen as the biggest hurdle in negotiations on a broader strategic pact that will underpin a future U.S. troop presence.
U.S. and Afghan authorities are close to a deal that would see Afghan special forces soldiers take the lead in the raids and require judicial approval before operations could be carried out.
"Afghans will be very cautious to put more effort into protecting civilians during raids, not necessarily doing more raids," a senior Afghan official said. "By the time the warrant is issued and it's reviewed, it may have less effect."
"The remaining issue is that we want to have the prisoners we take from night raids but the Americans want to keep them for an indefinite time for interrogation," the source said.
A security official, who could not be named due to the sensitivity of negotiations, said there would be an announcement soon.
The talks come amid heightened worries over the ability of Afghan security personnel to combat the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
There is also growing sensitivity over the presence of foreign troops after a series on incidents including the massacre of 17 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier was charged and the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base.
Afghanistan, which earlier had sought a blanket ban on the night raids by foreign troops, says it is ready to consider them as long as they are "Afghanized" or conducted by Afghan forces in accordance with the laws of the country.
Any delay in night raids making them less effective is likely to worry NATO commanders rushing to improve security ahead of a withdrawal by most Western combat troops in 2014, but a backlash by Afghans against civilian deaths means foreign troops have little wriggle room.
The Afghan constitution requires a judge to approve house searches by security forces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had been pressing for an end to the night raids, has said some raids have violated Afghan sovereignty.
"Getting a warrant letter from judge or a court in the middle of the night when the raid is needed is impossible. How can you bring a judge in the middle to order a night raid," analyst Wahid Mujdha said.
"The insurgents are not going to stay for a judge to order a night raid, they are on the move and by the time you issue a warrant, they won't be in that location."
The United States has been pressing to wrap up the long-delayed partnership pact with Afghanistan ahead of a NATO summit in Chicago in May. The two countries have already signed a deal transferring a major U.S.-run prison to Afghan authority.
"We're ready to take the lead of such operations but we're lacking the necessary equipment to conduct night raids on our own," Afzal Aman, operations chief for the Afghan army, said.
"In terms of moving the troops from one place to another, gathering intelligence and locating the target, we still need our allies to help us," he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting and writing by Jack Kimball, Editing by Rob Taylor and Alison Williams)
Afghan official: U.S. impeded Bales investigation
April 4, 2012 7:11 PM
(CBS News) KABUL - The U.S. and Afghan relationship has been strained in recent months, most notably by the recent massacre of 17 Afghan civilians.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be tried by the military for those murders in the U.S. CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports that a top Afghan official has a big problem with that.
General Sher Mohammed Karimi is the chief Afghan investigator in the Bales case, but says he's never been allowed to even speak with the accused.
"This is all I wanted, to be able to just ask him who you are, why you did it, and what were the weapons that you used, you know what was the reason of killing children and women?" Karimi said.
The U.S. military flew Bales out of Afghanistan without consulting General Karimi. American soldiers are under the legal jurisdiction of the U.S. government, but still Karimi is frustrated.
"Everybody tried to, you know,say 'I'm sorry. I have no information. I'm sorry. It's not my case. I'm sorry this is not under my jurisdiction.' And things like that," Karimi said.
Strong Evidence Kandahar Killings Soldier Acted Alone: Karimi
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 04 April 2012
Afghanistan's top army official, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to investigate the murder of 17 civilians in Kandahar last month, says there is strong evidence that only one soldier carried out the massacre.
Afghan army chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi told US news syndicate McClatchy that after further interviews and research he believes one person could have acted alone, a position contrary to his previous statements and in contrast to what Karzai has said.
Karimi said that two survivors he interviewed offered credible accounts that the killings were the act of a lone person.
"They told me the same thing," Karimi told McClatchy. "They both said there was (only) one individual who came to their house."
The number of shooters involved in the March 11 incident has been a divisive matter in Afghanistan.
US officials have said all along that US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was the only suspect, based on evidence including video footage from a security blimp of the region showing only one soldier returning from one of the villages where the murders took place.
Bales, now in a military prison in the US, was charged five days after the massacre by US authorities with the premeditated (deliberate) murder of 17 people and six counts of attempted murder and assault.
Nevertheless, the belief that more than one soldier was involved is widespread in Afghanistan, bolstered by Karzai himself.
A few days after the incident, Karzai openly questioned the "lone gunman" account at a meeting with relatives of the victims. He pointed to one relative and said: "In his family, in four rooms people were killed - children and women were killed - and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do."
His comments were televised and widely reported in Afghan media.
