[Afghan News] September 7, 2012 - 09-09-2012, 05:11 AM
By BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration declared Friday that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network of militants is a terrorist body despite misgivings about how the largely symbolic act could further stall planned Afghan peace talks or put yet another chill on the United States' already fragile counterterrorism alliance with Islamabad.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision, signed Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Congress, bans Americans from doing business with members of the group and blocks any assets it holds in the United States. The order, which will go into effect within 10 days, completes an odyssey of sorts for the Haqqanis from the days they partnered with the CIA during the Cold War and were hailed as freedom fighters.
Clinton, whose advisers were of two minds about whether the designation was the right path, said in a statement Friday that the U.S. will "also continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States' resolve to degrade the organization's ability to execute violent attacks."
Enraged by a string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, Congress insisted Clinton deliver a report on whether the Haqqanis should be designated a terrorist organization and all of its members subjected to U.S. financial sanctions.
A subsidiary of the Taliban and based in the remote North Waziristan region of Pakistan, the Haqqani network is responsible for several attacks in Kabul, including last September's rocket-propelled grenade assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters. American officials estimate its force at 2,000 to 4,000 fighters and say it maintains close relationships with al-Qaida.
U.S. defense officials said the administration doesn't believe the Haqqanis have designs to attack the United States. But they said the group shelters al-Qaida and other militant groups, allowing them to plan and train for possible operations targeting the U.S.
The U.S. already has sanctioned many Haqqani leaders and is pursuing its members militarily. But it resisted the terrorist designation because of worries that it could jeopardize reconciliation efforts between the U.S. government and insurgents in Afghanistan, and ruffle feathers with Pakistan, the Haqqanis' longtime benefactor.
"The only reservation — and it's only a mild one — is whether this complicates reconciliation at all," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "I see only a very small downside to the designation and that's more than offset by the financial pressure on the network."
Friday's decision also could complicate talks to free the only U.S. prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old from Idaho who has been held by the Haqqanis since 2009.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell dodged questions about reported Haqqani threats to further mistreat Bergdhal as a result of the designation but said the U.S. was doing everything it could to free him.
"He's just been held for too long," Ventrell told reporters.
American officials have held talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of the network's founder, Jalauddin Haqqani, to try to further peace talks with the Taliban, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the negotiation attempts. The designation does not stop the U.S. from meeting with the Haqqanis, who've been among the least interested in talking reconciliation before American troops make an almost complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, officials said.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The designation risks straining U.S.-Pakistan relations. Last year, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen argued that the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence — the most far-reaching volley in a long dispute between Washington and Islamabad.
Other U.S. officials dispute that assessment but still accuse Islamabad of giving the network a free hand in North Waziristan region and providing it some logistical support. The accusation could take on added significance now that the Haqqanis are officially a foreign terrorist organization — something the U.S. hasn't issued for the Taliban.
Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, brushed off the designation, calling it an internal U.S. matter and noting that Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals.
"It's not our business," she said, but added that Pakistan would maintain its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.
Islamabad says that its forces are stretched thin in fighting an insurgency that already has killed more than 30,000 people and that it cannot also take on the Haqqanis near the Afghan border. Many analysts attribute the military's reluctance to take them on to historical ties and an assessment that the group can be an important ally in Afghanistan after U.S. and allied forces withdraw.
Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, predicted little additional fallout in a relationship that has suffered severe blows in the last 20 months, including a CIA contractor's killing of two Pakistanis, the unilateral U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and NATO's accidental killing of two dozen Pakistani soldiers. But he said the U.S. sanctions wouldn't prompt a Pakistani crackdown or hurt the Haqqanis significantly.
"They are not a corporate sector entity maintaining bank accounts and working via the Internet doing banking transactions online," said Gul. "They operate covertly through intermediaries."
Fighters for the head of the network, Jalauddin Haqqani, were among the leading recipients of CIA money during the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when U.S. money helped finance Afghan rebels. They ousted the Russians in February 1989, overthrowing the Moscow-backed government in Kabul three years later before turning their guns on each other.
Haqqani developed extensive foreign contacts over the years, getting money, weapons and supplies from Pakistani intelligence and serving as justice minister after the Soviets left, and minister of tribal and border affairs after Taliban fundamentalists seized power in 1996. He joined the Taliban insurgency when the U.S. helped overthrow the regime after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Since then, the network has developed a sophisticated, mafia-style financing operation that relies on extortion, kidnapping, smuggling and legitimate businesses, according to a recent report by the Combating Terrorism Center in West Point, N.Y.
