[Afghan News] June 28, 2012 - 07-05-2012, 04:12 AM
Reuters – Thu, Jun 28, 2012 4:47 AM EDT By Satarupa Bhattacharjya
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India urged its vast private sector to invest in Afghanistan as a low tariff destination, saying that could help stabilise the country as Western nations begin to pull back troops after nearly 11 years of support.
Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said on Thursday he recognised Indian businesses' concerns about Afghanistan, especially in the run-up to 2014 when most foreign troops will leave, but if companies invested together there would be security in numbers.
"We need to offer a narrative of opportunity to counter the anxiety of withdrawal, uncertainty, instability and foreign interference," Krishna told a conference hosted by India to encourage private investment in Afghanistan.
"Investments can provide that hope for employment, training and opportunity for the future. We encourage our industries to venture into Afghanistan in numbers together with Afghan partners," he said.
Krishna suggested there was opportunity in mineral-rich Afghanistan's location sandwiched between the energy resources of Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf on the one hand and the booming markets of China and India.
Prior to the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001, India's arch rival Pakistan held almost exclusive rights to trade with Afghanistan.
Now, Islamabad is deeply concerned about India's expanding role in Afghanistan, seeing it as a move to encircle it.
China has also signalled a desire to tap into Afghanistan's mineral reserves.
Both China and India have made little headway since, held back by security concerns, as well as poor infrastructure and logistics in the landlocked mountainous country.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst in years, raising concerns that newly minted Afghan security forces may struggle to hold their own against a raging Taliban insurgency and that parts of the country may slip into civil war after the Western withdrawal.
India, which has invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is particularly concerned that the Islamist group's rise may further embolden anti-India militants who it says operate from Pakistan.
Krishna said India had eased customs duties for exports from Afghanistan as part of an initiative to promote trade with least developed nations in South Asia.
Indian companies could set up operations in Afghanistan and sell their produce back to India, using the lower tariffs.
"Let the grey suits of company executives take the place of olive green or desert brown fatigues of soldiers; and CEOs, the place of generals," he said.
A consortium led by state-firm Steel Authority of India last year won the rights to develop a huge iron ore deposit in central Afghanistan and a nearby 6 million tonne steel plant at a cost of around $11 billion.
China won a huge copper concession not far from Kabul, as well as oil blocks in the north.
(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
Afghanistan courts business to stabilize after war
Afghanistan appeals for foreign corporate investment as a way to stabilize after years of war
By Nasr Ul Hadi, Associated Press – Thu, Jun 28, 2012 10:10 AM EDT
NEW DELHI (AP) -- Afghan officials appealed to foreign companies Thursday in an effort to attract corporate investment to help stabilize their country after more than a decade of war.
A delegation led by Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul courted companies based in the United States, Europe, India, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries at a conference in New Delhi.
"We plan to gradually reduce our reliance on international assistance through private sector-led growth," Rassoul said.
More than 90 percent of Afghanistan's 2011 budget was funded by foreign donations.
Rassoul played down security concerns for after NATO's planned military drawdown in 2014, saying volatile regions represent only a small part of the resource-rich country.
The meeting Thursday was part of a wider effort to open Afghanistan to international markets, with a donors conference scheduled for next month in Tokyo expected to secure financial commitments to Afghan security forces and the government.
India, encouraged by the United States, has recently increased its role in post-conflict Afghanistan, including pledging to train police forces.
Indian Foreign Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna acknowledged the risks of investing in Afghanistan, which has almost no infrastructure and is still besieged by violence. But he urged investors to help play a part in stabilizing the country for regional security.
The planned departure of U.S.-led forces should not be allowed to "result in a political or security vacuum that will be filled by extremists," he said.
For several years, companies have been scrambling for access to Afghanistan's minerals and fossil fuels, estimated to be worth about $3 trillion, according to the Confederation of Indian Industries, which organized Thursday's event.
China is digging copper mines and planning oil wells and refineries in the country. An Indian consortium recently won the rights to exploit Asia's largest iron ore deposit in the central Afghan region of Hajigak.
Mining accounts for 20 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, and is expected to grow to as much as 45 percent by 2024.
Agriculture is another target area, Kabul-based investment analyst Greg Aasen said, as it needs little investment upfront with a ready workforce in place.
Afghan women entrepreneurs look to India for opportunities
Washington Post By Rama Lakshmi 27/06/2012
They run fleets of trucks, supply construction material, design software programs and make furniture. Women entrepreneurs in war-torn Afghanistan have been breaking many cultural ceilings in the past decade.
But now, many of them are anxious to find new clients as they prepare for the 2014 drawdown when they may lose their biggest client – the U.S. military bases. And India’s vast and lucrative market is their next frontier.
“It will be a big challenge once the Americans and the others leave. The local market in Afghanistan has not progressed much,” said Masuma Rezaie, 24-year-old founder of the evocatively named company First Afghan Lady Logistics and Services. “But there is big money in the Indian market.”
To this end, Rezaie and other businesswomen came to New Delhi on Wednesday to seek deals, training and technology from Indian companies. The three-day business-to-business meetings, facilitated by USAID and the Consortium of Women Entrepreneurs of India, comes at a time when the impending withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan is also raising concerns about the future of women’s rights to study and work.
Rezaie’s company supplies security equipment, furniture, potable water, generators, construction machinery and laborers to the international military camps and humanitarian groups across Afghanistan.
The war and rebuilding of the nation has birthed many Rosie-the-Riveters in Kabul, who are going beyond handicrafts and textiles. One company is called “Courageous Afghan Women Construction Company & Logistical Services.”
“The Taliban attacked my trucks twice,” Rezaie said. “But not because I am a woman, but because I am doing business with Americans.” She runs an all-women office in Kabul. “We keep the women in the offices to do the brain work, and send the men into the field.”