Karimi made a similar statement in an interview with Australian news broadcaster SBS only last week.
"I'm guessing - assumption - that (the killer was) helped by somebody. One person or two persons," he told the SBS reporter.
However, Karimi has since told McClatchy he believes that one person, especially a highly trained US soldier, could have carried out the killings alone.
Karimi said that while there was strong evidence pointing to a "one shooter" theory, the US had abetted the confusion by refusing to allow Afghan investigators to question Bales, the sole suspect.
"I just wanted to ask him: 'Why did you do it?'... so I had a proper report to the president," Karimi said. "But nobody helped, so I had to be ambiguous."
Kabul Bank scandal: Hamid Karzai sets up special tribunal
Afghan president moves to tackle $900m Kabul Bank corruption scandal ahead of latest round of aid funding decisions
Guardian.co.uk By Emma Graham-Harrison Wednesday 4 April 2012
Kabul - Hamid Karzai is to set up a special prosecutors office and court to tackle a $900m (£567m) banking corruption scandal that threatened funding for his Afghan government, and has demanded all bad loans be repaid within two months.
Diplomats in Kabul were cautiously optimistic about the surprise announcement, which is the first sign for months of serious government action over the Kabul Bank scandal, a case that has become a benchmark for the Karzai administration's willingness to tackle rampant corruption.
Detention terms have also been tightened on the two main suspects, the bank's chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, and CEO, Khalilullah Ferozi, said a source with knowledge of the investigation.
They have officially been under house arrest, with leave to travel in order to identify and transfer assets, but have been seen around Kabul enjoying meals at high-end restaurants and gambling with friends, according to the New York Times.
Kabul Bank, which had ties to the family of Karzai and his first vice-president, nearly collapsed in 2010 and has since been described by western officials as a virtual Ponzi scheme. An initial Afghan investigation found there was no paperwork on loans worth nearly $500m.
Karzai's announcement followed the completion of a months-long independent forensic audit that should give a much clearer idea of who is responsible for what portion of the missing money.
"We look forward to seeing the results of these decisions, especially the return of assets stolen from Kabul Bank and prosecution of those responsible for the crisis," said a US official who declined to be named.
The plan was settled at a meeting packed with most of Afghanistan's top economic and legal officials, including the head of the central bank and the attorney general, suggesting Karzai had marshalled the support of the country's elite.
"It was decided that a special prosecutors office and a special tribunal be set up at the earliest to conduct the investigation and bring to the table those who have illegally taken loans from Kabul Bank and who are involved in the bank's financial crisis," the president's office said in a statement.
Some western officials said the decisions to set up a special court rather than referring cases to the attorney general, and to set a two-month limit for loan returns, suggested political motives behind the move.
The outgoing British ambassador to Kabul, William Patey, said in an interview last month that Britain could withdraw funding for the Afghan security forces if the government fails to tackle rampant corruption, and described the handling of Kabul Bank as a "litmus test".
"Kabul Bank is so symbolic, because it's two people [Farnoon and Ferozi] who have been caught red-handed," he said.
The announcement comes weeks before a Nato conference is expected to agree billions of dollars in long-term funding for Afghanistan's security forces, and shortly before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is due to check progress on tackling the scandal.
The IMF last year suspended millions of dollars of aid to Afghanistan because it was not satisfied with the government's efforts, and could potentially do so again. "Progress on asset recovery related to Kabul Bank is one of the benchmarks for the upcoming first review of Afghanistan's IMF programme," said the US official.
U.S. Sees Iran in Bids to Stir Unrest in Afghanistan
By THOM SHANKER, ERIC SCHMITT and ALISSA J. RUBIN The New York Times April 4, 2012
WASHINGTON — Just hours after it was revealed that American soldiers had burned Korans seized at an Afghan detention center in late February, Iran secretly ordered its agents operating inside Afghanistan to exploit the anticipated public outrage by trying to instigate violent protests in the capital, Kabul, and across the western part of the country, according to American officials.
For the most part, the efforts by Iranian agents and local surrogates failed to provoke widespread or lasting unrest, the officials said. Yet with NATO governments preparing for the possibility of retaliation by Iran in the event of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, the issue of Iran’s willingness and ability to foment violence in Afghanistan and elsewhere has taken on added urgency.
With Iran’s motives and operational intentions a subject of intense interest, American officials have closely studied the episodes. A mixed picture of Iranian capabilities has emerged, according to interviews with more than a dozen government officials, most of whom discussed the risks on the condition of anonymity because their comments were based on intelligence reports.
