[Afghan News] January 15, 2012 - 03-01-2012, 08:50 AM
by Abdul Haleem, Chen Xin
KABUL, Jan.15 (Xinhua) -- Though Taliban's decision to open a political office in Qatar raised expectation for a negotiated end to the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the ousted regime consistently rejected a pre-condition set by Afghan government for any talks with the rebels -- accept the constitution.
"We have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation. But this understanding does not mean surrender from Jihad (holy war) and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration," Taliban said in a statement sent to media on Thursday.
Afghan government has repeatedly said that the door is open for talks with those Taliban who severe ties with al-Qaida network, renounce violence and accept the constitution.
The militant group, which has turned down peace talks unless the foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, also vowed to continue fighting Afghan government troops and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the ousted Taliban regime) is utilizing its political wing alongside its military presence and Jihad (holy war) in order to realize the national and Islamic aspirations of the nation and its martyrs," said the statement written in Pashto and English.
Overcoming the conditions and pre-conditions set by warring sides for Afghan peace talks seems difficult at the moment, as neither sides exercise flexibility.
The gap between the two sides can be gauged when Afghan Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili pointed out that Taliban should accept the constitution and all values envisaged in the national laws.
"Taliban should give away the ideology of Talibanism and accept constitution and they (Taliban) should realize that the people of Afghanistan will not tolerate the Taliban emirate for which they are fighting," Khalili categorically said in his speech inside a mosque on Friday.
On January 3, Taliban confirmed that it had agreed to open a political office in Qatar for talks with the "international community".
However, Taliban marginalized Afghan government and emphasized that the U.S. and the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" are the real sides involved in the Afghan conflict over the past 10 years.
Afghan government has noted that any peace talks should be led by Afghans.
Though Kabul and Washington welcomed Taliban readiness for talks, the elusive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar who had rejected any Afghan government's offers for talks in the presence of foreign forces, has yet to make comment.
Some Afghan officials are doubtful that the Taliban leadership really want to find a peaceful settlement on the negotiating table.
"We are not very much optimistic about talks with Taliban because they do not accept the constitution which guarantees the right of women and human rights. We support the peace talks but the condition is that Taliban should accept the constitution," Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a legislator and member of the High Peace Council, said in a television panel discussion Saturday.
Perry defends urinating US Marines
Press TV January 15, 2012
The Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, says US Marines videotaped urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are just an example of “kids” being kids.
"Obviously 18, 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often and that's what's occurred here," Perry said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
The Texan Governor also accused the US President Barack Obama's administration of "over-the-top rhetoric" and "disdain for the military" in their condemnation of the incident.
"These kids made a mistake, there's not any doubt about it. They shouldn't have done it, it's bad - but to call it a criminal act, I think is over the top," Perry added.
The footage, which was posted on the video-sharing website, YouTube, as well as other websites on Wednesday, shows the four members of the US Marine Corps in camouflage uniforms making lewd jokes, while urinating on the bodies of three Taliban militants.
None of the four Marines have been charged yet with any crimes, but the Geneva Conventions forbid desecration of the dead.
The incident also stirred up already strong anti-US sentiment in Afghanistan after more than a decade of war that has seen other cases of abuse.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan took place in 2001 under the pretext of combating terrorism, and toppling the Taliban regime.
However, insecurity continues to rise across Afghanistan despite the presence of foreign forces in the country.
Closure of NATO supply routes leaves thousands of Pakistanis jobless
More economic pain as Zardari faces a confidence vote next week.
Global Post By Aamir Latif January 14, 2012
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A record one and half month-long closure of two key NATO supply routes via Pakistan is squeezing the allied troops in war-stricken Afghanistan.
It has also rendered thousands of Pakistanis jobless.
Hundreds of containers loaded with non-lethal supplies, including oil and food — which remained lined up along the northeastern Torkhum border, and southwestern Chaman entrance since the last week of November 2011 — have started returning to their home destinations as backdoor diplomacy aimed at coaxing an irate Pakistani government to reopen the supply routes seems to have yielded few results.
