[Afghan News] August 12, 2012 - 08-13-2012, 12:44 PM
By HEIDI VOGT and RAHIM FAIEZ | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan government representatives have met with a top-ranking Taliban member in his prison cell in Pakistan, an official said Sunday, suggesting a small step toward reopening stalled peace talks with the insurgent group.
The confirmation came at the end of a bloody weekend that showed how unstable the country is, though NATO is aiming to hand over security responsibility to local forces at the end of 2014 after more than a decade of warfare against insurgents.
Afghanistan's international allies hope that bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table will ease the pressure on the Afghan government as international forces draw down.
An official with the Afghan High Peace Council, which is tasked with starting talks, said the Pakistani government allowed Afghan government envoys access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top-ranking Taliban official who was captured in Pakistan in 2010.
His arrest reportedly angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai because Baradar had been in secret talks with the Afghan government.
"Some members from our embassy in Pakistan, they met Mullah Baradar," said Ismail Qasemyar, the council's international relations adviser. He declined to give details of the discussions or say when they took place. Officials in Pakistan did not respond to calls seeking comment. Qasemyar said that members of the peace council had not met with Baradar.
A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said they continue to push for Pakistan to release Baradar and other Taliban prisoners to speed the effort for peace talks.
"The Afghan government has requested several times from Pakistan not only the release of Mullah Baradar, but of all those Taliban leaders who are in Pakistani prisons. Unfortunately so far we haven't seen any positive actions from the Pakistan side, but we are hopeful that they will take practical measures regarding this issue, as they say they will in their official statements," Janan Mosazai told reporters at a news conference earlier in the day.
Pakistani officials have said such demands are unrealistic.
The political machinations come as the Taliban continue to launch regular attacks on Afghan forces, their international allies and Afghan civilians.
In the latest incident Sunday, a roadside bomb killed a district government chief and three of his bodyguards in eastern Afghanistan, officials said. The Afghan government's top official in Laghman province's Alishang district was driving to a meeting with the bodyguards when his car was blown up on the road, provincial spokesman Sarhadi Zewak said.
Zewak said the provincial government believes district chief Faridullah Niazi was targeted by insurgents.
Such assassinations of people allied with the government or international forces have surged this year. The U.N. reported last week that civilian deaths from such killings jumped 34 percent in the first six months of 2012 to 255 people killed, compared with 190 in the first half of 2011. The victims ranged from police to village elders who worked on programs with international forces.
"Targeted killings, abduction and intimidations have created a climate of fear among officials and deter them from taking up positions and working in these areas," the U.N. report said.
No group claimed responsibility for the Sunday bombing, but it fit the pattern of Taliban assassinations of government workers. The Taliban have said that they do not consider people working with the government or supporting its programs to be civilians, saying that they are collaborators who have chosen to side with the enemy.
In the south, officials said a Taliban attack on a police checkpoint on Saturday night sparked a gunbattle that left two police officers and two Afghan civilians dead. Afghan forces were pursuing the attackers in Kandahar province's Panjwai district on Sunday, said Ahmad Jawed Faisel, a spokesman for the province.
Recent days have been particularly violent in Afghanistan. On Saturday, an Afghan police officer killed 11 of his fellow officers in a remote corner of western Afghanistan. Officials said the shooter, who was killed in an ensuing gunbattle, was believed to have ties to militants.
On Friday, two Afghans shot and killed six American service members in separate attacks in Helmand province in the south — the latest in a rising number of so-called "green-on-blue" attacks in which supposed Afghan colleagues or allies have gone after international forces.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said one of the attackers was wearing a security forces uniform and the second was a "guest" at the police station where he opened fire.
Obama Signs Law On Haqqani Network
August 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law the Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act of 2012.
Under the law, which Obama signed on August 10, the secretary of state will have one month to report on whether the Haqqani Network should be catagorized as a terrorist organization.
The Haqqani Network, which operates on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, has been accused of carrying out numerous attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan.
The United States has already applied sanctions to some key Haqqani Network leaders, but has so far resisted designating the entire network as a foreign terrorist organization, despite calls from both houses of the U.S. Congress to do so.
With reporting by AP
Roadside bomb kills 4 including district governor in E. Afghan
MEHTERLAM, Afghanistan, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Four people including the governor of Ali Shing district in Laghman province, 90 km east of Kabul, lost his life as a roadside bomb struck his vehicle on Sunday, spokesman for provincial administration, Sarhadi Zawak said. "In the bloody incident happened this morning the district governor of Ali Shing along with three of his bodyguards was martyred," Zawak told Xinhua without giving more details.