One United States government official described the Iranian Embassy in Kabul as having “a very active” program of anti-American provocation, but it is not clear whether Iran deliberately chose to limit its efforts after the Koran burning or was unable to carry out operations that would have caused more significant harm.
In offering an overall view of the threat from Tehran, Gen. John R. Allen, the senior allied commander in Afghanistan, told Congress in recent public testimony that Iran continued to “fuel the flames of violence” by supporting the Afghan insurgency. “Our sense is that Iran could do more if they chose to,” General Allen said. “But they have not, and we watch the activity and the relationships very closely.”
The most visible rioting that American officials say bears Iranian fingerprints occurred in Herat Province, along Afghanistan’s western border with Iran. In a melee after the Koran burning, 7 people were killed and 65 were wounded, Afghan and American officials said. That violence peaked when a police ammunition truck was hit by gunfire from a rioter and exploded.
Iran has denied any government-backed effort to foment unrest in Afghanistan, but American officials see a pattern of malign meddling to increase Iran’s influence across the Middle East and South Asia. Iran appears to have increased its political outreach and arms shipments to rebels and other political figures in Yemen, and it is arming and advising the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Those activities also reflect a broader campaign that includes what American officials say was a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in October, and what appears to have been a coordinated effort by Iran to attack Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia this year. Iran has denied any role in the attacks, which caused several injuries but did not kill anyone.
But the absence of a sustained record of clear success in these plots, including Iran’s suspected role in the riots in Herat and in similar disturbances in Kabul, has stirred a vigorous debate among Western intelligence agencies about the country’s surprisingly low level of professionalism, and about whether Iran maintains the ability to carry out effective strikes against rivals beyond its traditional networks in the Middle East.
“The attacks failed, so clearly there are kinks in Iran’s planning and tradecraft,” one United States official said.
Intelligence analysts emphasize that Iran can still tap the formidable resources of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group. And some American officials are wary of viewing the plots as a sign of Iran’s diminishing ability to stir violence.
“They’re learning from each of these incidents and becoming more dangerous,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Rogers said that Iran’s intelligence service and the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, appeared to be competing with each other for influence, increasing the risk to the West.
“The intent is not devastating operations, but raising the temperature to create deterrence,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who worked on these issues and was recently named dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Amateurs are tougher to detect and catch. It caught our surveillance off guard. We were looking for pros. They went below the radar.”
The plots have also prompted American and other intelligence agencies to renew their focus on state-sponsored terrorism after a decade dominated by Al Qaeda, its regional affiliates and other shadowy terrorist networks.
American officials say they never took their eye off state-sponsored threats, but rising tensions with Iran have caused these organizations to re-emerge in the public eye. In Afghanistan, according to American officials, Iranian assistance to militants and insurgents is limited to training, money, explosive material, small arms, rockets and mortars.
But General Allen, in two days of testimony before Congress, disclosed that NATO forces were watching for an infusion of more-advanced weapons — in particular a high-powered roadway bomb called an explosively formed projectile, or E.F.P., which can pierce American armored vehicles. These bombs proved their deadly effectiveness when Iran funneled them to Shiite militants during the height of the sectarian violence in Iraq.
“So we’re going to keep a very close eye on those signature weapons,” General Allen said, “because we think that that will be an indicator of Iran’s desire to up the ante, in which case we’ll have to take other actions.”
Iran has long faced a quandary in shaping an Afghan policy. It has wanted to target the Americans fighting in Afghanistan, and the best mechanism for doing that is the Taliban insurgency. But at the same time, Iran has little interest in the return of a Taliban regime. When they were in power, the Taliban often persecuted the Hazara minority, who, like most Iranians, are Shiite, and whom Iran supports.
What Iran has pursued more relentlessly is an effort to pull the Afghan government away from the Americans, a strategy that has included payments to promote Iran’s interests with President Hamid Karzai.
One American intelligence analyst noted that Iran had long supported Afghan minorities, both Shiite and Sunni, and had built a network of support among Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks. Iran has exercised other means of “soft power,” the analyst said, opening schools in western Afghanistan to extend its influence. The Iranians have also opened schools in Kabul and have largely financed a university attached to a large new Shiite mosque.
Iran is thought to back at least eight newspapers in Kabul and a number of television and radio stations, according to Afghan and Western officials. The Iranian-backed news organs kept fanning anti-American sentiment for days after the Koran burnings.
Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s ‘dancing boys’: Behind the story
By Ernesto Londoño The Washington Post 04/05/2012
The subject came up casually on a recent morning as I was hiking with two friends in the outskirts of Kabul. The Afghan driver employed by one of my fellow hikers was busy planning his wedding next month.
“You’re going to have dancing boys, aren’t you,” my friend, a jovial non-government worker said to his driver, who had come along for the hike.
The driver nodded, beaming. I asked how much it cost to hire a dancing boy. It depends, he explained, on how young and beautiful they are. He was planning to hire one in the $200 range.
I have long been fascinated by Afghanistan’s dancing boys, or bacha bazi. But reporting a story on them seemed unrealistic for a Western journalist. Though the practice of exploiting young boys--either as party entertainment or as sexual partners--is far from a secret in Afghanistan, few Afghans publicly speak about or acknowledge it. I was stunned by how openly my friend’s driver was talking about his eagerness to have cross-dressing, underage boys perform at his wedding.
Perhaps, I thought, I’d manage to find other people willing to shed light on an opaque and disturbing issue.
The first stop was the driver’s brother, who works as a videographer at wedding halls in Kabul. When we spoke, he seemed uncomfortable discussing the issue. Nonetheless, he told me the phenomenon was on the rise, and estimated that one of five weddings he shoots features dancing boys.
My attempts to find dancing boys or their patrons who were willing to be interviewed were unsuccessful in Kabul, the Afghan capital. So I turned to a young Afghan journalist based in the northern city of Mazar e-Sharif for help. (He was vital to the reporting of this story, but asked that his name be left out for fear of reprisals.)
Within days, he had promising news: there were men who kept dancing boys as sexual partners, willing to be interviewed in a rural area we could safely travel to, he said. There was a catch, though. They wanted us to pay for a singer so the meeting could happen during a party in which the young boys would dance.
That raised an obvious ethical issue. The Washington Post could not fund this form of child exploitation in order to report on it. I asked if the men would consider meeting us for tea. A couple days later, it was arranged.
Dehrazi, the village where the crucial interviews for this story took place, is a 30-minute drive from Mazar-e-Sharif. My Afghan colleague seemed a bit nervous when he pulled into the driveway of a mud hut. Assadula, man in a military jacket, greeted us and asked us to come in.
We sat on cushions in a small sitting room with a bare light bulb. Assadula was sitting next to his bacha, who is now 18 years old. As Assadula held court, I was struck by how masculine and assertive he was. He had no qualms about saying he was sexually attracted to boys. He openly said his bacha was getting too old, and would soon be growing a beard. Soon, Assadula said, “I will try to find another one.”
There were two young boys in the room. I asked if either was a dancing boy. One, a smiling, slightly chubby boy wearing scraggly, soiled clothes was not, they said. The other one, a delicate, pale boy dressed in pink, was.
I asked who the fair boy’s patron was. Mirzahan, a young man who until then had sat quietly, stepped forward with pride. The boy was his, he said. I asked what the boy’s parents thought of the arrangement. Mirzahan said it hadn’t been an issue because the boy’s father had died violently years ago. When I asked about the child’s mother, Mirzahan shrugged.
Other men in the room started playing dancing boy videos on their cell phones so I could see what their gatherings were like. There was no apparent shame to what they were showing me. I asked if they felt the practice was exploitative. They said it wasn’t, because boys 10 years and older understood what they were getting into and reaped benefits from the relationship. I asked whether what they were doing went against Islam. They said the mullahs, or religious leaders, condemned it, but that they didn’t see anything morally wrong with it.
After an hour or so, my Afghan colleague said we should probably go. The village was not entirely safe, and he was afraid word might have spread that there was a foreigner in town.
As I got up to leave, Mirzahan and Assadula said they had one question for me.
“Are you Muslim?” one asked. I told them I am not. They asked me to convert then and there.
Baffled, I told them I would think about it, and walked out.
With U.S. Leaving, War-Zone Living Carries a Higher Price
Wall Street Journal By DION NISSENBAUM April 4, 2012
KABUL - As the U.S.-led military commitment winds down, one business is booming in Afghanistan: the construction of heavily fortified compounds where foreigners can take shelter.
Across Afghanistan, investors are gambling tens of millions of dollars on an industry that is based on a feared rise in insurgent attacks in the post-American era.
"As the Americans leave it enhances our value," said Saeed Chaudhry, the Pakistani manager of The Baron, a private compound with hotel rooms, offices, conference rooms and bomb shelters near the Kabul airport that charges up to $350 a night. "People will need security more than ever before."
