[Afghan News] July 24, 2012 - 08-09-2012, 04:02 PM
By Hamid Shalizi |
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has asked major Western backers and diplomats to furnish a list of contractors they use with close ties to top Afghan officials as part of efforts to crack down on rampant corruption worrying international donors.
Graft remains one of the biggest headaches for President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's international backers, who demanded at a conference in Tokyo this month that the government combat graft as the price of future aid worth $16 billion.
Karzai in turn has accused the international community of helping to fuel corruption and has asked foreign donors to stop awarding massive reconstruction projects to contractors linked to senior officials in his government.
"As part of fighting corruption outside the government, we have asked the United States and UK embassies, and NATO authorities, to give us a list of names of major contractors related to senior officials," a senior government official told Reuters on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
"We have made plans to fight corruption at all levels, within and outside the government."
Afghanistan is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International.
Much of the money has been siphoned from billions of dollars worth of aid and reconstruction projects, some awarded to contractors with ties to Karzai's extended family, damaging the president's own popularity.
"The contractors often misuse the names of senior officials and use that influence to win tens of millions of dollars they earn from the projects," the official said.
Karzai called last month, just ahead of the major donors' meeting in Tokyo, for parliament to do more to tackle graft and said "corruption has reached its peak in Afghanistan".
While the call fell short of Western hopes for tough action and prosecutions, his remarks were seen as one of the strongest commitments to fight graft since U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.
Karzai promised he would bring administrative reforms from top to bottom in his government, a vow which was welcomed by the international community.
Karzai's chief spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the decree on administrative reforms would be signed by Karzai "very soon" but rejected reports that some Cabinet ministers and provincial governors under a graft cloud would soon be sacked.
"Each ministry and government administration will be given a timeframe to introduce reforms, better governance, and most importantly tackle graft," Faizi told Reuters.
Highlighting the worries among Karzai's backers, Britain's aid watchdog this year called on the government in London to tighten its oversight of aid to Afghanistan.
Karzai's government has yet to prosecute a single high-level corruption case.
(Editing by Rob Taylor and Nick Macfie)
U.S. commander accused of stalling Afghan hospital abuse probe
By Missy Ryan | Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. general in Afghanistan sought to stall an investigation into waste and abuse at a U.S.-funded hospital in Kabul, possibly for political reasons, current and former U.S. military officials told Congress on Tuesday.
Retired Colonel Gerald Carozza, who served as an adviser to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, accused Lieutenant General William Caldwell, then head of U.S. and NATO efforts to train Afghan security forces, and other senior officials of delaying a military investigation into allegations of corruption and patient abuse at the Dawood National Military Hospital.
"The evidence is clear to me that General Caldwell had the request (for a probe into the hospital) withdrawn and postponed until after the (November 2010 U.S. congressional) election and then, after the election, tried to intimidate his subordinates into a consensus that it need not move forward at all," Carozza told a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Carozza and several other former and current officials told lawmakers, who are examining whether military leaders blocked or delayed the hospital probe, that they struggled to get commanders to act on reports of entrenched problems at the U.S.-funded hospital.
According to the Oversight Committee, the United States has spent over $180 million on operating medical sites in Afghanistan, most of which is believed to have gone to Dawood, where NATO personnel oversee Afghan medical staff.
Lawmakers have also said that $43 million in U.S. aid was "missing" at the Kabul military hospital.
Photographs taken at the hospital in 2010 showed neglected patients suffering from problems including gangrene and maggots in their wounds.
Caldwell, who is now a senior Army official in the United States, and other military officials who oversaw the U.S. training effort in Afghanistan were not invited to testify at Tuesday's hearing.
Colonel Wayne Shanks, a military spokesman, said Caldwell "would welcome the opportunity to respond to any inquiry and I'm confident that once the facts are presented and examined, all allegations will be proven false."
Lawmakers have asked the Defense Department to examine whether military leaders had sought to cover up reports of abuse at the hospital in 2010, including reports of vital medicine being stolen while patients languished without proper care.
Beyond the possible diversion of U.S. supplies and funds, U.S. support for the military hospital takes on greater importance as NATO nations seek to foster an effective Afghan military. Providing Afghan soldiers adequate medical care will be crucial if local forces are to stand against the Taliban when foreign troops withdraw in coming years.
Subcommittee chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, seized on reports that Caldwell and other military leaders sought to deter hospital probes as what he said was proof of a Pentagon failure to provide Congress with accurate, timely information about its activities -- and shortcomings -- in Afghanistan.
Chaffetz said senior commanders in Afghanistan, including Caldwell and General David Petraeus, the then-head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan who now leads the Central Intelligence Agency, were briefed on the hospital's problems.