The organizers hoped business deals will be struck over the next three days.
Another entrepreneur, Malika Qanih, wants to learn the process of manufacturing herbal medicines from Indians.
“Afghanistan is rich in undiscovered, untapped herbs. Big business potential,” said Malika Qanih, 60, chief executive of Sun Pharma. On Friday, she will visit a factory owned by Shahnaz Husain, czarina of Indian herbal cosmetics.
Qanih hopes that Afghan women will not have to go back to the past after 2014. “Many countries have signed strategic partnerships with Afghanistan. I hope they will not forget to protect us even after 2014,” she said.
Afghanistan's Track II rally
By Omar Samad Thursday, June 28, 2012 The Foreign Policy
The season for Track II initiatives aimed at promoting intra-Afghan political dialogue is gathering steam both inside the country and abroad. Participants at two recent informal gatherings, one in France and the other in Japan, did not issue any statements but, according to sources at the meetings, they opted to discuss pressing items on their political agendas and agreed to meet again in a few months.
The Paris gathering on June 20-21 attended by representatives of the country's main political factions, High Peace Council (HPC), parliamentarians and members of civil society, was organized by the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and provided strict instructions to all delegates to keep a low profile. The first of such off-the-record meetings organized by FRS was held last November in Paris and was attended by a smaller number of Afghan political actors.
From the loyal Afghan opposition groupings, Yunus Qanooni, Homayun Shah Assefi and Noor-ul-Haq Olumi of the National Coalition (headed by former presidential candidate and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah), head of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Hanif Atmar representing the Right and Justice party, and former Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali were in attendance. There was no representation from two other political aspirants, Ashraf Ghani and Amrullah Saleh.
While no active Taliban member took part in the Paris meeting, several ex-Taliban officials, including Mullah Salam Zaeef - who was also invited to Japan - Abdul Hakim Mujahed and Habibulah Fowzi, as well as Hezb-i Islami Hekmatyar group members Ghairat Baheer and Amin Karim, did attend.
Two sources present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although the Afghan government had decided against sending an official representative to Paris, two individuals with strong ties to President Hamid Karzai, his former campaign manager Haji Deen Mohamad, and Hekmat Karzai, a cousin heading a Kabul-based think tank, offered views at the meeting that did not contradict the president's political thinking.
Nader Naderi, Rida Azimi and Farkhonda Naderi were among the civil society activists and legislators who presented independent viewpoints at the meeting. It is reported that the only non-Afghan to take part was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian-born scholar, who has dealt with Afghan issues since the 1980s, and has been playing a behind-the-scenes mediating role at the behest of the HPC by reaching out to active Taliban.
Over a two day period, delegates mulled over election laws, decentralization and devolution, governance, constitutional reform, regional interference, the NATO pullout and reconciliation. Each side expressed its respective opinion and presented arguments to back their position. There was no agreement or common stance taken over any discussion topics.
The Kyoto meeting on the other hand, organized by the Doshisha University's Graduate School of Global Studies on June 27, was a rare occasion for HPC head Masoom Stanekzai to meet face-to-face with active Taliban representatives. Not only were Hizb-i Islami Hekmatyar representatives invited, but Qari Din Muhammad, a member of the Taliban's political office handling foreign affairs also spoke at the Kyoto conference on peace-building and reconciliation.
In a rare interview with the Asahi Shimbun daily on June 26, Din Mohammad said "we can have dialogue with him [President Karzai] as Afghans if foreign troops leave." He added, "as long as foreign troops remain, it is impossible to have any confidence, to have any dialogue, to have any negotiation with each party in the Karzai administration."
The unprecedented appearance of a Taliban delegate on the global scene, days ahead of the Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction assistance, indicates a willingness on their part to raise their international profile. It may also be a prelude to signaling a return to talks with the United States, suspended in March after the killing of civilians by an American soldier.
However, Din Mohammad explained that the talks were suspended after the United States refused the precondition to swap prisoners. Reiterating the militia's policy, he vehemently opposed continued American troop presence beyond 2014.
As the 2014 NATO withdrawal date approaches, and Afghanistan advances toward the complex triple transition processes relating to its political, security and economic sectors, it is becoming evident that there is more at stake than just a military drawdown or evaluating future candidates.
The momentous changes to take place over the next two years are not only a source of concern for most Afghans, but also an opportunity to deal with shortcomings, improve governance, assure a fair and free electoral process and become more self-reliant.
Historically, intra-Afghan talks have led to few tangible outcomes due to destructive outside patronage or inflated egos. However, the willingness of a diverse group of Afghan political actors to agree to have a dialogue, define their priorities, and propose solutions to outstanding challenges as part of Track II initiatives today, is a step in the right direction.
While some parties might show political flexibility and aim for compromise, others might harden their position and act as political spoilers later if talks lead to negotiations. Eventually, confidence-building and moving toward sustainable political coalition-building will be key elements of informal diplomacy and politicking.
A long and heated season of Afghan Track II initiatives are to be expected.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
Afghan official urges Taliban to join peace talks
OSAKA, June 28 (Xinhua) -- A senior Afghan government official asked the Taliban to join peace talks during a meeting in Kyoto, western Japan, but a Taliban official at the meeting refused the offer, local media reported on Thursday.
At the Wednesday meeting, organized by Doshisha University in Kyoto, Mohammad Masoon Stanekzai, security advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said both sides need to be committed to preventing Afghanistan from sliding back into civil war.
He also stressed the need for a peace process that includes all parties, Japan's public broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) reported.
But Taliban senior official Din Mohammad said his group will not sit down for talks until U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan first.
