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Default [Afghan News] October 18, 2012 - 10-18-2012, 04:18 PM

Karzai warns against foreign "interference" in Afghan election
By Mirwais Harooni and Adrian Croft
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggested on Thursday that foreign members be removed from the country's election watchdog, in a step that could be aimed at bolstering his grip on power.

Two members of the five-member Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) are non-Afghan, a panel backed by the U.N. which threw out more than half a million votes cast for Karzai as fraudulent in the 2009 presidential poll.

"The presence of foreigners in the Electoral Complaints Commission is against the sovereignty of Afghanistan," Karzai told a news conference alongside NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the capital, Kabul.

"Foreign observers can still come to monitor the transparency or non-transparency of the election, but their interference in the election process is against Afghanistan's sovereignty."

This is not the first time Karzai has intervened in the operations of the ECC.

In 2010, a year after he won a second five-year term as president, he changed a law to take control of the watchdog, allowing himself to appoint the panel members. But he left two foreigners in place on the body.

Before that, three foreign members were chosen by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

"One of the reasons Karzai wants foreigners out of the ECC is because in the past it was the foreigners who spoke out about fraud," Mohiuddin Mahdi, a member of parliament from northern Baghlan province, told Reuters by telephone.

Karzai's chief spokesman Aimal Faizi said "the meddling by some foreign countries and embassies in the 2009 presidential election was a good lesson for Afghanistan".

"We will not allow the foreigners to be part of the election process," Faizi told Reuters.

Opponents of Karzai, who is barred from seeking a third term by the Afghan constitution, say they are worried the president is trying to install an ally or relative as his successor to maintain an influence on power.

Karzai's older brother, businessman Abdul Qayum, has said he is interested in running for president. There is also widespread speculation in the Afghan elite that Abdullah Abdullah, who opposed Karzai in the 2009 poll, will make another bid.

Fresh opposition to Karzai is raising the stakes.

PRESSURE FOR ELECTORAL REFORM

Last month around 20 political parties formed the "Cooperation Council", which could exert pressure on Karzai to commit to electoral reform and for a legitimate transfer of power when his term ends.

Karzai this month stressed that the 2014 elections would be held on time and he would step aside as mandated, denying speculation that the exit of foreign troops and security problems would delay the poll.

His increasingly unpopular government had for months considered a change in election timing to avoid overlapping with the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014, when security is fully turned over to Afghan forces.

Further stressing his country's sovereignty, Karzai said "Afghans are ready to expedite the process of (security) transition if necessary".

But Rasmussen, who jetted into Afghanistan late on Wednesday with 28 NATO ambassadors, said the timeline for NATO's full handover of security was unchanged.

"Our strategy is working and our timeline remains unchanged. We are all committed to seeing our combat mission through by the end of 2014," the NATO chief told reporters.

Under plans endorsed at NATO's Chicago summit in May, NATO-led troops will give Afghan forces the lead role in combat operations across Afghanistan by mid-2013 before most foreign combat troops are withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Rasmussen and the 28 ambassadors, who sit on the North Atlantic Council, NATO's main political decision-making body, went ahead with their trip even though a planned visit by the 15-member U.N. Security Council was postponed this month for security reasons.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Ron Popeski)


Political Groups Present More Demands for Election Amendments
TOLOnews.com By Shakeela Ahbrimkhil Wednesday, 17 October 2012
The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) proposed some principals for the transparency of the upcoming election on Wednesday, joined by civil society and political groups.

The groups warned that if the government does not accept the demands of the Afghan people, it will have to answer to the people.

"The proposal consists of demands to bring about the reform of the election law and the preparation of the government to conduct the upcoming election. The great majority of the political groups gathered here approve this today," FEFA director Nader Naderi said.

FIFA chief Jandad Spinghar said the proposal could present a good image to the international community of the election efforts.

"There is no conflict here. This proposal could be a clear image to the international community," Spinghar said.

The main demands of the proposal pertain to the date of the 2014 presidential election, the registration process, and the point to send a draft of the election law to the parliament.

"In any society, if the government imposes its own rules, it will face with the reaction of civil society and political parties. The president should be very cautious about this," head of Afghanistan's National Front Ahmad Zia Masoud said at the gathering of political parties in Kabul.

National Coalition leader Abdullah Abdullah repeated the warning.

"The masses signed this statement today have agreed that if a government ignores the demands of the people, it will face a public reaction," he said.

If the proposal is not considered by the government, the country will lose its creditability and the government will lose its legacy, former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said.

"If these demands are not considered by the government, Afghanistan will lose its credibility and legacy. The politicians here have decided to stand against a government which does not consider these demands," Saleh added.

Rights and Justice Party deputy chief Moeen Marastiyal said: "We request the parliament to include this proposal to the election law draft. If these demands are not in the law, the government will enforce its self-made rules into the election law."

Meanwhile, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan voiced his support for the proposal and said the demands should be considered in the election law draft. "I would like to assure you that your expectations and recommendations, notably those in chapter two of the declaration, we will accept and adopt as our own and we will put them in practice when dealing with authorities, institutions and indeed the international community. We will move according to your expectations," UN special representative to Afghanistan Jan Kubis said at the gathering.

The presidential election is expected in early 2014 but lack of sufficient budget, insecurity and poor demographic records still present challenges ahead of the country's election commission.

Karzai: NATO can speed up handover of security
By SLOBODAN LEKIC | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President Hamid Karzai said Thursday the nation's military and police are ready and willing to take full responsibility for security in the country if the U.S.-led international coalition decides to speed up the handover to Afghan government forces.

With support for the already unpopular war fading in the West, there has been growing speculation that NATO could accelerate withdrawal plans that currently call for the security transition to Afghan forces to be complete by the end of 2014, when all foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave the country.

"Afghans are ready to expedite the process of transition if necessary, and willing as well," Karzai said during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "So this is in all aspects good news for us and good news for NATO."

There are questions, however, about the ability of the Afghan forces to secure the country.

The Afghan army has grown to 184,676 soldiers, and the country's police force now numbers 146,339 officers — putting them just short of the planned number of 352,000 members. But critics say the rapid expansion has not significantly improved their ability to plan and conduct operations without support from foreign forces in terms of logistics, air support and medical evacuations.

Furthermore, the number of Afghans leaving the army has remained stubbornly high, with 27 percent of troops either deserting or not re-enlisting despite the higher salaries offered. And though the number of volunteers is still high, the army needs to train about 50,000 recruits each year just to compensate for the loss.

Polls show that the 11-year war has little public support among NATO's 28 member states, most of which are cutting defense budgets as part of the austerity measures adopted to deal with the financial crises.

A recent upsurge in the number of insider attacks on coalition troops by Afghan soldiers or police — or insurgents disguised in their uniforms — has further undermined public support for the war in the West. At least 52 American and other NATO troops have died so far this year in those attacks.

In the past several months, there have been calls in the United States and elsewhere to accelerate the drawdown and to withdraw coalition troops by the end of next year.

Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance remains committed to help enable Afghan forces assume full responsibility for the country's security after 2014. The military alliance has also agreed to offer a smaller, post-2014 mission to help Afghan forces with training, advice and assistance.

"We are committed to continuing that cooperation with the Afghan national security forces," he said.

The secretary-general and NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, were visiting Kabul Thursday for meetings with Karzai, coalition military commander Gen. John Allen and commanders of Afghan government forces.

The current strategy agreed to by NATO, its partners and Karzai's government is to enable the Afghans to take over the war against the Taliban and other insurgents by the end of 2014.

NATO started drawing down its forces earlier this year. It currently has 104,000 troops in Afghanistan — 68,000 of them Americans — down from 140,000 the alliance had here in 2011. Among those who left are the 33,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan after 2009, when President Barack Obama ordered a surge in a bid to quell the Taliban.

Karzai also said he did not believe the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections in the United States would affect Washington's long-term policy toward Afghanistan regardless of whether President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, emerges as the winner.

"America has a set strategy for Afghanistan and any government who comes in will follow that, so it will not affect Afghanistan."

___

Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Amir Shah contributed to this report.

Russia expects NATO to hold responsibility for Afghanistan future
MOSCOW, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Russia demanded NATO to fulfill its obligations in Afghanistan even after NATO forces' withdrawal from there, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Thursday.

"Russia would insist that the alliance's forces fully fulfilled their obligations toward Afghanistan not only when they are there but also after NATO's withdrawal from that country," Rogozin told the visiting delegation of the NATO parliamentary assembly.

He called NATO to reshape its operation in Afghanistan from military objectives to lay foundations for peaceful and better life for Afghans.

Meanwhile, he assured Moscow would continue to cooperate with NATO over Afghanistan because Russia has its serious interests in Central Asia.

"Since you've entered there, it's your full responsibility for everything happening there and for what will be happening after your exit," Rogozin said, adding any instability in Afghanistan beckons terrorists from around the world.

"In effect, Afghanistan security has been connected with security of our borders," he concluded.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has planned to leave the country in 2014.

Russia offered a base in the city of Ulyanovsk for transit of ISAF consignment being withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan troop withdrawal a threat to Central Asia: CIS
BISHKEK, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan may become a staging point for terrorist activity in Central Asia once international forces pull out, a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) report warns.

"Processes underway in (Afghan) northern provinces tend to turn northern Afghanistan into a bridgehead for terrorist activity against Central Asian countries," Interfax quoted the CIS Counter-Terrorism Center as saying Thursday.

The Center held regional consultations with Central Asian counter-terrorism and counter-extremism services in Bishkek on Wednesday and Thursday.

Experts at the forum said that, amid global geopolitical transformations, Central Asia displayed a steady trend of radicalization of religious groups and mounting religious extremism.

"Forms and methods of terrorist activities and close bonds of terrorist and extremist organizations operating in Central Asia with international terrorist organizations and transnational organized criminal groups are obviously transforming," the report said.

The experts believe that drug production and smuggling from Afghanistan are controlled by international criminal groups linked to terrorists, and the drug business has turned into a major force with a colossal financial and technical potential.

They also discussed CIS counter-terrorism exercises in Kyrgyzstan in 2013.

Pakistan, U.S. to hold talks on Afghanistan this weekend
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan and the United States will hold talks on bilateral and regional matters including Afghanistan this week, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The U.S. Special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman will visit Islamabad at the weekend to discuss different issues, focusing on proposal to help in the much- anticipated Afghan peace process.

While replying to questions from newsmen at weekly news briefing, Foreign Office Spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan said that Afghan issue will also be taken up during his visit.

"The U.S. Representative visit is basically part of engagements between the two countries," Khan said. He said both sides will discuss all issues of mutual interest and concern.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States have also an exclusive group to explore ways to push for the reconciliation process in Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops.

The State Department of the United States has also said that Ambassador Marc Grossman will visit Pakistan for talks on bilateral matters and Afghanistan.

The State Department said on its website that Grossman departed on his visit on Tuesday, which will first take him to Turkey, where he will attend an international meeting in Ankara.

"In Islamabad, Ambassador Grossman will continue our work with the Pakistani government to identify our shared interests and focus on actions we can take together," the State Department said.

His trip builds on recent engagements, including Secretary Clinton's meetings with Foreign Minister Khar in Washington and President Zardari in New York, as well as the recent U.S.-Pakistan Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Working Group convened in Washington, DC on Oct. 5, it said.

The visit comes at a time when diplomatic efforts for solution of the long-standing Afghan problem are gaining momentum as the endgame approaches.

Ambassador Grossman will attend a meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) for Afghanistan, which will focus on the status of Afghan and international commitments on security and development following the Chicago NATO summit and the Tokyo Conference.

The ICG member countries also plan to discuss international support for transition planning and an Afghan-led political process.

Pakistanis debate real enemy: girl-shooting Taliban or drone-firing US
The news that the Taliban shot 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai for speaking out against them has sparked debate that highlights a major division in Pakistan.
By Taha Siddiqui | Christian Science Monitor
The news that the Taliban shot a 14-year-old girl for speaking out against them has highlighted a major division in Pakistan over the question of which is worse: the United States or militants?

On one side are civil society members and some ethnic and religious minorities who find the attack on the girl, Malala Yousufzai, atrocious and are calling for action against the Taliban.

“There are many in our valley who would not dare to name the Taliban, but she spoke against them. We cannot deny her sacrifice,” says Khairullah Sina of Swat Valley, who works in the education sector and knows Malala.

RELATED The Malala moment: 6 Pakistani views on the shooting of the 14-year-old who stood up to the Taliban

Hundreds of protesters from civil society gathered in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore to protest the shooting, and have been calling for the Pakistani Army to head up a military operation in North Waziristan to tamp down on militants in the region.

On the other side are the citizens who are criticizing the international community and media for giving her case “more than the attention it deserves.”

There seems to be a concerted effort to tie the Malala incident to the unrelated issue of US drone attacks in Pakistan, says Baqir Sajjad Syed, who writes on foreign affairs and defense issues for the English-language newspaper Dawn.

Sanaullah, a teacher in Swat and an acquaintance of Malala's father, who goes only by one name, says he doesn't understand why international media cares so much about the attack on Malala when there are greater issues that need to be addressed.

"Every time there is a drone attack, innocent children and women are killed. We should also condemn that since it is equally unjust but no one is highlighting it," he says.