Last month, the U.S. scored a major counterterror success when an unmanned drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border killed one of Haqqani's sons, Badruddin, considered the group's No. 3.
The State Department said in May 2011 that Badruddin Haqqani sat on the Miram Shah Shura, a group that controls all Haqqani network activities and coordinates attacks in southeastern Afghanistan. It also blamed him for the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde.
The U.S. already had designated Haqqani and his sons individually as terrorists, but Congress wanted tougher action. In July, it set a deadline to prod the administration into imposing blanket sanctions on the group.
Lee reported from Vladivostok, Russia. Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, and Kimberly Dozier and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.
White House Backs Blacklisting Militant Organization
New York Times By ERIC SCHMITT September 6, 2012
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has decided to blacklist as a terrorist organization the Haqqani network, the militant organization responsible for some of the deadliest attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, several American officials said late Thursday.
The decision, which is expected to be announced as early as Friday, culminates nearly two years of spirited debate inside the administration that reached a peak in the past month under the pressure of a Congressional reporting deadline this Sunday.
Several State Department and military officials argued that designating the organization would help strangle the group’s fund-raising activities in countries like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and pressure Pakistan to open a long-expected military offensive against the militants.
Many other senior officials, including several in the White House, expressed deep reservations that blacklisting the group could further damage badly frayed relations with Pakistan, undercut peace talks with the Taliban and possibly jeopardize the fate of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier known to be held by the militants.
But in the past few days, supporters of designating the group apparently eased most concerns or put forward contingencies to mitigate the risks and potential consequences.
“This shows that we are using everything we can to put the squeeze on these guys,” said one administration official who was involved in the process, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been formally announced.
Another senior administration official said the designation “is a very strong signal of our resolve to combat the Haqqanis.”
Spokeswomen for the National Security Council and State Department declined to comment on the decision, but four administration officials said late Thursday that the government was going ahead with the designation.
Critics have contended that a designation by the Treasury Department or the United Nations could achieve largely the same result as would adding the network to the much more prominent State Department list, with far fewer consequences.
But many senior counterterrorism officials as well as top American military officers, including Gen. John R. Allen, commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, have said that designating the organization should be a top priority.
“F.T.O. designation could reduce a critical capability of the Haqqani Network by increasing the cost of doing business, reducing access to capital, and constraining the network’s financial resources, thereby limiting their freedom to operate in a local, regional, and international context,” Jeffrey Dressler, senior Afghanistan analyst for the Institute for the Study of War, a research organization here said in a paper issued this week, referring to foreign terrorist organizations.
Mr. Dressler said the Haqqani network’s business interests stretch from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Persian Gulf, and include car dealerships, money exchanges and construction companies, import-export operations, and smuggling networks.
Since 2008, Haqqani suicide attackers have struck the American Embassy and Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and hotels and restaurants there.
American officials confirmed last week that a senior member of the Haqqani family leadership, Badruddin Haqqani, the network’s operational commander, was killed recently in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Pressure in Congress to add the group to the terrorist list has grown. “The Haqqani network is engaged in a reign of terror,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this year. “Now is the time for action, not simply paperwork and talk.”
With virtually unanimous backing, Congress approved legislation that President Obama signed into law on Aug. 10 giving Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 30 days to determine whether the Haqqani network is a terrorist group, and report her decision to lawmakers by Sunday, Sept. 9, coincidentally three days after the end of the Democratic National Convention.
Critics of designating the group a terrorist organization say the action could drive a wedge between the United States and Pakistan, just as the countries are gingerly recovering from months of grueling negotiations to reopen NATO supply routes. Pakistan closed the routes through its territory after an allied airstrike near the Afghan border last November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
These same critics say such a move would appear to bring Pakistan a step closer to being designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. American officials say Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, is secretly aiding the insurgents. Pakistani officials have said that the agency maintains regular contact with the Haqqanis, but deny that it provides operational support.
Two Pakistani officials said last week that the decision was “an internal American issue.” American analysts believe Pakistan would be reluctant to publicly protest the designation, because to do so would substantiate American beliefs that Pakistan supports the Haqqanis.
Critics also voiced concern that designating the Haqqani network could undermine peace talks with the Taliban and complicate efforts to win the release of Sergeant Bergdahl.