The Taliban suspended secret peace talks with the United States in March. It also refuses talks with the Afghan government.
The meeting was the first of its kind to include a senior Taliban official. It came ahead of an international conference in support of Afghanistan scheduled for July 8 in Tokyo, NHK quoted university officials as saying.
1 killed as oil truck catches fire in N. Afghanistan
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan, June 28 (Xinhua) -- At least one person died on Thursday when an oil truck caught fire in Pul-e- Khumri, the provincial capital of northern Afghan province of Baghlan, the police said.
"An oil truck caught fire at around 4 p.m. local time Thursday in Pul-e-Khumir city and as we know so far one person lost his live in the incident," Zia Kargar, head of the anti-criminal police department in the province, told Xinhua.
He said at least six shops were also burned in the incident and an investigation was under way to probe the incident.
However, some locals said that a sticky bomb attached to the vehicle might cause the fire incident.
The Taliban insurgents, who have been waging more than a decade- long insurgency, launched a spring offensive starting from May 3 to target Afghan forces as well as U.S. and NATO troops across the country.
The insurgent group has warned the civilians to stay away from official gatherings, military convoys and centers regarded as the legitimate targets by militants besides warning people against supporting government and foreign troops.
Several oil tankers hand been targeted and torched by militants across the country over the past couple of months.
News Analysis: Cross-border attack imperils Pakistani-Afghan peace efforts
Xinhua By Muhammad Tahir June 27, 2012
ISLAMABAD - A cross-border attack on Sunday by Afghan militants that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers has escalated the tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan and could imperil the much-needed peace and reconciliation efforts by the neighboring countries.
Pakistan's civilian and military officials said that the militants used Afghan territory for the deadly Sunday attack on its check post in Dir district in the country's northwest region.
The Sunday's cross-border attack happened at a time when the two countries are exerting efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan crisis ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Pakistan-Afghanistan joint peace and reconciliation efforts were deadlocked after the September's assassination of Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Pakistan insists that several key leaders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have crossed into Afghanistan following major military operations over the past three years and now they are using remote Afghan border regions for attacks on Pakistani border checkpoints and villages.
The Afghan deputy ambassador here was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Monday and a formal protest was lodged over the recent Taliban incursion, officials said. The envoy was asked to convey to Afghan authorities that they must take urgent steps to prevent such attacks in future.
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Daudzai, told Xinhua on Tuesday that Islamabad's "concerns and demands" have been communicated to Kabul.
He said that both countries should not fall prey to the conspiracies of the Taliban, their common enemy.
A spokesman for the TTP, who goes by a single name Sirajuddin and who is believed to be in Afghanistan, confirmed to the media in Pakistan via phone that Taliban fighters indeed ambushed a convoy of Pakistani soldiers, killing six and beheading seven more after they were kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan.
A Pakistani military official also confirmed the beheading of the soldiers in a statement.
Pakistan insists that several top Pakistani Taliban leaders, including the former chief of Taliban in Swat valley, Maulvi Fazalullah, the TTP deputy chief, Maulvi Faqir of Bajaur tribal region and Abdul Wali, TTP leader in Mohmand tribal agency have established bases in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nuristan provinces and launch attacks on Pakistani border posts from there.
But the Afghan government has denied Islamabad's claim and asks Pakistan to support their claims with pieces of evidence.
Also on Friday, two Pakistani security men were killed and two others were injured when a mortar shell hit a border post in Mohmand Agency, official sources said.
The sources said a rocket was fired by militants from across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
There had been series of cross-border attacks in the past and Pakistani Taliban in a major attack in August last year had killed 25 security men in northern Chitral district.
Editor: Lu Hui
Russian heartland fears NATO transit
The Washington Post By Kathy Lally June 27, 2012
ULYANOVSK, Russia - The people of Ulyanovsk, a poverty-stricken city sitting high on the banks of the mighty Volga River, are having a hard time accepting the idea that NATO is their friend and that they should help the alliance extricate itself from Afghanistan.
Russia is officially anti-NATO. Most Russians fear it. They say the West betrayed them: Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev let the Iron Curtain fall along with the Berlin Wall on his understanding that the military alliance would not move eastward.
NATO did move eastward, signing up Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltics — the West says Gorbachev misunderstood its intentions. Now NATO’s plans for a missile-defense system in Europe have aroused that long-simmering anger. Russians say they can’t believe NATO assurances that the missiles would not be aimed here. They have been deceived before, they say.
Despite the threat it feels, Russia has resolutely supported the NATO presence in Afghanistan. “We both have an interest in Afghanistan being a stable country that doesn’t export terrorism,” said Robert Pszczel, director of the NATO Information Center in Moscow.
Russian authorities typically portray NATO as menacing, without confusing the issue by mentioning their support for the fight in Afghanistan. Little is said about the Northern Distribution Network, which allows supplies to flow on Russian rail lines and in Russia airspace to Afghanistan, unnoticed, without any distribution points on Russian territory.
Now, as NATO prepares to withdraw its troops by the end of 2014, it faces a logistical nightmare in removing all the tents, armored equipment and other support material it has sent in since the war began. Russia has offered Ulyanovsk as a transit point, where all that heavy equipment could be flown in, then transferred to rail lines and on to Europe.
Local officials, here in the city where Lenin was born, like the idea — it will bring in badly needed revenue and jobs — but many people are very much opposed. They are convinced that NATO will turn this foothold into a permanent base, a stake in the heart of Russia.
“Let’s start with this principle,” said Alexander Kruglikov, sitting at a small table in the Communist Party’s little wooden headquarters house. “No matter where NATO and America go, they will never leave freely.”