Meantime, another official who declined to give his name said that the district governor Faridullah Niazi was going from Ali Shing district to the provincial capital Mehterlam city when a mine struck his vehicle killing him and three others on the spot.
He also blamed Taliban militants for organizing the deadly attack. However, the outfit fighting the government is yet to comment.
Archaeologists cover up Afghan heritage
By Joris Fioriti | AFP
"It's there," says an archaeologist pointing to the ground, where fragments of a Buddha statue from the ancient Gandhara civilisation have been covered up to stop them being stolen or vandalised.
Just months before the US-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban regime shocked the world by destroying two giant, 1,500-year-old Buddhas in the rocky Bamiyan valley, branding them un-Islamic.
More than 10 years on Western experts say Afghanistan's ancient Buddhist and early Islamic heritage is little safer.
At the foot of the cliff where the two Buddhas used to stand 130 kilometres (80 miles) west of Kabul, an archaeological site has been found and parts of a third Buddha, lying down, were discovered in 2008.
The area of the lying Buddha is around half the size of a football pitch. A dozen statues or more lie under tonnes of stone and earth.
"We covered everything up because the ground is private and to prevent looting," says Zemaryalai Tarzi, the 75-year-old French archaeologist born in Afghanistan who is leading the project.
Tarzi says he dug first in the potato fields to find artefacts, which he buried again afterwards. All around him, under a large area of farmland, he says, lie exceptional treasures.
In the West, the presence of such riches would lead to a large-scale excavation, frantic research and in time, glorious museum exhibitions.
In Afghanistan, ground down by poverty and three decades of war, it is the opposite.
"The safest place is to leave heritage underground," says Brendan Cassar, head of the UNESCO mission in Afghanistan, adding that policing the thousands of prehistoric, Buddhist and Islamic sites dotted around the country was impossible.
Below ground, the relics are protected from endemic looting, illegal smuggling and the corrosive effects of freezing winters.
"There is looting on a large or small scale at 99.9 percent of sites," says Philippe Marquis, director of a French archaeological delegation in Afghanistan.
Middlemen pay Afghans $4 to $5 a day to dig up artefacts, which are smuggled abroad and sold for tens of thousands of dollars in European and Asian capitals, he says.
Cassar believes the solution is educating locals about the value of their history and the need to implement the law, and a global campaign using Interpol and customs to stop smuggling.
UNESCO added the rocky Bamiyan valley, with its old forts, temples and cave paintings, to its list of endangered heritage sites in 2003. But sites have been destroyed throughout the country.
Hadda in the east was home to thousands of Greco-Buddhist sculptures dating from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD, but it was devastated in the 1990s civil war. Hundreds of pieces have disappeared or been destroyed.
Marquis says the old city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand -- whose 11th-century arch appears on the 100 afghani ($2) banknote -- was irreparably damaged by an influx of refugees.
A Chinese copper mining company has been granted a concession over an area in Logar province, south of Kabul, that includes an ancient Buddhist monastery, and researchers fear the ruins will largely be destroyed.
Archaeologists complain that culture is only a secondary consideration to development and security.
"Cultural issues are never the priority. Security, yes, which eats up 40 percent of the Afghan state budget," says Habiba Sorabi, the governor of Bamiyan province, where few public resources are allotted to archaeology.
A meeting in Paris last year decided one of the two niches that housed Bamiyan's giant Buddhas should be left empty as testimony to the destruction, while experts should look at partially reassembling the other statue on site.
But local archaeologist Farid Haidary says "lots of money" was spent on restoring the Buddhas before the Taliban destroyed them.
"What's the point in building something if the Taliban, who are 20 kilometres away, destroy it afterwards?" he asks.
Anti Graft Office Asks Attorney General to Suspend Finance Minister Zakhilwal
TOLOnews.com Saturday, 11 August 2012
The head of Afghanistan's High Office of Oversight and Anti Corruption (HOO), Azizullah Lodin, said on Saturday that he sent a letter to the Attorney General's Office demanding the suspension of Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal as finance minister. Mr Lodin told TOLOnews that Afghan president Hamid Karzai ordered him to send the letter.
Mr Zakhilwal is in hot water over accusations that he transferred large sums of money into overseas bank accounts. He claims he earned the money from consultancies before he became finance minister in 2009 and, after the allegations were made on Tolo TV, he asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate his finances.