"Investigations were apparently delayed because of personal politics and an aggressive public relations campaign attempted to cloud the facts," Chaffetz said.
"I want the Pentagon to be on notice;- it will not be acceptable to hide documents," he later said.
The Defense Department has acknowledged problems at the hospital and has said that "investigations and corrective action" were under way.
The Pentagon's inspector general office has undertaken several investigations of the Afghan medical system, including the Dawood hospital, but officials declined to comment on whether the inspector general would conduct a separate probe into allegations senior officials sought to cover up problems.
While Carozza said Caldwell resisted suggestions of a new hospital probe even after the November 2010 congressional elections, Colonel Mark Fassl, former inspector general for the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, told lawmakers he was asked to retract a request for a stepped-up hospital probe shortly before the elections.
Fassl said that Caldwell brought up his relationship to President Barack Obama in discussing the potential probe ahead of the elections.
(Editing by Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman)
Karzai Asks Berlin for Help with Taliban Talks
SPIEGEL ONLINE By Matthias Gebauer 23/07/2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked Germany to act as a discreet go-between with the Taliban in the hopes of paving the way for eventual peace talks. It is a role that Germany has played before -- in an effort that was ultimately torpedoed by Karzai himself.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has asked the German government for a renewed attempt in the difficult task of mediating peace talks with the Taliban. SPIEGEL has learned that Karzai asked German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle for help getting the Taliban back to the negotiating table on the sidelines of the international donor conference in Tokyo at the beginning of July.
Germany played a similar role in 2010 and 2011, operating as a discreet intermediary in a political rapprochement between the US and the Taliban Islamists. Indeed, two years ago Berlin was a key player in the only promising attempt to approach the Taliban thus far. At the time, Special Representative Michael Steiner was able to initiate exploratory talks between envoys from the Taliban and US government representatives following a lengthy process of convincing the two sides to meet without preconditions.
The delicate mission was initially successful. After several extensive checks, aimed at determining if the Taliban envoy was indeed sent by the leadership of the insurgency, Steiner organized an initial meeting between Tayyeb Agha, who is thought to be a close confidant of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and two US representatives, one from the State Department and one from the National Security Council. The secret meeting took place at a safe house belonging to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, in the town of Pullach just outside of Munich. The BND had been responsible for flying the Taliban emissary safely and discreetly to Munich in a private jet prior to the meeting.
Details from the meeting read like a spy novel. Following a few hours of initial talks between the declared enemies from Washington and Afghanistan, Steiner invited the Taliban representatives on a sightseeing tour of his home town. They visited a church together and he took them on a ride on a cable car. Both sides insisted on the utmost secrecy given concerns as to how people in the US and in Afghanistan might react should news of the talks get out.
The rapprochement was aimed at paving the way for talks between the Taliban, the US and, eventually, the Afghan government. With NATO and US withdrawal from Afghanistan pending, a consensus has developed among countries involved in the mission that ultimately, the insurgents will have to be reintegrated into Afghan power structures. Otherwise it is difficult to see how the country can avoid drifting into chaos.
A Trust-Building Exercise
In further meetings, Agha and the US representatives reached an initial agreement -- a kind of trust-building exercise. The US was to release five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo while the Taliban, in exchange, was to hand over a US soldier who had been abducted in the summer of 2009. Then, the Taliban was to be allowed to open their first diplomatic representation overseas in Qatar, which would play a key role once real talks began.
By the end of 2011, the groups had met more than seven times, and the diplomatic high-wire act appeared to be working. Shortly after the Afghanistan conference in Bonn, the diplomatic mission in Qatar was to be opened, and the Red Cross had already spoken with the Taliban commanders who were imprisoned in Guantanamo. But Afghan President Karzai, who had been informed about the secret get-togethers in Munich and Qatar by Steiner, felt left out and torpedoed the agreement, criticizing the process as illegitimate. Discussion stalled just as a breakthrough appeared to be possible.
Negotiations have since failed to resume in any meaningful way. Though there have been meetings, the release of the five top Taliban commanders from Guantanamo has become more difficult from a US domestic policy perspective. The situation hasn't become easier for the Taliban, either. After the talks became public, some of the movement's commanders revolted against the potential rapprochement with the US, their arch enemy. In early 2012, the Taliban broke off contact completely.
A Serious Setback
It remains uncertain whether a second attempt could succeed. This spring, Michael Steiner, now German ambassador to India, signalled to Karzai that he thought a second secret mediation effort by Germany would be possible, but not before the US presidential election in November. Steiner also made it very clear that renewed talks could only work if Karzai, who views US activities with what has become a near paranoia, agreed to fully back the process and not to disrupt it from outside.
