[Afghan News] August 10 - 08-12-2012, 12:06 PM
Sources say Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal waved bank statements and tax receipts and begged for support at meeting with diplomats
Guardian.co.uk By Emma Graham-Harrison Thursday 9 August 2012
Kabul - Diplomats filing into the conference room at Afghanistan's finance ministry had expected a bland update on accountability targets from the finance minister.
Instead, he brought out personal financial papers and begged for support in the face of what he described as politically motivated corruption allegations, eventually breaking down in tears.
Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, a young technocrat who has been lionised as a dynamic reformer by many western diplomats, said he had "acted naively" in his handling of $2m (£1.3m) of campaign funds for President Hamid Karzai's re-election campaign in 2009, but denied any wrongdoing.
He launched an impassioned 45-minute defence of his behaviour, waving bank statements and tax receipts, and said he feared for his life and his family's safety because of his role in trying to clear up a $900m banking scandal, according to sources who attended the meeting, or heard first-hand accounts.
One diplomat described the meeting as "more emotional than factual". Zakhilwal began weeping towards the end of the meeting and had to leave the room briefly, several sources said, but he returned to finish his presentation.
Stunned diplomats, gathered from across the international community and including senior UN officials, made no comments and asked no questions. "I don't think he necessarily expected support in the room," said one western diplomat. "But maybe he was hoping that the major donor nations – ones like the US, Britain, Japan – would tell Karzai that if he tries to sack him and cannot replace him with a credible minister to follow up on [funding commitments from July's] Tokyo [aid conference], that funds may be reduced."
Afghanistan's Tolo television station made allegations late last month that Zakhilwal had stashed large quantities of money overseas.
But he has hit back with a formal request for the attorney general to investigate his finances, saying the money was earned legitimately from lucrative consulting work done before he took office in 2009, and real estate investments buoyed by Afghanistan's decade-long property boom.
An aide, Najib Manalai, told the Guardian that descriptions of the minister crying in Wednesday's meeting were "exaggerated" and said he had not expressed concerns about his family's safety.
Zakhilwal denied he had asked for support, or that he had admitted any mistakes in handling election funds.
"I have not asked donors for help, in fact don't need their help. I had invited them to brief them on what was going on and about my decision to ask the attorney general to investigate both the accusation against me as well as violations of my rights," he said in an emailed message.
Diplomatic sources confirmed details, including Zakhilwal's tears. One said he wept in front of the ambassadorial corps. The $2m figure he cited in connection to the election, and the request for support, were also mentioned, said a diplomat.
Many diplomats in Kabul, despite their commitment to fighting Afghanistan's rampant graft, recognise that it is difficult for senior officials to stay entirely clean in a system of patronage politics riven with corruption. Some take a pragmatic "good enough" approach to working with and supporting officials they consider relatively untainted.
There is little doubt that Zakhilwal created enemies with his handling of Kabul Bank, a lender that nearly collapsed in late 2010 when it emerged that members of the Kabul elite had been treating it as a kind of private piggybank.
The government's slow handling of the scandal jeopardised millions of dollars in aid last year and Zakhilwal played a key role in convincing international donors that Kabul was making progress.
Officials argue they have now drawn up charge sheets and recovered tens of millions of dollars, but critics point out that there have still been no prosecutions.
"Kabul Bank, he said, is certainly a big factor in the smearing campaign," the aide Manalai said when asked about Zakhilwal's comments that he was being persecuted for his clean-up efforts.
The question marks over Zakhilwal's job come just after parliament voted to unseat the defence and interior ministers, leaving the country without its two most important security officials in the middle of the fighting season.
The defence minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, who stepped down shortly after the vote, was another western favourite who had been in the job for eight years. Diplomats warned that his departure could complicated the handover of security from foreign to Afghan forces.
Taekwondo Hero Nekpa Wins An Olympics Medal Again
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan August 10, 2012
Afghan Taekwondo hero Rohullah Nekpa has won bronze in the men's under-68-kilogram category.
The 25-year-old Nekpa defeated Britain's Martin Stamper 5-3. He achieved the victory by consistently hitting his opponent's head with his feet.
Nekpa is the first athlete from Afghanistan to win an Olympic medal in London.
In 2008, he became a national hero in Afghanistan by winning bronze at Beijing -- the first Olympic medal ever for an Afghan athlete.
After his win, Nekpa told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he was proud of his achievement for his country:
"I am glad that I will return home with full hands," he said. "I congratulate my entire nation."
Nekpa told international media that he had hoped for the gold, but was happy to get the bronze, which is very significant for his country.
He thanked Afghan spectators for supporting him at a packed Excel arena.
Nekpa lost his quarter finals match to Iran's Mohammad Bagheri Motamed, who won silver on August 9. Turkey's Servet Tazegul won the gold while Terrence Jennings from the United States also won bronze in the category.
Nisar Ahmad Bahawi, another Afghan Taekwondo contender faces tough competition in the 80-kilogram category on August 10.
Nekpa was born in the central Wardak province of Afghanistan but learned Taekwondo in refugee camps in Iran. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004.
Before his medal in 2008, Afghanistan had participated in 10 Olympic Games since 1936 but had never won a medal.
After his win in the Beijing Olympics, Afghan President Hamid Karzai personally called Nekpa and awarded him a house and a car for winning the medal.
Thousands of fans had thronged at Kabul's airport to welcome their hero from Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Nekpa can once again expect a similar reception as he returns to his country next week.
With reporting by the BBC
Nikpa's Olympic taekwondo bronze brings happiness to Afghanistan
By Farid Behbud, Chen Xin
KABUL, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- An Beijing Olympic medalist, who vowed before departure to bring more medals from the 2012 Olympic Games for Afghanistan, on Thursday won the first medal in London for his war-torn country.
Afghan taekwondo player Rohullah Nikpa beat Michal Loniewski from Poland 12-5 and won bronze in the men's 68kg category.
"I had known before that Rohullah Nikpa will win again in the Olympics in London this year in 2012, cause he is a hero of Afghanistan, he has already brought Afghanistan's the first ever Olympic medal in Beijing 2008," Mohammad Popal, a resident of Kabul, told Xinhua on Friday.
