[Afghan News] October 11, 2011 - 02-16-2012, 05:18 PM
VOA News October 11, 2011
Afghan election officials say they stand by their decision to expel nine lawmakers from parliament for voter fraud, even though one of the unseated politicians vows to continue a hunger strike until she is reinstated.
The head of Afghanistan's election commission said Tuesday that they are ready and willing to make public how they arrived to their decision.
Despite the government's ruling, Simeen Barakzai has vowed to continue her hunger strike outside parliament in Kabul.
The female Afghan politician began her hunger strike nearly two weeks ago. She refuses to be taken to a hospital or to take a glucose drip, despite reports that her health is in a critical condition.
Barakzai is one of nine members of parliament removed from their seats in August by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, which is trying to resolve long-running allegations of voter fraud against some winners of a 2010 parliamentary vote. Some lawmakers who boycotted parliament to protest the expulsions returned to their seats on Saturday.
Four Afghan Aid Workers Kidnapped in North
VOA News October 11, 2011
Officials say four Afghans working for a French development organization have been kidnapped in northern Afghanistan.
Authorities in Faryab province said Tuesday they believe Taliban militants abducted the aid workers the day before while they were driving through the area.
However, the director of the aid group ACTED says it still is unclear who kidnapped the workers. Ziggy Garewal said the group was unsure whether its staffers were taken by militants or because of a local dispute.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction, and the condition of the workers is not yet known.
ACTED works primarily in the fields of rural development, civil society and agriculture. The kidnapped workers reportedly were returning from conducting hygiene training at a local mosque.
NATO Criticizes Pakistan On Terror Fight, As US Softens Tone
Voice of America By Kurt Achin October 10, 2011
Islamabad - NATO is sharply criticizing Pakistan for failing to rein in terrorist and militant groups on its side of the border with Afghanistan. At the same time, ahead of a senior envoy’s visit to the Pakistani capital, Washington is softening its tone of recent weeks and focusing on shared interests.
Top officers of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan say Pakistan needs to do more to rein in militants who are based on its territory but operate in Afghanistan.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen is spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force.
“Pakistan has done a lot against terrorists and insurgents, and paid a considerable price in blood over the last years," said Jacobsen. "There is no question that it is not enough.”
Jacobsen says Pakistan needs to align itself with NATO’s mission by denying militants the ability to regroup on its territory.
“Whether it is Haqqani, or whether it is the Taliban that are looking for safe haven and training facilities in Pakistan, they have to be fought by all of us - Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the international community," he said.
Last month, just before retiring, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen - the highest commander of the U.S. military - called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the ISI.
Mullen's remarks galvanized anti-American sentiment here in Pakistan and drew sharp reactions from an all-parties conference convened by the Pakistani president. The admiral's allegations also fueled U.S. lawmakers' skepticism about the future of American aid to Pakistan.
However, senior U.S. diplomats now appear to be adopting a more conciliatory tone about U.S.-Pakistan cooperation in the fight against terrorists.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman is due later this week in Islamabad. In a interview in Kabul on Saturday, he emphasized that 19,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed since 2003.
Grossman says the conversation between the United States and Pakistan is now focused on “how to get our interests shared and then act on them together,” and stressed the need for engagement between the United States and Pakistan.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua says Islamabad welcomes recent statements by Obama administration officials on Pakistan.
“These underscore the importance of having cooperative relations with Pakistan," said Janjua. "Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton has spoken of it as well - she has underscored the importance of the relationship with Pakistan.”
Still, Grossman says Washington will continue “to call on Pakistan to end the safe havens and enablers” that allow militants to carry out guerrilla raids in Afghanistan, then retreat to Pakistan.
The United States and its allies plan to withdraw most of their more than 130,000 Afghanistan-based combat forces by 2014, creating pressure for regional partners to find a framework for stability before then. Washington has repeatedly acknowledged Pakistan’s support is crucial in establishing a long-term peace in Afghanistan.
Roadside bomb kills 3 Afghan civilians
MAIDAN SHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Three civilians lost their lives in Wardak province with Maidan Shar as its capital 35 km west of capital city Kabul Monday night, an official said Tuesday.