Berlin has declined to make any comment on Steiner's efforts or on Germany's potential role in renewed efforts to make contact with the Taliban. But in Tokyo, Westerwelle assured Karzai that Berlin was prepared to support the peace process at any time. More than any other cabinet member, Westerwelle frequently underscores that a political solution is the only way out of the current quagmire.
Afghan efforts to open a dialogue with the Taliban recently suffered a serious setback. Kabul had managed to convince a representative of the rebels to attend an informal meeting with an envoy from Karzai's so-called High Peace Council in Dubai. But the second attempt to hold talks, which also had the support of the United Nations, failed. Having caught wind of the meeting, Pakistan prevented the Taliban member from leaving the country.
Gunmen shoot dead American civilian in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Gunmen killed three people in an ambush on a van in northern Afghanistan, including an American electrical engineer who had lived in the country for decades, Afghan and U.S. authorities said Tuesday.
The U.S. Embassy could not provide further details about the slain American because of privacy laws, but three Afghan security officials said he had been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years.
The Afghan officials said two or three assailants attack the vehicle Monday in northern Parwan province. Two Afghans — the driver and one of the American's colleagues — were also killed in the attack, said Shirin Agha, the police chief in Parwan's Siahgerd district.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the killings.
Agha said the American had "a long beard and he was wearing an Afghan shalwar kameez so he looked like an Afghan," referring to the long shirt and loose-fitting pants that most Afghan men wear.
"The villagers said this man had long-time contacts in this district, doing his electrical work," he added.
According to Agha, residents said the American had been in Afghanistan for about 30 years. No other details about the man, or who he worked for, were available. Afghan security officials said he may have worked for a foreign aid agency, but did not know which one.
Although uncommon, there are a number of foreigners who have lived in Afghanistan for years, some even for decades.
It was unclear whether the American was the intended victim of the attack, or whether the van was specifically targeted by the attackers.
If the American was indeed the target, officials did not know how the gunmen knew he was in it. It is unsafe for foreigners to travel unescorted in most parts of Afghanistan and they are often targets for insurgent and criminal groups.
An official for the Afghan National Security Directorate, Nihmatullah, said one of the shooters was wearing a uniform of the Afghan Local Police, a village-level security organization. Like many Afghans, he goes by one name.
Mujahid said in a text message to The Associated Press that an Afghan policeman opened fire and killed three people, including the American.
7 Afghan children killed in bomb blast
CHIGHCHIRAN, Afghanistan, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Seven Afghan children were killed when a bomb went off in western province of Ghor on Tuesday, a provincial government spokesman said.
"A total of seven innocent children were grazing their animals in Taiwara district earlier Tuesday but one stepped on a pressure- plate bomb leading to a powerful blast killing all of them on the spot," Abdul Hai Khatibi told Xinhua.
He blamed Taliban insurgents for planting the bomb targeting security forces in the area.
Taliban militants, who launched an annual spring offensive on May 3 against Afghan and NATO forces, have been largely relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks, often causing civilian casualties.
A total of 3,021 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict in 2011, up 8 percent compared with 2010, according to the United Nations annual report released in Kabul in February this year.
13 Afghan Police 'Defect' To Taliban
July 24, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Officials in Afghanistan say a police commander and 12 junior officers have defected to the Taliban after poisoning seven colleagues.
Officials in the western province of Farah said on July 24 that the commander, known as Mirwais, was in charge of a checkpoint in the Bala Boluk district when he and his unit defected to the Taliban and handed over their equipment and weapons, including military vehicles.
Officials said the seven police were apparently poisoned because they refused to join the Taliban.
All of those poisoned were taken to a hospital for treatment and their condition was not immediately clear.
Officials said the defection was the first time police have joined the Taliban and taken so much equipment with them.
Farah, bordering Iran, is one of western Afghanistan's most insecure provinces.
Based on reporting by AFP and BBC Pashto
Gunmen Attack NATO Supply Trucks in Pakistan
July 24, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Gunmen in northwest Pakistan have attacked a convoy of container trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Officials said the attack on July 24 outside Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal district killed one driver and left another injured.
Officials said the attackers were riding a motorbike and escaped after the attack.
It is the first such attack since Pakistan reopened its border to NATO supply convoys three weeks ago after a seven-month blockade staged in protest at a NATO air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post.
The Pakistani Taliban have threatened to attack NATO trucks and their drivers.
Islamist groups have also held large demonstrations against the resumption of supply lines.
NATO supplies have been frequently attacked in Pakistan since 2008.
Based on reporting by AFP and Radio Mashaal
Promoting Economic Development In Afghanistan
VOA News Editorial July 23, 2012
Sustained financial support is only possible, and only responsible, if Afghanistan successfully implements its program of necessary governance and economic reforms.