Just look at Okinawa, he said, where American troops have remained for 67 years despite citizen protest and crimes including rapes and murders. “There’s no threat there, but they haven’t left,” he said.
Let government officials repeat all they want that the NATO presence will be temporary and it will be relying on local cargo and logistics companies — the Communists are convinced that NATO will establish a base, Western soldiers will swagger through their streets and life will get worse than it already is in this shrinking city of 600,000.
They organized a protest in April that brought a well-known leftist leader from Moscow, Sergei Udaltsov, giving the authorities a high-profile target. He was accused of beating up a 20-year-old woman at the rally who belongs to a pro-Kremlin youth group. Wednesday, with scant evidence presented, Udaltsov was found guilty and sentenced to 240 hours of community service.
‘NATO moved in’
Unlikely NATO defenders have also emerged, such as Dmitry Rogozin, who until last year was the very anti-NATO Russian ambassador to NATO.
“This is commercial transit, meaning that Russia will be getting money for it,” he wrote in a tweet. “I don’t think transit of NATO toilet paper via Russia should be qualified as treason.”
But Kruglikov, a Communist for 39 of his 60 years, remembers well Western assurances to Gorbachev that NATO would not encroach if the Soviet Union acquiesced to the reunification of Germany. Western officials say they never made written promises and perhaps what they said wasn’t clear. But NATO expanded as the Soviet version, known as the Warsaw Pact, dissolved.
“We left those places,” Kruglikov said. “NATO moved in.”
His comrade Vyacheslav Alekseichik — both are Communist leaders and members of the regional parliament — said the United States has hundreds of bases all over the world while Russia has only one modest operation at the Syrian port of Tartus. What’s not to fear? he asked.
Ulyanovsk, home to a battered aviation industry, shrinking population and high unemployment, desperately needs the work. The arrangement, which has been proposed by the Russian government but not yet formally approved, could bring in $1 billion a year. No date has yet been set for it to begin.
Until now, anti-NATO rhetoric has come from the very top.
Dmitry Medvedev, now Russia’s prime minister and until May its president, has warned several times that Russia would retaliate against NATO if it did not get legally binding assurances that NATO missiles are not aimed at Russia.
Despite all the fighting words, Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first world leader to call President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that led to the war. “I want to say to the American people, we are with you,” he repeated later.
At the Group of 20 meeting in Mexico last week, the United States remarked on the help Russia has provided by allowing air and rail shipments into Afghanistan — 2,200 flights, more than 379,000 military personnel and more than 45,000 containers.
Putin, once again Russia’s president, has called NATO an unpleasant relic of the Cold War, but after the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Russia has no desire to send its troops to Afghanistan and fears the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
“It’s in our national interests to help maintain stability in Afghanistan,” he told Russian parliament recently. “NATO and the Western community are present there. God bless them. Let them do their work.”
Kruglikov and his allies remain unpersuaded.
“We don’t like the Taliban either,” he said, “but when they were in power in Kabul, heroin production in Afghanistan went way down. Now, huge amounts of it flow through Russia, killing our people. More would come here with NATO.”
NATO, which has concluded transportation agreements with three Central Asian countries and is trying to restore one with Pakistan, says the huge scale of the redeployment means it needs as many routes out as possible. Ulyanovsk has the lure of a big cargo-handling company and Vostochny Airport, built for the aircraft factory on the other side of the Volga from the main part of the city. The airport has an unusually long runway, nearly 4 miles.
The Communists say such resources should be used to rebuild Russia’s aviation industry instead of hosting NATO. Recently, they put up a huge billboard of Stalin, dressed in full military regalia, on a main road here. “Welcome NATO,” it says.
The local authorities were furious, but Kruglikov gleefully said there was nothing they could do.
“We live in a market economy,” he said primly. “We paid for it.”
112 newly graduated officers commissioned to Afghan police
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan, June 28 (Xinhua) -- More than 110 Afghan youth after receiving 18-month necessary training course in polie training center, graduated Thursday and commissioned to the National Police, head of police training center in Balkh provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif 305 km north of capital Kabul said.
"Today 112 police officers after graduation from the four and half months training course commissioned to the National Police," Abdul Rahman Haqtash told newsmen after distributing certificates to the newly graduated police officers here.
Six women are also among the newly police officers received certificates and will be deployed in different places in the northern region.
All the newly graduated police officers will be deployed to the northern provinces of the country to further ensure law and order, Haqtash added.
The Taliban's Backhanded Compliment
You know New Delhi needs to change its Afghan policy when insurgents begin praising it.
Wall Street Journal By HARSH V. PANT OPINION ASIA June 27, 2012
This month, India received some unusual praise from its longtime nemesis, the Taliban. One of the world's most feared terror groups patted New Delhi on the back for resisting Washington's calls for greater involvement in Afghanistan. If there were ever a signal that India would do a world of good in the region, this is it, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be unwise to miss the opportunity.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was very vocal in his appreciation of Indian efforts in Afghanistan during a visit to New Delhi earlier this month, and let's just say the Taliban recognizes India's potential too. Delhi has poured in $2 billion in aid and reconstruction, while private sector groups plan to invest some $10 billion. More aid and more training for Afghan troops could stabilize Afghanistan's beleaguered government and destabilize the insurgency.
No wonder the Taliban is worried. It realizes that India commands awesome soft power in the country. Insurgents can make ordinary Afghans lose faith in Hamid Karzai's government, which is known to be corrupt, as well as doubt the sincerity of NATO troops who come from half the world away. But thanks to its historical ties, not to mention Bollywood, India ranks as Afghans' favorite foreign country, according to a 2010 poll conducted by BBC, ABC and German TV ARD.
