[Afghan News] April 13, 2012 - 04-15-2012, 01:31 PM
Afghan corruption feeding unrest: experts
AFP By Joris Fioriti 13/04/2012
KABUL - After a decade of war and billions of dollars in Western aid, Afghanistan is drowning in a tide of corruption that is exacerbating conflict and stifling economic development, experts say.
Corruption is enabling the drug trade to thrive and pushing Afghans towards the Taliban, analysts warn -- fuelling the two drivers of instability in the war-torn country.
Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam, head of the Afghan Anti-corruption Network, said graft lies at the heart of most of the country's problems.
"If there are cases of infiltration in the army, it's corruption. If there are cases of smuggling heroin out of the country, within the country, it's corruption," he said.
In January, an Afghan soldier killed five of his French trainers at a base in Kapisa, in the country's northeast. According to the US news website McClatchy, he bribed a recruiter first to join the Afghan army and then again to rejoin after deserting.
Corruption among the security forces is rife -- the interior ministry recently sacked 70 police officers in western Afghanistan.
"I'll never say that the first problem of Afghanistan is security. The first one is corruption," said Mohammad Qasem Halimi, of the Asia Foundation NGO.
With checkpoints at the entry to built-up areas, militants can only get in because of corrupt police, he said.
Around 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict last year, a third by the Taliban's improvised bombs, according to the UN.
"Police officers don't catch the insurgents because they're corrupt. If they do, these guys are released as they pay for the judge."
Halimi is a former official with the Supreme Court, and said he had ordered the arrest of 182 judges in the five years he served there.
"In the last five years we have sacked 207 Supreme Court employees, including 65 judges and 70 administrative staff, for corruption," Supreme Court spokesman Abdul Wakil Omari said.
In a country that produces 90 percent of the world's opium, drugs are another huge problem.
Sayed Habib, head of drug addiction problems at the health ministry, in February denounced what he called the "linkages" between organised criminals and the ministry for counter-narcotics.
"There is widespread corruption within the government organs," said Azizullah Lodin, the chairman of the High office of anti-corruption.
Gesturing through his office window, he lamented the impunity enjoyed by criminals with political connections.
"Look! This is government land, but powerful people came here and built houses," he said. "I see people coming back from Iran and Pakistan and they don't even have a small room whereas the powerful ones capture this public land.
"If you can't deal with those big buildings, how can you deal with the people under the bridges?"
The near-collapse in 2010 of the Kabul Bank, the country's biggest private lender responsible for paying 80 percent of government employees came to symbolise the extent of the country's graft problem.
Its owners, including brothers of Karzai and his vice-president, were accused of pocketing $900 million in illegal loans, prompting the International Monetary Fund to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid.
More recently, the disappearance of $42 million from the budget of Kabul's main military hospital and the $60 million missing from the coffers of customs in Herat caused a national scandal.
Even junior officials use whatever power they have to squeeze extra money for doing their job. The going rate for a passport is $100 to $500 and the public health system works on the same basis.
An Asia Foundation survey of 6,500 people around the country last year found that corruption was the number three concern among Afghans, after employment worries and Taliban attacks.
In 2010 Transparency International named Afghanistan as the world's second most corrupt country -- tied with Myanmar -- behind Somalia.
Corruption "represents one of the main obstacles to sustainable peace in Afghanistan," Wolfgang Weisbrod Weber, a UN envoy formerly in Afghanistan, said in December.
Hamdam of the Afghan Anti-corruption Network, said frustration with corruption was driving people to side with the militants.
"The reason why people are joining the Taliban is because of this fake legitimacy which is linked to corruption. The Taliban have no other legitimacy in this country, no other excuse," he said.
Motorbike bomb rocks Afghan southern town of Sangin, casualties feared
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, April 13 (Xinhua) -- A motorbike bomb rocked Sangin town in the southern Helmand province 555 km south of capital Kabul on Friday, injuring 11 people, an official said.
"The terrorists planted explosive in the cavities of a motorcycle and detonated it by remote control in the bazaar of Sangin district at around 08:00 a.m. local time as a result 11 people were injured," spokesman for provincial administration Daud Ahmadi told Xinhua.
There are one police and a child among the injured and the remaining are adult people, all civilians, he further said.
He also blamed the enemies of peace, a term used by Afghan officials against Taliban militants for organizing the attack. However, the armed outfit fighting Afghan government is yet to make comment.