Those talks were suspended by the insurgents in March, largely over a delayed prisoner swap for Sergeant Bergdahl, who has been held by the Haqqani network since 2009. The United States would have released five insurgents from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to win his release.
Local Taliban leader killed in S. Afghanistan: ISAF
KABUL, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- A local Taliban leader was killed in an airstrike carried out by the NATO-led coalition or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Thursday, the ISAF forces said Friday.
"Afghan and coalition forces killed a Taliban cell leader during a security operation in Nad Ali district, Helmand province, Thursday," the ISAF forces said in a statement issued here.
The killed Taliban leader named Ajmal, also known as Ahmed Shah, is believed to have commanded an attack cell and directed insurgent activity throughout western Helmand, including multiple attacks on Afghan security forces, the statement added.
"During the operation the security force positively identified Ajmal and one other individual engaged in insurgent activity. After ensuring no civilians were in the area, the security force engaged Ajmal and the other insurgent with a precision airstrike, killing both."
The Taliban insurgents, who have been waging an insurgency of more than one decade, have yet to confirm the death of the insurgent commander.
A separate Afghan and coalition security force detained several suspected insurgents during an operation to arrest a Taliban leader in Helmand's Naw Zad district, Friday morning, the statement added.
"The Taliban leader is believed to direct insurgent activity throughout the district, including the acquisition of weapons and attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces. The security force also seized multiple assault rifles and illegal narcotics as a result of this operation,"
The Helmand province, some 555 km south of Afghan capital Kabul, has been branded as Taliban hotbed in southern part of the insurgency-hit country.
Britain's Prince Harry In Afghanistan For Second Tour Of Duty
September 7, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The British Ministry of Defense says Prince Harry is back in Afghanistan for his second tour of duty there in four years.
The ministry said he will serve as co-pilot and gunner for an Apache attack military helicopter.
He will spend four months based at Camp Bastion in the restive Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.
Prince Harry, known as Captain Wales in the military, looked relaxed, if slightly tired after he arrived at Camp Bastion.
The 27-year-old third in line to the throne hit the headlines last month after he was photographed nude during a wild week of partying in Las Vegas.
The prince had made no secret of his desire to return to serve in Afghanistan.
His previous secret deployment in 2007 had to be cut short after media reported on it .
Based on reporting by AFP and AP
Karzai Officials Receiving Massive ‘Incentive’ Pay
TOLOnews.com By Parwiz Shamal Thursday, 06 September 2012
High ranking government officials and personnel at President Hamid Karzai's office are receiving substantial "incentive payments" of up to $7000 a month, a TOLOnews investigation can reveal.
The investigation has documents showing that 11 million Afghanis (US$220,000) was spent in two months for 80 employees at the Presidential Palace.
Both Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi and his chief of staff Abdul Karim Khoram are each receiving up to 350,000 Afghanis ($7000) per month on top of their salary under the title of incentive payments.
Others receive substantial allowances for food and transport.
Around 580,000 Afghans work for the government with most of them receiving a salary of 5000 to 30,000 Afs per month.
Kabul University professor and economist Hamidullah Farooqi said this issue needs to be seriously addressed.
"An ordinary government employee receives only 5000 to 10,000 per month, while another employee with lesser qualifications at the Presidential office receives 10 times or even 100 times more? This matter should be seriously taken into consideration," Farooqi told TOLOnews.
The Ministry of Finance declined to discuss or provide further details about this, but stressed that incentive payments are approved mainly by President Karzai.
"I think most of the incentive payments are being approved by the President or the head of the related organs. I don't think all the ministers have approved incentive payments to their personnel," Finance Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Tawhidi said.
President Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi declined to comment on the matter.
More than 40 percent of the Afghan government's budget is sponsored by the international community.
Kunar Province Vows Jihad if Cross-Border Shelling Continues
TOLOnews.com By Yama Ahmadi Thursday, 06 September 2012
Residents of eastern Kunar province are registering their names to be included in a fighting force to take on Pakistan if the cross-border shelling into the province is not stopped.
Kunar residents and local officials on Wednesday blamed the Afghan government for not taking the shelling seriously, claiming that all the people including women and children are ready to defend their province and stand against Pakistan.
Kunar senator Rafiullah Haidari said that a tribal meeting held during the past Eid holiday took a decision to declare "Jihad" and respond in equal force if the shelling continues.
"On the fourth day of Eid, tribal elders held a meeting at the provincial governor's office and decided to declare Jihad against Pakistan's invasion into Kunar province. The residents of Kunar are registering their names to defend their soil," Haidari said.