Equally important, terrorist groups see a new U.S.-India axis against them. As NATO forces move out, Washington would like India to step up its role as a provider of regional security. India too has signaled its long-term commitment to stability in Afghanistan, but the differences between the two sides were always in how to reach that end state. The U.S. viewed Pakistan as essential to succeeding in Afghanistan, while India remained suspicious of Pakistan's intentions—and Pakistan even more paranoid of India. So Washington shied away from encouraging Delhi and offending Islamabad. This was the ideal scenario for the Taliban, since it was protected by Pakistan.
Mr. Panetta's statements mark a reversal. Washington is so frustrated with Pakistan and suddenly so appreciative of India that it's even willing to countenance Delhi's ties with Tehran. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake recently acknowledged that the U.S. "understood" that India has "important interests" in Iran and that if it wanted to "continue all the important things that it is doing in Afghanistan, it must have access to Iranian ports to get its equipment and other supplies into Afghanistan because they cannot do so directly overland through Pakistan."
This combination is the Taliban's worst nightmare. It's no coincidence that its statement came right after the third U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, which established new consultative mechanisms between the two countries on Afghanistan.
But the Taliban knows the weakest link here is, unfortunately, India. New Delhi has historically aimed to be non-aligned as far as superpower interests go, and the Taliban is goading it to take this go-it-alone attitude. The Taliban's statement calls it "totally illogical" for Indian policy makers to "plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure."
The Pentagon was quick to rebut any suggestions that India had declined to get involved in Afghanistan, but Americans ought to be concerned that Mr. Singh won't play ball. Besides the legacy of non-alignment, his present government in New Delhi remains rudderless. It's distracted by coalition politics at home as well as a sharp economic slowdown. During Mr. Panetta's visit, Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony suggested America's Asia pivot had to be carefully calibrated. Mr. Singh has also not announced any new measures in Afghanistan.
This is unfortunate, since this occasion would have been an excellent riposte to those who have started doubting Delhi's partnership with Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has noted that the strategic fundamentals of America's relationship with India are pushing "the two countries' interests into closer convergence," but now New Delhi is forcing a divergence by doing nothing.
The occasion is also ironic. There has been a persistent complaint in the corridors of power in New Delhi that the Obama administration sacrificed Indian interests at the altar of pleasing Pakistan, which further allowed Pakistan's proxies to destabilize Afghanistan. Now that Washington is making it clear that it views Pakistan as part of the problem and India as part of the solution, Delhi dithers.
These evolving realities present India with a historic chance. If it doesn't have the will to consolidate it, it will lose credibility not only with the U.S. but also with ordinary Afghans.
Mr. Pant is a professor of defense studies at King's College, London.
Russia fulfills helicopters delivery to Afghanistan
MOSCOW, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Russia has completed delivery of 21 helicopters to Afghanistan and looked forward to sign contracts on more vehicles shipment, the state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport said Thursday.
"The last three helicopters have been shipped," deputy head of the company Alexander Mikheyev told reporters on the sidelines of the Engineering Technologies-2012 Exhibition in the Moscow region.
These helicopters, made in Russia's Kazan and Moscow, were equipped with arms to carry out special anti-terrorism tasks in Afghanistan, Mikheyev said.
"In effect, the helicopters obtained a new face," he said, adding that Rosoboronexport expected that 10 more helicopters could be ordered by Kabul.
Rosoboronexport shipped Mi-17B5 helicopters to the Afghan armed forces in line with a 900-million-U.S.-dollar contract signed in May 2011 with the U.S. Defense Department. It was the first Russia-U.S. contract on supplying military production to the third country.
Taliban leader detained in Afghanistan
June 28, 2012 at 8:46 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 28 (UPI) -- A Taliban leader who is a specialist in improvised explosive devices was detained Thursday in Afghanistan, military officials said.
The Taliban leader was detained in the Kandahar district of the Kandahar province during an operation by a combined Afghan and coalition security force, officials said.
A combined force also detained several suspected insurgents, seized multiple AK-47 rifles and confiscated more than 1,000 pounds of opium during a search for a Taliban leader in the Now Zad district of Helmand province. The leader the force was searching for directs attacks against Afghan forces and is a Taliban "enforcer" in the district, officials said.
In the Sabari district of Khost province, officials said, a combined force detained a Haqqani leader who had planned and coordinated attacks and distributed weapons and IED-making components throughout the region.
Afghanistan wants its cultural heroes back
Reuters By Sanjeev Miglani and Mirwais Harooni Thu Jun 28, 2012
KABUL - Interred a quarter century ago in Pakistan, the remains of Afghan poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili now lie in a forlorn corner of Kabul University, brought here to be reburied so that no one else can lay claim to the revered poet-philosopher.
He has no epitaph; only a few wilted bouquets lie at the grave of Afghanistan's most prominent 20th century poet. Three policemen guard the site.
But if President Hamid Karzai - who ordered the remains be disinterred from a grave in the Pakistani city of Peshawar last month - has his way, the reburial will become an assertion of Afghan culture over encroachment by Pakistan and Iran.
"We brought him back from Pakistan because he was our poet and scholar," said Mohammad Hussain Yamin, head of the Persian and Dari department at Kabul University.
"We don't want someone in future to say that he belonged to Pakistan just because he lived the final years of his life there."
The assertion of cultural sovereignty is part of an effort to unite Afghanistan and prove it can stand on its own after most foreign troops leave at the end of 2014.
The government says it wants an end to "foreign interference", usually a reference to Pakistan, but also Iran with which it is locked in a fierce debate over ownership of some of the greatest poets and philosophers in the region.
Poetry is big in Afghanistan, from the time of the kings of the 10th century to the present day, permeating every level of society from children in school to warlords and even the austere Taliban who study long works of classical Persian poetry as part of their education in religious schools.