Afghan forces kill 25 Taliban militants: official
ASSADABAD, Afghanistan, April 13 (Xinhua) -- Afghan forces have killed 25 Taliban militants over the past two days in Nuristan province, 180 km east of capital city Kabul, spokesman for provincial administration Mohammad Zarin said Friday.
"In the operation backed by NATO-led forces and launched against Taliban in Kamdish district on Thursday, so far 25 insurgents have been killed," Zarin told Xinhua.
Meantime, Taliban purported spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in talks with media via telephone from unknown location confirmed the fighting but insisted 30 Afghan and foreign forces had been killed, a claim rejected by Zarin as baseless.
Mujahid also stated that eight Taliban fighters had been killed in the battle.
The mountainous Kamdish district has been under mounting pressure by Taliban over the past couple of weeks; while Afghan government is trying to ensure lasting peace there.
Karzai Considers Early Vote, Before Foreign Forces Leave
Wall Street Journal By DION NISSENBAUM April 12, 2012
KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he was considering calling early presidential elections next year in an effort to take advantage of the coalition military presence, a move that could raise the chances of securing the country's first peaceful transfer of power in modern history.
Mr. Karzai, who is set to end his second five-year term in 2014, said such an early polling would help Afghanistan avoid conducting a political campaign after the U.S.-led coalition forces transfer security responsibilities and head home. Many people worry security will deteriorate as the withdrawal culminates.
Under the constitution, Mr. Karzai isn't eligible to run again.
But some Afghans wondered if the president's move was a political ploy to extend his influence and whether such an election could be held at all, given the country's constitutional rules.
Mr. Karzai told reporters Thursday that he has discussed with his aides whether to hold the presidential election next year, or, alternatively, to ask the U.S.-led coalition to speed up the transition set for 2014. White House officials, too, have proposed such a quicker pullout.
"There are those favorable to both the ideas," Mr. Karzai said at a palace news conference with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the visiting secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "I have not made the final decision yet—and it will not be soon. But I am thinking about this, and I will do what is good for this country in either case."
A peaceful transfer of power is considered by many in the international community to be one of the best benchmarks of success as coalition forces prepare to end their major military presence in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai's fraud-marred re-election in 2009 was widely viewed as a black mark for U.S.-led efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and establish a credible government. Parliamentary elections the following year saw a record low turnout, and were also marked by fraud allegations.
Some politicians looking to succeed Mr. Karzai have voiced concerns that the Afghan president might use insurgent violence in 2014 as an excuse to cancel the election and hold on to power. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly said he intends to stand down once his term expires.
Mr. Karzai didn't explain how practically he could move up the election date. Short of changing the constitution, election officials said, the only way he could call an early election would be to resign, a decision that would result in a special election within three months.
The constitution can only be changed by the so-called constitutional Loya Jirga, an assembly made up of national lawmakers and the heads of provincial and district councils. Elections to these district councils haven't been held, in part because many of these districts are under insurgent control.
The prospect of a nationwide vote in 2013 was met with tentative support from some rivals of Mr. Karzai and electoral reform advocates who are willing to back the idea—if the president ensures that the process is fair and doesn't renege on his pledge to stand down.
"This government has systematically failed to meet the expectations of the nation," said Hanif Atmar, the former Afghan interior minister and possible presidential candidate who was forced from his post by Mr. Karzai in 2010. "We all want a change."
Nader Nadery, chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said a transparent election next year could bolster Mr. Karzai's achievements. "If he genuinely wants to see a peaceful transfer of power, then this will be his greatest legacy," he said.
Despite his pledges, some fear that Mr. Karzai still might try to use electoral uncertainty to retain the presidency—or install his favored successor. Mr. Karzai has said he doesn't want his brother Qayyum, rumored as a likely presidential candidate, to run.
"I am a bit more cynical I guess," said one Western diplomat in Kabul. "It will not change anything. This regime will continue—with or without the present president—whether the election takes place in 2013 or 2014."
Earlier this year, Mr. Karzai replaced three of the five members of the country's election commission with some of his allies, a move that generated concerns that the president was trying to pack the body with cronies.
Moving up the election could prevent lawmakers from revising the laws to ensure more transparency in the process, said Fawzia Kofi, an Afghan lawmaker.
"It's all a game," she said. "I think Karzai or his candidate will have all the resources from all the structures of government."