Kunar provincial governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahedi believes that Pakistan's cross border shelling is a clear invasion into Afghanistan and it will result in massive uprisings against Pakistan.
"This is a clear invasion. The monitoring balloons above us are filming everything very clearly. They have political, cultural and traditional hostilities against Afghanistan," he said.
However, he was not confident that the foreign forces present in Afghanistan will help the situation in Kunar.
"The countries who have signed agreements with us are not interested in worsening their relations with Pakistan for the sake of Afghanistan," Wahidi said.
The porous border between Pakistan and Kunar is estimated to stretch for 240 kilometers. It has been the site of numerous attacks over the years. But Kunar residents and officials have complain of the rockets being fired into its territory from other side of border for one and a half years already.
According to local reports, an estimated 5,000 rockets have landed in Kunar with around 37 casualties and hundreds more displaced at times when the rockets have intensified.
Questions Rise Over Prison Shift to Afghans
Wall Street Journal By NATHAN HODGE September 6, 2012
KABUL - Days before the Afghan government takes control of the country's main U.S.-run prison, an advocacy group on Thursday released a report critical of the transition amid last-minute wrangling over the transfer of detainees.
At issue is control over the detention facility in Parwan, located inside Bagram Airfield, a massive U.S. military installation north of Kabul. An agreement concluded on March 9 between the two countries began the process of a six-month transition to Afghan control of the prison. By Sunday, around 3,100 Afghans held by the U.S. must be transferred to Afghan custody.
For Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the transfer of the prison marks an important step for the country's sovereignty. A statement issued by the presidential palace on Tuesday promised a "splendid ceremony" marking the handover. Monday's ceremony will fall after Martyrs' Day, a national holiday that commemorates Afghans who sacrificed their lives in the country's three decades of war dating back to the Soviet invasion in 1979.
On Thursday, however, New York-based Open Society Foundations, founded by financier and philanthropist George Soros, released a study of the transition that suggests the promises of a complete transfer to Afghan control fall short.
The report notes that coalition forces have continued to sweep up individuals in military operations and detain them since the transition process began.
"Even though they have almost completed the transfer of the 3,100 that were being held in March, these additional captures and detentions makes it all but impossible for them to meet the Afghan government expectation of a full handover of the facility," the report states.
U.S. officials confirm that around 600 detainees are still in U.S. custody, a figure earlier reported by the New York Times and included in the report. The memorandum of understanding concluded between the two countries applies only to Afghan nationals who were in U.S. custody on March 9.
"The MOU included a six-month commitment to transfer the people who were in custody" at the time the agreement was signed, said a U.S. official. "It's not the end of the process."
As the Sunday deadline approaches, some Afghan detainees who are covered by the transfer deal remain in U.S. custody. Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, told reporters on Wednesday that a total of 3,006 Afghan prisoners at Bagram had been turned over to Afghan custody, with 34 others still in U.S. custody and 49 set free. The Open Society Foundations report noted disagreements between the two countries that had led to temporary suspensions of transfers ahead of the handover.
Gen. Azimi said he wasn't aware of the report, or the 600 Afghans still in U.S. custody.
"There were some technical details," the U.S. official said. "It's a delicate matter, and there are always complications that arise [during the process]."
U.S. officials said they are committed to handing over any Afghan national detainees who came into U.S. custody after March 9. But they also emphasize that the U.S. will maintain a presence at the Bagram prison, both to ensure that the Afghans can manage the facility properly and to monitor the treatment of former U.S. detainees.
Left unresolved, however, is the fate of non-Afghan citizens, primarily Pakistanis, who have been detained in U.S. military operations.
The report also criticizes creation of what it describes as "an Afghan internment regime." An Afghan body reviews the case files of detainees who have been sent over to Afghan control; it can recommend continued administrative detention, criminal prosecution or release.
"The introduction of internment to Afghanistan, and the process by which around 3,100 detainees are being transferred, has happened with very little public or political scrutiny in Afghanistan," the report states, adding that the transition procedures "are vaguely worded, resulting in troubling uncertainty over who can be detained, on what grounds, and for how long." —Habib Khan Totakhil and Ziaulhaq Sultani contributed to this article.