RELATED The Malala moment: 6 Pakistani views on the shooting of the 14-year-old who stood up to the Taliban

The US says it has no other choice than to use drones to rout out militants in areas like North Waziristan, but many Pakistanis complain that it is a violation of sovereignty and causes civilian casualties. It’s an issue that is used often by right-wing Islamists to whip up anti-Americanism.

A couple of days after the Malala incident, Mr. Syed says that his mobile phone inbox was full of text messages imploring him to remember the “war on terror victims like ‘innocent children’ killed by drones.”

He points out that shortly after the attack, right-wing Islamists and most of the Urdu media started asking the question: “Who used Malala?” That question, he says, implies that the US is actually the enemy.

Just as there have been a number of opinion articles praising Malala’s bravery, there have also been doctored images circulating on the Internet. The images of young, injured children falsely claim to be showing drone attack victims. Some have even circulated images of Malala sitting with American officials and have called her a “US agent.”

MILITARY - CIVILIAN DIVIDES

The divide can also be seen in the military’s response, say analysts

“This is a double game of national security, which the military has played historically,” Syed says, pointing out that the military built its image both locally and abroad by being at the forefront of efforts to provide Malala medical care and also by issuing statements that they were ready to take on the terrorists.

The initial mobilization of civil society in support of Malala sent a message globally that people of Pakistan are not pro-Taliban, says Sarfaraz Khan, who teaches at the Peshawar University. “Initially, even the military responded very positively," he says.

But the civil society and military have now appeared to retreat to two different corners of the debate, and are further divided among themselves.

The military seems to be split over whether it should actually go into North Waziristan and rout out militants. “While the young blood in the military has started calling the Taliban terrorists, the older generation still wants to live in strategic alliances of the ‘80s and '90s, in which we saw the military having close relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan,” says Professor Khan.

Pointing to the lack of consensus in the Parliament about passing a resolution in favor of a North Waziristan operation in light of the attack on Malala, Khan says Parliament is another place the divide is visible.

“Political parties headed by Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif, and others, whose traditional voting constituencies lie with Islamists and in whipping up anti-Americanism, do not want to lose voters at a time when elections are near, and that is why they are creating a counter public narrative,” he says.

Afghanistan's Fiscal Cliff
Kabul-watchers are rightly worried about what the withdrawal of Western aid money will mean for one of the most impoverished countries on the planet. But everyone's asking the wrong questions.
Foreign Policy (blog) BY MATTHIEU AIKINS OCTOBER 17, 2012
KABUL - Afghanistan is awash in foreign aid. In 11 years of war, the United States and its allies have funneled hundreds of billions of dollars into the country. As a result, international spending is now the biggest part of the economy, making Afghanistan an "extreme outlier" when it comes to aid dependency, according to the World Bank. In 2010, for example, it received about $15.7 billion in development funding alone. That's roughly equivalent to Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product. And with $9.4 billion in public spending versus $1.65 billion in revenues in 2010-11, the country is heading off a fiscal cliff as the international community scales down its involvement ahead of transition in 2014.

But what will be the political consequences of the money running dry? For the time being, international spending has forged a bought peace in Kabul, but many of the political settlements that keep violence at bay -- the agreements and expectations negotiated between elites -- could be upended by the transition.

To benefit from aid largesse, Afghans have had to cooperate. At the Kabul Bank, for instance, which was linked to major Afghan contractors employed by the United States and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), cooperation between competing factions enabled nearly $1 billion in insider loans to be siphoned off in recent years. The bank's financial arrangement illustrates the reigning political settlement in the country, uniting a number of national-level networks, most notably those of President Hamid Karzai, a southern Pashtun, and Vice President Mohammed Fahim, a northern Tajik. The Karzai-Fahim alliance has been crucial to stabilizing relationships between north and south in Afghanistan, and has been underpinned by the flow of international money, which provided an incentive to play along with the existing order.

This situation is replicated in hundreds of smaller, localized political agreements across Afghanistan. The country remains fragmented among rival networks of strongmen, many of whom have been co-opted by the central state and the international community. A drastic decline in funding will undoubtedly generate instability as the reigning political deals are renegotiated. Yet, even as the international community charges ahead with its exit strategy of increasing local troop levels and building bureaucratic capacity, there has been little serious analysis about the way its spending is interlinked with Afghan politics.

This week, I published a paper on Afghanistan's private security companies (PSCs) that examines the relationship between international spending and Afghan politics. Fed by the military surge, the PSC industry in Afghanistan has grown to a monstrous size, with high-end estimates of 60,000-80,000 employees in 2011, most of them armed Afghan guards. Unlike Iraq, the PSC industry in Afghanistan is largely dominated by Afghans, and as result it has become deeply interlinked with the Afghan government and local politics. Many of the newly rich PSC owners were former commanders who fought in the Soviet and civil wars and were able to mobilize networks of armed men. Some of them, like Matiullah Khan in the province of Urozgan, have become the preeminent strongmen in their areas as a result of their control over supply convoy and base defense contracts for the United States and NATO.

The PSC industry is one example of how international funding, by its sheer scale, has shaped the environment in which Afghan actors make decisions. As such, it has a lot to say about the frequently bemoaned corruption of the Afghan central government.

Take, for example, the critical southern province of Kandahar, where in 2001, the Karzai family was faced with the task of outmaneuvering its principal rival, Gul Agha Sherzai, who had from the beginning secured crucial access to U.S. military patronage. Because of his contracts with the U.S. military -- which allowed him to transform his private militias into "legitimate" PSCs -- Sherzai was initially beyond the control of the central state. But President Karzai eventually outmaneuvered him by empowering his half-brother Ahmed Wali to take control of critical contracting networks, by making patronage appointments, and using the muscle of the central government to intervene directly in private business in Kandahar.

The result was politically beneficial for Karzai, but detrimental to Afghanistan's fragile democratic institutions. The corruption of the central government, in other words, was a product of the structure and scale of the international intervention, which made contracting, not institutions, the determinant of political power in Afghanistan.

So far, the myriad donor nations, militaries, and non-governmental organizations involved in Afghanistan have mostly defined a successful transition as a technical exercise -- one defined by objectives like handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces, enhancing the capacity of the civil service, and so forth. But the future stability of the country has less to do with Afghan troop levels than it does with whether Afghan powerbrokers can forge a more stable, indigenous order after the international money dries up. There is, perhaps, a silver lining to the coming economic decline: Afghan politicians will have to rely more on their own people and less on a top-down flow of dollars. But the reckoning will not be pretty.

Who are the Pakistani Taliban?
CNN By Ben Brumfield October 17, 2012
While its recent attack on a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan brought international outrage, the Pakistani Taliban take credit for a long list of assaults on civilians and the military in the country's mostly ungoverned tribal area along the Afghan border.

The banned Islamist group, which has intimate links to the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, unabashedly confirmed it tried to kill teen activist Malala Yousufzai as she rode home from school in a van October 9.

But before that, the group, formally known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), took the global spotlight when Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square in May 2010. The TTP took responsibility, and Shahzad testified that he had received training from them.

The following September, the U.S. State Department designated the TTP a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Are they "the Taliban?"

They are not "the Taliban" that the U.S. forces have been at war with in Afghanistan, according to a Pakistani analyst. But that they adopted the name "Taliban" is no coincidence.

Formally known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the group is very closely linked with its namesake in Afghanistan as well as with al Qaeda. It shares its religious extremist ideology -- but is its own distinct group.

The TTP also has a different goal, but its tactics are the same, says Raza Rumi, director of policy and programs at the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think tank.

"Their primary target is the Pakistani state and its military," he says. "It resents the fact that it (Pakistan) has an alliance with the West, and it wants Sharia to be imposed in Pakistan."

Another terrorism analyst notes that "there is a shared heritage between the two groups."

"The Pakistani Taliban emerged as a power alongside the Taliban as a kind of network of support," says Matthew Henman of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, fighters from Pakistan crossed over the border to fight. They retained close relations with the Taliban after returning home, Rumi says.

There are other militant groups in Pakistan's tribal region not under the umbrella of the TTP, who support the Taliban but do not pursue Tehrik-i-Taliban's goals of replacing the Pakistani state with an Islamist one.

Where do the TTP's roots lie?

Pakistan's army began hunting various militant groups in the semi-autonomous regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in 2002.

In reaction, militant "supporters of the Afghan Taliban in the tribal areas transitioned into a mainstream Taliban force of their own," according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2007, like-minded militias in Pakistan's tribal region came together under the command of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2009.

As a result of its beginnings, Tehrik-i-Taliban are not a unified fighting force but a coordinated coalition of militias.

"Since its formation, the TTP have been dominated by one tribe," Henman says. "That is the Mehsud tribe." When Baitullah Mehsud died, factions competed for Tehrik-i-Taliban's leadership.

The militant groups control different regions within the tribal area and often have different agendas and political objectives. The factions don't always speak with one voice, although it is widely believed they now recognize Hakimullah Mehsud as their leader.

The TTP may have started in the tribal regions, but have since expanded their network.

They are "not just guys hiding in mountains or caves." They maintain loose factions spread out as far as Punjab province, Rumi explains.

"And they have also been joined by criminal gangs" to raise money through kidnappings and extortion. But the TTP have maintained the coalition nature of their roots, which leads to internal strife.

The TTP's opposition to the government and its allies, particularly the United States, has galvanized them beyond their differences.

"When (former president Gen. Pervez) Musharraf sided with the U.S. in 2001 after the 'you are either with us or against us' line from (then-President George W.) Bush, this is when the Taliban began to resent the military," Rumi says.

The TTP do not encompass all militant groups in the tribal regions but does work together with some, such as the Haqqani Network.

What is the Pakistani Taliban's mission?

The TTP are fighting to overthrow Pakistan's government via a terrorist campaign, according to the U.S. State Department.

"They reject the Pakistani constitution," says Rumi. "They reject the democratic process in Pakistan."

Because of Pakistan's alliances with the United States and other countries, the Pakistani Taliban also attack foreign interests in and outside of Pakistan.

Within Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban often target members of Pakistan's armed forces but also kill civilians for political and religious reasons. In a December 2009 bombing of a mosque frequented by Pakistani military personnel, the group killed 36 and wounded 75.

In March 2011, a TTP bomb planted at a natural gas station killed dozens.

An attack on a Sufi shrine in April 2011 killed more that 50 in Dera Ghazi Khan, said the U.S. State Department, which also suspects the group may have been involved in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Assaults on U.S. and other foreign interests have included attacks on a military base in Afghanistan and a U.S. Consulate in Peshawar. The TTP have also claimed responsibility for the assassination of a Saudi Arabian diplomat.

"Their ambitions are linked to the agenda of al Qaeda," says Rumi. They would like to bring down the West and the United States, but "given their capacity and network, they are overreaching."

Why the May 2010 Times Square bombing attempt?

Since the United States is not in a state of war with Pakistan, its military does not pursue the Pakistani Taliban within that country's borders.

Instead, the CIA has hammered the TTP and other targets in the tribal regions with drone strikes, which have inflicted heavy losses but not stamped it out.

The New York City bombing attempt has been interpreted by some as an act of revenge.

TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud recorded an audio message in April 2010 with a warning to the United States: "From now on the main targets of our fedayeen (fighters) are American cities."

Who within the Pakistani Taliban targeted the teenage blogger?

A Tehrik-i-Taliban militia led by Maulana Fazlullah once controlled the Swat region, Malala's home. Pakistan's interior minister blames it for the assassination attempt and has announced a bounty of $1 million on the heads of those responsible.

In an odd twist, the Pakistani military ran Fazlullah's group out of Pakistan in 2009, forcing it to operate in Afghanistan, where the U.S. military can openly pursue it.

Why did they target Malala?

Malala wrote a blog entry exposing how Tehrik-i-Taliban target schools in her region that coincided with a decree in early 2009 forbidding girls from attending school. She later gave interviews on the topic to international media, including CNN.

Pakistan Taliban gunmen halted a van transporting her and other children home from school October 9, found Malala and shot her in the head and neck. When she survived her injuries, a TTP spokesman promised they'd finish the job the next time.

How did the attack on the schoolgirl affect Pakistani sentiment?

The shooting has prompted an unusually strong and united reaction of disgust and anger among many Pakistanis, analysts say.

"There is a groundswell of sympathy for her and also a very strong demand for the Pakistani state to do something about this issue," says Rumi. Discontent toward the Pakistani Taliban has spread.

There is a lot of support for the TTP's ideological goals among social conservatives, says Henman, but "revulsion" for their tactics.

Why is the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan so difficult to fight?

The Pakistani military has been at this for a long time, Rumi points out, and although there have been successes, the fight drags on in a cat-and-mouse game.

"Tribal areas have for decades now been a no-go area for the Pakistani state," Henman says, and its security forces have not been able to establish a consistent presence there. They are left launching sporadic missions and then withdrawing.

"The militants invariably get pushed out of their strongholds," says Henman. Then they come back when the military is gone. "It's an ink blotting exercise for the Pakistani government."

"The impetus from the Taliban-type of movement is the fight against the military," Rumi says. Fighting them is what caused them to form in the first place. De-escalation should be part of the solution.

"The timely exit of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan is so important not only for Afghanistan but for Pakistan as well," Rumi says.