It's the thread that runs between Afghanistan's often warring ethnic groups whether Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Baluch, or any of the many other sub-groups and clans.
But along with the death and destruction of the past three decades, Afghans say they also lost a chunk of their rich cultural heritage with Iran, Pakistan and even Turkey claiming parts of it.
Many, like Khalili, left the country to escape the wars and died in faraway lands which slowly began to claim them as their own, Afghanistan says.
Now it aims to get its heritage back.
"Iran wants to show the world it had a glorious past. This has been going on for years, they have been claiming many of our literary figures as their own. We cannot remain silent," said Jalal Noorani, an adviser at the Information and Culture Ministry.
Debate has long raged over Rumi, arguably the greatest Persian poet, but now as Afghanistan begins to stand on its feet, the claims and counter-claims have intensified not only over him but also others.
Rumi, known as Mawlana Jalal-ud-Din Balkhi in Afghanistan and Mevlevi in Iran, was born in the 13th century in Balkh which was at the time an eastern part of the Persian empire of Khorasan but is now a province in northern Afghanistan.
His family moved and they eventually settled in present-day Turkey where he wrote some of the greatest mystic Sufi poetry in Persian.
Today, all three countries regard him as their national poet even though his poetry itself transcends borders, religion and ethnic divides.
Rumi's poetry is displayed on the walls of Tehran, sung in Iranian music and read in Iranian school books. Iranians are known to live with his poetry.
But Yamin says what is indisputable is that his origins were in Afghanistan. Rumi's occupies pride of place on a billboard in Yamin's room that gives details of the birth dates and place of birth of poets that others have laid claim to.
"We have repeatedly given evidence that these figures belong to Afghanistan, not Iran. When we sit down with the Iranians and discuss these issues, they don't offer any evidence. They say in the past both countries were one, so they call all these poets, philosophers Iranian," said Yasmin.
Iranian embassy officials could not be reached for comment and did not respond to an email.
In the past, Iranians have challenged Afghanistan to a test of history, suggesting they were waking up a bit late to claim inheritance.
At a concert in Kabul a few years ago, an Iranian singer challenged any member of the audience to speak for two minutes on Rumi since they claimed he was their own. Afghan authorities took offence and the concert had to end hastily.
"Afghans are a bit late at this. Iran and Turkey have stolen their thunder," said Mohammad Taqi, a U.S.-based columnist for Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper who has written extensively on the Pashtun heartland straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran, he said, had milked Rumi and the whirling dervishes that his poetry inspired by setting up cultural centres on the pattern of Germany's Goethe Institute.
Still, this new burst of cultural revivalism in Afghanistan can help bridge the distance between the Tajiks and the Hazaras, and to a certain extent the Pashtuns, he said.
"A supra-ethnic Afghan identity needs non-violent icons." (Editing by Rob Taylor and Robert Birsel)
Afghanistan Threatens Action Over Shelling in Kunar
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office is increasing pressure on Pakistan to address the ongoing shelling into Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province by threatening to take the matter to the UN Security Council.
Karzai's Deputy Spokesman Seyamak Herawi told TOLOnews on Wednesday that if Pakistan does not stop the shelling into Kunar "the issue will be brought to the UN Security Council".
Kunar province, which shares a border with Pakistan, has been bombarded with nearly 850 missiles from across the border in the past month, provincial spokesman Wasifullah Wasifi said.
While casualties have remained low, more than 500 families have been displaced in an attempt to flee the shelling, he said.
Most of the families are from the province's Naray district, adjacent to Pakistan, he added.
One resident said that at least three civilians have died from the shelling and four others were wounded.
Kunar residents criticised the Afghan government for its inaction over the shelling that reportedly increased on Monday after Pakistan blamed Afghanistan for a militant attack on its soldiers in its northern Dir province on Sunday night.
TOLOnews has previously reported at least one civilian death from rocket attack on June 9 in the Khas Kunar district, and on May 20 a civilian death and families fleeing the Dagnam district.
As early as July last year, TOLOnews reported Kunar's provincial government asking for the Afghan government to step in after a series of rocket attacks that month. At the time, Karzai responded by saying that the reports were propaganda to incite tension between the two nations.
Pakistan has denied that its forces are involved in the recent shelling.
Afghan Rape Case Turns Focus on Local Police
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN June 27, 2012
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - The policeman spoke with calm and assurance as he insisted that he could not have raped the teenage daughter of a local shepherd, because a mullah had married them just before intercourse.
“Once the marriage contract is done, any sexual intercourse is not considered rape,” said Khodaidad, 42, who until he was detained in the case had worked for the American-trained Afghan Local Police.
His brother Ghulam Sakhi, accused by the young woman of participating in her abduction, sat beside Khodaidad on the floor of a small traditional reception room at the provincial jail here. He chimed in: “In Pashtun culture, the girls do not have the right to say who they marry and who they don’t want to marry. Whomever their parents choose for them, they should marry.”
Neither man has been formally charged, and both deny the abduction and rape allegations.
Prosecutors, family members and human rights advocates vehemently disagree with the suspects’ description of what happened to Lal Bibi, the young woman. They say there is little doubt that she was abducted and raped and that there was no marriage. They also challenge the idea that any marriage in such circumstances could be legitimate or exonerate the rape. Forced marriage is illegal under Afghan law, said Gen. Mohammed Sharif Safi, the military prosecutor in Kunduz.
However, for many people here, including the Kunduz police chief and the spokesman for the Interior Ministry — both of whom insisted that the case involved forced marriage, not rape — the former appeared to be less objectionable, although others would regard the line between the two as thin.