Write to Nathan Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brother Laments Failure to Investigate Massoud's Assassination
TOLOnews.com By Shahla Murtazaie Thursday, 06 September 2012
The Afghan government failed to investigate Ahmad Shah Massoud's assassination, allowing those who plotted the attack to avoid punishment, Massoud's brother claimed Thursday.
Ahmad Wali Massoud, the younger brother of the late commander and head of the foundation set up in his name Massoud Foundation, said that if the government had done more to probe the case, people would have a better idea of who the enemies of Afghanistan were.
"You know that in other countries, when their national or political figures get killed, they probe the case until the end and even refer it on to the international courts and justice organs, like the assassination case of Rafiq Hariri," Massoud said at a press conference in Kabul.
"Why did the Afghan government fail to even form a commission to probe the case?" he asked.
Commander Massoud, born September 2 1953, was assassinated September 8 2001 in the Khuwja Bahauddin district of northern Takhar province by two Arab suicide bombers posing as journalists. They were reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda. Massoud rejected the militant group's extremist interpretation of the Quran.
Two days later, two of the world's largest buildings, the Twin Towers in New York, were struck by two passenger planes after being hijacked by Al-Qaeda members, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Massoud was a well-known figure who had fought against the invasion of the Soviets in the 1980s. In the new government after the Soviets departed, he was made Minister of Defense, during which time he led the defense against attacks by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's militants, Hezb-i-Islami. When the country fell to the Taliban regime in 1996, he fought the extremists, holding the position as the military and political leader of the multiethnic Northern Alliance until he died.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared Massoud a National Hero in 2002. The date of his death, September 9, has been observed as a national holiday in Afghanistan ever since. In 2012, the holiday will fall on Saturday September 8.
Culture Clash With Afghans on Display at Briefing
New York Times By ROD NORDLAND September 6, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - It was billed as a news briefing by American and Afghan commanders on what the allies are doing to stop insider attacks by Afghan forces against NATO troops. The first question, though, was just about the last thing the three generals on the dais wanted to hear.
An Afghan journalist, Azizullah Foroghi, complained that an American soldier had pointed a weapon at him while he was setting up his camera at the Thursday briefing. “I believe if that had happened to an Afghan soldier instead of me, he would have reacted to it,” Mr. Foroghi said, in Dari.
Mr. Foroghi, who works for Noorin TV, was clearly referring to the sort of insider attacks, known here as green-on-blue, in which Afghan security forces have killed 15 American and other foreign soldiers in the past month, prompting the United States military late last month to shut down some training programs run by Special Operations troops.
The generals did not all immediately get the reference, however, since the official interpreter gave a much-softened version of Mr. Foroghi’s complaint, leaving out the accusation about the gun-pointing.
The mood, however, was clear enough when several other Afghans complained that they have been treated much worse when going through security at coalition headquarters than their American colleagues have been. Some American journalists contested their point, insisting that the security treatment was evenhandedly annoying.
“That didn’t start very well,” Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw was overheard saying to aides afterward. The general is a British officer who is deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led military coalition is known. He was clearly not pleased.
General Bradshaw announced that the allies had agreed on joint counterintelligence teams, as well as joint post-attack assessments and “direct input from Afghan Army religious and cultural affairs advisers” to improve cultural sensitivity. Insider attacks, which have killed 45 people this year, have more than doubled over the same period in 2011 — increasing rapidly after the burnings of Korans by American military personnel in February.
General Bradshaw reiterated the coalition’s findings that most insider attacks were the result of personal disputes arising from misunderstandings, but that only about a fourth could be attributed to insurgent activity.
In a statement issued later, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, said, “My entire command is absolutely driven to do everything we can to reduce this threat.”
He added, “It is a threat to both green and blue that requires a green and blue solution.”
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan military, who was also at the briefing, said that a thorough re-vetting of Afghan National Army troops and recruits was being stepped up and that already “hundreds” of Afghan soldiers had either been detained or dismissed from duty because of suspicions about their identity documents or other irregularities.
General Azimi said his soldiers would also get increased cultural sensitivity training, and waved a booklet that he said was being distributed to the Afghan Army in an effort to persuade Afghans to be understanding about foreigners’ peculiarities.
Titled “A Brochure for Comprehending the Cultures of the Coalition Forces,” the 28-page leaflet noted that 5,000 copies had been printed. Although the Afghan Army has 195,000 soldiers now, most are illiterate.