In an interview with Xinhua before leaving to London, Rohullah Nikpa said that he and the other Afghan players are determined to bring honors for the country at the London Games.
"I also wish good luck for my fellow Afghan athletes so that we can again earn the respect and recognition of the international community," Nikpa said.
"The Afghan athletes, who took part in this year Olympic Games, including Tahmina Kohistani, are brave natives of Afghanistan and I pray with optimism that they would bring medals for Afghanistan," another Kabuli, Mohammad Suliman, told Xinhua.
"Getting medals from the Olympic Games is very difficult for every athlete and as Kohistani lost the game a couple of days ago, I did not lose my morale because taking part in games for a girl like Kohitani is a huge success by itself for the women of this militancy-hit country," he said.
"I also wish good luck for other Afghan athletes so that we can again earn the value and gratitude of the international community as they raise the flag of Afghanistan in London," Suliman went on to say.
"It's the second consecutive time that I've won the bronze medal at the Olympics, I'm very happy because this medal is very important to my country. I had hoped it would be gold," Nikpa said in London on Thursday.
"Getting a medal is very important to all the countries in the world, but especially for Afghanistan. I love Afghanistan," the 25-year-old Afghan team member added.
"I have to thank everyone who supported me but, from the bottom of my heart, I would especially like to thank all the Afghan refugees who came here to support me. It means a lot to me, and I'm very happy for that and for the bronze medal," he said.
"I am sure that our two athletes Rohullah Nikpa and Nisar Ahmad Bahawi in taekwondo will bring medals and honor for their country," National Olympic Committee spokesman Mohammad Arif Payman told Xinhua in a recent interview.
A six-member Afghan team, including one female athlete, represented Afghanistan in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Afghan team consists of Rohullah Nikpa and Nisar Ahmad Bahawi in taekwondo; Masoud Azizi and Tahmina Kohistani, the only woman in the team, in long-distance running; and Aimal Faisal and Ajma Faizi Zada in boxing and judo, according to Payman.
The International Olympic Committee had suspended the membership of Afghanistan in 1999 due to Taliban's brutal policies that included restrictions on the country's sportsmen and athletes.
The IOC lifted the suspension in 2002 after the collapse of the Taliban regime.
The Taliban fundamentalist regime had outlawed a series of sports activities aside from forcing athletes to grow long beard and wear tall shirts and trousers during matches.
Since the collapse of Taliban regime, Afghan athletes have already attended several competitions at regional and international level and started bringing medals and honors to the country.
"I ask our countrymen to pray for the success of our small team in the London 2012 Olympic Games," team member Nisar Ahmad Bahawi said before going to London.
Speaking to Xinhua, Payman termed the participation of Afghan athletes in the event a huge success for the history of the country's sport.
Afghan policeman turns gun on Marines, kills 3
By KAY JOHNSON | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police officer shot and killed three U.S. Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week.
Four other international troops also died Friday, bringing to seven the number killed on the day in the violent south, where insurgents have their strongest roots. Three died in an attack, which is under investigation, and the fourth was killed in a separate attack, NATO said.
Thirty-one coalition service members have now died this year at the hands of Afghan forces or insurgents disguised in Afghan uniforms, according to NATO — a dramatic rise from previous years.
The assaults have cast a shadow of fear and mistrust over U.S. efforts to train Afghan soldiers and police more than 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban's hardline Islamist regime for sheltering al-Qaida's leadership. The attacks also raise further doubts about the quality of the Afghan forces taking over in many areas before most international troops leave the country in 2014.
The three Marines were killed in the volatile Sangin district of Helmand province, said U.S. military spokeswoman Maj. Lori Hodge. Sangin was a Taliban stronghold for years and has one of the highest concentrations of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in the country.
A U.S. Defense Department official confirmed that the dead Americans were Marine Special Operations Forces. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the family notification process was not complete.
Sangin's district chief and the Taliban both identified the gunman as Asadullah, a member of the Afghan National Police who was helping the Marines train the Afghan Local Police.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said by telephone that the attacker joined the insurgency after the shooting.
"Now, he is with us," Ahmadi said.
The district chief, Mohammad Sharif, said the shooting happened at a police checkpoint after a joint meal and a security meeting. The meal took place before dawn because of Ramadan, the month in which Muslims abstain from food during daylight hours.
Compared to the 25 attacks this year that have killed 31 foreign troops, there were 11 such attacks and 20 deaths in 2011, according to an Associated Press count. Each of the previous two years saw five such attacks.
The NATO coalition says it takes the rise in "green-on-blue" attacks seriously but insists they are not a sign of trouble for the plan to hand over security to Afghan forces.
"We are confident that those isolated incidents will have no effect on transition or on the quality of our forces," said Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, a spokesman for NATO troops.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama remains committed to his timeline to transfer the security lead to Afghan forces by the end of 2013.
"It is too early to say this latest incident is part of a stepped-up effort by insurgents," Carney said Friday. But he added that the administration considers the attacks serious and that U.S. commanders are evaluating Taliban tactics.
On Tuesday, two gunmen wearing Afghan army uniforms killed a U.S. soldier and wounded two others in Paktia province in the east. And on Thursday, two Afghan soldiers tried to gun down a group of NATO troops outside a military base in eastern Afghanistan. No international forces died, but one of the attackers was killed as NATO forces shot back.
Last year, a U.S. Army team led by a behavioral scientist produced a 70-page survey that revealed both Afghan and American soldiers hold disturbingly negative perceptions of the other.
According to the survey, many Afghan security personnel found U.S. troops "extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice" and sometimes lacking concern about Afghans' safety in combat. They accused the Americans of ignoring female privacy and using denigrating names for Afghans.
American troops, in turn, often accused Afghan troops and police of "pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity," the survey said.
U.S. military officials have downplayed that survey.
The U.S. hopes the Afghan Local Police, a village defense force backed by the national government, will become a key force in fighting the insurgency.
Just last month, a coalition statement touted the Marines' work training the Afghan Local Police in Sangin, describing a new academy in an Afghan National Police compound near a Marines base.