Naseem Khan is one of thousands of people who have been making a living for last ten years transporting supplies for NATO troops from the southern port city of Karachi to southern and northeastern Afghanistan. In an interview, Khan said that he was frustrated by the failure of diplomatic efforts.
"I have been relying on my savings for the last month and a half," said Khan, who has been working as a crew member for a local transporter for the last seven years.
Read more: Zardari forms confidence motion for Monday vote
Pakistan closed down the two supply routes on Nov. 26, after NATO air strikes killed 26 Pakistani soldiers in a firefight near the border of northeastern Afghanistan.
A Pentagon-led investigation found that the incident was a result of miscommunication and poor coordination. But Pakistan rejected the inquiry, and believes the strike was a deliberate attack.
NATO transports 70 to 80 percent of its non-lethal supplies through these two routes.
The forces also have alternative routes through Central Asian states. But those routes are much more costly, particularly as the US economy struggles.
Working as a NATO supplier has always been risky. Hundreds of containers have been attacked by Taliban fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Drivers and crew are sometimes injured or even killed.
Read more: The American drone wars
But the work also offers generous salaries, insurance and other benefits that have lured thousands of Pakistanis to join the business as drivers, crew members, porters, and port and shipping related workers, during the past decade.
Crewmembers hauling NATO containers, all of which are owned by Pakistanis, earn six to eight times more than their colleagues who work for ordinary transporters. A crewmember used to earn about 500 dollars per month, while a non-NATO crew member might earn only 75-95 dollars each month.
In case of casualty or loss of container in Taliban attacks, the family members of the deceased and the owners are compensated heavily.
Khan, a Karachi native, said he only has a few more months of savings left to provide for his household. And he considers himself lucky to have that much.
"This is because of the good salary I used to draw (by working for NATO) that I am able to survive despite being jobless," he said.
Read more: Closed-border party
However, high inflation and ever-rising unemployment have left few chances for him and the thousands of other out-of-work drivers and crewmembers to find a new job.
"The traditional goods transportation system (within the country) is already shrinking due to poor economic conditions. Therefore, it is hard for us to employ people in such a huge number," Malik Sarwar Khan, a leader of Pakistan’s goods transportation association, told Global Post.
"We are already laying off our existing staff. I am afraid I have no good news for those who have gone jobless due to the closure of NATO supply routes," Sarwar Khan said.
According to government figures, Pakistan has conceded a loss of 68 billion dollars in the war on terror during the last decade, due to local and foreign capital flight, and investment losses. It has received around 12 billion dollars under aid, and coalition support fund accounts.
The World Bank, and the IMF figures say that nearly 34 percent of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line. Government figures say the number is lower, between 18-20 percent.
Like many analysts, Khan and Sarwar Khan hope the two sometimes-allies will come to some agreement.
"We too are sad over the killing of our soldiers. This was very unfortunate and should not have occurred," Khan said.
But he wants his job back.
10 militants surrender to gov't in W. Afghanistan
HERAT, Afghanistan, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Ten anti-government militants surrendered to government in western Afghan province of Herat on Sunday.
"A 10-member group of militants, including their commander namely Khud-i-Raham, renounced violence and joined the government in Pashtun Zarghun district of Herat province Sunday morning," provincial police Chief Sayed Agha Saqib told Xinhua.
He said the former group of militants was belonging to Hezb-e- Islami, the second militants group fighting government.
More than 3,000 anti-government insurgents, according to officials, have laid down arms in Afghanistan over the past year, a claim rejected by Taliban outfit as propaganda.
2 Taliban killed, 26 detained in Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Security forces have killed two Taliban insurgents and detained 26 others over the past 24 hours, the Afghan Interior Ministry said on Sunday.
"Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army and Coalition Forces have launched 10 joint operations in Nangarhar, Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Logar and Ghazni provinces over the past 24 hours," the ministry said in a press release.
"As a result of these operations, two armed insurgents were killed, one wounded and 26 others were arrested by the ANP," it said.
The joint forces also seized a handful of weapons besides defusing 35 anti-vehicle mines in the above operations, it said.
Pakistan Taliban denies reports on death of top Taliban leader
ISLAMABAD, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan Taliban on Sunday denied the reports about the killing of top Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud in U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan.