The brochure warned that coalition soldiers considered it normal to share pictures of their wives and daughters with friends and comrades, while Afghans would consider it taboo to show off their female relatives. Coalition soldiers might well walk in front of someone who was praying without realizing it, or put their feet up on a table or desk and point them at people in the room — all acts that are not intended as the insult they seem, the booklet said.
“As you know, Afghans in the presence of others do not blow their noses,” the brochure warned. “This practice is very common in the culture of coalition countries. If a member of the coalition forces blows his nose in your presence, please don’t consider this an offense or an insult.”
Strangely missing from the gently worded document, however, is discussion of the sort of hot-button issues detailed in a classified military report on attitudes of Afghan and American soldiers toward one another that underlay the insider attacks.
The report, written last year by a social scientist and at the time criticized and suppressed by military commanders, said that Afghans were particularly offended by American soldiers’ attitudes toward women, their toilet practices and frequent profanity.
One thing Afghans find particularly distressing is having guns pointed at them, said Qais Azimy, a senior producer for Al Jazeera here. “I’ve had guns pointed at me at press conferences, even with bullets put in,” he said. “It is very offensive culturally; it’s the same as killing, even in our law.”
As for Mr. Foroghi’s complaint on Thursday, his Afghan colleagues were doubtful that the cameraman had been ill treated. Three of those who were near him in the crowded briefing room said they had seen him jostling for position with an American Army sergeant, a camerawoman for the military. In the jostling, they said, he became inappropriately close to the woman — another taboo in Afghan culture.
“The whole argument was over the camera, where to place it, and she was telling me to keep it away from her camera,” Mr. Foroghi objected, saying he did not get too close to her. “I am not a person who would do such a disgraceful act.”
The camerawoman herself was apparently more worried about her weapon than any possible sexual harassment, according to an account provided by the ISAF director of public affairs, Col. Thomas W. Collins, who insisted that no one had pointed a gun at the Afghan journalist. “The guy kept bumping into her and she said, ‘Watch it, the gun is loaded,’ ” he said, adding that she un-shouldered it to keep it out of reach. “Somehow he took offense and said she pointed it at him, and I don’t know where that came from,” Colonel Collins said.
Since the increase in insider attacks, all American military personnel are required to carry loaded weapons whenever around Afghans.
There were also a number of “guardian angels” at the briefing. That is the term the military has given to soldiers who are now required to monitor gatherings where American soldiers and Afghans mix, and in case of an attack are authorized to shoot to kill.
Ex-Soviet soldier considers himself a 'proud Afghan'
Noor Mohammad is one of dozens of Soviet soldiers who went over to enemy lines in Afghanistan. Today, he has an Afghan wife and six children. He never wants to go back to Russia.
"I came to Afghanistan to fight, to serve my country as a soldier," says Siberian-born Noor Mohammad. "I didn't know my government was killing people here and that's what my task would be."
"Either you kill or you are killed. That's what being a soldier means," he says in Dari.
He explains, not without a touch of pride, that things were different then, back in the 1980s when he was still known as Sergei Yurevich Krasnoperov and the Soviet Union was a mighty world power.
Soviet troops entered Afghanistan in December 1979 to crush the uprising against the pro-communist government. They withdrew almost 10 years later. By then at least half a million Afghans had been killed as well as some 15,000 Russian soldiers.
Joining the enemy
During the war, thousands of Soviet troops deserted the invasion, and dozens, including Noor Mohammad, converted to Islam, changed their names and joined the mujahedeen.
"They took me in and I became part of their movement - jihad against the unbelievers," he explains.
Although he did not fight on the front, he had plenty to do: "One person would make sure the tank was ready, another would fill it up with gas. I would load the munitions or take care of the provisions. All that was also part of the war."
His new life was nothing like the one he had led in Kurgan in the West Siberian Plain. "I wasn't religious before. We didn't respect anything except for vodka and girls. My parents were Christian, but I was interested in other things. I was young," he says with a laugh.
Refusing to go home
Today, he has an Afghan wife and six children. The mujahedeen made sure he married early so he would feel more connected to his adopted homeland.
His children go to school and look no different from their classmates. The only telltale sign that his daughter has a Russian background is that she rides a motorbike, he says.
Noor Mohammad's desertion from the Soviet army made little economic sense. He earns some 5,000 afghanis (ca. 100 US dollars) from his repair shop and can just about keep his and his family's head above water, but still he has no regrets.
"The Russian embassy wanted to bring me and my family back but we refused," he says. Not even his mother was able to convince him to go home when she went there to get him in the 1990s.