"During the three-week course, future police train in the basics of patrolling, vehicle and personnel searches, checkpoints, escalation of force, detainee procedures, marksmanship and Afghan law," the statement said. "After completing training, the new ALP are stationed at patrol bases in their hometowns."
Elsewhere in Helmand province on Friday, six Afghan civilians — three children, two women and a man — were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, said Helmand police official Mohammad Ismail Khan. In neighboring Uruzgan province, insurgents stopped a civilian vehicle on a highway and killed two doctors, two engineers and two other civilians, said provincial spokesman Abdullah Emat. Also, an Afghan policeman was killed and another was wounded when the motorcycle they were riding hit a roadside bomb in the province, he said.
Separately, the U.S. government identified four Americans who were killed along with an Afghan civilian in a twin suicide attack in eastern Kunar province on Wednesday: USAID foreign service officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, of Conyers, Ga.; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, of West Point, N.Y.; and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, of Laramie, Wyo.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that attack.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Deb Riechmann in Kabul, Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.
Backgrounder: "Green-on-blue" attacks in Afghanistan in 2012
by Farid Behbud, Chen Xin
KABUL, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- Three U.S. soldiers with the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan were killed by a man in Afghan police uniform early Friday morning, the latest in the so-called "green-on-blue" attacks when Afghan army or police turned their weapons against NATO-led coalition troops.
Majority of the attacks were claimed by the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency of more than one decade, but many are attributed to cultural differences and rivalry between the two forces.
The following is the list of such attacks since the beginning this year:
Aug. 7 -- Two Afghan army soldiers opened fire and killed a U.S. soldier with the coalition or ISAF and injured four others in eastern Paktia province. The attackers were detained.
July 22 -- A man in Afghan police uniform shot dead three American civilian employees in a training camp in western Herat province. The attacker also killed.
July 3 -- An Afghan army soldier opened fire and injured five U. S. soldiers in eastern Wardak province and made a good escape.
July 1 -- An Afghan police shot dead three British soldiers with ISAF in Nahr-i-Sarraj district of Helmand after an argument. The attacker was also killed.
June 18 -- Three men in Afghan police uniform killed a U.S. soldier in Zhari district of southern Kandahar province. The attackers escaped.
May 12 -- Two attackers in Afghan police uniform killed two British soldiers with the ISAF in Helmand. One shooter was killed and the other escaped from the scene.
May 11 -- A man in army uniform killed a U.S. soldier and injured two others in eastern Kunar province. The assailant escaped the scene.
May 6 -- A NATO soldier was killed by a man in army uniform in southern Afghanistan.
April 25 -- An Afghan army soldier opened fire and killed a U.S. soldier and a translator in Kandahar province. The attacker was also killed.
April 16 -- A man in army uniform was killed by coalition forces after he opened fire on coalition troops causing no casualties in a coalition base in Kandahar.
March 26 -- An Afghan police killed a U.S. soldier in eastern Paktika. The attacker who was injured in the incident was detained.
March 26 -- A man in Afghan army uniform killed two British soldiers after an argument in Helmand. The shooter was killed by coalition troops.
March 1 -- A man, who served as a literacy teacher in Afghan army, grabbed off a gun from an Afghan soldier and killed two U.S. soldiers in Kandahar province.
Feb. 25 -- An Interior Ministry employee killed two U.S. advisors in the ministry compound and escaped the building.
Feb. 23 -- An Afghan army soldier killed two U.S. soldiers in eastern Nangarhar province during a protest triggered by the burning of Islamic material by U.S. forces in the Bagram airbase earlier this year.
Feb. 23 -- A NATO soldier was killed by a man in Afghan army uniform in eastern Afghanistan.
Feb. 20 -- A man in police uniform fired and killed a U.S. soldier in Kandahar.
Jan. 31 -- An attacker in army uniform shot dead a NATO soldier in the south.
Jan. 20 -- An Afghan army soldier killed four French soldiers and injured 15 other soldiers; one injured died of his wounds weeks later in France. The attacker named Abdul Sabor was captured and sentenced to death a couple of weeks ago by a military court in Kabul.
Jan. 8 -- A U.S. soldier was killed and six other soldiers injured when a man in army uniform opened fire in southern Zabul province. The attacker was killed in an exchange of fire.
Six Afghan Civilians Killed By Roadside Bomb
August 10, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Six Afghan civilians have been killed and another injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province.
Authorities said Taliban insurgents had planted the bomb.
Helmand police spokesman Farid Ahmad Farhang told AFP that women and children were among the victims.
The victims were traveling in the Musa Qala district of the restive province.
Roadside bombs are a favorite weapon of Taliban militants fighting government forces and their NATO backers.
But they often miss military targets and kill civilians.
The latest deaths come two days after a report by the United Nations said more than 3,000 civilians had been killed and wounded in the first six months of this year.
The UN blamed 80 percent of the deaths on insurgents, saying more than half were caused by roadside bombs.
Based on reporting by AFP and BBC
The Afghan Government's Crisis Of (No) Confidence
By Frud Bezhan August 10, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Afghanistan's parliament has moved to address cracks in the main pillars of national security. Now President Hamid Karzai is left to make sure his fragile government is not undermined.
The legislature's votes of no confidence in Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi on August 4 were unexpected, and have the potential to cause far-reaching upheaval.
The two officials, who had assumed responsibility over the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), have been demoted to "acting" status until replacements are found. Discontent over security lapses and perceived inaction by the two ministers in the face of a spate of cross-border rockets fired from Pakistan was the main reason for the no-confidence measure.
A change in leadership could send shock waves through the prominent ministries, says Jeffrey Dressler, a senior analyst and team leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.
The jobs of hundreds of officials are dependent on patronage networks overseen by the two men, and a major overhaul within the ministries would likely extend to the ANA and ANP -- the main forces being groomed to take over security duties as foreign troops draw down.
Dressler says the Afghan president, who has final say on all ministerial appointments and can veto parliament's no-confidence decision, maintains a precarious balance of power between the country's rival ethnic, religious, and political groups.