The London analyst agrees. "Absolutely," says Henman, getting the United States out of Afghanistan "is the key part of their religious motivation."

Like their Afghan allies, the Pakistani Taliban believe it must protect Islamic lands from "infidel invaders." "Pakistan's tacit support for the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan" exacerbates the situation in Pakistan, Henman adds.

Is Pakistani intelligence in cahoots with militants?

Western officials have accused Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency of colluding with militant groups. Discovering Osama bin Laden within the country's borders in the city of Abbottabad, where there is a dominant military presence, increased suspicions of cooperation in the West.

"There have been a number of allegations by U.S. officials," Henman says. Adm. Mike Mullen in particular accused the ISI of funding and supporting militants. "The (Pakistani) government has explicitly denied it," Henman says, and he himself has seen "no concrete evidence."

The accusations involve groups operating in Kashmir, he says, and Lashkar-i-Taiba, operating within Afghanistan, but he finds it hard to believe the ISI would support the TTP, because they target the ISI and the military.

"You can never draw any kind of definite conclusion," he says, "but it seems unlikely."

How should the government respond?

Rumi recommends a "holistic strategy, which includes military, political and institutional solutions." In the end, the people of the tribal regions need to be reintegrated into Pakistani society.

Henman agrees. "If there is a solution to be found, it is unlikely to be purely military," he says. The TTP can survive massive military efforts and keep bouncing back.

He is not optimistic about Pakistan's government being able to negotiate peace with Tehrik-i-Taliban. The military may be faced with perpetually beating down the militants to contain their capabilities.

Rumi does not expect to see much of an increase in military action by Pakistan's government against the TTP.

"This is an election year," he says, "so no political party would want to be seen as being creating more destruction and war."

Premature mine blast kills 2 Taliban in southern Afghan town
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Oct. 18 (Xinhua)-- Two Taliban militants were killed as their mine exploded prematurely in Helmand province 555 km south of capital city Kabul on Thursday, police spokesman in the province said.

"Two Taliban terrorists who were attempting to plant a mine on a road outside provincial capital Lashkar Gah early this morning, but the device exploded pre-maturely killing both on the spot," Farid Ahmad Farhang told Xinhua.

Taliban militants who are largely relying on suicide and roadside bombings are yet to make comment.

Amnesty Condemns Reported Beheading In Afghanistan
October 18, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Amnesty International has condemned the reported beheading of a young Afghan woman in Herat Province for refusing to be forced into prostitution by her in-laws.

“The tragic fate of Mah Gul is one more incident that highlights the violent atmosphere that women and girls face in Afghanistan and the region," said Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director. "They are raped, killed, forced into marriage in childhood, prevented from obtaining an education and denied their sexual and reproductive rights. Until basic human rights are guaranteed to women and girls in the region, these horrible abuses will continue to be committed."

Nossel called on the Afghan government to enforce a 2009 law on eliminating violence against women, which the rights organization said is still only sporadically enforced.

Nossel said the international community "must play its part" to ensure women's rights are respected as Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its security.

International combat forces are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, handing over control to Afghan security forces.

Afghan Woman's Beheading Latest In Alarming Trend
October 18, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Frud Bezhan, Shahpur Saber
HERAT, Afghanistan -- A disturbing spate of violent attacks against women has gripped western Afghanistan, where over a dozen women have been killed this year.

In the latest incident, an 18-year-old identified only as Najibullah was arrested on October 13 in connection with the gruesome torture and beheading two days earlier of a woman in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran.

Mahgul, a 25-year-old newlywed, was found dead outside her home by her family, who then carried her mutilated body to the local Department for Women's Affairs to raise awareness of her killing.

Najibullah, who gave a confession in front of journalists and television cameras on October 15, said he was forced to carry out the act by his aunt, Mahgul's mother-in-law, Parigul. He said Parigul restrained Mahgul, while he took a sharp knife and beheaded her.

"My uncle's wife told me I should kill this person. I said I couldn't kill her. She told me, 'If you can't kill her, then help me do it.' She forced me and I helped her," Najibullah recalled.

"She took me inside her home and hid me. When [Mahgul's] husband left to go to the bakery, she told me to come out. She held her [Mahgul's] legs while I beheaded her," he continued. "I asked her [Parigul] why she wanted to behead Mahgul. She said, 'I hate her because she doesn't listen to me.'"

Herat's police chief, General Sayed Abdul Ghafar, said police had initially arrested Mahgul's mother-in-law, father-in-law, and husband, but later also arrested Najibullah after witnesses came forward to say they had seen him carrying a bloody knife as he left the crime scene on the night of the killing.

Ghafar, who said the four had yet to be formally charged, said the investigation concluded that the main motive for the crime was Mahgul's refusal to become a prostitute, a demand he said was made by her in-laws.

Mahgul's family, who expressed their shock at the brutal killing, rallied along with dozens of women's right activists outside a police station in Herat on October 15 to protest what they said were delays by the police in bringing charges over the crime.

In a statement released on October 17, Amnesty International strongly condemned the beheading. "The tragic fate of Mahgul is one more incident that highlights the violent atmosphere that women and girls face in Afghanistan and the region," said Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director.

Plague Of Violence In Herat

Mahgul's murder comes after the body of a 30-year-old woman was found in Herat's Pamanare district at the beginning of October. The victim, who had had her nose, ears, and fingers removed, was taken to Herat regional hospital, where doctors said she was tortured before being killed.

Herat's district attorney office, who confirmed the authorities had yet to make any arrests in that case, said investigations were ongoing.

The two recent cases bring to around 20 the number of women slain this year, according to Herat's Department for Women's Affairs office, which added that family members were accused of involvement in most of the cases.

The slayings have worked to highlight the bleak situation for women in Afghanistan, where domestic abuse is routine, arranged marriages are the norm, and female suicide rates are among the highest in the world.

Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting, and employment since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, but many are still routinely subjected to domestic violence and abuse.

Herat, in particular, has been grappling with high levels of violence against women, mostly because it is one of the largest and most populous provinces in Afghanistan. The director of the local Department of Women's Affairs in Herat, Jamshidi Mahbubeh, says her office has documented more than 700 cases involving violence against women in the past year.

The cases, she says, include those involving domestic violence and abuse, torture, murder, physical mutilation, and women who have committed suicide.

Seeking Justice For Women

Herat has the highest number of cases of self-immolation -- women who set fire to themselves -- in the country. Many try to commit suicide because they are subjected to domestic violence and abuse. Most cases involve young women burning themselves with household fuel or cooking oil. Nearly all suffer horrific scarring and in some cases the injuries result in death.

According to estimates by the Department of Women's Affairs, at least 80 women in Herat have died in the last year due to self-immolation.

Armand Halimzada, a human rights activist, says doctors, researchers, and activists have not come to any clear conclusions as to why there are so many self-immolation cases in Herat. There is, however, one prominent theory: "that this practice has roots in Iran and Afghan refugees returning from Iran have imported this culture."

Lailama Rahimi, a women's rights activist, has called on the authorities to do more to enforce a 2009 law on eliminating violence against women, which rights activists say is still only periodically enforced.

Rahimi says many women who have suffered from violence almost never receive justice. Even if their cases go to trial, she says, the majority result in the acquittal of the perpetrators, the dropping of charges to less serious crimes, convictions with shorter sentences, and female victims themselves being accused of "moral crimes" for making private matters public.

That failure, she says, is ensuring the culture of violence against Afghan women continues. "All the concerns we have today, we have had for a long time. The difficulties we [women] face are due to [Afghanistan's] tribal culture," she says. "This [failure by the authorities] is why we are seeing this violence against women continue."

Written and reported by Frud Bezhan, with additional reporting by Shahpur Saber

Balkh Local Officials, Social Activist Groups Meet to Boost Ties
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Local officials and civil society activists in northern Balkh province gathered on Wednesday to discuss ways to improve relations between the government and the public.

Officials said that lack of coordination and cooperation between the people and the government makes the government bodies weaker and less capable of responding to needs, such as a natural disaster.

"We believe that all Afghans are united, and if we continue our unity, we will reach our goals," Deputy Balkh provincial governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat said at the gathering Wednesday.

Balkh provincial council chief Afzal Hadid said Afghanistan will not have a strong and united government unless its supported by its people.

"The role of the civil society and the involvement of the people in the government will be effective for the strengthening of governance," he said, adding that it will assure the longevity of government.

Attendees stressed for the need for civil society to play a major role in policy making and keeping the government accountable, also noting the coordination between the two bodies.

"Civil society is an important part of the democratic nation. It can play a major role in providing good governance," civil society activist Abdul Basir said.

"The Women's Department has good coordination with the civil society, other government bodies and the media in order to provide quality services and programs," head of provincial women's directorate Friba Majeed said.

The gathering attendees asked for more discussion groups and 'think tanks' involving the government and civil society representatives to strengthen relations.

US army contractor in hot water over Afghan video
AFP 18/10/2012
WASHINGTON - A private security company working for the US government in Afghanistan is in hot water after a video surfaced allegedly showing several of its employees drunk and on drugs, US broadcaster ABC reported Wednesday.

The video posted on the website of ABC purportedly taken at an operations center belonging to US defense contractor Jorge Scientific shows men with nude torsos downing vodka shots and wrestling with each other.

Another man, identified as the medic of the group, is shown in a dazed state after shooting up with Ketamine, a strong anesthetic.

Contractors working for the US Army are banned from the use of alcohol and drugs.

The cell phone video, shot earlier this year, was provided to ABC by two former employees of the company, Jorge Scientific, who have filed a lawsuit against it.

"They endangered Jorge employees, the US mission, and US military personnel," claims the lawsuit obtained by ABC.

The two men filing the suit worked as armed security officers in Kabul as part of a $47 million contract the company had to train Afghan police in counter-insurgency.

They told ABC they quit in disgust and out of fear their own safety was at risk due to the behavior of their colleagues.

In a statement, Jorge Scientific -- which has won almost $1 billion in US government contracts -- said it had taken "taken decisive action to correct the unacceptable behavior of a limited number of employees" and hired an independent investigation team to carry out a probe.

An unspecified number of employees, including a former senior executive and "several others mentioned in the complaint" no longer work for the company, it said.

The Pentagon takes "all allegations of inappropriate behavior by contractors and service members very seriously," Commander Bill Speaks, a spokesman, told AFP.

The US Army's Criminal Investigation Division was looking into the allegations, he added, but declined to provide any details.

According to ABC, at least one US Army major -- a female -- regularly joined the parties and engaged in sexual activities at the company's facility.

Almost 114,000 contractors worked for the Pentagon in Afghanistan as of July 1, more than the 90,000 US soldiers deployed there, according to official statistics.

Afghan farmers weigh up saffron against opium
DW 17/10/2012
The Afghan government sees saffron as a good alternative to opium. Some farmers have successfully made the transition, whereas others are sticking to poppy.

Haji Akbar used to grow poppy. It was a lucrative business but he kept getting into trouble with the authorities. Several times he was forced to move on to another province.

But since turning to saffron 15 years ago, he has become a national hero. Nicknamed the "Father of Saffron," he has even been awarded a medal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

He learned how cultivate the expensive spice in Iran when he was living as a poor refugee in the western Afghan province of Herat. Today, he owns a large estate and his own distribution company - his life has changed dramatically.

He told DW he had become so rich he had been able to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, had paid for all his children's weddings and bought more land.

The Afghan government sees saffron not only as a lucrative alternative to poppy but also as a means of fighting opium, whose proceeds finance militancy through different channels. That's why it is supporting model projects so that farmers in the country's south and west can make the transition.

Some 90 percent of the world's opium is still produced in Afghanistan. However, Zabiullah Dayem from the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics said that the projects had helped to reduce the opium production in certain provinces. "There was such a program in Helmand province three years ago, which resulted in a 40 to 45 percent decrease in opium production," he said.

Jalil Ahamad, a wholesale saffron buyer in Herat, explained that farmers who wanted to make the transition needed to have patience above all. "If a farmer grows saffron on 2,000 square meters, he will only obtain 300 grams of saffron in the first year. The yields will increase the next year to 500 grams and to four kilos in the fourth year."

Farmers who grow poppy on 2,000 square meters can count on a harvest worth between 2,500 and 4,000 US dollars. Saffron grown on the same surface brings in about 6,000 dollars.

The government is expanding saffron cultivation from two districts to seven in Kandahar province this year.

The Afghan government sees saffron as a good alternative to opium. Some farmers have successfully made the transition, whereas others are sticking to poppy.

Haji Akbar used to grow poppy. It was a lucrative business but he kept getting into trouble with the authorities. Several times he was forced to move on to another province.

But since turning to saffron 15 years ago, he has become a national hero. Nicknamed the "Father of Saffron," he has even been awarded a medal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

He learned how cultivate the expensive spice in Iran when he was living as a poor refugee in the western Afghan province of Herat. Today, he owns a large estate and his own distribution company - his life has changed dramatically.

He told DW he had become so rich he had been able to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, had paid for all his children's weddings and bought more land.

The Afghan government sees saffron not only as a lucrative alternative to poppy but also as a means of fighting opium, whose proceeds finance militancy through different channels. That's why it is supporting model projects so that farmers in the country's south and west can make the transition.