For much of the 10-year Afghan war, private contractors and aid groups have worked out of rented Afghan homes and other lightly protected spaces.
But, over the past couple of years, insurgent attacks on these sites have persuaded foreigners—including the United Nations and some contractors—to curb their travel and seek shelter at compounds like The Baron, which resemble military camps.
Underlying the security risks, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle plowed into a group of international forces at a market in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 11 people, including three Americans, according to Afghan and Western officials.
The blast is the latest in a string of insurgent attacks since winter snows started melting and fighters began returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan in increasing numbers.
As they launch their new spring offensive, the Taliban-led insurgents have focused on two tactics: directly targeting Afghan police and soldiers, and using infiltrators within the Afghan security forces to kill Western military forces.
The attack came on the same day that Marine Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the conflict.
Investors in Afghanistan are betting that more people will take shelter at so-called life-support compounds as the U.S. military ends its combat role, as soon as next year. A downside, however, is that they also risk becoming bigger targets.
That risk became clear in February when demonstrators stormed through Kabul streets to protest U.S. soldiers' burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base. One of the early targets of the outrage was Green Village, a compound that is home to nearly 2,000 foreign contractors.
As private security guards kept watch and contractors raced to fortify bunkers inside, hundreds of demonstrators unsuccessfully tried to storm Green Village.
The booming industry also has irked some longtime Kabul residents who view compound life as divorced from the poverty, violence and hardships of daily life outside the blast walls.
Still, investors in Afghanistan are betting that the shift to life-support compounds will accelerate as the U.S. military ends its combat role, possibly as soon as next year, and insurgent attacks increase.
"People are gambling on foreigners trying to stay in safer places," said one Afghan-born investor in these projects. "When the soldiers leave, people will need safer places to stay."
The life-support industry's growth in Afghanistan comes as the influx of foreign money that had propped up the Afghan economy is shrinking fast. The U.S. government has already cut its civilian aid nearly in half—to about $2 billion in fiscal 2012 from $4 billion in fiscal 2010.
In the short term, however, businessmen investing in these ventures say there is still plenty of money to be made. "Afghanistan is still the land of opportunity for a lot of people," the Afghan-born investor said.
The sprouting compounds are no drab affairs. They are equipped with everything from virtual golf courses and day spas to horseback-riding grounds and bars that try to operate under the radar of Afghan authorities that look askance at the sale of alcohol.
The 376-room Baron, which looks more like a small college campus than war-zone housing, is one of the newest. Hidden behind towering concrete blast walls and protected by private security guards, The Baron is equipped with a full bar, squash courts that double as a fortified bunker, Kabul's largest outdoor pool, saunas, private office space and a daily buffet prepared by trained South Asian chefs.
"Our philosophy was to provide secure accommodations combined with the facilities of a five-star hotel," said Mr. Chaudhry, who once made a good living in Dubai selling luxury yachts and speedboats.
Baron residents never have to leave the compound. They are able to live and work in the business complex, have morning coffee in wicker furniture set on sprawling lawns, stop in for a massage at the spa, buy Afghan rugs at inflated prices, work out at the gym, shop at the small grocery store, eat in the dining hall, and play pool in the bar before turning in for the night.
"You really do kind of forget you're living in Afghanistan sometimes," said a resident of Green Village, the country's largest life-support compound, which offers $400 rides to the nearby airport in armored SUVs.
Kabul isn't the only place to see an expansion of compound construction. Amtex Global Services runs a 132-room compound outside Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan that even has its own review on Trip Advisor, a leading travel website.
"Fantastic, safe environment in a very hostile area," Karen S. wrote in a review of the compound. "Being able to walk from the shop to the gym or restaurant was great as was the grass areas where we could sit or drink coffee."
Nearby, U.S. contractor Chemonics used to pay as much as $135,000-a-month to the 22-year-old nephew of the powerful Nangarhar province governor to house its staff at the compound he operates outside the Kandahar military base, according to the compound's managers.The newest life-support compound in the pipeline is rising in one of the country's most stable cities: Mazar-e-Sharif, in the north.
Afghan entrepreneur Ahmad Rafiq Zare said he and his partners were building a 150-room compound that will include a Turkish-style steam bath, horseback riding grounds, bowling and "basically all the facilities you can find in a modern city."
Although the compound is still under construction, Mr. Zare said he is already fielding requests for space from the American Embassy, Turkish contractors and German companies.
"We all know that there isn't good security all across the country, even in secure areas like Kabul," he said. "There is demand." —Ziaulhaq Sultani contributed to this article.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org
|2012, afghan, april, news|