At the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan on July 8, the international community made clear its intent to support Afghanistan while recognizing that sustained financial support is only possible, and only responsible, if Afghanistan successfully implements its program of necessary governance and economic reforms and maintains a political system that reflects its pluralistic society.
In this context, the international community has pledged $16 billion in development aid for Afghanistan over the next four years. Speaking at the conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Afghanistan’s security cannot only be measured by the absence of war. It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds.”
The United States welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s public commitment in Tokyo to fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law, and increasing access to economic opportunity for all Afghans, especially for women. As Secretary Clinton said, “No nation can achieve sustainable peace, reconciliation, stability, and economic growth if half the population is not empowered. All citizens need to have the chance to benefit from and contribute to Afghanistan’s progress, and the United States will continue to stand strongly by the women of Afghanistan.”
In addition to the international community, Afghanistan’s neighbors have an especially key role to play. The New Silk Road, or expanded regional trade, is critical to an economically thriving South and Central Asia. Nothing offers a more credible alternative to violence than an inclusive economy that offers jobs and opportunities under the rule of law. Increasing regional trade will open up new sources of raw materials, energy, and agricultural products, not just for Afghanistan but for all nations in the region.
The last essential element of a successful economic transition is the private sector. It is the key to driving growth, creating jobs, and supporting the kind of reform that needs to be sustainable. “We look to the Afghan government,” said Secretary Clinton, “to follow through on their reform commitments, and we look to the international community to do what we can to draw business and investment to Afghanistan.”
“The future,” said Secretary Clinton, “has got to be what the Afghan people have forged for themselves, and we need to make sure that we do everything to make that a reality.”
Afghan Cabinet Raises Concern About Mining Legislation, to West’s Unease
New York Times By MATTHEW ROSENBERG July 23, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - For Afghan mining officials and their Western advisers, revamping the Afghan laws that cover mining and oil drilling looked like an easy sell with a big payoff: new rules would give foreign investors certainty and, in the process, begin transforming Afghanistan from a ward of the international community into a state that could better pay its own way.
Instead, the new laws are now in limbo after a group of Afghan cabinet ministers and senior officials last week objected to the draft legislation as kowtowing to foreign mining interests eager to hijack Afghanistan’s natural resources. “A balance has to be struck so we can make sure that our patrimony does not become a pot of porridge for others,” said Ashraf Ghani, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
With the end of the NATO military mission in Afghanistan looming in 2014, the dispute over the legislation reflects growing Afghan unease over how steep a price their country — among the world’s poorest and most corrupt — may have to pay for outside help in the future.
Exploiting Afghanistan’s potentially rich deposits of iron, oil, gold, copper and other minerals and gemstones is seen as crucial to the country’s economic prospects, and, by extension, the West’s ability to cut back over the next decade the billions of dollars spent each year on the government, the army, the police and myriad development projects.
Afghanistan’s big international backers — the United States, Germany, Japan, among others — were so certain the laws would soon be in place that this month they made $16 billion in aid commitments for the coming four years based in part on projections of future mining revenues the Afghan government could expect.
The cabinet’s rejection of the draft legislation in a special session on Wednesday caught Western diplomats in Kabul off guard. “We did not know it was going to cabinet last week,” Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Kabul, said in an interview. “We’re still playing catch-up.”
But he added that the Afghans were worried about being taken advantage of and wary of suffering the fate of other states where mining has fueled instability. “There has to be enough of an incentive to bring in the companies and yet enough assurance that they won’t be taken for a ride,” he said.
Mr. Karzai affirmed the cabinet’s decision, saying in a statement on Monday that the Justice Ministry and other departments would review the laws to ensure they better protect “the national interests of Afghanistan.” That could delay new legislation by months, at least, sending Western officials scrambling to help Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines get the legislation back on track.
The immediate concern is that at least five open tenders — four gold and copper concessions and one significant oil and gas project — could attract far less lucrative bids than expected if Afghanistan’s laws are not soon brought in line with global norms, Afghan mining officials and Western officials said.
Bidding on those concessions is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Among the companies expressing interest is ExxonMobil, by far the largest to seriously explore investing in Afghanistan.
If the expected revenue streams from mining are delayed or diminished, Afghanistan is “going to need a lot more funding,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Are the publics in Europe and the United States going to have the interest in Afghanistan to make current aid levels feasible?” the official continued. “I don’t think so.”
No one on either side of the disagreement over the new legislation disputes that Afghanistan needs the money mining could bring in. But “we’re being inundated by people who have a conflict of interest advising us,” said Mr. Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official who is now overseeing the transition from a Western-led rebuilding effort to one run largely by the Afghan government.
“Will the advisers end up working for the very same companies that are investing?” he said in a telephone interview. “These are questions we need to ask in particular given the revolving-door culture in the United States and other international organizations.”