Pakistan's Dawn television reported Sunday evening that Hakimullah Mehsud has been killed in a U.S. drone strike in the country's North Waziristan tribal region.
Taliban rejected the report as baseless and a group's spokesman said that Mehsud was not in the area at the time of the strike.
Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said that Hakimullah Mehsud is alive and safe.
Dawn TV said that Pakistani security sources have confirmed Mehsud had been killed in the U.S. drone strike on Jan. 12.
The report said that the strike had targeted a vehicle near Miranshah, center of North Waziristan, killing four people.
Local media had earlier reported that militants from Turkmenistan had been killed in the strike.
It is the second time that media has reported the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. Local and foreign media had reported in February 2010 that he was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Later he released an audio to deny the rumors.
The U.S. Department of State has offered rewards of up to 5 million U.S. dollars for information leading to the location of Hakimullah Mehsud.
He was appointed the TTP chief after the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP founder, in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009.
Hakimullah Mehsud appeared in a video in January 2010 with the informant-turned-suicide bomber who killed five CIA officers and two CIA security contractors a month earlier in Afghanistan's Khost province.
What future for Afghan woman jailed for being raped ?
BBC News By Caroline Wyatt 14 January 2012
Kabul - Two high profile cases of violence have sparked domestic and international outcry over the treatment of Afghan women, but campaigners fear a winding down of the military campaign will mean the international community will no longer be interested.
Outside it was a gloriously sunny winter's day. The mountains that loom above the city silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky. But inside the house was dark and the curtains drawn, so that the neighbours could not see in.
This was the safe house in Kabul where Gulnaz and her child had found refuge. The women there asked not to be identified in case their house was burnt down.
Just 21, Gulnaz had been released that week from prison, where she had given birth to her daughter Moska. Gulnaz seemed younger than her years, but she held my gaze almost defiantly as she told her story.
She had been imprisoned in a Kabul women's jail after her cousin's husband raped her.
The crime came to light when the unmarried Gulnaz became pregnant.
The police came and arrested both Gulnaz and her attacker. Under Afghan law she too was found guilty of a crime known as "adultery by force", with her sentence increased on appeal to 12 years.
When the case aroused condemnation abroad, President Hamid Karzai intervened and Gulnaz was pardoned.
Looking bewildered at her sudden freedom, she told me all she wanted was to go home to her family. In order to do that, she was prepared to marry the man who raped her - otherwise their families would be enemies.
The problem for Gulnaz is that if her attacker will not marry her - or cannot come up with a substantial dowry - the "stain" on her family's honour will remain, perhaps with lethal consequences for Gulnaz and her child. That may mean she can never go home.
For a single mother, unskilled and unqualified, there are few ways for a woman to survive in Afghanistan without family support.
An American lawyer in Kabul, Kim Motley, has taken up Gulnaz's case. She is trying to raise money for her to fund a new life, somehow, somewhere, if Gulnaz cannot go home.
Rescued from violence
I was still wondering what would happen to her when we went to meet 15-year-old Sahar Gul, as she lay in a hospital bed recovering from her injuries, too traumatised to talk.
Married off to a 30-year-old man for a dowry of about $4,500 (£3,000), Sahar had been kept locked in a cellar for several months, starved and tortured by her husband and his family. It is still not really clear why.
Sahar may not have been able to speak, but her injuries did.
Burns to her arm and her fragile body, a swollen black eye, clumps of hair torn out. One small hand was scarred, where her fingernail had been pulled out.
The abuse aroused public indignation in Afghanistan, as well as horror abroad.
But Sahar was perhaps, in a strange way, lucky.
She did not run away from a violent marriage, as some Afghan brides have, but was instead rescued from it by police. So she cannot be found guilty of what might otherwise be deemed a "moral crime", as other young Afghan women have been.
Both Sahar and Gulnaz's stories are extreme. But they made me wonder how many other women in Afghanistan still suffer in silence, 10 years after the fall of the Taliban.
There are laws banning violence against women, but enforcing them is hard. Tradition and family or community honour is often seen as more important than an individual's misery or misfortune.