Mr Lodin, however, believes that Mr Zakhilwal's position as head of the finance ministry hinders any such investigation.
Several Afghan lawmakers have also called for Mr Zakhilwal to be sacked.
14 Pakistanis who joined Afghan police return home
At least 14 Pakistanis who crossed the border to join the Afghan police force have resigned from their jobs and returned home, officials said Sunday, amid simmering tensions with Afghanistan.
The men, from the remote northwestern Chitral valley, are among a number of jobless Pakistanis in border areas who have fled to neighbouring Afghanistan to escape grinding poverty and hunt for employment, officials said.
Nearly three dozen last year joined the ranks of Afghan security forces, a trend that has set off alarm bells in the Pakistani security establishment.
Afghanistan and Pakistan blame each other for a number of recent cross-border attacks that have killed dozens and displaced hundreds of families.
"At least 14 Pakistanis have reached back... after resignation. We are expecting a dozen more this week," said Rematullah Wazir, a top government official in Chitral.
They returned after authorities warned their families of stern actions against the men, Wazir said.
"We were worried that some anti-Pakistan elements could use them against their own country," he told AFP.
Chitral valley lies near the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, where Taliban militants are active.
Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, and Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds on either side.
Afghanistan earlier this month sacked two top security ministers after lawmakers charged that they had failed in their handling of cross-border shelling barrages blamed on Pakistan.
Islamabad has said at least 15 cross-border attacks over the last year were carried out by militants against Pakistani check points and the civilian populations in northwestern towns of Dir and Chitral.
Wed and Tortured at 13, Afghan Girl Finds Rare Justice
New York Times By GRAHAM BOWLEY August 11, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - When she refused to prostitute herself or have sex with the man she was forced to marry when she was about 13, officials said, Sahar Gul’s in-laws tortured her and threw her into a dirty, windowless cellar for months until the police discovered her lying in hay and animal dung.
In July, an appeals court upheld prison sentences of 10 years each for three of her in-laws, a decision heralded as a legal triumph underscoring the advances for women’s rights in the past decade. She is recovering from her wounds, physical and emotional, in a women’s shelter in Kabul.
But to many rights advocates, Sahar Gul’s case, which drew attention from President Hamid Karzai and the international news media, is the exception that proves the rule: a small victory that masks a still-depressing picture of widespread instances of abuse of women that never come to light.
Further, advocacy groups fear that even the tentative progress that has been achieved in protecting some women could be undone if the West’s focus on Afghanistan now begins to shift away as NATO troops withdraw and the international money pumped into the economy diminishes.
“If you take away that funding and pressure, it is not sustainable,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.
As more details of Sahar Gul’s case have come to light — including the fact that the abuse continued even as, time and again, neighbors, police officers and her family members voiced suspicions that something was wrong — it has only reinforced how vulnerable women and girls still are in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas where under-age marriages are common and forced ones are typical.
Sahar Gul, who is now about 14, grew up in Badakhshan, a poor, mountainous province in the north. As a young child she was shuffled around after her father died, ending up with her stepbrother, Mohammad, when she was about 9. She helped with the hard work — tending cows, sheep and an orchard of walnut and apricot trees, and making dung bricks for the fire — but her stepbrother’s wife resented her presence. The woman pressured Mohammad to give Sahar Gul up for marriage after he was contacted by a man, about 30, named Ghulam Sakhi — even though she had not yet reached the legal marriage age of 16, or 15 with a father’s consent.
In effect, Ghulam Sakhi bought her: he paid at least $5,000, according to government officials and prosecutors, an illegal exchange. He drove off with Sahar Gul to his parents’ home in Baghlan, another northern province hundreds of miles away.
Ghulam Sakhi’s first wife had fled after he and his mother beat her for not bearing children, according to Rahima Zarifi, the chairwoman of Baghlan’s women’s affairs department, and the mullah in the mosque in the town in Baghlan. In his search for a new wife, there may have been a reason Ghulam Sakhi’s family looked so far afield: they intended to force her into prostitution, according to Ms. Zarifi, who followed the case closely, and officials at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.
In Baghlan, the girl was immediately put to work cooking and cleaning, but she was able to resist consummating the marriage for weeks.
She ran away to the house of a neighbor, who alerted both the police and her husband’s family. Ghulam Sakhi’s neighbors and the police forced him to sign a letter promising not to mistreat Sahar Gul, though they let him take her back.