"A mine planted by Taliban insurgents in Kashmirian village outside Maidan Shar went off Monday night killing three innocent civilians including a woman," spokesman for provincial administration Shahidullah Shahid told Xinhua.
Taliban militants who fight Afghan and NATO-led troops and often organize roadside bombing to target security forces have yet to make comment.
Civilians often bear the brunt of war in the war-torn Afghanistan. Five more civilians lost their lives as a roadside bomb struck a vehicle in eastern Kunar province on Monday.
Pakistan Governor Escapes Rocket Attack
VOA News October 11, 2011
Pakistani officials say militants fired rockets at a meeting convened by a provincial governor in the country's northwest, killing one person and wounding at least four others.
Authorities say at least two rockets targeted the gathering early Tuesday in Kalaya, a town in the Orakzai tribal agency. The governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province Masood Kausar was not injured.
Orakzai is one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies and the only one that does not share a border with Afghanistan.
While no one claimed responsibility for the attack, the Pakistani Taliban operates in the area and frequently attack government targets. The Pakistani military has launched several operations against militants throughout the country's northwest.
Meanwhile, officials in the southwestern Baluchistan province say gunmen on motorbikes fired at least one oil tanker bound for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The truck was set ablaze in the attack.
Attacks on Afghanistan-bound convoys are common in Pakistan, as most of the international coalition's supplies moved overland go through militant-infested areas of the country.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
U.N. Finds ‘Systematic’ Torture in Afghanistan
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN October 10, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan - Detainees are hung by their hands and beaten with cables, and in some cases their genitals are twisted until the prisoners lose consciousness at sites run by the Afghan intelligence service and the Afghan National Police, according to a United Nations report released here on Monday.
The report, based on interviews over the past year with more than 300 suspects linked to the insurgency, is the most comprehensive look at the Afghan detention system and an issue that has long concerned Western officials and human rights groups.
It paints a devastating picture of abuse, citing evidence of “systematic torture” during interrogations by Afghan intelligence and police officials even as American and other Western backers provide training and pay for nearly the entire budget of the Afghan ministries running the detention centers.
The report does not assess whether American officials knew of the abuses. But such widespread use of torture in a detention system supported by American mentors and money raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials and whether they benefited from information obtained from suspects who had been tortured.
“I know of no one who knew about these alleged abuses as they were happening,” said an American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issues involved. “Thus, it’s impossible to know if there was any information passed on that came in some form from these alleged incidents.”
At a minimum, there appears to have been little effort to scrutinize the practices of Afghanistan’s security forces at the detention centers, as pressure has built to move as much responsibility as possible to the Afghans and to reduce American involvement here.
As the United States looks to wind down a decade of war here, the report threatens to complicate efforts to transfer more detention responsibilities to the Afghans. It could also set in motion provisions of American law that would require the United States to cut off money to any Afghan unit involved in abuses.
The Afghan government denied the worst of the allegations in the report, while allowing that there were “deficiencies” in a war-torn country that routinely faced suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism.
Early word of the findings spurred immediate action. After seeing a draft of the report in September, Gen. John R. Allen, the NATO commander here in Afghanistan, halted transfers of those suspected of being insurgents to 16 of the facilities identified as sites where torture or abuse routinely took place.
He has since initiated a plan to investigate the sites, provide training in modern interrogation techniques and monitor the Afghan government’s practices. The American Embassy is now heavily involved in devising a long-term monitoring program for Afghan detention sites, American officials said.
In a statement, NATO officials said they were working with the United Nations and the Afghan government to “improve detention operations” and “establish safeguards.”
Nearly half of the detainees interviewed by United Nations researchers who were in detention sites run by the Afghan intelligence service, known as the National Directorate of Security, told of torture. The national police treatment of detainees was somewhat less severe and widespread, the report found. Its research covered 47 facilities in 22 provinces. Most of those interviewed were suspected of involvement in the insurgency, which has attacked both Afghans and their Western allies.
Of the 324 security-related detainees interviewed, 89 had been handed over to the Afghan intelligence service or the police by international military forces, and in 19 cases, the men were tortured once they were in Afghan custody. The United Nations Convention Against Torture prohibits the transfer of a detained person to the custody of another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that the detainee is at risk of torture.