The race to succeed Mr. Karzai is likely to be crowded. A large number of Afghan leaders are already exploring runs for president, including Mr. Atmar, Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister now overseeing the country's transition process, and Ali Jalali, another former interior minister.
Mr. Karzai's 2009 re-election campaign became a polarizing chapter that drove a serious wedge between the Afghan president and his international allies.
Mr. Karzai has repeatedly complained that the U.S. and the U.N. have tried to engineer his ouster in the election, a belief that poisoned his relationship with the Obama administration.
After the presidential election, Mr. Karzai moved to assert control over the Electoral Complaints Commission, a U.N.-run watchdog that threw out as fraudulent a million votes reported as cast for him in 2009.
He has also pledged to "Afghanize" the electoral process, reducing opportunities for international interference in the next vote.
Earlier this week, Jan Kubis, the new head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, vowed to be an "active partner" in the country's electoral process. —Ziaulhaq Sultani in Kabul contributed to this article.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistani parliament asks U.S. to stop drone strikes, tender apology over soldiers deaths
ISLAMABAD, April 12 (Xinhua) -- Pakistani parliament Thursday night passed a unanimous resolution, demanding the United States to stop strikes from its spy aircraft in the country's tribal regions and tender apology over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in airstrike on border posts in November 2011.
The joint session of the parliament approved recommendations from a parliamentary panel, which recommended to the government to review policy with the United States.
The parliament also said that no private security contractors and or intelligence operatives shall be allowed to work in Pakistan.
"Pakistan's territory will not be provided for the establishment of any foreign bases," the resolution said.
The resolution was adopted after parliament reviewed future relationship with the U.S. and NATO. The reviewed was called following the November NATO attack on Pakistani border posts.
"The condemnable and unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack resulting in the martyrdom of 24 Pakistani soldiers, represents a breach of international law and constitutes a blatant violation of Pakistan' s sovereignty and territorial integrity," the resolution said.
"The Government of Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the U.S. for the unprovoked, incident dated 25th-26th November/ 2011/ in Mohmand tribal Agency," the resolution tabled by head of the Parliament Committee on National security.
The parliament asked the government to ask the U.S. to bring to justice those responsible for the NATO attack on Pakistani posts.
"Pakistan should be given assurances that such attacks or any other acts impinging on Pakistan's sovereignty, will not recur," the resolution said.
The U.S. embassy in its reaction said it is reviewing the Pakistani parliament resolution.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani assured the parliament that all the recommendations of the House will be implemented. He said Pakistan wants good relations with the U.S.,but respect to the country's sovereignty is important.
The opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan asked the government to categorically declare what it will do if the U.S. again carried out drone strike.
The resolution said that the relationship with the U.S. should be based on mutual respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each other.
"The Government needs to ensure that the principles of an independent foreign policy must be grounded in strict adherence to the Principles of Policy as stated in the Constitution of Pakistan, the UN Charter and observance of international law," the resolution said.
The resolution stressed that the U.S. footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed.
"This means (i) an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan; (ii) the cessation of infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext, including hot pursuit; (iii) Pakistani territory including its air space shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan".
The resolution asked the Ministry of Defence and Pakistan Air Force to formulate new flying rules for areas contiguous to the border. It said that no verbal Agreement regarding national security shall be entered into by the Government and its Ministries or other Organizations with any foreign Government or Authority.
"All such agreements or understandings shall cease to have effect forthwith and no overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be permitted".
The resolution that Pakistani territory shall not be used for any kind of attacks on other countries and all foreign fighters, if found, shall be expelled from our soil.
"The Government needs to review the present focus of foreign policy keeping in view the aspirations of the people of Pakistan," it said.
The resolution said that Pakistan's foreign policy must continue to focus on creating a peaceful environment in the region to pursue the goals of economic development and social progress.
The parliament stressed that the dialogue process with India should be continued in a purposeful and result-oriented manner on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest. The resolution urged the government to pay special attention to developing close cooperative relations with neighbours.
"The strategic partnership with China must be deepened in all its dimensions, the relationship with the Russian Federation should be further strengthened," the resolution said.
It said that Pakistan's support for the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan remains the cornerstone of its foreign policy, adding Pakistan's special relationship with the Islamic world should be reinforced. Pakistan should actively pursue the gas pipeline project with Iran, the resolution said.