Interviews with more than a dozen people connected to the case suggest that much more is at stake than the fate of an 18-year-old shepherd’s daughter. Her plight illuminates the persistence of tribal custom, the fragility of newly legislated protections for women, and the power of armed men.
What constitutes rape is only one of the contentious issues in this case, which first came to light about a month ago, when Lal Bibi and her family took the rare step of going public with their accusations. The case galvanized President Hamid Karzai, who ordered that the culprits be brought to justice and that the police unit involved be disarmed.
However, some members of Afghanistan’s National Security Council argued that pursuing the allegations could tarnish the image of the Afghan Local Police, a network of American-trained militias they view as essential to maintaining security and keeping the Taliban at bay.
While sharing the goal of security, prosecutors and human rights advocates want to show that this is a new Afghanistan, where the rule of the gun should not trump the rule of law.
“The problem is that these people are illiterate and uneducated,” said General Safi, the military prosecutor, speaking of the police, particularly the unit involved in the case. “They haven’t been told their job description, they don’t have a code of conduct, most are former militia members who still have the mentality they had 15 years ago — they still think they can kill with impunity, rape with impunity.”
“I am very supportive of the Afghan Local Police program,” he added, “It’s a very good program, but I am very critical of the recruitment and selection process.”
Still, General Safi said, despite the program’s flaws, as a prosecutor he would much prefer to deal with the local police, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, giving him greater authority to act than is the case with other armed groups.
Amid all the shouting, Lal Bibi and her family are very unsure whether justice will be done or whether they will be forever humiliated in their community for having a daughter who, by Pashtun tribal traditions, has been tarnished. Families in similar circumstances sometimes kill the victims because of the perceived dishonor.
Last week, the family, which had never visited the sprawling Afghan capital, made the 10-hour journey by taxi from the city of Kunduz, where they had taken refuge, to Kabul and paid for hotel rooms so that the girl’s father and grandfather could try to persuade government officials to hear their story.
“We had never been here before, and you know, it is very difficult to get officials to meet with you,” said Lal Bibi’s grandfather, Hajji Rustam, looking down at his shoes, which he had polished for his visits to the ministries.
Lal Bibi and her mother had come as well, because as women they could not stay home alone in Kunduz. But they were in another room and were not in a condition to see visitors, Lal Bibi’s father said.
Two more suspects were detained last weekend, including the man who is alleged to be the ringleader in the crime, Cmdr. Muhammad Ishaq Nezaami, who commanded the local police unit and is accused of ordering Lal Bibi’s abduction. Previously, the Kunduz police chief and others said that Commander Nezaami and the other man had left the area, but the two were apprehended in the outpost where they previously worked.
Mr. Karzai’s order to disarm the police unit involved in the episode seems to have been largely overtaken by events, now that four of the five unit members have been detained.
In the meantime, Gen. Samiullah Qatra, the Kunduz provincial police chief, and Col. Mohammed Shutor, the head of the local police program in Kunduz, have brought in a new unit. It is led by the brother of Commander Nezaami, a move that has angered local people who view it as a deliberate taunt.
“Nezaami’s brother was driving Nezaami’s truck, so people think he is back and that scares them,” said Hajji Balkhi, an elder from Lal Bibi’s village. “It is an insult, not just to Hajji Rustam, but to all of us.”
Kunduz Province, where the events occurred, is perhaps the most turbulent in northern Afghanistan. While a tenuous security has been achieved recently, barely 18 months ago the Taliban were a direct threat to the provincial capital of the same name; they assassinated the previous governor and the previous police chief , Gen. Daoud Daoud. Like General Qatra, the previous chief had once served as a commander with the Northern Alliance that supported American forces in overthrowing Taliban rule in 2001.
General Qatra, like his boss, Interior Minister Bismullah Khan, was enthusiastic when the Americans proposed forming the Afghan Local Police, groups of lightly armed local men trained by Special Operations forces to help fight the Taliban. Some informal armed groups with links to the Northern Alliance, as well as some Taliban who renounced the insurgency, were folded into these new local units, Colonel Shutor said.
For his part, General Qatra would rather view Lal Bibi’s case as a family affair than as a serious crime.
“There hasn’t been any rape involved; it was a forced marriage,” he said briskly. “And in this case, the family has claimed their daughter was given as ‘baad.’ ” Baad is the practice of trading women as a payment to resolve disputes between families, clans or tribes. Typically, when a girl is given in baad, it is the result of a meeting of elders in which both families have representatives.
General Qatra did not deny that Commander Nezaami’s brother now led the unit, but said it was irrelevant. “A crime is a personal thing, whoever does a crime should be punished,” he said. “You cannot punish my brother for the crime I have committed.”
He brushed off the idea that he might be trying to intimidate the family, saying that he had no choice but to replace the unit with another one. “We need that outpost to prevent that village from falling into the hands of the Taliban,” he said.
That is small comfort to Lal Bibi and her family, since they feel they cannot return to their tents and sheep. They say they are under threat because they spoke out against the armed men who are supposed to keep them safe.
General Safi, the prosecutor, said that he had dealt with a lot of cases, but that this one “reaffirmed my stance against the mistreatment of women.”
Referring to the many women’s projects financed by the international community, he added, “I realized — all this money they spent to improve the situation of women, and there are still a lot of women who are mistreated every day and whose life condition has not changed much.”
Habib Zahori contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Dostum Must Choose Between National Front or Military Title: MOD
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum is being forced to choose between his work as a leader of opposition party National Front and his government position as the Military Supreme Commander's chief of staff.
The Ministry of Defense (MOD) has sent Dostum a letter stating that under Afghan law those with high-ranking military jobs are not permitted to actively participate in political parties.
Despite Dostum's "military" position in the government, which he has held since 2007, being largely ceremonial, the MOD letter reportedly tells Dostum he cannot continue in that role while he is working with the National Front.