Mr. Ghani, who also taught at Johns Hopkins University, was careful to present his opposition to the draft legislation as a matter of getting Afghanistan the best deal from the foreign companies, whose money and expertise he acknowledged Afghanistan did need.
He also said care had to be taken to ensure mining and oil concessions did not become a source of conflict, as has happened in many countries, especially in Africa. Mining, he said, could turn Afghanistan “into Chile, or it could turn us into Congo.”
The draft legislation is intended to update earlier laws written with World Bank assistance and passed in 2009. Those laws are seen by the mining industry as highly problematic — they, for instance, give no guarantee that a company that conducts exploration would get to exploit what it found.
Afghanistan’s commerce minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady, said he understood the concerns, but was not comfortable being rushed into making a decision or with the level of foreign involvement in drafting the new laws.
“The previous law was written by experts from the World Bank, and they were all highly paid consultants. And now we have more highly paid consultants telling us we need new laws,” he said. “We just need to know why it needs to change.”
But other senior officials present at the cabinet meeting, most of them far less knowledgeable about finance and international development, were openly hostile to the idea that foreign companies would profit from Afghan mines or oil fields, according to Afghan and Western officials briefed on the discussions.
Why, asked a few of the ministers, should foreigners grow rich off Afghanistan’s minerals, oil and gemstones? Couldn’t Afghans do it themselves?
The short answer, according to Afghan mining officials and foreign experts: No. It has neither the money nor the expertise.
Attracting companies that can provide the needed capital and expertise, however, takes an open, transparent and predictable investing landscape, American and European officials said.
They insisted that their main goal was bringing Afghan laws and regulations up to international standards, not the mere pursuit of national self-interest.
“Obviously, we have U.S. companies that could be qualified bidders and we would obviously be really happy if they did bid,” one American diplomat said. “But you’ve got to have an environment in place where they want to bid — our companies, other countries’ companies, all companies.”
Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting.
After 30 years, Pakistan rolls up welcome mat for Afghan refugees
McClatchy Newspapers By Saeed Shah Monday, July 23, 2012
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan plans to cancel refugee status at the end of this year for the 3 million Afghans who are living in the country, officials have told McClatchy, leaving the refugees facing possible forced resettlement in their homeland, a war-torn country that many of them barely know.
Pushing the refugees into Afghanistan probably would create a new crisis for that country, which already is struggling with an insurgency, an economy almost entirely dependent on the U.S-led foreign presence and the illicit drug trade, and the impending withdrawal of foreign combat troops by 2014.
Officials in Pakistan, which has hosted Afghan refugees for more than 30 years – one of the longest-running refugee problems in the world – say that “enough is enough” and are resisting entreaties by the United Nations and others to reconsider the decision. It comes as Islamabad’s relations with Western countries, particularly the United States, have soured over its policies in neighboring Afghanistan and the unannounced U.S. raid on Pakistani soil that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Pakistan’s top administrator in charge of the Afghan refugee issue, Habibullah Khan, the secretary of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, said Islamabad wouldn’t change its decision.
“The international community desires us to review this policy, but we are clear on this point. The refugees have become a threat to law and order, security, demography, economy and local culture,” Khan said in an interview. “Enough is enough.”
One such refugee is Rangeen, 28, who goes by only one name, as is common in Afghanistan. He’s lived in Pakistan since he was 12 and is a registered refugee. Three times he’s tried to move back to his native Kabul, the Afghan capital, but he’s found it too costly to live there.
“I couldn’t find work in Kabul, and it is very expensive there, so each time I was forced to come back” to Pakistan, Rangeen said. “I’m just a laborer. It is not possible to survive in Kabul on what you make as a laborer there.”
Rangeen earns around 200 rupees a day, about $2, by working as a porter at a wholesale vegetable market just outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, pushing cartloads of produce around for buyers. His determination not to go to Afghanistan is all the more striking given the difficulties of life in his adopted home. None of his four children go to school, nor do any of the other children in Sorang Abadi, the makeshift village where he lives, a 15-minute drive south of the capital.
Looking at his 7-year-old son, Noor Agha, Rangeen said: “He will suffer the same fate as me. All he’ll be able to do is push a cart.”
Villagers in Sorang Abadi pay about $15 a month in rent for just enough land to construct one ramshackle room, from baked mud, and keep a small yard. There’s no electricity or running water; they fetch water from a timber yard about 15 minutes’ walk away. They haven’t been able to find space at a semiofficial refugee camp that’s about four miles away.
Mukhtiar, a 40-year-old from Baghlan province in the north of Afghanistan, which is considered relatively safe, said he’d been in Pakistan for 30 years.
“We won’t go to Afghanistan. There is nothing but war,” he said. “After the Russians got out, the Americans came. Whatever we had back there has been taken over by others. There is no work, no property, nothing there except feuds.