Some 90 percent of the world's opium is still produced in Afghanistan. However, Zabiullah Dayem from the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics said that the projects had helped to reduce the opium production in certain provinces. "There was such a program in Helmand province three years ago, which resulted in a 40 to 45 percent decrease in opium production," he said.

Jalil Ahamad, a wholesale saffron buyer in Herat, explained that farmers who wanted to make the transition needed to have patience above all. "If a farmer grows saffron on 2,000 square meters, he will only obtain 300 grams of saffron in the first year. The yields will increase the next year to 500 grams and to four kilos in the fourth year."

Farmers who grow poppy on 2,000 square meters can count on a harvest worth between 2,500 and 4,000 US dollars. Saffron grown on the same surface brings in about 6,000 dollars.

The government is expanding saffron cultivation from two districts to seven in Kandahar province this year.

Saffron doesn't suit everyone

However, although the climate in certain parts of Afghanistan is particularly suited to saffron, this is not the case everywhere.

Sardar Khan went back to poppy after just one year of experimenting with saffron in the eastern province of Laghman. His crop was of such poor quality that he was only able to sell it at a very low price.

"The government promised to support us financially if we transferred to saffron," he said angrily. "But then they didn't actually provide us with any help. They lied to us!"

Moreover, he said, looking out onto his fields of poppy, opium buyers are more reliable. "They tell us in advance that they want to buy everything. If we have financial problems they give us what we need and tell us to pay them back once we get the yields."

"Saffron is not the only alternative for opium cultivation," said Zabiullah Dayem. "We are looking at each province as a separate case. For instance, gardening can be a very good alternative in some Afghan provinces."

US sets $12 million reward for 2 al-Qaida members
By BRADLEY KLAPPER | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has offered up to $12 million in rewards for information leading to the location of two Iran-based al-Qaida leaders.

The U.S. says they're key facilitators in sending extremists to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The State Department says it will provide up to $7 million for information on Muhsin al-Fadhli and $5 million for information on Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi.

The announcement Thursday coincided with new Treasury Department penalties against al-Harbi. Any assets he holds in the U.S. are now blocked and Americans are banned from doing business with him. Al-Fadhli is already subject to such restrictions.

Taking tea with a terrorist
CNN By Paul Cruickshank October 17th, 2012
He didn't look like a hardened terrorist. A short, meek man with a neatly cropped beard and glasses, Moez Garsallaoui was shy and courteous. He served me and a CNN crew sweet Moroccan tea and north African cakes in the living room of the pinewood Swiss chalet he shared with his Belgian-Moroccan wife.

That was in 2006. Fast forward to the present: A posting on the Shumukh al-Islam Jihadist forum Monday said Garsallaoui had been killed in "a cowardly, treacherous raid" somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. He was 44.

In the intervening six years, he had become a jihadist of some standing, and may have influenced the young Frenchman who carried out a string of shootings in southwest France earlier this year.

"We received the painful news about the killing of another hero of the heroes of this Ummah, and one of its best," the posting by a militant calling himself Abu al-Laith al-Waziri stated, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

A European counterterrorism official told CNN the claim appeared to be credible, but said confirmation of his death had not yet been received.

That cold afternoon in Switzerland, we had actually come to talk with Garsallaoui's wife. She was called Malika el Aroud, and was the widow of Abdessattar Dahmane, an al Qaeda operative who had killed the Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan two days before 9/11.

Back then, she was attracting increasing scrutiny from European security agencies for running a pro-al Qaeda website and was earning a reputation as an "al Qaeda living legend" in radical circles because of a book she published about her time in Afghanistan.

Garsallaoui was tech savvy and showed us how he helped el Aroud administer the website from a computer in their bedroom. He was obviously in awe of his wife and her former husband, the al Qaeda hero.

After Garsallaoui traveled from Europe to the tribal areas of Pakistan in early 2008, the bookish Tunisian was transformed. Paramilitary training bulked up his physique and he became a significant operator in his own right amongst jihadists in the mountains of Waziristan.

In early 2008 he sent a picture of himself to his wife back in Belgium posing with a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher. "I saw the picture," el Aroud replied to him. "You are so beautiful." In another message - intercepted by U.S. intelligence - he told her he had killed several American soldiers in Afghanistan.

He appeared to be trying to prove to her that he was as worthy a Holy Warrior as her former husband.

In the months before he left for Pakistan, the couple had moved from Switzerland to Belgium, where they had worked to recruit militants to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. and NATO troops. Garsallaoui arranged for a group of Belgian and French militants to travel to Pakistan's tribal areas at the same time he did, and when they got there, he arranged for them to receive training from al Qaeda instructors, according to Belgian court documents.

One of the Belgian militants who traveled with Garsallaoui subsequently testified that Garsallaoui's marriage to Malika el Aroud had "opened doors" for him in Waziristan.

According to Belgian court documents, after his arrival, Garsallaoui formally joined al Qaeda by signing a membership document they presented him. He soon connected with senior al Qaeda operatives, including Abu Leith al-Libi, the group's Libyan military chief, and became acquainted with several al Qaeda recruits, including the American Bryant Neal Vinas.

He later told his wife that on January 31, 2008, he narrowly escaped being killed along with al-Libi in a drone strike after he spent the night at the Libyan's house.

'The archetype of the fanatical terrorist'

European counterterrorism officials believe that although he declared his allegiance to al Qaeda, he kept a significant amount of independence, moving between various groups in North and South Waziristan as a sort of jihadist freelancer.

In late 2008 several of the European militants who had traveled with Garsallaoui to Pakistan returned to Europe, sparking a terror alert in Belgium and a wave of arrests. Among those arrested was his wife, el Aroud, who was subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison. Garsallaoui was convicted in absentia, given the same length sentence, and he was made the subject of an Interpol Red Notice.

"He represents the archetype of the fanatical terrorist, disposed to the worst excesses to see his liberty-depriving philosophy succeed. Human life appears to have little value in his eyes," the Belgian judges who sentenced him concluded.

Several of Garsallaoui's proteges shared that fervor. One of the Belgium-based militants Garsallaoui brought to Pakistan - Hicham Bouhali Zriouil, 33, a former Brussels taxi driver - also developed close ties to al Qaeda's top leadership. Last year, senior Libyan al Qaeda operative Atiyah abd al-Rahman entrusted Zriouil with a mission to help set up al Qaeda's operations in Libya, a Western security official told CNN, but he was arrested in Syria before he made it there. Zriouil was subsequently extradited to Morocco and handed a 20-year prison sentence by a Moroccan court for terrorism-related offences.

In the spring of 2009, Garsallaoui posted a message on a jihadist forum claiming he was fighting beside elements of the Taliban, and making cross-border raids into Afghanistan from the tribal areas of Pakistan to target American troops. He delivered this message for Western counterterrorism agencies: "If you thought that you could pressure me to slow down through the arrest of my wife, you were wrong. ... Those who laugh last, laugh more."

Not much was heard from Garsallaoui in the years that followed apart from the occasional statement under one of his many aliases on jihadist forums, and a few online exchanges with Western journalists. Western intelligence agencies believed he was operating mainly in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and acting as a facilitator connecting European militants to al Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist groups. They believed that the rising toll of drone strikes had led to Garsallaoui playing an increasingly senior role.

In October 2011, Garsallaoui released a statement railing against democracy in his home country of Tunisia. Two months later, Garsallaoui again surfaced to post a message in support of attacks by a then-little-known al Qaeda affiliated jihadist group in Kazakhstan called Jund al Khilafah, or JaK, according to Western intelligence officials. CNN has seen the posting.

Suspected links to Toulouse shootings

Weeks later, Garsallaoui was in the spotlight of Western intelligence agencies like never before. In March 2012, a French-Algerian jihadist named Mohammed Merah carried out a series of shootings in southwest France that killed seven people, including three Jewish schoolchildren. Merah was eventually killed in a hail of gunfire during a siege at his apartment.

Before he died, Merah spoke with negotiators through a walkie-talkie over a 17-hour period. Some of his claims were at first treated skeptically by French officials, but subsequent investigations corroborated a significant number of details he provided.

Merah said that when he traveled to the tribal areas of Pakistan in September 2011 he connected with a group of al Qaeda fighters reporting up to Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al Qaeda Libyan operative. He also claimed he was provided weapons training by a Pakistani Taliban grouping.

But he said it was an al Qaeda figure who had spent time in France who encouraged him to return home to launch an attack.

"He told me, 'Return to France, kill them in France' ... and I thought about it, took some time to think seriously about it, and said to myself, 'Go for it, I'll take my chance,'" Merah told the negotiators, according to a transcript of his exchanges with them.

Merah said that he himself planned the shootings, including selecting the targets, and that he had no communication with al Qaeda after his return to France.

In the weeks after the Toulouse siege, Western intelligence agencies came to suspect it was Garsallaoui who encouraged Merah to bring terror to France, a senior Western intelligence official has told CNN.

"That is the working hypothesis, but it's something that's going to be painstakingly difficult to prove," the official told CNN.

The hypothesis is - in part - based on a series of indicators.

The first, according to officials, was that Western intelligence agencies received specific intelligence that Garsallaoui had joined JaK, the Kazakh jihadist group, whose leadership had moved to the tribal areas of Pakistan after a crackdown in Kazakhstan.

This was significant because in wake of the Toulouse shootings, JaK released two claims of responsibility for the attack. Though the claims were dismissed at the time by some as opportunist, subsequent investigations left French intelligence officials in little doubt they were authentic.

A telling alias?

The second indicator came with the second of the JaK statements, issued April 1. The statement was signed by "Abu al-Qa'qa' Al-Andalusi" a name similar to two of Garsallaoui's known aliases - "Abou Souheil al Andalousi" and "Al Molla al Andalousi."

"I knew the brother (Merah) up close, and sat with him on many occasions, and I was for a short time one of those who guided him," Abu al-Qa'qa' Al-Andalusi wrote on April 1. He also outlined how JaK provided Merah weapons training.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told CNN it could not be ruled out that another North African jihadist in JaK authored the claim, as the jihadist fighting name al-Andalusi is popular with North African jihadists.

The third indicator, according to officials, was that the author of the April 1 statement claimed to have spoken French with Merah, recognized that his accent came from southern France, and acted as his interpreter. Garsallaoui was fluent in French.

The Shumukh al-Islam posting Monday confirmed Garsallaoui's membership in JaK, describing him as the group's "emir," or top leader. It added that he ran a center where he trained Kazakh militants in explosives and other tradecraft so they could return home to wage jihad. In confirming his link to JaK, he provided intelligence services with a fourth, and perhaps most compelling, indicator of a link between the Toulouse shooter and Garsallaoui.

The Shumukh al Islam posting also implicated Garsallaoui in the abduction of a Swiss tourist couple in the Pakistani province of Balochistan in July 2011. The two were kidnapped as they traveled in their camping van, and were subsequently taken by militants to the tribal areas of Pakistan. In March 2012 the couple walked free from their captors. The Swiss government denied media reports that it had paid a ransom.

A European counterterrorism official told CNN that Western intelligence agencies had suspected Garsallaoui of involvement in the kidnapping, and the posting provided a stronger indication of that.

Afghan entrepreneur defies war to squeeze out a juice empire
By Rob Taylor Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:08am EDT
KABUL - (Reuters) - From a gritty walled compound in a fringe of Kabul better known for bombs and violent demonstrations, Mustafa Sadiq is building a global empire on fruit, selling Afghan produce to the health-conscious in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Gaudily painted trucks line up outside Sadiq's 'Omaid Bahar' factory and workers in juice-stained clothes unload sacks of pomegranates. The fruit's dark red seeds are prized in Europe for their abundant antioxidants, and in Japan where many believe they can help fight cancers in the aftermath of last year's Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

"Besides a thousand things negative said about Afghanistan, no one can ignore the quality, the taste of our fruits, that everywhere it is admired," says Sadiq, a quiet 47-year-old with ambitious plans to expand his two-year-old, $30 million venture into a $100 million Afghan-born fruit behemoth.

Omaid Bahar, or 'Spring Wish', is a rarity in war-wracked Afghanistan: a mid-sized business employing almost 1,000 people and thriving even as many entrepreneurs eye the country's exits, worried about what will happen when NATO combat troops leave in 2014.

Underscoring fears of a Taliban resurgence or worse, a renewal of the bloody ethnic civil war that raged through the early 1990s, Afghans carted $4.5 billion in cash through Kabul airport last year to safety abroad, according to the central bank, much of it ending up in Dubai.

The company is a huge gamble for Sadiq as other businesses fall around him, including many which relied on making military boots and uniforms, but whose orders have recently been cancelled or scaled back.

Where others fret about instability, Sadiq sees opportunity, selling fruit juice concentrate and fresh produce to Britain and western Europe, as well as Canada, Dubai, Pakistan, India, and markets in Southeast Asia.

He has advanced plans for joint ventures in the United States, and sales of juice in neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well as at home, where Afghans are mostly unaware of how highly-regarded their homegrown pomegranates are by health food aficionados.

"We have a premium product here and it is almost organically produced. Because of the climate and the taste we are a step ahead of our competitors," says Sadiq.

"People talk about the health benefits. But unfortunately in our country, people are not that much aware."