Delicate Balancing Act
The latest action requires Karzai to tread carefully to ensure that his proposed replacements for Wardak and Mohammadi maintain the delicate status quo.
Wardak, who enjoys strong ties with Kabul's Western allies, has served as defense minister since 2004. An ethnic Pashtun, he holds sway in eastern Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mohammadi, a powerful ethnic Tajik leader, was appointed interior minister by Karzai in 2010. A leader in the former Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban coalition, Mohammadi served as chief of staff of the ANA since 2002.
"Parliament forcing, or at least insisting, that Karzai make this change will force him to relook how he has structured his political landscape," Dressler says. "And that is not always an easy, clean process. It can sometimes be dirty and it can sometimes be corrupt. There is also a lot of risk involved and uncertainty into how that works out."
Dressler adds that the dismissals of Wardak and Mohammadi would have to be seen in the context of the country's upcoming presidential elections in 2014, when the scheduled withdrawal of foreign forces is expected to be completed.
Although Karzai is barred from seeking a third term in office under the constitution, the president and his inner circle may be freeing up possible vacancies in the cabinet to feed an entrenched patronage system.
"Part of this could be recalibrating the political arrangements ahead of the elections in 2014 and creating space for more accommodation that either Karzai or other powerful individuals want to rejiggle the system and create some new patronage arrangements with individuals who Karzai and others might need in the system," Dressler notes.
Tainted By Corruption
The ouster of two prominent ministers could also signal a larger shake-up within the halls of power, says Waliullah Rahmani, director of the Center For Strategic Studies, a Kabul-based think tank.
Karzai's government is under mounting pressure both domestically and from the international community to tackle rampant corruption.
Donor nations pledged some $16 billion in aid to Kabul last month at a Tokyo conference. But that money is tied to a new monitoring process that seeks to ensure aid money is not mismanaged by corrupt officials.
In response, Karzai last month issued a 23-page decree of proposed anticorruption measures that affects every ministry. Unlike previous pledges, the decree orders every ministry to take specific measures to eliminate corruption and to report back to the president within a fixed deadline.
While the initiative has been labeled by some lawmakers as "ridiculous," Karzai may be acting on his decree by playing a silent hand in the shake-up at the top of the country's two most powerful ministries.
"What Karzai might have wanted was that these two politicians should go in order to honor his wide range of [anticorruption] reforms," Rahmani says. "I think his intention was to give momentum to these reforms, while convincing the public that he wants to bring change."
The Next Head To Roll?
The Wardak and Mohammadi cases might be just the precursor to a broader government reshuffle, Rahmani adds, with Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal also coming under intense scrutiny amid allegations of corruption.
Corruption allegations against Zakhilwal recently surfaced after bank account statements leaked by the media revealed that he had recently received more than $1.5 million.
Zakhilwal, who says the allegations against him are politically motivated, claims that the money comes from his private business ventures and from fundraising he has been doing for the Karzai camp related to the 2014 presidential campaign.
Afghanistan's anticorruption body, the High Office of Oversight and Anticorruption, has sent a letter to the president urging him to suspend Zakhilwal until an investigation into his alleged wrongdoing is completed. Afghan lawmakers have thrown in their support, with some calling for no-confidence proceedings to be brought against the embattled finance minister.
Afghans Fear U.S. Pullout Will Unplug Key Projects
Wall Street Journal By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV August 9, 2012
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Here in the cradle of the Taliban movement, Faizulhaq Mushkani sold his land for $600,000 last year to buy equipment to open a packaging factory in a booming industrial park.
The industrial park—powered by military-run electrical generators—is a pillar of the U.S. strategy against the Afghan insurgency. The arrival of reliable electricity in late 2010 revitalized Kandahar. More than 100 new factories have sprouted.
These days, however, Mr. Mushkani and fellow entrepreneurs are grappling with a fatal flaw in their business plans: They expected the Americans to stick around longer. But, now, with U.S. forces preparing to depart Kandahar next year, the American electricity will disappear, too.
American funding for the generators runs out at the end of next year, well before alternative energy sources reach the city. The cash-strapped Afghan government says it can't afford to foot the bill.
"Day and night, I worry about the future," says Mr. Mushkani, a white-bearded man in flowing white robes who plans to employ 122 people when his factory in the Shurandam park starts production this summer. "Once there will be no electricity, there will be no industry here, and no security."
U.S. officials say they hope the lost electricity will be replaced in late 2016 or so, when the Afghan national power grid should reach Kandahar. But many Afghan businessmen say they expect most of the new factories to close in the meantime. In a statement, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers most U.S. aid to Afghanistan, acknowledged "a potential gap created by loss of funding" for the power plants.
Kandahar's power project mirrors the story of America's decadelong drive to develop Afghanistan—a series of costly, ambitious efforts that sometimes generate ephemeral effects, leaving behind disappointment among the local population that they were designed to impress.
Now, as the U.S. and allies are withdrawing their forces and their cash ahead of President Barack Obama's 2014 deadline to hand over the war to the Afghans, officials across Afghanistan are wondering what to do with the slew of similar aid projects nationwide, in various stages of completion. The Kandahar generators in particular, says Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, "are not easy for us—we cannot maintain, and we cannot operate them either."
The U.S. has worked on a grand plan to bring electricity to Afghanistan ever since the 2001 invasion, spending billions of dollars. The projects were often plagued by delays, corruption and cost overruns.
Results have been patchy: Three-quarters of the Afghan population still lacks access to power. More than 70% of the electricity that does reach Afghans is imported from neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan and Iran.
That imported power isn't available in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city and the focus of Mr. Obama's troop surge in 2010. As the surge got under way, coalition commanders Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus pushed hard for the power plants here, seeing them as a key weapon against the insurgency.
Many U.S. civilian officials, including then Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, didn't share this belief. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul at the time produced a classified report outlining the project's long-term pitfalls, officials familiar with the document say. "The view was that this project should not go forward because it was unsustainable and hugely expensive," a former senior U.S. official says.
Afghan leaders say they had raised similar objections. "Nobody was thinking of something permanent. Everybody was talking just of short-term, quick impact projects," recalls Kandahar provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa. "We were told we had to take it or leave it. This was their money and they spent it the way they wanted."