It is not clear if the letter asks him to stand down from his government position or his work with the opposition party.
MOD spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi told TOLOnews on Wednesday that the Ministry is trying to fairly implement the law to anyone in a similar position to Dostum. It has sent similar letters to "other institutions" to make them aware of this fact, he said, but did not say which institutions.
"According to Article 153 of the constitution, no high ranking military authority has the right to participate in political parties or have political activities, and Gen. Dostum is now the chief of staff to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces," Azimi said.
The Military Supreme Commander is Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
On other matters, Azimi weighed in on the debate over Sunday night's attack on Pakistani soldiers, saying Pakistan's claim that the insurgents were from Afghanistan was baseless.
"Even as the Pakistani Taliban claimed the killing of the Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan accuses the Afghan Taliban. It's totally baseless and unfounded," Azimi said Wednesday.
Thirteen Pakistani soldiers based in the country's northern Dir region were killed in an attack by a reported 100 insurgents.
Azimi warned that the real threat remains within Pakistan and that until the terrorist financing and equipping centers outside of Afghanistan's borders are destroyed, the war in Afghanistan will continue.
"Afghanistan has never followed such [extreme] politics and has never had a reason to support the insurgents," he added.
At Afghan university, students fear for the future
By Jon Stephenson Wednesday, June 27, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban attack last week on a popular resort outside Kabul not only terrified locals and undermined the U.S. and Afghan government narrative that security here is improving. If the views of Kabul University students are any guide, the attack also showed that President Hamid Karzai’s administration is fast losing the confidence of a generation of aspiring professionals critical to rebuilding Afghanistan.
Eighteen Afghans – including a police officer and several security guards – were killed in the raid on Qargha Lake’s Spozhmai restaurant, which began late Thursday night and ended at 11 a.m. Friday. All four Taliban attackers were also killed in fierce fighting with Afghan and coalition forces.
“We’re all really worried about what happened at Qargha,” said Ekrullah, 19, an Earth sciences student at Kabul University. Referring to the lakeside resort about a half-hour’s drive west of the capital, he said, “This is a place for picnics, but after this attack we won’t be able to go to such places because we’re so scared.”
Afghan government and coalition officials have been quick to praise the Afghan police commandos involved in ending the siege, offering their actions as an example of the steadily improving quality of Afghan security forces. But a McClatchy reporter at the scene Friday observed Norwegian special forces soldiers – the Afghan commandos’ trainers – leading an assault on the restaurant where the attackers were holed up.
Ekrullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said he did not believe officials’ claims that Afghan security forces will be able to adequately defend the country when the majority of international combat troops leave by the end of 2014. “We’re so nervous about the future after 2014,” he said. “The Afghan security forces need at least five years’ support and development. They’re just not ready now.”
University students represent a sophisticated and educated young elite in a country where the majority of adults are illiterate, and they are not prone to overstatement. However, almost all of the dozen students McClatchy interviewed said that security was getting worse and that the government was not being honest with its people about the severity of the crisis.
Earlier this week, the U.S.-led coalition reported that insurgent attacks in May rose 21 percent from the same month last year, a sign that the Taliban-led insurgency is far from defeated. None of the students had confidence that the Afghan government or its security forces would be able to cope with the growing challenge.
“The ANA (Afghan National Army) are recruiting people who have economic or other problems,” said Aisha Mohammadi, a 21-year-old law student, referring to the fact that many recruits are unemployed or drug users. “They’re not motivated; they just want a job.”
Mohammadi said that the attack at Qargha had seriously damaged the perception that security in Kabul had been relatively good. “I’m worried, I’m scared,” she said. “Now my family won’t allow me to go to Qargha for a picnic.”
The Taliban have claimed in a Website statement that they targeted Spozhmai because the restaurant was being used for activities prohibited by Islamic law, including prostitution and the consumption of alcohol. However, while alcohol was known to be used at the resort, managers there and local authorities have strongly denied the claims of illicit sexual activity.
Psychology student Abdul Sami, 20, said that the real message the insurgents wanted to send was very clear: “The Taliban want to show their power, their strength, and that they can attack anywhere they want to.”
Law student Sahar Yaser, 23, in her final year at the university, said that women were especially shocked by the incident because the area was one of the few where families felt they could visit with some degree of safety.
“I was one of the people who used to go to the lake, but now families will not dare go there,” she said.
Asked about claims by Afghan and coalition officials that security – and the quality of Afghan security forces – is improving, she said: “I don’t believe them at all. In the presence of armed forces from many NATO countries, security is bad, and it will only get worse when they leave.”
Yaser said she was worried that, after 2014, a civil war could restart like the one in the 1990s, which broke out after a Soviet-backed regime in Kabul collapsed in 1992. The instability that resulted from fighting among various factions was one of the main factors in the rise to power of the Taliban.
Nineteen-year-old psychology student Faiz Mohammad said that “as things stand, it’s obvious that security will deteriorate” after foreign troops leave. “I don’t believe what the international forces or the Afghan government say about having improved our country’s security,” he said.
Kabul, the capital, was supposed to be one of the most secure provinces, “yet even the districts of Kabul are not safe,” he added.
Sonia, a 21-year-old journalism student who only had one name, said that Afghans were capable of defeating the Taliban-led insurgency but couldn’t do it without honest leadership from their government.
“The Afghan government is hugely corrupt, and because of its corruption it has no legitimacy,” Sonia said, arguing that 90 percent of Afghans did not trust the Karzai administration.
“The Afghan government does not care about us – about the young generation that is educated. So imagine how little they care about those people who are poor and uneducated,” she said. Copyright 2012 McClatchy Newspapers. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent.
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