Afghan Asylum-Seekers Found Near Bali Coast
VOA News April 13, 2012 Kate Lamb
Jakarta - Australian refugee groups have made contact with some 60 asylum-seekers adrift in waters off Bali after concerns their vessel had capsized. While authorities now hope to rescue the group, the refugees, including ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan, now face detention in Indonesia.
After a distress call was made Thursday evening and all contact with the vessel was lost, authorities reported no sign of the boat Friday morning.
The boat was last reported off Sumbawa, a small island east of Bali. Sixty asylum seekers, including children, are thought to be on board.
Ian Rintoul of the Australian Refugee Action Coalition says hopes of finding survivors were dim until the group received a surprise phone call Friday afternoon.
“No, no, the boat hasn’t gone down," insisted Rintoul, "we just got a call about 10 minutes ago, we got a call from the boat. It's still floating, it is still adrift. I’d given up because we hadn’t heard anything from 2 o’clock, but it was from the same number and the same people… The engine has definitely failed, they are still needing assistance.”
While contact has been established, authorities are searching by land and sea to identify the exact location of the boat.
Thousands of refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, make the perilous journey through Indonesian waters ever year in the hope they will be granted asylum in Australia.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the U.N. refugee convention and often jails and deports asylum seekers awaiting refugee status.
The Australian government has drawn criticism in recent years for urging Indonesian authorities to pick up asylum seekers so they are processed in Indonesia, rather than Australia.
Ian Rintoul says the refugee coalition is still waiting to see what happens with this latest boat.
“If they are rescued by Indonesian authorities that may well be placed in detention in Indonesia and that is one of our concerns about the whole situation in Indonesia and the pressure from the Australian government pushing people to get on boats that aren’t as well prepared as they could be,” Rintoul said.
Last Sunday a Singapore-registered tanker rescued around 120 Australia-bound asylum seekers, mostly Afghans and some Iranians, from their sinking wooden boat.
They refused to get off the docked tanker for two days, saying they wanted to continue to Australia where their rights are more protected.
In December, a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island. Only 47 survived.
Stephen Hayes: What the U.S.-Iran Talks Will Ignore
Everyone's talking nukes, but Iran is a world hub of jihadist terrorism, including al Qaeda.
Wall Street Journal By STEPHEN HAYES April 12, 2012
Top American diplomats will sit down across the negotiating table from their Iranian counterparts this weekend in what Obama administration officials have called a "last chance" for Iran to give up its nuclear-weapons program.
Although the Obama administration and Iran have conflicting long-term objectives—the mullahs want nuclear weapons, President Obama has promised repeatedly to stop them—their short-term goal is the same: to avoid military confrontation. The Iranians don't want their nuclear momentum reversed, and Barack Obama doesn't want a war complicating his re-election. So an agreement of some kind seems likely.
Will it matter? Anything that retards Iran's nuclear progress is helpful. But even if the talks "solved" the nuclear issue—virtually inconceivable, given the measures the Iranians have taken to preserve their program—a bigger problem would remain: the Iranian regime itself. Whatever progress is made in the context of overlapping short-term interests, it will do little to change the long-term strategic problems presented by a hostile Iran. And Iran is hostile.
It is one of the most underreported stories of the past decade: As we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran went to war with us. Tehran has provided weapons to insurgents directly responsible for killing hundreds of American troops in those two countries. It has funded, trained and equipped jihadists—Sunnis and Shiites alike—targeting American forces and interests in the Middle East and beyond. And all along the way it has provided safe haven and support to al Qaeda leaders and those closest to them.
Last July, the Treasury Department identified a network of al Qaeda operatives that "serves as the core pipeline through which al Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives." Added one official: "Without this network, al Qaeda's ability to recruit and collect funds would be severely damaged." The network is located in Iran.
"There is an agreement between the Iranian government and al Qaeda to allow this network to operate," David Cohen, undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence told me at the time. "There's no dispute in the intelligence community on this."
Al Qaeda's presence in Iran is not new. According to a 2009 Treasury Department report, Saad bin Laden, one of the late al Qaeda leader's oldest and most trusted sons, "facilitated the travel of Osama bin Laden's family members from Afghanistan to Iran" in 2001. Then-al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri also sent his family to Iran.
Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel—who is wanted by U.S. authorities for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania—have used their safe haven in the Islamic Republic to plot attacks and help coordinate the movements of al Qaeda operatives and their families. In response to widespread reporting of these operatives' role in planning attacks, particularly a May 2003 bombing in Riyadh that killed five Americans, Iran placed some of them under a loose form of "house arrest." But this designation did little to stop their terrorist activity, such as working with al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
After a U.S. drone campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan that has left its ranks thin, "Al Qaeda is desperate for mid-level capacity and senior-level managers," a senior Obama administration official told me. "The most ready cadre of those types of al Qaeda personnel—operative types and senior-level managers—are in Tehran."
Tehran's aid and comfort to terrorists hardly stops with al Qaeda central. A 2005 threat report from International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan (made public by WikiLeaks) noted that "Iranian Intelligence agencies brought 10 million Afghanis (approximately $212,800)" into Afghanistan to finance anti-American fighters. A second leaked report 11 days later described how Taliban leaders living in Iran are funding attacks against coalition forces and government officials.
In late 2007 in Afghanistan's Helmand province, according to another classified U.S. threat assessment released by WikiLeaks, U.S. officials broke up a cell of suicide bombers that had been "tasked by Taliban/al Qaeda leaders . . . to carry out suicide attacks on high level officials and Coalition forces in the area." A forensic examination of the vests found "a 92 percent probability of a match against a suspected sample of Iranian C4" explosives. And in October 2010, Afghan officials in Nimruz province, which borders Iran, announced that they had seized 19 tons of explosives coming across the border. There are thousands of similar reports in WikiLeaks, from ISAF and from other U.S. intelligence bodies.
In Iraq, meanwhile, Iranian support for jihadists ran wide and deep as soon as the war began in March 2003. "It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq," said then-CIA Director Michael Hayden in 2008.
Despite the many conciliatory gestures of the Obama administration beginning in 2009, Iran continued its campaign. In the summer of 2010, America's ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, said at a press briefing that "up to a quarter of the American casualties and some of the more horrific incidents in which Americans were kidnapped . . . can be traced without doubt to these Iranian groups." And in June of last year, an Iranian-backed group known as Kataib Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed six U.S. soldiers at a U.S.-Iraqi base in Baghdad.
Major Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan told the Washington Post that the group was one of three Iran-backed militias that together constituted the greatest threat to Americans in Iraq: "Their leadership lives in Iran, they are directly trained by the Quds Force and they are supplied by them." Defense Secretary Robert Gates said before leaving office last year that Iran is "facilitating weapons, they're facilitating training, there's new technology that they are providing." The regime, he said, is "stepping this up."
This weekend's talks in Istanbul will ignore all of this. Instead, they will, as White House spokesman Jay Carney said, focus on "the international community's concerns with Iranian behavior regarding their nuclear program."
Fair enough: The international community isn't interested in holding Iran accountable for these acts of war, and in preparing for high-level talks it's easy to separate one problem from another. But the real world doesn't work that way.
Mr. Hayes, a senior writer for the Weekly Standard, is the author of "Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President" (HarperCollins, 2007).
Lawmaker presses Pentagon chief on US-Afghan pact
Associated Press By DONNA CASSATA Apr 12, 2012
WASHINGTON - The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed serious concerns that the U.S.-Afghanistan deal giving Afghans authority over night raids could put Americans at greater risk and undercut intelligence gathering critical in the long war.
In a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon questioned elements of the recent agreement, a major step toward finalizing a strategic partnership on how U.S. forces will operate in Afghanistan after combat troops leave in 2014. The Obama administration and Kabul are pushing to complete the partnership before the NATO summit in Chicago next month.
McKeon raised reservations about the establishment of a panel of Afghan security officials - military, government and intelligence services - and giving it the authority to review and approve what raids will take place.
The California Republican said that while Afghan security forces have made progress in training, the administration must be careful about putting Americans in danger without an independent legal authority to hold an enemy combatant. McKeon also challenged the role of Afghans in planning operations.
"The new framework could also potentially compromise sensitive U.S. information since more Afghans will be involved in sensitive intelligence activities and operational planning," he wrote. "At best, targets may be tipped off before an operation; at worst, U.S. lives may be lost."
Reflecting the uncertainty about the agreement, McKeon also wondered whether the pact will constrain U.S. forces as they try to seek intelligence from captured suspects.
"Intelligence derived during detainee interrogations frequently assists in identifying the location and identities of other terrorists, provides information on the enemy's plans and assists with protecting U.S. forces," he wrote. "Such interrogations, along with the capture operations themselves, are extremely time sensitive."