As the Shurandam park was inaugurated in January 2011, however, it was presented to the world as an Afghan initiative, with Mr. Eikenberry and Gov. Wesa cutting the ribbon. The new facilities, Mr. Eikenberry said at the time, "demonstrate that the government of Kandahar is providing better services to its people."
The 10-megawatt diesel power plant in Shurandam, and its twin station west of the city, cost $106 million to build, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the facilities. Accounting for some 60% of the city's electric supply, they provide the only reliable 24-hour power to Kandahar's new industries.
The result has been a flourishing of businesses. Both Afghan and coalition officials say that this business boom has fulfilled the short-term military objective of weakening the Taliban in the southern city from which the Islamist movement began its march to power in the 1990s. "We remain convinced that the project has been beneficial to both the Afghan people served by it, and to our campaign," says Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks.
According to military statistics, insurgent attacks within Kandahar city—which now boasts American-style billiard halls and even a Starbucks-inspired coffee shop on the main square—have dramatically declined this year. "Electricity has brought security, as it provided jobs to people who could otherwise be drawn into the insurgency," says Mohammed Omer, Kandahar's mayor.
In Shurandam, on the eastern edge of the city, there were only three factories in 2010, powered by their own small generators. "All the income that we were making was going to pay for diesel," says Mohammed Halim, owner of one of these three factories, a cotton processor. "We could only afford to work two or three days a week."
Now, there are 66 factories in Shurandam, ranging from makers of plastic pipes, bottles and dishes, to construction materials, to a cold-storage facility, with more on the way. "We were so happy and so hopeful when the power arrived," says Mr. Mushkani, whose factory recycles cardboard into food packaging.
Power from the Shurandam plant also flows to the control tower of the Kandahar airport, which recently opened to international civilian flights, and to several residential areas. All that electricity comes from burning diesel—which is particularly expensive in Afghanistan because of Taliban attacks and Pakistani border closures to coalition supplies.
For fiscal 2013, fuel and maintenance costs for the Kandahar plants are budgeted at $100 million, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. That is up from $48 million in fiscal 2011.
A year from now, the military is scheduled to transfer these plants, currently cocooned by U.S. Army bases, to the Afghan national electricity utility, DABS. Shortly thereafter, the American money flow would stop: approved Department of Defense funding for the fuel and maintenance in Kandahar runs out by January 2014, according to Cmdr. Speaks. USAID says it has no current plans to fund the plants afterward.
Without American cash, the Kandahar diesel stations—each made of eight gleaming-white Caterpillar generator blocks—will shut down, Afghan officials say. These officials already are talking about shipping the Kandahar generator blocks to other, more needy, provinces, or even selling them abroad. "We may move some, to one place or another," ponders DABS Chief Executive Abdul Razique Samadi.
Basic math explains the Afghans' predicament. Projected U.S. spending on the Kandahar plants next fiscal year equals nearly two-thirds of DABS's nationwide annual revenue.
Diesel fuel costs per kilowatt-hour of electricity in Kandahar are as much as 10 times what DABS receives from its paying customers. And only a fraction of customers actually pays, due to persistent corruption, webs of pirate power lines and few electricity meters, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
Amid the American aid endeavors in Afghanistan, the Kandahar plants installed by the Corps of Engineers are considered a success: they were built quickly, run smoothly and rarely have outages of more than a few minutes.
That contrasts with the USAID-built $300 million Tarakhil diesel power plant in Kabul that opened a year behind schedule in 2010, tens of millions of dollars above budget. By then, a separate project funded by the Asian Development Bank connected Kabul to far cheaper hydropower from Uzbekistan. Tarakhil was powered up only on three occasions over the past year.
Unlike Tarakhil, the Kandahar diesel plants were supposed from the get-go to be temporary. They were to become unnecessary once the city was connected to the national power grid, and a new 18.5-megawatt turbine was installed at the Kajaki hydropower plant in Helmand province that supplies part of its output to the city.
Persistent insecurity in southern Afghanistan, however, meant that American plans to bring more sustainable electricity are years behind schedule. "It is a well-known fact that diesel is not the best way to make power," says Chief Warrant Officer Robert Hopkins, deputy commander of the Kandahar-based U.S. Army Corps of Engineers task force dealing with electricity. "The bridging solution is supposed to be just that, the bridge to the other shore."
USAID says it plans early next year to award the contract for the national power-grid connector to Kandahar, a line that would have to traverse 300 miles across some of Afghanistan's most dangerous terrain.
Meanwhile in Kajaki, the U.S. Marines are withdrawing in coming months from the key road to the hydropower plant that they only recently secured. It is unclear whether the Afghan security forces will be able to keep the area safe enough for contractors to ship the construction materials to install the new turbine, and to refurbish the decrepit power lines between the dam and Kandahar.
USAID currently estimates that the Kajaki turbine—insufficient on its own to fully replace the current Kandahar generators—will be online by late 2014 or early 2015. It predicts that the national power grid should reach Kandahar city in late 2016 or so.
Kandahar investors lured by American electricity are berating themselves for their foolishness as they ponder what will happen to their investments. Amid their frustration, conspiracy theories abound.
"The foreigners just don't want us to be self-sufficient," says Khalil Ahmed Rahmani, whose factory makes PVC pipes and other plastics. The Taliban, he adds, had managed to restore reliable power to Kandahar in just eight months after taking over in 1994, despite international sanctions.
Across the highway from Mr. Rahmani's compound, Mr. Halim—who expected the Americans to stay a long time—earlier this year ordered $150,000 of machinery for his cotton factory, which employs 40 full-time workers to extract oil, make animal feed and produce semiprocessed cotton. His raw materials, hauled in antiquated trucks, come from farmers in rural Helmand areas where most other villagers prefer to grow opium.
"All the people like me, who invested a lot of money, are stuck. We can't leave and start over elsewhere because we've already spent all our cash here," Mr. Halim says as barefoot workers in stained overalls feed orange sack-loads of raw cotton into a belching machine painted baby blue.