BIBLICAL FRUIT

Pomegranates, a staple in the Bible and in Homeric tales, and whose edible pulpy seeds are laden with health-giving antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, have been cultivated for thousands of years. Their deep red juice, also used in cocktail-mixing and Middle Eastern cooking, is sweet with a sour finish.

Afghans argue that the fruit originated in the country's fertile river plains and valleys, where insurgents have battled NATO and Afghan security forces for 11 years.

Sadiq has had to overcome the myriad problems thrown up by the war and Afghanistan's history of conflict, including Taliban insurgents blocking access to farms, Stone Age agricultural techniques, potholed supply routes riddled with landmines, and the bureaucratic torment of its notorious kleptocracy.

"If we had peace and security in the country, we would be in touch directly with the farmers. Now we cannot reach many places that we want. But overall, we try our best," he says.

Inside his factory, fist-sized pomegranates tumble into water for cleaning before bobbing onto conveyors and into a stainless steel crusher where they are pressed into juice concentrate by machinery imported from Italy and Sweden.

The concentrate is packed into vacuum bags which then fill huge green drums shipped in from Russia. Next door a separate factory squirts fresh juice into shop-ready packs at a rate of 7,000 250ml cartons an hour.

Winning export business is vital, given almost all Afghanistan's food is imported, meaning Omaid Bahar must comply with quality standards enforced in Europe and elsewhere - no easy task amid the chaos of his country.

"Here we don't have an insurance system. Police at the Tajikistan border wanted to open our containers and I said if they open it, the concentrate will spoil in 24 hours. We had to turn around and take another way to Kyrgyzstan," says Sadiq's troubleshooting factory manager Abdul Rahman, smiling broadly.

PILOT FARMS

Sadiq's factory is only the first stage of a plan he expects to cost another $70 million and deliver new lines in yoghurts and fruit-flavored milk, as well as jams and jellies.

He is close to agreeing a new venture to sell concentrate in smaller packets into the United States, he says, while distribution offices and warehouses in 12 Afghan provinces will expand next year to all 34 provinces.

The company is also negotiating with the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces and NATO to supply them with fruit juices in what would be a multi-million-dollar coup.

To secure his supply lines from around 35,000 farmers who sell Omaid Bahar 40,000 metric tons of fruit each year, along routes that pass through Taliban strongholds in the south, Sadiq is also shifting Afghan farming practices from horse and plough to modern methods.

He is testing pilot farms with yield-improving drip irrigation and mechanized harvesting, and looking to import dairy cows to supply milk products, which would reduce reliance on imports via Pakistan after cross-border security closures.

"It is already, I would say, a profitable business. It can become much more profitable," he says, without offering hard figures which he worries could benefit his competitors. "The intention is that all the products that we used to import, I'm trying my best to produce locally."

In its most recent Afghanistan assessment the World Bank said while growth reached 8.4 percent in 2010/11, bolstered by big aid flows, the NATO pullout could halve that rate.

Sadiq said Afghans and foreigners tended to over-react to the dangers the country faces, including his own parents who fled to Europe when the Soviet Union invaded in 1979. He fled the 1990s civil war after returning briefly as the Soviets withdrew from their Afghan quagmire.

"I myself expect that these troubles, these uncertainties, (will last) for the next 50 years and for the next generation to come. But it is our country, we have to build it, we have to live here. And only then we can bring peace," he says.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Miriam Arghandiwal; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Afghans frustrated by corruption at every level of government
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting By HULAB SHAH BAWER October 17, 2012
MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan - The mayor of Mazar-e Sharif was outlining how the Afghan authorities were tackling corruption, when an elderly man stopped him in his tracks.

"If you want to fight corruption, the greatest corruption exists in your own administration," said Nek Baba. "You should reform yourself first." The blunt remark came at a "corruption awareness workshop," hosted by the municipal government for an invited audience of 300 local elders and dignitaries.

Nek Baba's particular grievance was that land plots were being handed out free of charge to the rich and powerful, instead of to people who needed them.

In response, Mayor Yunos Moqim acknowledged that Nek Baba was largely right. He accepted that corrupt practices take place in the city government, but promised that he was serious about rooting them out.

The exchange neatly illustrates the situation in Afghanistan today. Everyone agrees corruption is rampant at every level of government. Everyone says something needs to be done about it. But little tangible progress has been made in making the bureaucracy more honest over the last decade. Few are arrested; few are held accountable.

Frustrated residents of northern Afghanistan say they cannot get anything done without paying off some official.

"People have to pay bribes just to get what's legally due to them. If they won't pay up, they get harassed under a range of pretexts, their affairs don't get processed and obstacles are placed in their way," Mazar-e Sharif resident Gholam Sakhi said.

As community leader of Qarghan Kocha, a neighborhood in the city, Gholam Sakhi is often asked to accompany local residents to local government offices to help sort out their affairs.

He explained how the system worked. "Every office has middlemen. When somebody goes to the office to get some paperwork processed, the staff hassle him so much that he's forced to turn to the middlemen, who then does the processing in exchange for a cash payment.

"Corruption in government offices undermines our confidence in them," he said. While Afghans feel frustrated by the bribery and corrupt practices that affects their daily lives, many feel powerless to fight back, saying there is little chance of change at the day-to-day level unless reforms start at the top.

"If high-ranking officials weren't involved in corruption, lower-level employees would never be corrupt," said a trader who rents a shop at the Balkh Bazaar in Mazar-e Sharif.

"Look, this document shows how we've been charged for six square meters of floor space, while they've only given us three square meters," he said. "These ground-floor shops are owned by a senior official in the (provincial) governor's office. How are we going to file a complaint against him? He has the prosecution, judiciary and police in his pockets. If we said anything, he's got his own armed men who could kill us."

According to Wakil Matin, a social affairs expert in Balkh province, "the fundamental roots of administrative corruption lie in the capital, and it has spread into the provinces from there. If the president gets serious about it and launches a proper effort in the capital, it will take two days to eliminate administrative corruption in the provinces."

President Hamid Karzai has said many times in the past that he is serious about dealing with corruption, but there are few indications that he is actively pursuing a policy to root it out.

Meanwhile, the head of the High Office for Oversight and Anti-Corruption, Azizullah Ludin, recently accused two cabinet ministers of corruption. Yet both retain their high posts in the Karzai government.

In Balkh province, counter-corruption chief Shamsullah Jawid says low pay for public servants, a general atmosphere of lawlessness, poor levels of education and a sense of despondency about Afghanistan's future all allow corruption to flourish.

"Not only in Balkh, in the entire northern zone, administrative corruption has proliferated to a level where people have completely lost faith in government," he said. "At the anti-graft meeting in Mazar-e Sharif, Nek Baba had little faith that the authorities had any intention of changing things.

"This gathering is an attempt to deceive people," he said. "For God's sake, do not pour salt on our wounds any more."

ABOUT THE WRITER

Golab Shah Bawar is a reporter in Afghanistan who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. Readers may write to the author at the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 48 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, U.K.; Web site:
www.iwpr.net. For information about IWPR's funding, please go to http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?top-supporters.html.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

Karzai in India next month
By Indo Asian News Service
New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) Against the backdrop of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be visiting here next month to update New Delhi on the ongoing flux in his country and the process of reconciliation with the Taliban.

Karzai will also be delivering the annual Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad annual lecture Nov 11.

He will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discuss a host of issues, including the security situation in his country and the prospects for enhancing developmental partnership with India.

The India-educated Afghan leader is expected to apprise India of the latest developments in the process of seeking a political settlement with the Taliban.

Karzai's visit comes at a time when a resurgent Taliban has escalated violence across the country, including in Bamiyan, which was widely seen as the most peaceful region of Afghanistan.

Ahead of the visit, India denied reports that suggested some Afghan leaders were seeking political asylum in India.

"We had requested our mission in Kabul to provide us inputs. They have assured us that there is no truth in this," Syed Akbaruddin, the official spokesperson of the external affairs, told reporters here Thursday to a response on these media reports.

"I can, therefore, deny that there is any beeline for Indian refugee status or Indian visas there in our Mission, nor is there any policy or plan that is being hatched in this regard as has been mentioned in that report," he said.

Questions Raised in Deaths of Afghan Children in Coalition Strike
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN October 17, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The international military coalition in Afghanistan has confirmed that three children were killed in a coalition artillery strike in Helmand Province, expressing regret over the deaths and calling them “tragic,” but also raising the possibility that the Taliban had been using the children to place roadside bombs for them.

The artillery strike occurred Sunday afternoon after aerial images showed people laying bombs on a road frequently used by military vehicles in Nawa District, according to an official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, commonly referred to as ISAF. The images first showed five people on the road, with two then moving away, presumably to act as an “early warning” for those digging the holes for the bombs in case someone came along, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military operational details.

A guided rocket strike was approved against those digging the holes after ensuring that no civilian homes were in the immediate area, according to the ISAF official. A few minutes later, Afghans from the area arrived at the scene and loaded the bodies onto their truck, and minutes later the coalition forces stopped the vehicle as police officers and others arrived.

“All three diggers were identified as coming from the same family and were 12, 10 and 8 years old,” the ISAF official said.

Describing the strike, a spokesman for the regional military command, Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, said Wednesday, “It appears the Taliban were using the children to emplace the I.E.D., as they know the risks with such activity.” He was referring to improvised explosive devices.

In a formal statement released Tuesday, the international coalition said: “The coalition extends its deep regret for this tragic incident. We also extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who died, and we take full responsibility for what occurred.”

Coalition officials said they planned to visit the families who had lost children to express their condolences.

Those family members, however, gave a different explanation earlier this week.

They said the children had been sent to gather dung, which farmers in the area dry and use for fuel. The children were near where the Taliban were laying the bombs, and the militants were killed as well as the children, who died from shrapnel wounds.

However, no one reached by The New York Times described seeing the bodies of the Taliban members who were killed. Hajji Hayatullah, a member of the district tribal council, arrived soon after he heard of the episode and said he saw the dung-filled bags, one covered with blood. But he said he did not see the bodies of militants.

“I saw three to four holes in the area that it seems the insurgents were digging for planting mines. I did not see any dead bodies of the men that the officials claimed were the I.E.D. planters,” Mr. Hayatullah said.

“Later, the people from the area told me that the Taliban were planting mines, but I did not see the bodies or any sign of someone having been killed; there were only the three dead bodies of the children.”

The district governor of Nawa, Hajji Abdul Manaf Khan, reported that two Taliban militants had been killed in the strike.

One possibility is that the children did go out to gather dung, but were then asked by locals with the Taliban to help them dig the bomb holes, and they complied, unaware of the danger. The area is considered insecure and is used by insurgents, Mr. Hayatullah said.

Civilian casualties caused by ISAF operations have been a continuing source of tension between Western and Afghan officials. Under new ground rules issued this year by the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, there are sharp limitations on the use of airstrikes, which in the past had caused many of the civilian deaths. He called for additional changes in June after a strike in which the coalition took responsibility for civilian deaths — 18, according to the Afghan government.

After that General Allen ordered coalition forces to avoid using airstrikes against Afghan homes except in self-defense.

Though at the time some saw the changes as being relatively narrow in scope, they appear to have had some effect. Recent data released by the United Nations found that civilian casualties caused by international and Afghan troops who supported the government now represented less than 10 percent of all coalition casualties. In 2010, the international forces and Afghan troops were responsible for 16 percent of the civilian casualties, and in 2011 for 14 percent. Through all those years, Taliban attacks still were a more prevalent cause of Afghan deaths, the figures show.

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting.

Afghan woman 'beheaded for refusing prostitution'
AFP 17/10/2012
Afghan police have arrested four people who allegedly tried to force a woman into prostitution in western Afghanistan and beheaded her when she refused, officials said Wednesday.

Mah Gul, 20, was beheaded after her mother-in-law attempted to make her sleep with a man in her house in Herat province last week, provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada told AFP.

"We have arrested her mother-in-law, father-in-law, her husband and the man who killed her," he said.

Gul was married to her husband four months ago and her mother-in-law had tried to force her into prostitution several times in the past, Sayedzada said.

The suspect, Najibullah, was paraded by police at a press conference where he said the mother-in-law lured him into killing Gul by telling him that she was a prostitute.

"It was around 2:00 am when Gul's husband left for his bakery. I came down and with the help of her mother-in-law killed her with a knife," he said.

The murder comes against a backdrop of a world outcry over the shooting by Taliban Islamists of a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who had become a voice against the suppression of women's rights.

While Yousafzai's case has made world headlines, people using social media in Afghanistan have made the point that oppression and violence against women are commonplace in Afghanistan.

Abdul Qader Rahimi, the regional director of the government-backed human rights commission in western Afghanistan, said violence against women had dramatically increased in the region recently.

"There is no doubt violence against women has increased. So far this year we have registered 100 cases of violence against women in the western region," he said, adding that many cases go unreported.

"But at least in Gul's case, we are glad the murderer has been arrested and brought to justice," he said.

Last year, in a case that made international headlines, police rescued a teenage girl, Sahar Gul, who was beaten and locked up in a toilet for five months after she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution.