"Russia is no longer the big world power that it was," he explains. "People don't have jobs and they're going hungry."
"I've gotten used to the people here and the country," says Noor Mohammad. "My family would have problems in my old homeland but here even the Taliban accept and respect me the way I am."
"I have an Afghan passport and I'm a proud Afghan."
Kabul attack on female actors leaves survivors facing more 'punishment' Killing and death threats reveal depth of Afghan society's prejudices against women
Guardian.co.uk By Emma Graham-Harrison Thursday 6 September 2012
Kabul - Even after the taunts and threats for appearing on TV, and whispered criticism of "immodest" outfits, the attack on actor sisters Areza and Tamana, and their friend Benafsha, came as a surprise.
The trio were minutes from moving out of a neighbourhood in which conservative locals had made them feel unwelcome, walking to meet a minivan full of their possessions, when six men surrounded them in a lane, lined with high-walled compounds. They left Benafsha bleeding to death outside a mosque with stab wounds, and the injured sisters desperately seeking help.
"I didn't see the TV programme, I just heard the local boys saying that one of them played a role with boys," said Yaqin Ali Khalili, owner of a shop that the women frequented. "The hatred of the people here is the reason she was killed, I am 100% sure," he added.
Word travels fast in Kabul, and in a couple of days other actresses were being intimidated. One prominent young actress, Sahar Parniyan, received death threats and has gone into hiding. On the rare occasions she still ventures out she has to wear the burqas she used to despise. "The threats were in calls at midnight, or 2am when I was deep asleep, using very bad words and repeating 'you will be next for assassination'," Parniyan told the Guardian in an interview at a secret location. "I cannot continue my life as an actress in Afghanistan, although I love my job. The Taliban are against women, but so are other groups Afghanistan is not made for women, whether actresses or not."
The killing and death threats have fuelled fears that conservative pressures are shrinking opportunities for women in public roles.
Tamana had performed in the Emrooz television show, which sparked the most recent abuse, and her sister Areza had taken at least one small role, using the screen name Sadaf, in a popular satirical series, The Ministry, in which Parniyan also acts, according to its director. But although they survived the assault that killed their friend, they are now awaiting another kind of punishment.
After a few hours in hospital for treatment, they were taken to prison, where they face intrusive virginity tests and possible charges of prostitution or collusion in the attack. "We have already sent them to the forensic office to do an examination, to make clear whether these girls are having illegal relations with anyone," said prosecutor Ghulam Dastegir Hedayat, responsible for western Kabul, where the killing took place.
Acting is controversial for women in Afghanistan, tied up in many minds – as it once was in the west – with prejudices. "She was quite silent, but a good girl," Parniyan said of Areza, whom she met during filming for The Ministry. "In the eyes of society though, she was a bad girl, and I am a bad girl too."
Perhaps because of this, the sisters hid their part-time careers. "They told us they did laundry in the city. We didn't know they were actresses," said Nasreen Amaninejad, mother of the family who rented them the room in Karte Seh. But the three women were vulnerable without any known male relatives. The sisters are orphans from the north. Benafsha was divorced and had apparently severed contact with her birth family, and the one she married into. No one has been in touch about her death, police and prosecutors say.
"Women living in a house together without male relatives is very unusual and the police and neighbours all seem to imagine that in a situation like that they are running a brothel," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. "We came across quite a few cases where behaviour that the police didn't approve of seems to have turned into a crime and a long prison sentence. And certainly any woman who is not under the control of or vouched for by a husband or male family member is deemed immoral."
The sisters, instead of seeing their attackers jailed, may face years in prison for "moral crimes". While police and prosecutors claimed the women were not attacked for being actors, they suggested the assault was prompted by their work and living arrangements. "The result of our investigation is that she was not killed because they work in television, the six people who killed her were threatening the group one or two days before with the aim of getting them to agree to illegal relations," said Hedayat, the prosecutor.
A senior police officer involved in the case also believed the women were probably attacked for refusing sex, and pointed to their lack of education as evidence they were prostitutes – even though he is a commander in a force where more than three-quarters of new recruits are illiterate. "To feed themselves they have to find money. Where do they get it from?" said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "This wasn't a people's attack on them, it was just something between some groups and the women when there is a request to the females and they refuse, this kind of thing happens."
Kidnapped Former Afghan Attorney General Free
September 6, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports that Afghanistan's former attorney general Abdul Jabar Sabet has contacted security forces to inform them he has been freed from kidnappers after 11 months in captivity.