The warning had little effect. One day, when she complained of a headache, her mother-in-law, Siyamoi, tricked her into taking a sedative that she thought was medicine, said Mushtari Daqiq, a lawyer for the aid group Women for Afghan Women and also Sahar Gul’s lawyer.
“When she woke up in the morning, she realized she had been used by her husband,” Ms. Daqiq said.
A neighbor named Ehsanullah said that one evening last summer, as his family ate dinner, they heard screaming coming from the house. The following morning his mother called at the house. He recounted what she saw: “Sahar Gul had lost a lot of weight, her hands were covered with bruises and wounds, one of her hands was broken, but her mother-in-law was forcing her to do the laundry.” He added, “She kept her head down the whole time my mother was there.”
After a group of elders confronted Ghulam Sakhi, the screaming stopped.
Frustrated that the girl could not perform the housework they expected, the family put her in the cellar, where she slept on the floor without a mattress, her hands and feet tied with rope. She was given only bread and water to eat. She was also beaten regularly. According to Sahar Gul and Ms. Daqiq, most of the beatings were at the hand of Amanullah, Ghulam Sakhi’s elderly father.
They described grotesque crimes, accusing Amanullah of hitting Sahar Gul with sticks, biting her chest, inserting hot irons in her ears and vagina, and pulling out two fingernails.
“She was helpless,” Ms. Daqiq said. “She had no hope for her life.”
Sahar Gul’s uncle Khwaja, who lived nearby in the same province, and her stepbrother, Mohammad, tried to visit her a few times, but the family told them the girl was not home. The family then threatened Mohammad, warning that he had illegally given his sister to be married. “He had to accept and run back to Badakhshan without meeting his sister,” Khwaja said.
Then, last December, about six months after the marriage, they finally got to see her when they called at the house with two police officers and heard a voice coming from the cellar.
“In the light of our flashlight, we found Sahar Gul lying on a pile of hay,” said Shirullah, one of the police officers.
Her dress was in rags, she was barely conscious and she could not stand after weeks in the dark.
“She was constantly moaning,” Shirullah said. “She was in a horrible situation. She couldn’t move her body parts, and we carried her to the hospital in our arms.”
Ms. Zarifi and three nurses washed her and gave her soup and dates. “When she saw the food, she became very excited,” Ms. Zarifi said.
The police arrested the mother-in-law, Siyamoi, her daughter Mahkhurd and finally Amanullah, the father-in-law — who was discovered hiding in a burqa and a blanket.
The family told the police that Ghulam Sakhi was in the Afghan Army in Helmand. That was later found to be untrue, according to local residents and Afghan officials, but the claim bought enough time for him to slip away from the authorities along with his brother, Darmak. They remain at large.
With her mistreatment a big story in the Afghan news media, Mr. Karzai called for swift justice. In a district court in Kabul on May 1, the judge, speaking in front of a bank of microphones on national television, declared Sahar Gul’s three in-laws guilty.
According to neighbors and to officials who heard the in-laws’ arguments in court, they acted the way they did mostly because they felt they had paid good money for a girl who they said was not pretty, who misbehaved and who would neither work as they demanded nor bear them children.
Lawyers for the family members say that they deny beating or drugging Sahar Gul, and that her wounds were self-inflicted. They deny confining her in the cellar, and say they had no plans to send her into prostitution. The prostitution accusation was not addressed in court.
The lawyers, who were provided by the legal group Da Qanoon Ghushtonky, or Demanders of Law, which is financed by international aid, argue that the political outcry caused the trial to be rushed through without due process.
Rather than showing the lack of legal protections for women, they argued, Sahar Gul’s case underscores the weakness of Afghanistan’s still-developing legal system, one that can easily be swayed by politicians like Mr. Karzai.
Siyamoi and Mahkhurd are now 2 of 171 prisoners in a women’s prison in Kabul. On a recent morning there, the two women insisted they were innocent and railed ferociously at their accusers.
“We are being cheated by the court,” Siyamoi said. “If you think I am a criminal, why don’t you pull out my fingernails?”
A few miles away across Kabul, Sahar Gul lives in a shelter provided by Women for Afghan Women, one of seven shelters the organization has established nationally for abuse victims.
Sahar Gul played in the sun in the garden in a golden dress and purple shawl and pink bracelets, a round-cheeked, gangly girl. She had made a new friend at the shelter, a 14-year-old girl whose face was scarred by acid by a sister’s thwarted suitor.