According to the agreement, Afghan forces will conduct home searches and U.S. forces will be allowed to enter private compounds "only as required or requested." The Afghan government will immediately take custody of detainees and U.S. forces will only interrogate detainees if asked by the Afghans.
In a statement, Panetta spokesman George Little said, "We will, of course, respond to the chairman's letter. The secretary believes that the recently signed memoranda reflect the progress we and the Afghans have made together as the transition process in Afghanistan moves forward. We continue to pursue aggressive operations against our common enemies, and we share the goal of ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists."
The U.S. military considers the night raids critical to operations in Afghanistan. Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces, recently told Congress that they have been effective in rounding up insurgents. But Afghan leaders have criticized the nighttime operations, arguing that they have caused too many civilian deaths and have pressed for greater Afghan control.
Questioned about the agreement this week, Navy Capt. John Kirby dismissed suggestions that Afghans would have veto power over operations. He pointed out that since December, Afghans have commanded the raids.
"The Afghan special operations forces and U.S. special operations forces have been working as a team to develop and identify targets based on intelligence fusion on a combination of intelligence sources from both sides. ... There aren't and haven't been disputes or disagreements about whether or not to develop an operation," said Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
More than 350 raids have been conducted since December, with Afghan and U.S. forces capturing suspects in 270 raids. Shots were fired in 31 raids, Kirby said.
McKeon also expressed concern about the U.S.-Afghan agreement on the gradual transfer of control of the main U.S. prison in Afghanistan. That pact gives Americans six months to transfer Parwan's 3,000 Afghan detainees to Afghan control.
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.
Civilians Killed During Protest Over Faryab Mullah’s Night Raid Death
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 12 April 2012
Deadly protests erupted in Afghanistan's northern Faryab province on Thursday after a military night raid killed local Sharia law professor and tribal elder Qari Qiyamuddin, according to local officials.
Four civilians were killed and dozens were wounded after a gun-battle broke out during the protest.
Isaf has confirmed the night raid, saying it was a joint operation targeting an important member of the insurgent group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
Two other suspected insurgents were detained during the operation, it said.
Dozens of people rallied in the provincial capital Maimana city, chanting anti-government slogans, as the body of Mullah Qiyamuddin was taken from his home to the provincial governor's office, according to witnesses.
A gunfight erupted between protestors and security forces after protesters grabbed the guns of the governor's office guards and opened fire, a local journalist told TOLOnews.
The number of the dead and injured were confirmed by the head of the provincial hospital, Dr Abdul Ali Haleem, as the casualties were taken to the Maimana hospital.
Faryab Governor Abdul Haq Shafaq fled his office and went to the security of Isaf's Provincial Reconstruction Team compound, the reporter added.
He was not available for comment all day.
The relatives of Mullah Qiyamuddin have rejected the claims made by Isaf, saying he was not connected to any political terrorist networks.
Witnesses said he was shot dead inside his house by the military special forces.
Deputy Chairman of the Faryab Clerics Council, Ghulam Nabi Ghafoori, blamed Governor Abdul Haq Shafaq for the death.
He also called the recent Afghan and US night raid pact media propaganda.
It is believed local mullahs encouraged the public demonstration. As Thursday is Maimana's main bazaar day when most people go to the markets for shopping, the crowds helped add to the number of the protesters.
Security forces have been targeting IMU insurgents in Faryab in recent weeks.
An Afghan special operations unit and coalition troops killed senior IMU leader Osmani Sahi during an operation earlier this week in the Faryab's Almar district, according to an Isaf statement released Monday.
It said that the leader was killed during an exchange of fire when the insurgents' attempted to attack the joint security forces.
On Saturday, Isaf released a statement saying an IMU "facilitator" had been captured in the Almar district and that "multiple insurgents" had been killed during the operation after they opened fire on the security forces. Maimana city was also the site of last week's suicide bombing which targeted Nato forces.
As many as ten people died and 23 were wounded April 4 when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest near a public park where Nato soldiers were gathered.
Afghan Lashing Highlights Use Of Shari'a Law
April 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Frud Bezhan, Bashir Ahmad Ghizali
BAGHLAN, Afghanistan -- It's the type of punishment that many thought would vanish with the fall of the Taliban, but Shari'a law is alive and well in Afghanistan.
One unidentified 20-year-old man has felt the full force of the Islamic legal code in the northern Afghan province of Baghan.