Poverty and lack of education also mean under-age marriage remains common.
When Sahar did try to escape her torturers, it was apparently the neighbours who brought her back to them, before the police intervened.
In a quiet, book-lined office in Kabul - a world away from the controlled chaos of the hospital and the dimly-lit safe house - I asked the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission what she thought.
A no-nonsense woman with steely grey hair, Dr Sima Samar has long risked her own life to speak out for the principles she believes in, equality and justice.
Her answer was clear: She and her colleagues in Afghanistan will carry on fighting to improve the lives of women like Gulnaz and Sahar.
But Dr Samar, like many others, fears the international community is no longer quite so interested in keeping up the pressure on women's rights, as the West seeks to wind down its military campaign.
When Western soldiers no longer patrol the streets of Afghanistan, it will be easier to ignore what goes on behind locked doors and closed curtains in a faraway place.
Afghan Forces Unable to Hold Security After 2014
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 15 January 2012
A 166 page report published in The Sunday Age, an Australian newspaper, raises fresh doubts about capability of Afghan security forces to take over after 2014 when all foreign troops withdraw from the country.
The recent attacks in government institutions showed that Afghan forces failed to respond on time and repel the attacks, the report added.
Afghan forces are either absent and stand watching US troops launching operations against the insurgents.
In a co-ordinated attack in Trinkot last year, Afghan forces failed to respond and repel the attack, so US troops took lead and entered an occupied building. While US took the lead and stormed the building unexpected consequences happened and a local militia commander was killed by US forces and seven US soldiers were also killed due to two explosions inside the building.
In most of the attacks by insurgents, it was the Nato and US troops who erupted the attacks and killed the attackers.
As the Afghan government is insisting that Afghan forces are on track to take over, Australian and other foreign troops have said the attacks have clearly shown they are unable.
Currently, the second phase of security transition is underway and control of 18 provinces will be handed over to Afghan forces.
The foreign combat troops are willing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and only a limited number of them will remain in a training role.
Australian government will start it's withdrawal process from next year to boost the process of transition scheduled in 2014.
Currently, Australia has 1,550 soldiers in Afghanistan most of them stationed in southwestern province of Uruzgan.
It lost 32 soldiers since the start of the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan.
Seized data upsets Afghans
Sydney Morning Herald By MICHAEL INMAN 15 Jan, 2012
THE COLLECTION of biometric data in Afghanistan is causing a rift in relations between residents and international forces, an international observer says.
Defence figures show about 85per cent of Afghan's apprehended by Australian troops are set free. However, they undergo screening that includes the collection of fingerprints, height and weight measurements, photographs of marks or scars and iris scanning.
The material is then cross-referenced with evidence collected from bomb blasts.
Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based thinktank, said the ''catch'' aspect of international military operation's so-called ''catch and kill'' policy was increasingly upsetting locals.
''It is one of the main complaints of the Afghan Government, and of local communities, that international forces can barge into houses and detain - and sometimes kill - whomever they want,'' she said. ''There is a strong sense that many people who are detained are innocent and that the intelligence is patchy or sometimes even fabricated, and this conviction is strengthened by the high proportion of releases.''
Ms van Bijlert said Afghans distrusted the International Security Assistance Force's wide-net approach to detentions.
''There ... seems be an element of wanting to check out as many people as possible, to gather intelligence and to see what comes out of it. There is ... this drive going on to gather the biometric data of as many people as possible.''
Ms van Bijlert said anyone who comes into contact with the military would be registered and Afghans didn't know where the information goes.
An Australian Defence Force spokesman said biometric data collected from arrests was cross-referenced with evidence brought from improvised explosive device-related events or other incidents.
''ISAF manages a country-wide biometric database which includes data from detainees and other Afghans who are biometrically enrolled during security operations,'' the spokesman said.
''Information contained within this database is also available to ISAF's Afghan National Security Force partners and is included in evidence packs when detainees are transferred to Afghan custody for prosecution.''
Pakistan rejects U.S. inquiry report on NATO attack
ISLAMABAD, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan has rejected a U.S. Central Command report on inquiry into the November 26, 2011 NATO air strikes on two Pakistan border posts which had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, local media reported on Sunday.