“Use of interrogation methods, including suspension, beatings, electric shock, stress positions and threatened sexual assault is unacceptable by any standard of international human rights law,” the report said.
One detainee described being taken in for interrogation in Kandahar and having the interrogator ask if he knew the name of the official’s office. The detainee said that after he answered, the interrogator said, “You should confess what you have done in the past as Taliban — even stones confess here.”
The man was beaten over several days for hours at a time with electrical wire and then signed a confession, the report said.
The report pointed out that even though the abusive practices are pervasive, the Afghan government does not condone torture and has explicitly said the abuses found by the United Nations are not government policy. Several longtime aid workers here said that as disturbing as the allegations were, there had been improvements in detainee treatment, particularly since the Soviet occupation, when many people were detained and never heard from again.
“Reform is both possible and desired,” said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, noting that the government had cooperated with the report’s researchers and had begun to take remedial action.
“We take this report very seriously,” said Shaida M. Abdali, the Afghan deputy national security adviser.
“Our government, especially the president, has taken a very strong stand on the protection of everyone’s human rights, their humanity, everywhere and especially in prisons and in detention,” he said.
The government said that it had set up a group to look into the problem and that it had dismissed several employees at a unit known as Department 124, where the United Nations said the torture appeared to have been the most entrenched. The intelligence service is now admonishing newly assigned interrogators to observe human rights, the government said in its response.
Still, a senior diplomat here said, the report had the potential “to undermine the strategic partnership” with both the European Union and the United States, referring to the agreement for future relations that the Americans and Afghans had hoped to complete by December.
It could also jeopardize American financing. Under a law written by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, neither the State Department nor the Defense Department can provide assistance or training to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible evidence of gross human rights abuses. However, financing can go forward to other units not involved and even to the offending units if serious remedial actions are taken.
“This would clearly constitute credible evidence,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington bureau, who has tracked the Leahy law.
Recently, the United States pulled financing for some units of the Pakistani military that were involved in extrajudicial killings in the tribal areas. Money for the Afghan intelligence agency may not be not covered by the law, but it was unlikely that the Obama administration would use a legal technicality to continue financing the agency if torture allegations persisted, Mr. Malinowski said.
Ultimately the prosecution of the torturers is required, said Georgette Gagnon, the director of human rights for the United Nations here, in order to “prevent and end such acts in the future.”
There have been a number of instances that raise similar questions in other places, including Uzbekistan, Pakistan and El Salvador, according to a RAND Corporation report in 2006. Aid to Colombia in fighting its drug cartels and insurgents has also raised some of these issues and has periodically been halted to some military units as a result of gross violations of human rights, Mr. Malinowski said.
Afghanistan torture report raises major questions about west's strategy
Western strategy has potential to make systematic torture by intelligence services and police revealed in UN report worse
Guardian.co.uk By Julian Borger, diplomatic editor Monday 10 October 2011
The UN report on the widespread use of torture by the Afghan intelligence agency and police force is not just an indictment of Nato-backed security forces. It also represents a giant question mark over the workability of the west's strategy in Afghanistan.
That strategy involves containment of the insurgency until the end of the 2014, when the US, Britain and their allies are to withdraw combat troops. Meanwhile, the plan is to build up and improve the Afghan government and its security forces, while exploring the possibility of a political settlement.
The trouble is that each element of the plan has an impact on the others, and not necessarily in a good way. The routine use of torture by the intelligence service (NDS) and the police is part of a wider picture of excess and abuse of the Afghan population that is fuelling the insurgency. Most senior Nato officers and western officials now acknowledge that the venality of the government system is a bigger driver that any popular ideological alignment with the Taliban and its allies.
Furthermore, if this is how the security forces treat the Afghan people, then building them up – from 305,000 this year to 350,000 by 2012 to 400,000 by 2013 – could make the problem worse rather than better. The army generally has a better reputation, as does the small Afghan National Civil Order Police, Ancop, but NDS and the general police force are big and ubiquitous enough to poison the well when it comes to popular support for the government.
Compounding this threat is an ethnic dimension. Despite strenuous efforts to recruit in the south, only 3% of the recruits at the national military training academy in Kabul are southern Pashtuns. If this is not improved and no progress is made towards a political settlement in the next two years, then all the effort and resources ploughed into the Afghan security forces could end up providing the skills and equipment for a bigger, more bloody, civil war.