It isn't just the factory owners who are alarmed. "If there is no electricity, we won't be able to feed our families," says press operator Niamatullah, 33 years old.
American officials say one possible solution after next year is to ask the factory owners to pay much higher power rates that actually cover the diesel-generation costs. "Maybe some of these industrial parks will pick up a couple of these diesel units, as an industrial park, and maybe they can mix it with solar," says USAID's mission director in Afghanistan, S. Ken Yama****a. "The industrial parks need to make a commercial decision."
That is something that is already happening in Afghanistan's Ghazni, Khost, Paktia and Farah provinces, says Mr. Samadi of DABS. In those places, small generators are powered for a few hours a day with local citizens' contributions.
This approach, however, is unlikely to work for Kandahar's new factories, which need affordable round-the-clock electricity. Many businessmen here will go bankrupt, predicts Mr. Rahmani, the plastics entrepreneur in Shurandam. The more resilient ones, he says, will relocate their production to cities like Herat, which enjoys cheap Iranian power.
"Once the electricity goes, maybe five or six factories will remain here," he says. "All the others will disappear."
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at email@example.com
Britain faces legal challenge over secret US 'kill list' in Afghanistan
Afghan man who lost relatives in missile strike says UK role in supplying information to US military may be unlawful
Guardian.co.uk By Nick Hopkins Thursday 9 August 2012
Britain's role in supplying information to an American military "kill list" in Afghanistan is being subjected to legal challenge amid growing international concern over targeted strikes against suspected insurgents and drug traffickers.
An Afghan man who lost five relatives in a missile strike started proceedings against the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and the Ministry of Defence demanding to know details of the UK's participation "in the compilation, review and execution of the list and what form it takes".
Legal letters sent to Soca and the MoD state the involvement of UK officials in these decisions "may give rise to criminal offences and thus be unlawful". They say Britain's contribution raises several concerns, particularly in cases where international humanitarian laws protecting civilians and non-combatants may have been broken.
"We need to know whether the rule of law is being followed and that safeguards are in place to prevent what could be clear breaches of international law," said Rosa Curling from the solicitors Leigh Day & Co. "We have a family here that is desperate to know what happened, and to ensure this kind of thing never happens again."
Targeting Taliban commanders in precision attacks has been an important part of Nato's strategy in Afghanistan, and it has involved US, British and Afghan special forces, and the use of drones.
But who is put on the "kill list" and why remains a closely guarded secret – and has become a huge concern for human rights groups. They have questioned the legality of such operations and said civilians are often killed.
Soca refused to discuss its intelligence work, but the agency and the MoD said they worked "strictly within the bounds of international law". Its role in the operation to compile a "kill list" was first explained in a report to the US Senate's committee on foreign relations.
The report described how a new task force targeting drug traffickers, insurgents and corrupt officials was being set up at Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan. "The unit will link the US and British military with the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency], Britain's Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and police and intelligence agencies from other countries." The 31-page report from 2009 acknowledged the precise rules of engagement were classified.
But it said two generals in Afghanistan had explained they "have been interpreted to allow them to put drug traffickers with proven links to insurgency on a kill list, called the joint integrated prioritised target list".
"The military places no restrictions on the use of force with these selected targets, which means they can be killed or captured on the battlefield," the Senate report said. "It does not, however, authorise targeted assassinations away from the battlefield. The generals said standards for getting on the list require two verifiable human sources and substantial additional evidence."
The legal challenge has been brought by an Afghan who believes his relatives were unlawfully killed in a case of mistaken identity during one "kill list" operation. A bank worker in Kabul, Habib Rahman lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law in a US missile attack on their cars on 2 September 2010. They had been helping another member of the family who had been campaigning in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan in the runup to the country's parliamentary elections. In total, 10 Afghans were killed and several others injured.
Rahman says most of those who died were election workers. But the attack was praised by Nato's International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf) which said the target had been a man in the convoy called Muhammad Amin. The US accused him of being a Taliban commander and member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and said the people who had been travelling with him had been insurgents.
A detailed study of the incident by the research group Afghanistan Analysts Network contradicted the official account, saying Isaf had killed Zabet Amanullah. Amin was tracked down after the incident and is still alive, said the study's author, Kate Clark. "Even now, there does not seem to be any acknowledgment within the military that they may have got the wrong man," she said. "It is really very bizarre. They think Amin and Amanullah are one and the same."
Rahman's lawyers acknowledge they do not know whether information provided by Britain contributed to this attack, but hope the legal challenge will force officials to be more open about the British contribution to the "kill list".
The letters to Soca's director general, Trevor Pearce, and the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, point to the Geneva conventions, which say that persons taking no active part in hostilities are protected from "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds".
They also draw on the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has said anyone accompanying an organised group who is not directly involved in hostilities "remains civilian assuming support functions".
The legal letters, the first step towards seeking judicial review, say "drug traffickers who merely support the insurgency financially could not legitimately be included in the list" under these principles. The lawyers believe that, even if Isaf had targeted the right man, it may have been unlawful for others to have been killed in the missile strike.
"The general practice of international forces in Afghanistan and the experience of our client suggest that proximity to a listed target is, on its own, sufficient for an individual to be considered a legitimate target for attack. Such a policy would be unlawful under the international humanitarian law principles," they say.
Curling said: "Ensuring the UK government and its agencies are operating within their legal obligations could not be more important. Our client's case suggests the establishment and maintenance of the 'killing list' is not in line with the UK's duties under international humanitarian law. Our client lost five of his relatives in an attack by the international military forces as a result of this list. It is important that the Ministry of Defence and Soca provide us with the reassurances sought."
Soca said: "Soca does not discuss intelligence. Soca works strictly within the bounds of international law.
"Our activity overseas is conducted in line with other UK government departments, which comply with the principles of international humanitarian law and human rights."
The MoD said: "As part of Isaf, UK forces operate alongside numerous partner nations in the fight against an insurgency that seeks to maim and kill both innocent Afghan civilians and allied forces alike. We continue to work towards a stable Afghanistan that can effectively manage its own security by the time our combat operations cease at the end of 2014.
"In doing so, UK forces operate strictly within the bounds of international law under rules of engagement which, for reasons of operational security, we do not discuss in detail."