“It would be like throwing us into the sea.”
Afghan refugees started arriving in Pakistan in the 1980s, fleeing the Soviet invasion, and have continued to come here to escape the horrors of a civil war, Taliban rule and, most recently, the conflict triggered by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Whole generations have grown up in Pakistan and don’t know their homeland. There are 1.7 million Afghan refugees registered in Pakistan – more than half of them younger than 18 – of which 630,000 live in camps. A further 1 million are estimated to be living in the country unregistered and therefore illegally.
The international community and the Afghan government in Kabul have no strategy prepared to deal with any such influx of people. The anxiety over taking back the refugees seems to belie the claims of progress in Afghanistan that the U.S.-led international coalition makes regularly.
“If the international community is so concerned, they should open the doors of their countries to these refugees,” Khan said. “Afghans will be more than happy to be absorbed by the developed countries, like Western Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia.”
Khan said that after Dec. 31, the Pakistani government didn’t plan to renew Afghan refugees’ registration cards, so those currently registered will lose their refugee status. He declined to spell out what would happen to the refugees after that, but if the policy sticks they’d be in the country illegally and liable to be deported.
Some Afghans have prospered in Pakistan – as seen by their near takeover of Hayatabad, an upscale suburb lined with villas outside Peshawar, a northwestern city close to the Afghan border – but the majority of them struggle.
And as their numbers have grown, Pakistani officials suspect that the leadership of the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups is hiding among the refugees. The western Pakistani city of Quetta is home to the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council, and it contains a sprawling Afghan refugee settlement that provides easy cover for militants.
A U.N. voluntary repatriation program is making slow progress. So far this year it’s been able to entice only 41,000 people to return to Afghanistan, a slight increase over the 35,000 who returned in the first half of last year. Since 2002, the U.N. has repatriated 3.7 million Afghans to the country, but the rate stalled in recent years as the war intensified. It’s also likely that many of the returnees have slipped back into Pakistan, given that there are almost as many Afghan refugees in Pakistan today as there were in 2002.
Earlier this year, Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian affairs chief, visited a camp in Kabul and said its conditions for returning refugees appalled her. Once they reach Afghanistan, returnees are entitled to a one-time payment of $150 per person from the U.N.
Neill Wright, the Pakistan representative of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the U.N. would still recognize the registered Afghans in Pakistan as refugees after this year under international law “until a durable solution can be found.”
“We hope that the government of Pakistan will continue to recognize them as refugees,” Wright said. “Returning them to Afghanistan could destabilize the country further at a time when it is already experiencing instability from the drawdown of international forces.” Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.
Lawmakers Call for Reversal on Nato Decision to Destroy Military Bases
TOLOnews.com Monday, 23 July 2012
Afghanistan's parliamentary members called for the reversal of a decision that will see foreign soldiers' military bases destroyed after they withdrawal, according to a contract recently signed.
The MPs said that Nato should prevent the destruction of the bases in order for the Afghan people to use the structures as they see fit.
"Recently a contract was signed for the destruction of Nato facilities in Afghanistan [after they leave]. We can use these bases for schools, clinics and other administrative purposes," Kabul MP Shukria Barekzai said Monday.
"They have spent money constructing those bases and now they're spending more for their destruction. I urge the MPs to send a letter to the Nato headquarters in this regard in order to put the bases at the disposal of the Afghanistan government," she said.
On a separate matter, some other MPs in the parliamentary session said that insecurity had made life difficult for people throughout Afghanistan, particularly for the residents of Ghor and Badghis provinces.
"People are not even safe at the center of Ghor province," Ghor MP Keramuddin Reza Zada said Monday. "Ordinary people are buying guns and registering them with police in order to maintain security for themselves. It's amazing that with the presence of government forces, people are still protecting their security even in the middle of the day."
Badghis MP Qazi Abdul Rahim claimed the army officials were working with the Taliban.
"Army officials are handing people to the Taliban," he said. "If the Taliban want anyone, they are coming to his house with army rangers and handing the person to the Taliban. I have discussed this issue with Ministry of Defense officials as well."
Several other MPs also said that the Kabul-Ghazni highway was seriously lacking in security despite the availability of police, army and Isaf checkpoints.
Government Should Disclose Details of Afghan-US Security Deal: Abdullah
TOLOnews.com Monday, 23 July 2012
Afghanistan's government should provide exact details about the Afghan-US security deal to be signed within the year to ensure its in the national interest, head of opposition party National Coalition Abdullah Abdullah said.
The Afghan government will soon begin negotiations with the US government over a security agreement which may boost US military presence or cooperation in Afghanistan.