Sahar Gul still bears the scars and bruises of her ordeal, but her caregivers said she was recovering and becoming gradually more independent. She said she had ambitions.
“I want to become a politician and stop other women suffering the same,” she said.
Now, however, rights groups fear that schools and clinics for girls may close as international money dries up and the political climate in Afghanistan becomes more religiously conservative, undermining the fragile lattice of pro-women support groups, government ministries and nongovernmental organizations as well as laws specifically created in the past few years to protect women.
A new 2009 law to eliminate violence against women was cited in the sentencing of Sahar Gul’s abusers, but the law is still barely applied, according to a United Nations report published in November, and it has not been formally adopted.
Women’s shelters are under threat, with a conservative justice minister describing them as “brothels,” while a new family law that could make it easier for abused women to divorce is being held up.
In such a climate, the fear is that Sahar Gul’s successful rescue may turn out to be an aberration rather than a new norm, and that it will not help those women whose suffering is not discovered.
“We have many cases perhaps graver than this where women are murdered,” Ms. Zarifi said. “No one hears anything about them.”
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul, and an employee of The New York Times from Baghlan Province, Afghanistan.
Factbox: Military deaths in Afghanistan
(Reuters) - Two British soldiers were killed on Friday in Afghanistan in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, the Ministry of Defense said. Three U.S. Marines were shot dead on Friday by an Afghan worker on a military base the Garmsir district of Helmand province.
Here are figures for foreign military deaths in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led military intervention began in 2001:
NATO/U.S.-LED COALITION FORCES:
United States 2,088
Other nations 107
Sources: Reuters/icasualties (www.icasualties.org/oef) compiled from official figures/French military and president's office/German Ministry of Defense/Danish central command/Italian Ministry of Defense
(Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit
Taekwondo - Korean martial art finally gets it right
By Peter Rutherford
LONDON (Reuters) - Taekwondo has done many things wrong since becoming an Olympic sport in 2000, but the Korean martial art got most things right at the London Games.
Plagued by judging controversies, inconsistent scoring and lacklustre fights, taekwondo was forced into action in 2008 after Cuban Angel Matos shamed the sport at the Beijing Games by kicking a referee in the face.
With one eye on preserving its Olympic status, the World Taekwondo Federation introduced a new high-tech scoring system and instant video reviews to make scoring more transparent.
Rule changes spiced up fights, making it easier to earn points for head kicks while referees were also given the power to penalise overly defensive fighters.
The response to the changes from the fighters and the 6,000 or so spectators packed into the ExCeL arena for every session of the four-day competition was overwhelmingly positive.
WTF Secretary General Jean-Marie Ayer said London was "best Olympic taekwondo competition yet".
The new scoring system (PSS) and rule changes also found favour with the fighters.
"The introduction of PSS makes sure the games are fairer," said China's Wu Jingyu, who won the women's flyweight division.
"Also with the new rules, I have more confidence to use the high-skilled kicks. I used more head kicks in the competition because I'm confident."
Men's featherweight champion Servat Tazegul of Turkey agreed.
"I wouldn't change the rules. It is like they were written for me," he added.
Taekwondo's tradition of giving the smaller nations the chance to win medals was carried through the London Games.
Rohullah Nikpai, who won Afghanistan's first Olympic medal in Beijing, grabbed another bronze while athletes from Gabon, Colombia and Thailand were also among the 21 nations to reach the podium.
South Korea's fighters will return home disappointed after winning only a gold and silver in their national sport after all four of their athletes won gold in Beijing.
The team had predicted the Korean media would dub them taekwondo "traitors" if they failed to win four golds and the results in London will not be well received back home.
For the host nation, the controversial decision to pick Lutalo Muhammad instead of world number one Aaron Cook looked to have been justified when he won a bronze medal, while Jade Jones gave the sport a major shot in the arm by winning Britain's first taekwondo gold in the women's featherweight division.
The only disappointment was taekwondo trailblazer Sarah Stevenson's failure to advance past the first round.
The 29-year-old, who lost both her parents last year and was coming off a serious knee injury, was unable to reproduce the kind of form that earned her Britain's first Olympic taekwondo medal at the Beijing Games.
Like a true Olympian, Stevenson said quitting had never been an option but the death of her parents had given her a different perspective on sport.
"This is the Olympics, it's not life or death, it's meant to be fun," she said.
"There are more important things in life than taekwondo."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)
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