‘Not enough’ trainers in NATO to help Afghans eradicate IEDs
The Washington Times By Kristina Wong Thursday, August 9, 2012
A shortage of NATO trainers is complicating efforts to expedite the instruction of Afghan troops about the top threat they will face after international forces leave in 2014 – roadside bombs.
“This is something that they’re crying out for more of,” Canadian armyMaj. Gen. Jim Ferron, deputy commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, said in a phone interview with The Washington Times.
Homemade bombs have been the No. 1 killer of NATO troops in Afghanistan for some time, and they have become the top killer of Afghan soldiers and police as they gradually take the lead in their country’s security.
Locating, disarming and disassembling the bombs is a specialized capability that few troops have mastered. Still, NATO considers imparting that expertise to Afghan security forces a high priority, though there are “not enough” trainers, Gen. Ferron said.
“It’s always a tragedy when a soldier is injured or killed with one of these, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking when a child here in Afghanistan is subjected to the effects of war, so that’s why I say ‘not enough’ people,” he added.
However, “Our focus right now is not bringing more American experts or more NATO coalition force experts into Afghanistan,” he said, adding that the training mission will focus on training Afghan troops who then can train their comrades.
“Our efforts now are on training the trainers because we are at the [command] of many of our governments. We are in a transition period,” Gen. Ferron said.
France has said it will remove most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, after five French troops were killed and 15 wounded by an Afghan soldier in January.
Such attacks, in which Afghan troops turn their weapons on NATO forces, have eroded trust among international troops. Gen. Ferron said the attacks provide NATO trainers with “a challenge.” but he noted that no other nations have opted to withdraw troops early.
With help from private contractors, NATO instructors are planning to train Afghan troops at the “kandak” level, the Afghan unit equivalent to a battalion of 500 troops, he said. The hope is that those kandak-level troops subsequently train other soldiers in smaller units.
“I think it would be safe to say that we have enough to train the Afghans at that level,” Gen. Ferron said.
Instruction in recognizing roadside bombs now is included in the nine-week basic training of Afghan security forces.
NATO trainers provide more-advanced instruction in countering homemade bombs in a 30-day course that teaches Afghan troops how to remove and disarm simple explosive devices.
Qualified Afghan troops seeking to become bomb-disposal technicians undergo six months of in-depth training. Graduates of the course are paired with NATO bomb-disposal technicians, who evaluate their expertise in the field. Those who pass the evaluation then become leaders of bomb-disposal teams.
Because of operational security concerns, the actual number of Afghan soldiers and police officers who have undergone the training could not be released, a NATO spokesman said.
The question of what will happen in Afghanistan after NATO leaves looms large over the trainers.
Retired Army Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Jack Keane, who advises top NATO commanders in Afghanistan, worries that NATO troops will bring all their bomb-hunting expertise and gear home with them, leaving Afghan security forces with little to combat homemade bombs.
Afghan troops rely on NATO for intelligence collection and analysis, and about 75 percent of roadside bombs found before detonation are detected by NATO troops, Gen. Keane said.
“If we pull the plug on that capability when we leave, and those numbers go down dramatically in terms of detection for [Afghan troops] to about 30 percent, that will [result in] a very significant increase in casualties for them over what they’re currently used to,” the retired four-star general said. “Those are significant battle losses, and the psychological impact will be equally as great.”
From January to May this year, 469 Afghan troops were killed, according to the latest Congressional Research Service report. During the same period, 181 NATO troops were killed, according to iCasualties.org.
Canadian army Brig. Gen. Thomas Putt, director of NATO’s development program for Afghan security forces, told reporters at the Pentagon on Aug. 1 that Afghanistan’s defense and interior ministries are backing a “major, major push” by NATO to provide training in dealing with homemade bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices or IEDs.
“It’s going to be a major push for us this year. Logistics and counter-IED areour No. 1, No. 2 [concerns], and they’re interchangeable because they’re so important to moving the [Afghan security force] ahead,” Gen. Putt said.
Criminal charges dismissed against soldier in Afghanistan shooting
Los Angles Times By Kim Murphy August 9, 2012
Criminal charges were dismissed Thursday against U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor, who had faced potential imprisonment for negligent homicide in the 2011 death of a civilian doctor in Afghanistan.
Col. Darren L. Werner, commander of the 16th Sustainment Brigade in Bamberg, Germany, released a charge sheet dismissing all counts after an investigating officer found that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.
The case has sparked widespread debate over the Army’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which now require soldiers to positively establish that a target is a non-civilian with hostile intent before using their weapons. Rarely in the past have service members faced homicide charges for split-second decisions made in the heat of combat.
Taylor, 31, has said he had only seconds to decide whether an unidentified figure emerging from a car near a shootout with insurgents was about to detonate another bomb. The shootout had erupted after a roadside bomb seriously injured five other soldiers.
As it happened, the person he fatally shot was the head of the obstetrics department at a nearby hospital, returning with her family from a wedding.
“It’s not just a victory for me, it’s a victory for all the soldiers,” Taylor said in an interview Thursday. “For all the soldiers that did great things down range [in Afghanistan]. They don’t have to think in their mind that one of their comrades was being done wrong.”
A large number of soldiers from Taylor’s platoon, charged with clearing explosives along the main roads between Kabul and Kandahar, had risen to support Taylor after the charges were filed.
“I got nothing but respect for him,” Spc. Wayne Wedgeworth, who was one of those injured in the explosion on the day of the firefight, said in an earlier interview. “He fought when he had to fight. He did not back down. He fought the enemy off.”
The charges of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty could have led to three years of imprisonment. Army prosecutors, who had alleged Taylor should have been more careful to make a positive identification before firing his weapon, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
An investigating officer who heard three days worth of testimony in a report last week concluded that a reasonable person might well have concluded that the figure Taylor shot was a threat. He said there was not adequate evidence to support criminal charges.
Taylor, who was on his fourth combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, was seriously injured 10 days after the firefight when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his vehicle, severely disfiguring his face.