The Scariest Little Corner of the World
By LUKE MOGELSON The New York Times October 18, 2012
On the southern outskirts of the city Zaranj, where the last derelict shanties meet an endless, vacant country — beige desert and beige sky, whipped together into a single coalescing haze by the accurately named Wind of 120 Days — there is a place called Ganj: a kind of way station for Afghan migrants trying to reach Iran. Every day except Friday, a little before 2 in the afternoon, hundreds of them gather. Squatting along a metal fence, Hazaras, Tajiks, Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Baluchis from all corners of the country watch the local drivers move through a fleet of dilapidated pickups — raising hoods, inspecting dipsticks. A few hope to continue on to Turkey, Greece and ultimately Western Europe. Most harbor humbler dreams: of living illegally in Iran, of becoming bricklayers, construction laborers, factory workers or farmhands. When one of the drivers announces he is ready to go, as many as 20 migrants pile into the back. The leaf springs flex; the bumper nearly kisses the ground. Arms and legs spill over the sides. Finally, apprehension gives way to expectation, and a few men laugh and wave goodbye.

Two days before I first visited Ganj, early this September, one such pickup, speeding south through the desert toward the lawless border region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, struck a freshly planted land mine that killed the two smugglers in its cab and sent airborne its human cargo like firewood or fruit. My interpreter and I happened to be walking by the provincial hospital, in downtown Zaranj, shortly after the victims were admitted. At the front gate, a young orderly viciously punched a man trying to enter the premises on his motorcycle. With his feet firmly planted on the ground, the man on the motorcycle revved his engine, spinning the back tire in place and churning up a thick cloud of dust even as the orderly continued to assail his head and face. The man on the motorcycle, it turned out, was a relative of one of the dead smugglers, and in his grief, he appeared almost to welcome the blows.

Zaranj is the capital of Nimruz — by many measures the most isolated province in Afghanistan, at the remotest southwest corner of the country — and the hospital’s resources were predictably limited. Most of the survivors had been advised to get themselves to Herat, some 300 miles north, where doctors would be better equipped to help them. For all the billions of dollars that have been invested over the past decade, parts of Afghanistan remain beyond the reach of Western influence. While neighboring Helmand Province has represented the epicenter of counterinsurgency efforts, Nimruz feels like a different country altogether. There are no coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or foreign NGO workers. Instead, the Afghans have been left to find their own way — and fight their own wars. We hailed a rickshaw and headed to a bus stop outside town. There we found a man in his early 20s slouched against the wall of a small store. His shirt and pants were darkly soaked with blood. A bandage was wrapped around his head. A kinked tube ran from his arm to an IV bag tied to a door handle with a loose piece of gauze. His name was Gulbadeen. He told us there had been 10 other men in the truck from his village in Faryab Province, each of whom was determined to try again. Gulbadeen himself sneaked into Iran three years earlier, working as a laborer, sending money home, until he was deported last winter. “I’m done,” he said. “I can’t do this another time.”

In Ganj, no one wanted to talk about the episode. Clearly the local drivers did not appreciate my bringing it up with their prospective customers. The longer we lingered, the tenser the atmosphere became. An old man with a missing finger pulled me aside and admonished: “Our life depends on this smuggling business. If this ends, we will have nothing. There’s no other work here. I advise you to leave this place.” Eyeing me appraisingly, he added: “Be careful. You would be worth a lot of money.”

One reason for the hostility, no doubt, was that the people-smuggling business in Nimruz was suffering. Until recently, Zaranj profited immensely from the tens of thousands of Afghans, displaced by war and poverty, who emigrate west each year. The border is only a 10-minute drive from downtown, where more than 150 hotels, owned by local smugglers, once catered exclusively to a steady flow of migrants crossing the open desert into Iran. In those days, you could walk up to a checkpoint, pay a bribe and get into a car, Tehran-bound. The highly efficient system was administered by the Baluchis: a small ethnic minority who remained united through a distinct language and culture long after their homeland was divided among three often-rivalrous nations. Indeed, the Baluchis from each of those nations had become adept at working together to ferry from one country to another, and sometimes to another, humans, goods, drugs, fuel, weapons and — especially since the recent collapse of the Iranian rial — currency.

A few years ago, Iran designated the province that borders Nimruz a “no go” area for foreign residents and shortly thereafter began erecting a 15-foot-high concrete wall that now runs more than half the length of its 147-mile border with Nimruz. The Iranian border police — manning guard towers, each within sight of the next — were also said to have changed. There came increasing reports of Afghans being shot and killed by the same authorities who once benignly waved them through. While most of these stories are unverified, they nevertheless reinforced a growing sense that the old road to a new life was now closed. Today migrants who come to Nimruz must travel another 10 hours south into Pakistan, then cross from there into Iran. The journey consists of three legs. Afghan-Baluchi smugglers take you part of the way; Pakistani-Baluchi smugglers take you a littler farther; Iranian-Baluchi smugglers finish the job. For the first stretch — a narrow dirt road through uninhabitable, lunar flatland — roughly 300 drivers share a rotating schedule, each working one day a month. These were the men preparing to depart from Ganj, bristling at my questions about the bomb.

Before I left, I followed a group of young Hazaras down an alley to another lot where still more trucks were being loaded with people. As I rounded the corner a man cried out: “Watch this guy! Get away from him! Watch out!” It was the second time in less than a week I was mistaken for a suicide attacker — a uniquely unpleasant sensation that I had not experienced anywhere else in Afghanistan. The misunderstanding arose from a combination of two factors, I think: the extreme paucity of foreigners who had ever been to the city and the extreme degree, even by Afghan standards, of paranoia and suspicion that pervaded it. Residents of Zaranj spoke obliquely and in low tones, always on the lookout for passers-by, forgoing words whenever meaningful grins or nods sufficed. At times, the aura of mistrust felt histrionic, and it was often tough to tell when the furtive whispers or emphatic pleas for anonymity were necessary and when they were affected. You had the sense everyone fancied himself an operator; you also knew that some of them probably were. The second person I met in Nimruz — a commander with the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service — told me a few hours after I arrived: “There is one person here whom you absolutely cannot trust. He is in the pocket of Iran. You must be very careful with this man and do whatever you can to avoid him.” The man the commander named was a senior official in the provincial government and the only other person I had met there so far.

Iran looms just as large over western Afghanistan as Pakistan does over the east — and nowhere is this more keenly felt than in Zaranj, where the land beyond the wall can represent anything from benevolent neighbor to malicious oppressor. But while Pakistan’s machinations in Afghanistan often feel obvious, Iran’s have proved far harder to discern. Everyone I spoke to in Nimruz, for example — provincial officials, smugglers, police, border guards — insisted that “Iranian agents” had placed or arranged for the placement of the land mine that killed the two Baluchi drivers and injured Gulbadeen. As for why, each source offered a different theory — usually in a hushed voice, after glancing to the left and right.

If nerves were especially raw when I visited Zaranj, it was because two weeks earlier an extraordinary spectacle of violence seemed to justify even the most paranoid anxieties. On Aug. 13, a few days before Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the police were on heightened alert after receiving intelligence that an attack against government targets might be imminent. When a white Toyota Corolla station wagon approached the checkpoint on its way into the city, the officers on duty motioned for it to stop. A bearded man in the passenger seat produced a handgun and shot at them. The station wagon accelerated toward the city center, and the officers gave chase. After several rounds shattered the station wagon’s rear window, its driver lost control and smashed into a wall. When the driver and the passenger stumbled out and tried to run away, the officers opened fire, killing them both.

Inside the car, police discovered explosives, remote controls, timers, grenades and a suicide vest. The passenger was identified as an Iranian who moved to Zaranj some months earlier and opened a small stand that sold snacks and soft drinks. He went by the name Mullah Satar. That night the police cordoned off the neighborhood where Satar seemed to have been heading, and in the morning they conducted a thorough search of it. In one house, three young Iranian men were found in possession of more suicide vests and remote-controlled explosives. According to the police, the men confessed that Satar was their leader and that they had been planning to carry out a massive, coordinated assault later that day. There were seven additional attackers still at large somewhere in the city, they said, though they didn’t know where.

At this point, the security chief for Nimruz Province, Majeed Latifi — a meticulous and gentle-mannered man who reminded me more of a clerk than of a colonel — thought to text the remaining plotters from Satar’s cellphone. One of them promptly replied that they were hungry, could Satar bring them something to eat? When Latifi suggested they meet at a familiar crossroads, the attackers balked. They must have smelled a rat. Later, the three detainees would explain that no one knew what their targets were going to be — that Satar had not planned to reveal the specifics of the operation until the last possible moment, when it came time to walk out the door, toward their fates. Realizing that this revelation was now unlikely ever to arrive, the aspiring martyrs must have panicked. Certainly, what they did next suggests that they panicked. They strapped on suicide vests in a hurry, without bothering to conceal them underneath their clothes, then stalked into the city, wielding pistols and hand grenades.

Latifi was at headquarters when he heard the first explosions. Across town a pair of suicide bombers had managed to detonate themselves outside a government fuel station, destroying a police truck and injuring several officers. Latifi headed that way. While en route, the colonel noticed — on a narrow lane behind the governor’s compound — a tall, thin man who appeared lost. Suddenly, the man raised a pistol and fired toward Latifi’s truck. Latifi kept going, instructing one of his commanders, Col. Abdullah Shiranzai, to return to the governor’s compound and deal with the man.

When Shiranzai, with four of his men, reached the lane where the man was still wandering, they parked more than a block away and pointed their rifles at him. “He had a wild look in his eyes,” Shiranzai told me. “We understood from the way he was pacing, and from the expression on his face, that he was really feeling crazy.” After a brief exchange of fire, the attacker scaled a wall, then leapt onto the roof of a house. From there he shot with reckless imprecision at the officers. When he threw a hand grenade at them, it landed and rolled harmlessly down the street. He had neglected to pull the pin. Eventually, the attacker jumped from the roof into the backyard, where an officer shot him in the head. Later Shiranzai told me: “Something I’ve been surprised to learn is that these men, who are planning to blow themselves up, always become frightened when you open fire on them. As soon as the shooting starts, the suicider runs and hides. He doesn’t want to be shot. He is here to die, but he is scared of bullets. It’s strange.”

After the first explosions, the chief of the fire brigade, Mohammad Zahir, rushed toward the garage where he kept his trucks and water tankers. On the way, he stopped at his house, where his 25-year-old son — a police officer named Gulam Rooz — was enjoying a day off. Zahir told Rooz to go to the fuel station and see if he could help. At the station, Rooz found wounded officers lying on the ground, loaded them into his car and took off for the provincial hospital.

The hospital sits in the heart of Zaranj, opposite a long row of shops, pharmacies, restaurants and hotels. The street itself accommodates a hectic bazaar, crowded with stalls and stands hawking all manner of merchandise. Money-changers wave colorful wads of Pakistani rupees and Iranian rials; cooks skewer lamb and chicken over glowing coals; rickshaws come and go; beggars beg; children push wheelbarrows full of dried apricots and dates, sell packs of gum, chase other children through the throng. When Rooz reached the hospital, the melee outside its gates it was particularly frenzied. It was approximately 3 in the afternoon, and everyone in Zaranj, it seemed, was buying groceries for the coming Eid.

Rooz delivered the injured men to the emergency room, then walked back out to the street where a police truck was arriving with more victims. The bazaar was so crowded that one of the officers had to get out and fire his rifle several times into the air in an effort to clear a path. The swarm of bodies parted slightly.

Back at the garage, Mohammad Zahir was still preparing his men and trucks to respond to the first blasts when he heard another one. A few seconds later, Latifi called him on his cellphone and told him to get to the hospital.

A bomber had detonated himself in the middle of the bazaar. The blast alone would have ripped apart the dense mass of shoppers, sellers and kids, but what made it especially devastating was the closely set layer of ball bearings glued on the outside of the vest. The force of the explosion propelled the small steel pellets in every direction, and they pierced whatever thing or person stood in their trajectory. When Zahir arrived at the bazaar, the sky was dark with pulverized matter. Flames flashed in the dust. An electrical line had fallen; a transformer burned. Zahir saw that the ground was littered with bodies and debris. He was directing a stream of water from a hose toward a ruined storefront when he spotted his son, Gulam Rooz. “I had no time to tend to his body,” Zahir told me. “I had to ask someone else to take care of it while I finished putting out the fires. He was riddled with ball bearings. I still have his shirt. It’s full of holes.”

Soon police officers killed the last of the suicide attackers, not far from the hospital. (One of the seven men named by the three detainees presumably fled Zaranj when he learned that Satar had been killed; to date he has not been found.) Altogether 34 civilians and four police officers died. More than 200 people were wounded. It was by far the deadliest day in Nimruz Province since 2001, and one of the deadliest of the war.