Sabet reportedly was kidnapped by gunmen in Kabul in October 2011.
Reports variously said Sabet was being held in Logar Province or in Pakistan's tribal regions. It was never clear who kidnapped Sabet.
Afghan government spokesman Samiullah Mayakheyl says Sabet has been reunited with his family.
Hero's Homecoming for Afghan Medallist
Bronze medallist says authorities need to fund sports properly if they want to send athletes to compete.
IWPR By Hafizullah Gardesh, Mina Habib 6 Sep 12
Afghanistan - Afghanistan’s only medal-winner at the London Olympics is delighted with the universal welcome he has received on arriving home, although he bemoans the scant resources available for sports.
Rohullah Nekpai won bronze in taekwondo, repeating his success in Beijing in 2008. He is proud to have won Afghanistan’s first and second Olympic medals.
“I’ve rewritten the history of sport in my country,” he told IWPR. “I took part in the London Olympics on behalf of my 30 million fellow-Afghans.”
When the six-member Afghan team returned to Kabul on August 14, they were met by cheering crowds. Two weeks later, President Hamid Karzai conferred the highest civilian award, the Ghazi Mohammad Akbar Khan Medal, on Nekpai.
In places as far away as Paktia in the south, Afghans watched Nekpai on TV as he defeated Britain’s Martin Stamper. One fan, Abdul Ghani, described how he and his fellow-Pashtuns were so excited that they got up and launched into the “atan”, a traditional dance, to celebrate.
He told IWPR that he wished Afghanistan had ten people like Nekpai instead of countless warlords and “so-called mujahedin leaders”.
Nekpai is aware he has become a symbol of national unity.
“I am certain that sportsmen who represent Afghanistan in international competitions can bring peace and harmony to the country. When people acquire national pride, they forget discord,” he said.
An ethnic Hazara, he identifies himself with the whole nation.
“I am not Hazara, Tajik, Pashtun or Uzbek. I am Afghan and I belong to all the Afghans, because they all supported me, and everyone welcomed me when I returned to Afghanistan with my medal,” he said. “I am proud that every Afghan, regardless of ethnic background, loves me and smiles at me when I walk through the city. I dedicate my achievements and medals to all my fellow-citizens.”
Mari, a Kabul-based journalist, warned others against portraying this Olympian success in ethnic terms, saying, “My message to Nekpai is that he belongs to the entire country and not to one ethnic group, and he should not be exploited by the agendas of those who have brought only misery to every Afghan.”
Now 25, Nekpai took up taekwondo at the age of ten while living in the capital Kabul. He says he was inspired by watching martial arts films and also because his older brother was into taekwondo.
His family left Kabul after civil war broke out in 1992, and lived as refugees in Iran for many years. Nekpai returned to Kabul in 2004, and began training in earnest. Taekwondo had been made an Olympic sport in 2000, and he was determined to compete in the games.
Despite the praise showered on him by the authorities, Nekpai remains critical of the limited support and funding that Afghan athletes get from the government and private benefactors.
“The facilities the government provides aren’t adequate to allow Afghan sportsmen to take part in the Olympics,” he said. “I’m a professional sportsman but my monthly wage is only three-and-a-half dollars, which isn’t enough even to cover one hour’s exercise programme. And even that only gets paid one month out of every three.”
As well as money problems, he said, there was no provision of sports gear and nutrition even for those aiming for the Olympics. The national Olympic committee, he said, offered help only in the months leading up to the competition, instead of ensuring that athletes could train for the full four years between games.
Nekpai’s trainer, Bashir Taraki, agreed that praise from President Karzai was not enough – the state also needed to provide adequate funding.
On the London games themselves, Taraki was critical of the way judges awarded victory to Iran’s Mohammad Bagheri Motamed, who defeated Nekpai and won silver.
“We raised objections but no one heeded us,” he said, noting that the matter was left at that in order to avoid creating trouble for Afghan competitors in future contests.
Nekpai, whom Taraki describes as a role model for other Afghan athletes, is uncertain how to proceed, since he has relied on his family’s limited financial means so far.
“Right now, I don’t know what the future holds for me,” he said. “I am thinking of pursuing higher education in sports abroad.”
His goal remains clear, though: “My aim is to win gold in taekwondo and bring even greater pride to my country.”
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s Afghanistan editor. Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kabul.
|2012, afghan, news, september|