After confessing to drinking alcohol, which is forbidden under Shari'a law, he received 80 lashes at the hands of a local judge.
Proof that such punishments are still being carried out is contained in a video obtained this week by Radio Free Afghanistan.
But the April 11 ruling and punishment depicted in the video is by no means a rare occurrence, according to experts.
As Wadir Safi, a law professor at Kabul University, explains, Shari'a law prevails in much of rural Afghanistan, while civil law takes precedence in urban centers.
This is because Afghan law incorporates both Islamic and civil law, and leaves it up to individual judges and courts to determine which code of law to apply.
Different Interpretations Of Same Law
"The difference in law is the person, the judge themselves," says Safi. "In Kabul, they act in one way, in Jalalabad another, and in Kandahar another. The law is the same law but the judges are different. They are [handing out punishments] according to their own [interpretation]."
The video provides a window into the process. It shows the 20-year-old facing justice in the yard of a local court, where he is declared guilty of consuming alcohol.
As a handful of bystanders look on, the bearded judge proceeds to lash the criminal with a leather strap containing an inner layer of lead.
According to witnesses, the judge holds an egg in the armpit of the arm he uses to flog the culprit. This is intended to limit the strength of the blows by forcing the judge to keep his arm close to his body. If he drops or breaks the egg, he has gone too far.
Witnesses of this punishment describe it as moderate compared to penalties handed down by the Taliban, which could be as severe as beheadings and amputations of limbs.
But that is not to say that Shari'a law does not allow for severe punishment in modern-day Afghanistan.
According to some interpretations of the law, women can be stoned to death for adultery; drug users can be lashed and chained for several consecutive days for "cleansing" purposes; and convicted murderers can be offered to a victim's family, which has the right to carry out an execution.
Written and reported by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by Bashir Ahmad Ghizali
Iran urges U.S. to exit Afghanistan
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting By MINA HABIB Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Given the state of relations between Tehran and Washington, it should have come as no surprise when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for U.S. and NATO forces to withdraw immediately from Afghanistan and begin financing economic reconstruction of the country instead.
Ahmadinejad made the remarks on March 26 during a regional conference on economic cooperation with Afghanistan, held in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.
"The times of imperialism have long since passed," the president said. "Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history will be punished."
News reports said Ahmadinejad promised to provide technical and economic assistance to Kabul, including investment, health care and infrastructure projects.
While Ahmadinejad's comments were largely ignored in Washington, they triggered a hostile reaction from members of the upper house of the Afghan parliament.
A statement issued by the 40-member Reform and Justice Group of the upper house accused Iran of wanting "to fuel war in this country once again and reduce it to ruins." The group planned to issue a formal request that Iranian officials refrain from commenting on Afghanistan's domestic affairs.
Amin Farjad, a counselor at the Iranian embassy in Kabul, said Ahmadinejad's comments should not be viewed as foreign meddling, and that he was entitled to air his opinions.
"It is true that on matters like the U.S. and NATO presence, the main decision-makers are the people of Afghanistan and their representatives. However, others have a right to comment," Farjad said.
The international troop presence is a worry to Iran and the rest of the region, he said. "We cannot remain indifferent to this presence because it poses security threats." Farjad cited a U.S. surveillance drone captured by the Iranian military in December as an example of Iran's justified concerns.
It's not the first time that Ahmadinejad has denounced the presence of U.S. forces and called for their withdrawal.
For their part, NATO officials have accused Iran of providing weapons to the Taliban, an allegation Tehran denies.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who declined to comment on Ahmadinejad's remarks, has his own complicated relationship with Iran.
In 2010, the Afghan president acknowledged that his office regularly received tens of thousands of dollars in cash from Iran, but insisted that there was nothing unusual in the payments.
"The government of Iran has been assisting us with five or six or seven hundred thousand euros once or twice every year; that is an official aid," he told reporters at the time.
"We are grateful for the Iranian help in this regard. The United States is doing the same thing, they're providing cash to some of our offices," Karzai was quoted as saying.
Other analysts believe that Iran is delighted to see U.S. and NATO forces bogged down in the conflict with insurgents in Afghanistan, believing that the ongoing conflict makes it less likely that Washington would be willing to engage in yet another confrontation in the region.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mina Habib is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site: www.iwpr.net. For information about IWPR's funding, please go to http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?top-supporters.html.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
2012, The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
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