"As Afghanistan needs international assistance particularly in security sector, the Afghan government should provide the people with the details of this agreement - the national interests of Afghanistan should be considered in the agreement," Abdullah told TOLOnews Sunday, adding that the government is obligated to the respond to the concerns of the people.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Janan Mosazai said that preliminary negotiations over the agreement will begin soon.
"Preliminary negotiations will be kicked off in this regard soon; we hope to finalise the agreement within a year," Mosazai said Sunday.
Like the long-term strategic agreement with the US signed in May, the security agreement has already raised the concerns of some neighboring countries. Abdullah said these concerns must be addressed.
"If the people have legal concerns and demands, we and the government are obliged to consider them," Abdullah said.
The future security agreement with the US was revealed around the time when the Afghan-US strategic agreement was signed, and the US government had repeatedly insisted that it was not interested in permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
Lack of Intelligence Allows Taliban Infiltration of Afghan Forces
TOLOnews.com Monday, 23 July 2012
Afghan military experts said that it was a lack of proper intelligence on the Taliban that allowed the insurgent militants to infiltrate the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
Afghan military expert Noorulhaq Olomi believes that as long as Afghanistan lacks a sufficient intelligence agency and fails to closely monitor the movement of the Taliban and Afghanistan's enemies, it would be difficult to prevent their infiltration.
"We should have sufficient intelligence personnel to monitor their movement from inside. They [Taliban] are everywhere and they use every opportunity to harm Afghanistan," Olomi told TOLOnews on Sunday.
Another Afghan military expert Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhil said that if the country's intelligence department was more professional and better equipped, they could better control the activities of insurgents.
"[The intelligence agents] are not that strong, and they are neither professional nor equipped. We are in the preliminary stages, and they would be more effective when they have agents inside [the Taliban] to neutralise their activities within," Amarkhil told TOLOnews.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for Afghan Ministry of Interior Sediq Sediqqi said that they are trying hard to protect Afghans and prevent attacks, particularly in Kabul.
"In close collaboration with the security department and the national army of Afghanistan, we are trying to prevent any attacks or schemes of the enemies in Kabul province, particularly inside Kabul city," Sediqqi told TOLOnews on Sunday.
Isaf Cannot ‘Confirm or Deny' Rocket Attack from Pakistan
TOLOnews.com By Mahboba Pardis Monday, 23 July 2012
Isaf said it cannot confirm or deny whether the rockets falling in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province were coming from Pakistan, adding that the incident was not a reflection of deteriorating security.
Isaf spokesman Brig. General Gunter Katz said at a press briefing on Monday that Isaf was aware of the Afghan government's condemnation of the rocket attacks as a cross-border attack originating from Pakistan.
Katz emphasised that military representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Isaf would work to find solutions for the security concerns along the border, saying that this will only be achieved by recognising the shared national interests and military to military contacts.
"Isaf is aware of the government of Afghanistan's condemnation or rocket attacks in Kunar province originating from Pakistan. While we have to face that there are continued cross-border incidents by the insurgency at the Afghan-Pakistani border, Isaf cannot confirm or deny on this specific rocket attack," Katz told reporters in Kabul.
He said that this incursion does not mean that the overall situation in Afghanistan is bad.
"Yes, we have isolated, very tragic incidents that could appear that the security situation is destabilising... Those isolated incident do not reflect the overall situation in Afghanistan and we are confident that the security situation is stabilising every day," said Katz.
Katz added that the security transition process was going very well and that it will continue, based on the situation "on the ground".
Dominic Medley, Nato's civilian spokesman to Afghanistan, said at the briefing that the international community's assistance will continue throughout the transition and the "transformation decade" after 2014.
Afghan Villagers Rise up Against Taleban
Locals fight back after losing patience with militants’ hard-line approach.
IWPR By Mina Habib 23 Jul 12
Afghanistan - Villagers in various parts of Afghanistan have staged localised uprisings against the Taleban in an apparent rejection of the insurgents’ increasingly draconian actions.
The small-scale revolts came as the Taleban tried to distance themselves from the execution-style killing of a woman in Parwan province in late June, which revived bitter memories of the group’s worst excesses when it controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
In more recent years, the Taleban have appeared to adopt comparatively moderate policies towards populations in areas where they are present, in what looked like an attempt to win hearts and minds.
Now, though, politicians say the Taleban are sowing resentment by conducting extrajudicial trials, forcing schools to close, blocking reconstruction projects and generally behaving brutally and harassing civilians.
Nawab Mangal, a member of parliament from Paktia province in southern Afghanistan, described how the Taleban mounted an attack in the Mirzak district on July 9, and local residents fought back and successfully expelled the insurgents from the area.
The Taleban had angered people in the district by taking food by force, destroying bridges and roads and closing schools for boys as well as girls.