The U.S. report claimed that Pakistani forces had first fired at NATO forces in Afghanistan, which promoted air strikes by the U. S. fighter jets and helicopters.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani presided over the meeting of Defense Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) late Saturday which formally rejected the U.S. report, official sources said.
The meeting was attended by top military brass and key ministers.
Gilani said that regret expressed by the U.S. and NATO officials over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers was insufficient.
Pakistani army's inquiry report pointed out that NATO had not informed Pakistani forces prior to the attack on two checkpoints in Mohmand tribal region bordering Afghanistan. "Pakistani forces informed NATO officials about the first strike, despite this, another attack was carried out,"the DCC said.
Pakistan, as a sign of angry protest, had closed key supply line for NATO forces in Afghanistan and expelled the U.S. forces from a strategic airbase.
The DCC demanded apology from the U.S. and NATO over the deaths of Pakistani soldiers.
It recommended levying tax on NATO supplies and the decision on whether or not to reopen supply route will be taken by the Parliamentary Committee on National Security.
The meeting also renewed demand that the U.S. military stop drone strikes in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions.
Analyst: US Using Afghanistan, Taliban to Attain Bigger Goals
Fars News Agency January 15, 2012
TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Afghan political analyst underlined the strategic importance of Afghanistan for the US, and said Washington uses Afghanistan and Taliban as a tool to attain its macro-scale goals in the region.
"Afghanistan is a good option for the US strategically since the country can prevent unity among the four powerful Asian countries, China, Russia, Iran and India," Hashem Esmatollahi told FNA on Sunday.
He also referred to the relations and contacts between the Taliban and the US which have recently increased, and said Washington is using Taliban as a tool to materialize its goals in Afghanistan and in the region.
Esmatollahi said that the strategy of creating crisis and managing the same crisis is a main tool utilized by the White House to attain its long-term goals in Afghanistan.
Earlier, a member of the Afghan Parliament had also said that the US military invasion of Afghanistan was a move to serve its own interests and not for the sake of the Afghan people, as claimed.
"The noticeable issue is that the US has not come to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people but it is seeking its own interests through the (military) presence in Afghanistan," Abdolhafiz Mansour told FNA in Kabul in December.
Mansour stressed that the US will use all possible means to achieve its goals, and noted, "Yesterday their interests were in military invasion and now they (interests) may be in their withdrawal from Afghanistan."
The Afghan lawmaker further pointed to Afghanistan's dire need to international economic support, and called on the US to abide by its financial pledges to Afghanistan since Washington's unmet pledges to Afghanistan are abundant.
Police seize 70 kg heroin in eastern Afghanistan
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police seized 70 kg of heroin in the country's eastern province of Nangarhar on Sunday.
"Based on intelligence, a unit of Afghan Border Police launched a hunt operation to capture a drug smuggler, who was expected to drive along a road in Khogyani district on Sunday morning," border police commander in the province, Wali Khan, told Xinhua.
He said that the smuggler managed to escape but the vehicle was held and 70 kg of heroin was seized.
The insurgency-hit Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw element for making heroin.
According to officials, more than 6,400 tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan last year.
Our Afghan partners go missing in action
Sydney Morning Herald By Tom Hyland January 15, 2012
A SECRET US Army report has undermined a glowing Australian account of the role Afghan forces played in repelling an unprecedented Taliban attack near Australia's main base in Afghanistan.
The 166-page report obtained by The Sunday Age, raises fresh doubts about the capacity of Afghan forces to take over when Australian and other foreign troops pull out.
The federal government insists the Afghans are on track to take charge of security by 2014, so Australians can leave.
The Australian Defence Force praised what it said was the prompt, professional and co-ordinated Afghan response to the Taliban attack in Tarin Kowt on July 28 last year.
But the US report paints a picture of confusion, with Afghan forces failing to respond to a key part of the Taliban assault - an attempt to kill a militia leader who is a close ally of Australian special forces.
Afghan forces were either absent or stood by and watched as US troops attacked Taliban fighters who had blasted their way into the government broadcasting station adjoining the compound of militia leader Matiullah Khan.