Every official I spoke to in Nimruz identified each of the attackers who were killed or captured as Iranian Baluchis. “They were all recruited at the same mosque in Zahedan,” Colonel Latifi told me. Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan, the Iranian province that borders Nimruz and Pakistan, and one of the poorest, least developed and most unstable parts of Iran. The mosque, according to Latifi, was similar to some madrassas in Pakistan that promote an extreme Islamist ideology and groom budding jihadists for deployment in Afghanistan. It was “sponsored,” Latifi said, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

With the exception of Mullah Satar, who was in his mid-30s, the attackers were all extremely young, ranging in age between 16 and 21. “They told us members of the Revolutionary Guards selected them for this mission,” Latifi said. From Zahedan, they were sent to Baramcha, a town in southern Helmand Province, near the Pakistani border, described by NATO as “a Taliban command-and-control area that consists of narcotics trafficking, weapons and ammunition storage, improvised-explosive-device factories and foreign fighter training.” Their schooling complete, they traveled to Zaranj disguised as women, wearing traditional blue burqas. It was there that they met up with Mullah Satar. “They were brainwashed,” Latifi said. “They were convinced that everyone in the Afghan government was an infidel and that jihad was an obligation.”

If the Revolutionary Guards were indeed behind the mayhem in Zaranj, Latifi’s assertion that all of the attackers were Iranian Baluchis is puzzling. The relationship between the Baluchis of Iran, who are mostly Sunni, and Iran’s Shiite regime has always been fraught. For decades, the Baluchis have endured repressive policies and state-sanctioned discrimination, and they make up the ranks of a violent insurgency, most notably under the banner of Jundallah, a terrorist organization once suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda that has launched numerous strikes against the Revolutionary Guards. That the Revolutionary Guards would recruit an all-Baluchi team to carry out an operation against the government of Afghanistan might highlight the complexities of a region where today’s enemies can become tomorrow’s allies, or vice versa. Alternately, it simply might not be the case. It’s entirely possible that the attackers were regular Taliban without any ties to Iran — that the scenario Latifi and others laid out for me was, essentially, anti-Iranian propaganda.

The most compelling explanation I have heard for the unlikely marriage of Baluchi terrorists and the Revolutionary Guards is also the most disturbing and most cynical: perhaps the Revolutionary Guards intended not only to orchestrate an attack but also, simultaneously, to vilify the attackers. As one prominent Baluchi elder from Nimruz, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me: “By using only Baluchi men, not only does it make it easier for the Iranians to deny that they were involved. It also taints the reputation of the Baluchi community in Iran.”

The day after the bombings, Latifi showed his three detainees photos of some of the dead women and children from the bazaar. One of the young men turned away, then collapsed in convulsive sobs. Another, who was maybe 16, stared at the pictures, stone-faced. Eventually, he looked up and asked Latifi to kill him.

During the 1990s, Iran unequivocally opposed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In 1998, the Taliban’s massacre of thousands of Shiites, as well as of nine Iranian diplomats in the northern Afghan city Mazar-i-Sharif, brought the two countries to the brink of war. In Nimruz, the Revolutionary Guards supported one of the only anti-Taliban resistance movements in western Afghanistan that was able to continue fighting the regime until 2001. The Nimruz Front, as it was known, was led by Abdul Karim Brahui, who, when I visited the province, was serving as its governor.

With his slouching posture and narrow eyes — which seem always on the verge of closing, even midsentence, for a long, deep sleep — Brahui is a quiet leader in the most literal sense. He does not talk so much as utter — so softly that you must often ask him to repeat himself. Brahui was born, raised and fought the Russians in Chahar Burjak, a district in the south of Nimruz: the same hard country smugglers and migrants must traverse to get to Pakistan. Chahar Burjak is naturally suited for military defense — but not in the usual way. Unlike other rebel strongholds, like the Panjshir Valley, whose long bottleneck canyon of an entrance confounded Soviet and Taliban forces alike, Chahar Burjak’s impenetrability arises from its absence of significant terrain. Its openness is its protection. “Out there, a car or a person walking can be seen from miles away,” Brahui told me. “The Russians could not attack us because whenever they approached, we could see them in the big desert from a distance.”

When the Taliban expanded from Kandahar, Brahui consolidated his Baluchi fighters, once again, in Chahar Burjak. Eventually, most of western Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. But southern Nimruz remained in Brahui’s hands. “We were a mobile group,” Brahui said. “We had our vehicles, and we kept everything in them — our water, our food, our weapons. We kept moving. Our base was our legs.” As the Taliban crushed one resistance movement after another, rebel commanders from nearby provinces fled to Chahar Burjak and joined with Brahui. Then, in 1999, Ismail Khan, the former mujahedeen leader, managed to escape, with the help of one of his guards, from Kandahar’s Sarposa Prison, where the Taliban had held him for more than two years. According to Brahui, Ismail Khan and the Talib guard headed west in an armored Land Cruiser for Nimruz. Ten days earlier, Brahui led an ambush against a group of Taliban fighters outside Zaranj; on his way back to Chahar Burjak, he buried a land mine in the road for any would-be pursuers. Ismail Khan, en route to see Brahui, suffered the misfortune of hitting the mine. The explosion destroyed the Land Rover, fracturing Ismail Khan’s leg. “One of my men came by motorbike and told me what had happened,” Brahui recounted with a hearty laugh. “It was my mine that had almost killed Ismail Khan!”

In the end, Brahui was able to get both Ismail Khan and his guard across the border, where they were treated for their injuries and offered safe haven. The Iranians continued to give Brahui weapons and access to Iranian hospitals until 2001, and in the wake of 9/11, Iran supported the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s collapse, Iran has pledged more than half a billion dollars toward the country’s reconstruction. No one has ever believed that Iran desires a Taliban return to power.

And yet, most experts agree that Iran aids the Taliban insurgency. Iranian-made weapons and explosives have been turning up in Afghanistan since at least 2007, and in July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Taliban had opened an office in the Iranian city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan. More troubling, intercepted communications, according to The Journal, revealed that the Revolutionary Guards were considering sending surface-to-air missiles to insurgents inside Afghanistan. (In a written response to my questions, the Iranian Embassy in Kabul replied: “The Islamic Republic of Iran does not have any relationship with the Taliban. These are rumors spread by the enemies of Afghanistan to damage its relationship with Iran.”)

Iran’s “double game” in Afghanistan — as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called it — reflects its conflicting interests: a desire to see a stable, non-Sunni-fundamentalist government on its eastern flank combined with a deep enmity toward the United States. Early on, Iran had the potential to be a useful American ally in Afghanistan. But the ascendancy of Iran’s anti-Western conservative movement, coinciding with a pattern of severe diplomacy from Washington — beginning with George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” designation and continuing through the current sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program — has rendered America’s presence on its doorstep increasingly odious. In May, when Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai signed an agreement that allows for American troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Iran’s foreign ministry warned that the pact “will intensify insecurity and instability in Afghanistan.” Then, last month, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division promised that Iran’s response to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities would include attacks on American bases in Afghanistan and the Middle East. “There will be no neutral country in the region,” he told a state-run television station. “To us, these bases are equal to U.S. soil.”

But in a boondocks like this part of Nimruz, where there are no American bases, it feels like a stretch to ascribe to geopolitics an attack like the one on Aug. 14. In fact, in Zaranj itself, most people will tell you that Iranian meddling in their part of Afghanistan arises from a local rather than global concern — one with the immediacy of life and death.

Early one morning, I was picked up outside my guesthouse in Zaranj by Haji Mahiyadeen, a local police commander who had agreed to take me to the Kamal Khan Dam, some 50 miles south of the city. When he showed up with three 4-by-4 trucks carrying more than a dozen heavily armed men, Mahiyadeen seemed to register my surprise and explained that the dam was a major target for “Iranian terrorists.” The land mine that recently killed the two smugglers bringing Gulbadeen and his fellow migrants from Ganj, for example, was on the same road we’d be traveling.

Mahiyadeen was not the first person to cite the Kamal Khan Dam as the chief source of animosity between Nimruz and Iran. “Iran does not want this project to be completed,” Colonel Latifi had told me, echoing a refrain I heard again and again in Zaranj. “Which is why it is trying to create instability here,” he added. “The kind of attacks like we had here are 100 percent connected to the dam.”

Built as early as the 11th century by an unknown but industrious and visionary ruler, with baked bricks and an ancient lime mortar, the Kamal Khan Dam supplied for hundreds of years a complex canal system that irrigated what was then fertile wheat-and-barley country. But in the late 1300s, when some typically recalcitrant Baluchis welcomed his arrival with less-than-open arms, the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane punished Nimruz by destroying Kamal Khan. It was not until the early 1970s that President Sardar Muhammad Daoud Khan set about rebuilding it. Then Daoud was ousted in a coup, and the ensuing decades of Soviet occupation and civil war made resuming the project impractical. Only last year did the Afghan government hire a Tajik contractor to pick up where Daoud left off. The enterprise is impressive — the final cost will be around $100 million — and I was told repeatedly that to appreciate its scale, I had to see the dam for myself.

After driving for more than an hour through tall sand dunes that the incessant winds shift from place to place, during which time the sole sign of life we encountered was a pale bird elegantly lifting off the horizon (inducing Mahiyadeen to halt the convoy, jump out and try to kill it with his AK-47), we entered a narrow gully with steep rock walls where Mahiyadeen stopped and looked around and said: “This is where I was ambushed last year. I was supposed to be bringing some of the Tajik contractors from Zaranj, but they canceled at the last second.” In the gully, Mahiyadeen went on, the Taliban opened up on him with small arms and a rocket-propelled grenade, setting his vehicle alight moments before he escaped through the passenger door. “They were all killed when they fled into the desert,” he said with a smile. “There’s nowhere for them to hide out there. We know every rock.”

Eventually we arrived at a long lane of freshly painted buildings. Climbing onto a roof, we looked southward upon miles and miles of open space receding to gray bluffs that rose, heat-distorted, just within the eye’s outermost reach. Below us, a low earthen dike, with a wide gap that let the Helmand River through, extended east and west, eventually curving to link up with the bluffs. Later I would learn that once the gap was sealed, it would take one rainy season, maybe two, to transform all that desert into lake.

That is not expected to happen for at least another four years. First the dike must be reinforced, a control gate must be built, three turbines and a power station must be installed and hundreds of miles of canals must be dug. When all of that is finished — if all of that is ever finished — an expected 13 billion gallons of water will irrigate more than 300 square miles of newly created farmland.

Officials in Zaranj claim this prospect is anathema to the Iranians because it will minimize Nimruz’s reliance on them. But there is another reason for the Iranians to be anxious — one that Afghans never mention. The dam will completely block the Helmand River, well upstream from where it disburses into the region’s largest freshwater lakes and wetlands, the Hamouns, which extend deep into Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan. These inland deltas and marshes once were home to otters, fox, deer, flamingos, pelicans and leopards, and the Hamoun Lakes have been the lifeblood of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have depended on them for millenniums. Years of drought beginning in 1999, however, annihilated the Hamouns, desiccating the lakes, displacing communities and turning once-fecund sanctuaries into sterile salt flats.

Since 2005, the Hamouns have shown signs of a fragile recovery. But a reduction in the flow of water from Afghanistan could be disastrous. The Afghans say they will allow an average of 7,000 gallons of water per second through the dam, down the Helmand. According to an international environmental expert who has studied the issue and asked to remain anonymous, this volume is grossly insufficient for the Hamouns, amounting to less than a quarter of what is normally required to sustain the ecosystem, let alone the irrigation and drinking-water needs of the Iranians. The Kamal Khan Dam, if built as planned, will “quite likely spell the death of the Hamouns,” the expert told me.

It is somewhat curious that people in Nimruz, who are so eager to cut Iran’s water supply, unfailingly characterize themselves as victims. Currently, the Iranians draw water from three canals that branch off the stretch of the Helmand River shared by both countries. One of these empties into a system of reservoirs that the Afghans in Nimruz like to say contain enough drinking water to sustain all of Sistan-Baluchestan for a decade. Somehow, Iran’s foresight and success at storing so much water is considered terribly unfair, despite the fact that in Afghanistan yet another canal — the Lashkari — diverts every drop of the Helmand River (except during the early spring, when it floods) directly to Zaranj before it even reaches the border.

In 2001, when Abdul Karim Brahui became the governor of Nimruz in the midst of one of the region’s worst droughts in history, the Lashkari Canal and the Helmand River both ran dry. Brahui found it necessary to ask the Iranians for help. Iran, in turn, installed a pipe connecting its reservoirs to Zaranj and agreed to deliver three hours of freshwater every morning, gratis. Today, although the pipe still flows, most Afghans resent it. The volume is insufficient, they say, just enough to breed dependency. While the water from Iranian reservoirs is significantly cleaner than the murky Lashkari, it serves only about 10 percent of the Zaranj; the rest of the city receives its water from small tanker trucks that fill up on the dirt banks of the canal, sometimes downstream from bathing migrants. I found that you could gauge people’s general attitude toward Iran by how big they said the pipe was: an especially embittered official would swear its diameter measured no more than a couple of inches, whereas a frequenter of Iranian medical facilities, say, might call it a four-inch pipe.

One morning I walked to one of the five places in Zaranj where the water pours forcefully from thick black hoses attached to a row of outdoor faucets from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. We arrived around 6:30, and the fracas was well under way. Mostly young children crowded around, jostling for position, filling the four yellow jugs, 20 liters each, allotted per family. Across the street, an old man in a turban with a voluminous white beard stood outside his shop and barked admonishments. His name was Jan Agha, and he was responsible for maintaining order at the hoses. “If he weren’t here, we’d eat each other,” a younger man, loading jugs into a rickshaw, told me.