Mangal said Mirzak’s residents did not believe Afghan government forces would protect them, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.
“The Taleban’s cruelty has become intolerable,” Mangal said. “The people have been forced to launch spontaneous actions to defend their lives and honour, as well as the interests of the region.”
Similar uprisings have taken place in other districts of Paktia including Jani Khel and Dand-e Patan, Mangal said.
He said that when he met elders from seven districts in the province recently, they told him support for the Taleban movement was collapsing. They said people in their areas believed the insurgents were working for Pakistan and aimed to destroy Afghanistan.
In the eastern Nuristan province, Taleban members have also encountered resistance. Ahmadullah Mowahedi, a parliamentarian from the province, said that when insurgents attempted to close a school in the Waigal district in June, staff and local officials first tried reasoning with them, and then assaulted them and violently ejected them from the building.
“Teachers, pupils and members of the [local] council started a one-on-one fight with the Taleban,” he said. “They beat them up, and the Taleban were forced to make their escape. They failed to close the school.”
In Andar, a district in the southern Ghazni province, residents took up arms against the Taleban two months ago and forced them out of the area after they closed schools and clinics and halted reconstruction projects.
Describing this uprising, member of parliament Chaman Shah Etemadi said there were rumours that similar events were in the offing in other districts of Ghazni.
Etemadi called on the Afghan government to support such revolts, to prevent them being hijacked by other groups.
“The people neither support the Taleban nor the government. They only support their regional interests,” he said.
In the northwester province of Faryab, residents of the Almar district are also reported to have risen up against the Taleban, expelling them from the area.
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mojahed acknowledged that rebellions were taking place, but denied they were spontaneous. He said those involved were paramilitaries acting on the government’s instructions and supported by “foreigners”. He also accused the media organisations of exaggerating the situation.
“If we didn’t enjoy popular support, it wouldn’t have been easy to fight against a huge number of foreign forces over the course of ten years. We have relied on God and our people,” he said. “The people have risen up against the occupation. An uprising against this uprising is meaningless.”
The government denies backing the villagers. Interior ministry spokesman Mohammad Sediq Sediqi said that while the government viewed the insurrections as admirable, it had provided no assistance.
“The Taleban want to misrepresent what is a spontaneous movement by the people,” he said. “The truth is that people are fed up with their cruelty.”
Abdul Satar Sadat, a political analyst, said the rebellions reflected the now common view that the Taleban were agents of Pakistan.
“People now believe that those carrying out actions in the name of the Taleban and jihad are not Afghans, but enemies of the Afghan people, and that they have to rise up against them,” he said.
Sadat argues that Afghans have grown less tolerant of the Taleban as they have found out more about them, thanks to better journalism and increased free speech over the last decade. As people gain access to more information, the militants’ popularity is likely to decrease further, he predicted.
“People have put up with their houses being destroyed, but when their schools were burned and public roads and institutions were destroyed, they ran out of patience,” he said.
The Taleban’s reputation was further damaged this month when the group was linked to the extrajudicial killing of a woman in her twenties, which went viral on the internet and was viewed around the world.
On July 8, Reuters news agency released amateur video footage that showed a man shooting a woman several times at close range while she sat on the ground. After the woman, identified as Najiba, collapsed, the footage showed a crowd of men cheering enthusiastically.
Quite why Najiba was killed is unclear, though Reuters said officials in Kabul blamed the Taleban. The New York Times identified the killer as Najiba’s husband, though it claimed Taleban fighters encouraged him to move closer to his wife before pulling the trigger, then cheered as she died.
Parwan provincial governor Abdul Basir Salangi told CNN that two Taleban commanders may have had some kind of relationship with Najiba, then accused her of adultery in order to save face.
The incident inevitably revived memories of Taleban rule, when women were publicly executed in a Kabul stadium.
Taleban spokesman Mojahed told IWPR that the group had conducted its own investigation, and established that its members were not involved.
Instead, he said, Najiba had left her husband and gone off to live with another man. She was “arrested” by her in-laws and her own family, while the man escaped, Mojahed said.
While describing the killing as unjustified under Islamic law, and describing adultery cases as complex matters that should take up to six months to investigate, he said Najiba was “executed out of Afghan zeal and honour, and on grounds accepted in that region”.
He also said similar incidents had been incorrectly blamed on the Taleban, and accused journalists of being biased against the group.
“The media adopt an inappropriate stance against us either because the government demands it, or because of their own personal opinions,” Mojahed complained. “They don’t publish the truth, or the things we tell them.”
President Hamid Karzai called the killing a “heinous and unforgivable crime”, while the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, described it as “an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty”.
On July 11, more than 100 people took to the streets of Kabul to protest against Najiba’s murder.
Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.
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