Adding to the confusion was the fact US troops could not distinguish between official Afghan forces and the militia. While Afghan forces repelled a related Taliban assault on the nearby governor's office, US troops were on their own at the broadcasting station.
Standard procedure was for Afghan forces to take the lead in clearing a building where the Taliban were holed up.
In their absence, US troops stormed the building, with disastrous consequences. Two Taliban fighters detonated suicide vests, burying seven soldiers, including the battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel David Oeschger, who was seriously wounded.
In what the report says was the ''stress and urgency of the moment'', a US soldier then shot dead Afghan journalist Ahmad Omaid Khpalwak, in the mistaken belief he was a suicide bomber. Afghan forces only moved into the building once the Taliban and the journalist were killed, and wounded Americans were dug out of the rubble.
The US report also suggests the Australian response to the attacks was more extensive than the ADF revealed at the time.
Initially classified as secret, the report was heavily censored before being released to The Sunday Age under the US Freedom of Information Act. Even so, it contains detail rarely, if ever, released by Australian agencies.
The report details the findings of a US army inquiry into the killing of Khpalwak, a journalist for a local news agency and the BBC who had worked for Australian outlets, including The Sunday Age.
When US troops rushed to the broadcasting station, they found a confused scene. They were not sure if Afghan troops at the site were militia or government forces, as they wore the same uniforms. The militia operated ''in a grey area'' and were not formally recognised by NATO forces, the report says.
As for the Afghan National Police, ''they did not have a significant organised presence'' at the scene. Whether militia, army or police, the Afghan forces ''did not appear to be actively responding to the situation in an organised manner''.
A US platoon commander said when he arrived at the scene Afghan forces ''were on the west side of the compound or standing on the roofs watching the fight''.
Another US soldier said police ''only showed up'' after two suicide explosions. He said: ''I was disappointed the ANP did not show up earlier; I expected them to clear the building.''
With limited or no co-ordination at the scene, there were wider problems of linking-up between Afghan and foreign troops, according to a US company commander.
US officers could not communicate with Afghan counterparts, who rely on mobile phones, as the phone system was overloaded. ''Therefore there was no real co-ordination with the ANP,'' which failed to block routes or set up traffic check points around the scene.
The company commander said a key lesson from the attack was: ''Continually reiterate ANP [go in] first, even if they need a nudge from US forces to act.''
Afghan forces performed better elsewhere, taking the lead in defending the governor's compound, where they killed the Taliban attackers, throwing one of the bodies off the roof.
The US report reveals Australian troops were present during the fighting at the governor's compound.
Two days after the attack, the ADF denied Australian soldiers were ''involved in the immediate response'' to the attacks. But one US soldier said that when he arrived at the compound, he found Australian soldiers outside and a ''firefight taking place inside''.
Another said Australian and US soldiers at the scene ''worked out a plan to infiltrate the complex in order to rescue'' Afghan officials trapped inside.
But with Afghan forces dispatching the Taliban, the rescue plan was not needed. A day after the attacks, the ADF issued a statement saying Afghan forces responded ''quickly and professionally to the insurgent action''.
The ADF said the wounds suffered by US soldiers - one of whom was shot in the neck and shoulder and others who were evacuated for treatment in Germany after being buried under rubble - were ''relatively minor''.
It said the Afghan army ''effectively co-ordinated'' the response to the attacks.
Kabul's wheels of change
Sydney Morning Herald January 15, 2012
An Australian is helping Afghans change their lives through the power of skateboarding, writes Jackie Dent.
HANIFA glides down the slanted ramp, her bright red-and-green traditional garb sparkling as she whizzes across the smooth floor. A little girl with bright-pink knee-pads follows her move, a determined look on her face. Nearby, Fazila has her hand extended, rolling another little girl backwards and forwards on a mini-ramp. The air in the expansive indoor skate park is cool and smells of fresh timber.
Two years ago, Hanifa, 14, and Fazila, 16, were eking out a living selling chewing gum in the streets of Kabul to support their families. Now, the pair are paid instructors at Skateistan, what is thought to be the world's first co-educational skateboarding school - a spacious facility with two classrooms, a climbing wall, an array of ramps and walls plastered with colourful children's drawings.