There was a separate distaff hose, and after a while, I noticed that one of the women seemed to be hogging it. The others were clearly annoyed — but they stood meekly by, watching her fill jug after jug, not protesting. “That’s Shinkhalo,” the man with the rickshaw told me, as if no more need be said. Then he turned to Agha and pointed out that Shinkhalo was taking more than her fair share.

“Yesterday she bit a man,” Agha replied. “If you want to try to take that hose from her, go ahead.” He added: “Every day she says there’s a dead body at her house that needs washing. For more than a month she’s been saying that! How does she have any family left?”

As 8 o’clock approached the jostling intensified. One kid smacked another in the face, making him cry; a teenager snatched a hose from a younger boy, who screamed and yelled while the teenager laughed. Stroking his beard with serene equanimity, Agha seemed reconciled to waiting out the clock. But then a police truck appeared, executed a sharp two-point turn and backed up through the middle of the crowd. The bed of the truck was packed with dozens of yellow jugs; two officers aggressively jumped out, requisitioned the hoses and began filling them. No one objected except for Agha, who bellowed: “You have no shame! Get out of here!”

That the Nimruz police relied on Iranian charity for their drinking water seemed weird, paradoxical. But more confusing was Agha’s irritation. It wasn’t about their cutting in line or depriving other people of their daily quota. Agha didn’t like the police coming around because he worried they might attract a suicide bomber.

“Who would want to bomb this place?” I asked.

Agha looked at me as if I were an idiot.

“The Iranians,” he said.

Taped to the walls of several of the grocery shops in Zaranj is a poster with the words “Unforgivable Crimes of Iranians Against the People of Afghanistan” printed above pictures of men with their hands tied behind their backs hanging from nooses attached to raised construction cranes. Then, a little farther down, the words “Crimes of the Revolutionary Guards” appear beside a picture of someone’s uniformed leg and black combat boot stepping triumphantly on a pile of decapitated heads. When I asked the shopkeepers about these posters, most of them shrugged and offered some variation of “A man came here and put it up.”

The supposed crimes refer to the treatment of an estimated 900,000 Afghan refugees and as many as two million undocumented Afghan migrant workers living in Iran. In recent years, as the war has ushered more and more Afghans across the border, Iran has grown correspondingly less hospitable. In 2003, Iran adopted a series of laws intended to encourage Afghan nationals to repatriate. These included cracking down on their employers, advocating their return to Afghanistan on national television and generally making it more challenging, expensive and risky to stay. This year, Iran has deported almost 700 undocumented Afghan migrants every day — about a 30 percent increase from 2011. The escalation can no doubt be attributed in part to the inevitable xenophobia of an economically beleaguered nation faced with a decades-long inundation of illegal foreign laborers. But a more calculated motive might also be at work. Some people claim that Iran uses the treatment and the threat of deportation of its Afghan refugees and migrants as leverage — sometimes explicitly, sometimes implied — against Afghanistan and the United States.

“The Afghan government lives under constant threat that Iran will ramp up its expulsion of Afghans,” says Heather Barr, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of a forthcoming report on Afghan migrants in Iran. “The Afghan government is in no position to handle a massive influx of penniless displaced families. Iran knows this and routinely uses Afghan migrants as a political football.”

One of the best places in Nimruz to meet Afghans recently deported from Iran, or on their way to Iran, or recently deported from and on their way back to Iran, is the Baba Wali, a small hotel in downtown Zaranj, on the second story of a crumbling stone building that also houses a pharmacy specializing in expired drugs from Pakistan. With a few spartan rooms (guests eat, sleep and laze on the floor, awaiting the longed-for phone call from their smuggler, telling them it’s time), the Baba Wali is something of a holdover from those bygone days when Nimruz flourished with the industry of exodus.

“I built this hotel during the time of the Taliban,” Abdul Wasi, the plump, mustachioed proprietor, told me one evening while we sat on his balcony, eye level with a cacophony of sparrows whirling around the bright yellow clumps in a nearby date palm. “At that time, lots of people were going to Iran. There were no walls, nothing.” After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Wasi said, “many, many people came back to Afghanistan. At this hotel, we had four waiters, and we were still unable to serve all the returning guests.” But before long the flow reversed again. “After a few years of the Karzai government,” according to Wasi, “people started going back into Iran.” Both migrations were good for business. Even after the Iranians built the wall, for a while, the Baluchi smugglers would simply take their customers to spots where the Wind of 120 Days had blown the sand against it in sloping dunes that nearly reached its top. “But then the Iranians started shooting those people,” Wasi said. “Many people were killed.” The heightened security on the Iranian-Afghan border was not, it seems, replicated on the Iranian-Pakistani border, and so Afghans started driving from Ganj to a place in Pakistan called Mashkel, where border guards still accepted bribes and still allowed Afghan migrants to cross. “Right now, there are more than a thousand people in Mashkel,” Wasi told me. “The Baluchi smugglers are waiting for a signal from the Iranians. The Iranians will tell the Baluchi smugglers in Iran, who will tell the Baluchi smugglers in Pakistan. Then they will load them into trucks and cross.”

Some still try to bypass Mashkel and enter Iran directly from Nimruz. One afternoon, on the bank of the Lashkari Canal, while eating watermelon under a fruit stand’s thatch lean-to, through which the 100-degree sun seemed to pour like water through a sieve, my interpreter and I got to talking with three young men from Kapisa Province who had just been deported from Iran. “One hundred twenty-two of us crossed together,” said the oldest, Abdul Qader Ahmadi, 20. “We were told that all the border guards had already been paid and would let us through,” added Mohammad Abdul Qader, 16. “But as soon as we crossed we were arrested.” They had met their smuggler and the rest of the group at the Baba Wali, they said. “Our smuggler was Iranian Baluchi,” Ahmadi explained. “When we reached the Iranian border post, there was no wall, just a ditch. He walked ahead and bowed and they allowed him through. He told us to wait. An hour later, the Iranians came down and pushed us into the ditch and arrested us.”

According to the young men, the group was taken to a jail on the border, where they were beaten through the night. “There was a big Afghan from Wardak Province,” Ahmadi said with a sad laugh. “He was the tallest of us. The Iranians used him like a donkey. They made him get on his knees, and they rode him all around the jail.”

Later that evening, I met more members of Ahmadi’s group, huddled together on a main street in downtown Zaranj. They all confirmed Ahmadi’s account. Some claimed the Iranians, after beating them, urinated on them. One man lifted up his kameez and showed me fresh red welts crisscrossing his back where he said Iranian border guards had lashed him with a metal cable. Several people, including the young men from Kapisa, said the Iranians shot one person in their group. But no one saw it with his own eyes. This is the trouble with many of the more serious allegations against the Iranian border guards: they are basically rumors, impossible to corroborate. “I saw two men on the bridge yesterday covered in blood!” a man outside the mosque told me one afternoon, in a typical exchange. “They said the Iranians had killed their friend.” Overhearing our conversation, a bystander chimed in, “Every night the Iranians are killing 10 to 15 Afghans who are trying to cross.” It’s not just old unemployed men with too much time on their hands who tell these stories. Everyone I talked to at the Nimruz Provincial Council also insisted that the Iranians regularly kill Afghans trying to cross the border.

“We’ve even witnessed it with our own eyes,” the council secretary, Gul Ahmad Ahmadi, assured me, though when I pressed for details he prevaricated.

Eventually I checked the registration log at the Nimruz provincial hospital, where all fatally injured Afghans, from both sides of the border, are supposed to be taken. During the past three months, only seven gunshot victims had been admitted. It was impossible to determine whether they were shot by Iranians or shot by other Afghans in unrelated altercations. Four of the seven were from provinces other than Nimruz, which means they were probably migrants.

More surprising was that a few weeks ago, according to the log, Iranian authorities sent to the hospital the bodies of three Afghan men who had been hanged.

“What did they do?” I asked the nurse who’d brought me the log.

“Drugs,” he said.

Iran has some of the severest drug laws in the world, including a mandatory death sentence for possession of more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine or methamphetamines. In cases where executions are accomplished by use of a crane, the extended arm is raised slowly, first tautening the rope, then lifting the condemned man from the ground. Whereas the drop from a gallows usually snaps the neck, giving a quick death, the crane method asphyxiates you, drawing out the event.

Afghanistan is by far the world’s biggest producer of opiates, a considerable portion of which end up in Iran. While most of the drugs coming from Afghanistan continue on to Turkey — eventually making their way to European markets — plenty never leave the country. Despite its liberal employment of capital punishment for narcotics offenses, Iran has one of the highest rates of opiate use in the world.

According to an official with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, who asked to remain anonymous, “a lot” of the product enters via Nimruz. “There are caravans with armed guards,” he told me. After poppies are harvested in Helmand Province, they are taken to Baramcha and refined in laboratories into opium and heroin. (Heroin synthesis cannot take place in Nimruz itself because the process requires a large and regular supply of water.) From Baramcha, the drugs travel west through the desert, straight across Chahar Burjak and into Iran. There is no wall that far south — just a deep trench that the convoys traverse by laying down steel I-beams. Nimruz has the only border in Afghanistan with this level of trafficking. Everywhere else — the northern routes into Central Asia and the eastern routes into Pakistan — drugs are moved out of the country clandestinely, secreted in shipping containers or false compartments in the backs of big rigs.

When I asked why it is that drug smugglers are able to pass so blatantly between Iranian border checkpoints while human smugglers must circumvent them by going all the way to Pakistan, the U.N. official answered: “These are different people. They have large amounts of weapons.” The Iranians, that is, are outgunned.

Or maybe they’re on the take. Discerning the level of government complicity in the drug industry on both sides of the border is extremely difficult. It is hard to believe Brahui, the most powerful man in Nimruz, when he solemnly avers, “Since I took up the gun against the Russians, I have never been involved with drugs.” But it’s also hard to prove otherwise. This September, a couple of weeks after I returned to Kabul from Zaranj, Hamid Karzai dismissed several provincial governors in Afghanistan. One of them was Brahui. Although the decision came immediately after a multiweek corruption investigation, officials have declined to disclose their findings or to say if it had any bearing on Brahui’s removal.

Nevertheless, in Brahui’s part of the world — a place so destitute even water is precious — drugs have always blurred the lines among governments, criminal organizations, security forces and insurgents. “There are a lot of networks operating out there,” a senior U.S. Embassy official recently told me. “They all cooperate with one another.” The official added that during the past 18 to 24 months, the Taliban has co-opted sectors of the Afghan narcotics industry entirely. “We’re seeing more and more direct involvement of the Taliban in drug trafficking,” the official said. “It’s becoming inseparable. The Taliban and the drug traffickers are one and the same.” According to the official, drugs are accounting for a progressively larger proportion of the insurgency’s revenue. “If you cut off all the gulf-donor funding, every rupee of it, and leave the narcotics trade intact, they’ll be able to continue unabated,” the official told me.

Partly for this reason, the United States has spent more than $140 million setting up an elite Afghan counternarcotics force, the National Interdiction Unit, with access to a fleet of helicopters, capable of mounting raids on labs, caches and chemical stockpiles across the country. But the N.I.U. does not go into southern Nimruz.

One of the first people I met in Zaranj was a homeless deportee named Mansour who had set up camp on the sidewalk beneath an industrial-size air-conditioner protruding from the central mosque. Mansour spent his days reclining on a flattened cardboard box and studying the passing traffic with an amused grin. He was rawboned and sickly looking, and I suspected part of his amusement was chemically induced.

Mansour said he was on his way to Iran; he was just waiting for his smuggler to call. Who knows, maybe he was. But I had the feeling he’d been waiting a long time — months, or maybe even years, stuck in a kind of purgatory between Afghanistan and Iran. Despite his circumstances, Mansour was a true Afghan host, and when we introduced ourselves, he rummaged through the large plastic garbage bag that contained his things and handed each of us — me, my interpreter and the Dutch photographer Joël van Houdt — a piece of cloth on which to sit. While Mansour told his story — his parents had taken him to Iran when he was a young boy; he spent most of his life there until being deported; his family was still there — Joël leaned over and whispered to me: “Is this what I think it is?” The cloth Mansour had given Joël to sit on indeed appeared to be a body bag — the tough black sort with handles used by coalition forces. There was even a transparent plastic slot in which to place an identification card.

“Where did you get this?” I asked Mansour.

“I bought it from someone.” He reached over and grabbed a corner, rubbing it between his thumb and finger. “It’s very good quality fabric. Very strong. And waterproof.” He was clearly proud of the purchase and pleased with my interest in it.

“What do you use it for?”

“To sleep in,” Mansour said. “It’s the perfect size for a man to lie down in. During the winter, you can zip it up and stay dry.”

The day before we left Zaranj, I went back to the mosque to see if Mansour was still there. He was. As our rickshaw pulled to the sidewalk, I saw him doubled over, vomiting into some bushes. He noticed us as he straightened, wiping his beard with the back of his skinny hand. For a moment, he appeared deeply embarrassed. But then he smiled and invited us to sit with him under the air-conditioner, acting as if everything were shipshape. I asked whether his smuggler had called.

“Not yet,” Mansour said. “But soon, soon.”

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer to the magazine. He last wrote about Emergency Hospital in Kabul.

Editor: Joel Lovell


www.afghanistannewscenter.com
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