The Article 32 preliminary hearing on the criminal charges held in Germany in June required a postponement of his reconstructive surgery. Taylor said Thursday he is planning soon to move to Texas to begin the next round of at least half a dozen surgeries.
After that, he said, he hopes to stay in the Army, win a promotion to first sergeant and join a warrior transition unit to help injured soldiers get medical care, counseling and benefits.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but if you have a heart and care about soldiers, it shouldn’t be a hard job. It’d be rewarding, physically and mentally,” he said.
Taylor’s mother, Dottie Taylor, who lives in Riverview, Fla., said her church community was celebrating.
“We are on cloud nine. I tell you, between the church people and all of us praying, it’s just been such a burden on this family,” she said Thursday. “We just thank God that everything is over with and he can go on with his surgery and go on with his life.”
She said she isn't surprised that her son wants to stay in the Army. “He’s a soldier’s soldier, you know what I’m saying?” she said. “He’s not one of the ones that want to give up.”
Australia Appoints New Ambassador to Afghanistan
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 09 August 2012
The Australian government has announced Jonathan Philp as the new ambassador to Afghanistan, ABC news reported.
Philp will take the office in October, ahead of withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.
He is currently Australia's ambassador to Turkey.
The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has said that Mr. Philp is an experienced diplomat who will be representing Australia during an important time.
On July 17, Australian troops handed over security responsibility to Afghan troops in southern Uruzgan province as part of the third phase of national security transition.
The process which has formally begun, will take 12 to 18 months, officials said.
Australia's has around 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, most of them based in Uruzgan. A total of 34 soldiers have died in Afghanistan since they began sending troops to fight in the US-led mission.
Australia confirmed earlier this year that it would withdraw most of its forces by 2014, a year earlier than the Nato deadline.
Afghan Journalists Alarmed by Media Decree
Officials say they just want to prod media into raising standards, but those in the industry warn of censorship risk.
IWPR By Hafizullah Gardesh, Mina Habib 9 Aug 12
Afghanistan - A decree by Afghan president Hamid Karzai ordering government to improve the quality of the country’s media has created fears that the government will try to censor the press and broadcasters.
Karzai gave the information and culture ministry two months to come up with an action plan to impose “minimum quality standards” on both state-run and private media outlets. This will involve, among other things, ensuring that their output respects Afghan traditions and customs, and upholds the national languages – including by cutting out alien foreign words.
The instructions are part of a wide-ranging, 164-point decree setting out how the Afghan authorities are to go about improving governance and rule of law, combating corruption, and making the country more self-reliant in economic terms. The decree comes a month after Karzai addressed parliament and corruption and stop pursuing “compromise” policies. (See Karzai's Anti-Graft Call Gets Lukewarm Response.)
Journalists and other media experts have raised concern about Karzai’s directive, arguing that its loose definitions of the shortcomings that needed to be addressed in the media would create scope for blanket repression.
“Everything that is done with regard to the media has to be in line with the law. Ad hoc decisions should not be imposed,” Danish Karokhel, director of the Pajhwok news agency said. “Given what I know of the information and culture ministry, I believe it will exploit the situation to place numerous hurdles in the way of freedom of expression and media development.” “
Since the Taleban was ousted in 2001, Afghanistan has seen significant advances in media freedom.
While the government always cites this as one of its major achievements, its recent behaviour has worried media activists. A month ago, the information and culture ministry proposed amendments to the 2009 media law that faced fierce resistance because they were seen as so restrictive. In the end, the ministry was forced to scrap the changes.
Fazel Rahman Orya, a journalist and a political commentator, suspects that moves to tighten controls are retaliation for embarrassing media exposes of government incompetence and corruption.
“That is why he [Karzai] and his ruling team are determined to suffocate the media and rule the country however they want for the next two years without facing criticism from anyone,” Oria said.
Abdul Hamid Mobarez, head of Afghanistan’s National Union of Journalists, warns that Karzai’s decree is likely to result in restricted freedom of expression.
“If the presidential office or any other government institution has issues with some media outlet, they must state that, and discuss it with the specific media outlet as the law prescribes. We cannot accept such ambiguous directives.”
Mobarez and others argue that the decree rides roughshod over the existing media law, passed in 2009.
“If the government needs to restrict freedom of expression, it must give a clear reason for such a decision,” Mobarez said.
As for instructions to bar the use of “alien foreign terminology”, Mobarez said this was a matter that should properly be resolved by a forum of linguists rather than officials.
The media law bans censorship and enshrines freedom of expression, access to information, and the free functioning of media organisations “without inference or restriction by the governing authorities”.
The constitution also describes freedom of expression as an inalienable right, and grants Afghan citizens the right to publish their views without prior consent from government.
Freelance reporter Nawid Aryafar said Karzai must be unaware of these legal provisions.
“If he was familiar with the law, he would not have issued this decree on the media, since it’s in breach of both the constitution and the media law,” Aryafar said. “Isn’t that criminal and unaccountable?”
Sediq Tawhidi, head of the Nai group, which works in support of open media in Afghanistan, said that the decree was full of dangerously ambiguous language which needed to be clarified, and invested the information ministry with powers that are unlawful and unconstitutional.
Terms like quality control and minimum standards were so vague that they could easily be misused to pressure media outlets and journalists, he said, noting that sections of the Afghan government were hostile to free expression, and this had already created “numerous problems for independent media and journalists”.
Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for President Karzai, attempted to dispel fears about the intentions behind the decree.
“This is not a military order,” he said. “Whatever policy the information and culture ministry formulates will be based on consensus and consultations with media institutions, and will be within the law.”
Herawi added, “I think the Afghan media enjoy a level of freedom that is unparalleled in the region, but this should not be abused by unaccountable media.”
Karokhel pointed out that one of the central planks of the 2009 law was the creation of a special council to shape media policy. The information ministry never established the body, and Karokhel argued that “certain circles are trying to exploit its absence to restrict freedom of expression”.
Herawi said the only reason the council had not yet come into being was that the information ministry was in dispute with civil society groups about what it should look like.
“That leaves the ministry as the sole institution that currently defends freedom of expression and implements the media law,” he added.
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s Afghanistan editor. Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.
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