Each week, Skateistan says, up to 400 children turn up to study an arts-based curriculum and learn how to skateboard. Not only are these young women taking home about 9000 Afghani (about $180) a month but they also recently returned from a youth leadership meeting and skating demonstration in Italy. ''I want to be a skate star,'' a grinning Hanifa says through an interpreter.
The profound transformation of these young women's lives - and swathes of other children and teenagers - has largely come about through the energy and ambition of Oliver Percovich, a 37-year-old Melbourne man who moved to Kabul in 2007.
With just three skateboards, he and two friends turned a decrepit concrete fountain into a skateboard park but realised before long the kids needed to do more than ollies, 180s and kickflips.
Four years on, Percovich, who previously ran an organic bakery and worked as a researcher in emergency management, has seen his NGO move well beyond the confines of a Soviet-era fountain. A new facility catering for 1000 students is set to open in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif this year. A Skateistan facility has opened in Cambodia and they are looking to build a new skate park. A feature-length documentary about the path to building the Kabul school is touring the international film circuit. And last month, Percovich was in Cape Town, where Skateistan was a finalist at the Beyond Sport Awards, a new sport-for-social-change initiative set up by the former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Skating in Western culture has long been perceived as an outsider's hobby and the decision by Percovich to use skateboarding as a tool to connect to the poor youths instantly set him apart from the mainstream, and donor, culture. But Percovich - one day dressed in a grey Skateistan hoodie, the next in an elegant, locally made coat with old Arabic coins as buttons - has learnt to play the aid game.
''It is interesting that we got our first money from Norway and skateboarding was actually banned in Norway in 1988,'' he says.
''Skateistan is still the same thing - [no matter how] I talk about it to an ambassador or a parent of a student here, you've got to stress the things they want to hear. It's simply packaging it in a certain way but keeping focused on what we want to do, rather than what a donor had money for or what a donor wanted to do.''
The school and skate park, not far from downtown Kabul, was ultimately funded by European governments and built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.
While Percovich is diplomatic about the limited support he has received from AusAID and Australia in general, he jokes that a hokey 2010 exchange about Skateistan in a Senate committee would make for a good T-shirt. The exchange started with Liberal senator David Johnston calling the NGO ''Skat-hai-stan''. That this small NGO was raised in Senate highlights how difficult it can be for unique projects to get funded if oppositions subsequently use them as a means to embarrass governments. The inference from Johnston's words was that there is something suspect about supporting youth and skateboards.
Under Afghan Ministry of Finance figures published in 2010, $US57 billion was spent on reconstruction and development between 2002 and 2010. But Percovich is determined to be as independent of donors as possible. He has struck up deals with various skateboarding companies in which part of the profits goes straight to Skateistan. Products developed under these deals include a red, black and green - the colours of the Afghan flag - skate sneaker made by Fallen, a Californian company, and pads and helmets by TSG, a German manufacturer.
Setting up a sport-based NGO, particularly one related to skateboarding and involving girls, also set Percovich at odds with Afghan culture. ''Afghans really love shows of strength,'' he says.
''In terms of sports that are popular - bodybuilding is really popular, anything that is risky
I also guess there just hasn't been opportunities for doing sport when people have really been caught up in all the violence that has gone on for so long.
''First thing's first, when you have to put bread on the table, recreation and sport are definitely seen as less important.''
When families have been opposed to girls coming to the school, Skateistan staff have been dispatched to hold talks - usually successfully - to nut out the problem. With up to 150 girls now coming each week to skate, the Kabul school is technically the largest female sporting federation in Afghanistan.
The constant threat of unpredictable violence, cuts to power and the internet and a difficult bureaucracy mean plans are afoot to move the headquarters of Skateistan to Europe. Percovich also wants to be able to pay international staff, who now work voluntarily and live together in a guesthouse across town.
Every day the school faces enormous challenges but Percovich is persistent.
''We are looking for outcomes and I don't think we are going to have those outcomes without spending 10 years on the ground.''
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