These fears are real and growing in western capitals. A UK review of progress in the Afghan conflict, due to be completed in mid-November will talk about the "significant risks" of civil war or a "Talibanisation" of the Pashtun belt and the further destabilisation of Pakistan. The former Isaf commander General Stanley McChrystal said last week that the force was only "50% of the way" to meeting its goals because "we didn't know enough and we still don't know enough" about the country in which they are fighting. Time is running short to cover the remaining 50%, especially if Nato's central ally, the Kabul government, is going in the wrong direction.
4 insurgents killed, 12 arrested in Afghanistan: gov't
KABUL, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Security forces have killed four insurgents and detained 12 others during operations in different parts of Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, the Afghan Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.
"The Afghan National Police (ANP), backed by army and NATO-led Coalition forces, launched four joint operations in surrounding areas of Kandahar, Helmand, Logar and Paktika provinces over the past 24 hours, killing four armed insurgents and arresting 12 other suspected insurgents," the ministry said in a statement providing daily operational updates.
A handful of weapons and ammunition were also found and seized by the forces, it said.
Policemen with the ANP also arrested a man with three remote control mines, who had connection with a Taliban affiliated group - - the "Haqqani network", in Kandahar city, capital of southern Kandahar province on Monday, according to the statement.
Three smugglers with 104 kg of opium and 58 kg of hashish were also detained by the ANP in Spin Boldak District of Kandahar province in the same period of time, it said.
Afghan officials often use the word "insurgents" referring to the Taliban.
Taliban militants, who stepped up their attacks on Afghan and NATO-led troops since a spring rebel offensive was launched in May this year in the war-ravaged country, have yet to make comments.
Afghan and NATO-led coalition forces kept up pressure on insurgents all over the country as over 360 insurgents had been killed and around 430 detained by joint forces in September alone, according to the interior ministry statements.
Pakistan offers Afghanistan intelligence sharing in Rabbani's killing
by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday offered intelligence sharing to Afghanistan for its investigation into the assassination of the former Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Rabbani was killed at his Kabul residence last month by a man who pretended to be a messenger from Taliban.
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Bismellah Muhammadi and the country's intelligence agencies have claimed that the assassination plot was prepared in the Pakistani southwestern city of Quetta by Afghan Taliban.
They also alleged that Pakistani spy agency had helped in the plan, which was strongly dismissed by the Pakistani government.
Rabbani's murder had harmed the bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and derailed the reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani canceled this month's visit to Kabul, where he was scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a joint peace commission.
Gilani told reporters in Quetta on Tuesday that Pakistan had been shocked on the murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani and offered all collaboration to the Afghanistan government regarding probe into the killing of Rabbani, who was also a former president of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan says it would soon send members of a commission formed by the Afghan president to share information with Pakistani authorities and to seek their help in the investigation.
Afghan Ambassador in Islamabad Omar Daudzai said that the delegation was likely to arrive in Islamabad in a few days.
Afghan government said it had already provided some "proof" to Pakistani embassy in Kabul but Pakistan says it was the confessional statement of one of the suspects.
Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan was working to devise a combined strategy with Afghanistan to fight terrorism in the region.
Referring to the Pak-U.S. ties, he said that the relations between Pakistan and the United States were improving and moving in a positive direction, he said.
U.S. troops try to secure eastern Afghanistan before drawdown
Washington Examiner By Sara A. Carter National security correspondent 10/10/2011
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - A fortress built by the Soviet army in the 1980s serves as an outpost for U.S. troops in this hotly contested corner of Afghanistan, and it also serves as a daily reminder to soldiers here that America's stay in this country has an expiration date.
The outpost, manned by Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion 35th Infantry, is only 6 miles from Pakistan's border in the tribal area that is home to that country's Taliban fighters. Soldiers here estimate half of the attacks mounted against them originate from Pakistan, with the other half coming from homegrown Afghan Taliban forces.
The American soldiers here are part of Task Force Cacti, charged with securing Chowkay, Narang and Norgul districts of Kunar province. The mission is to keep things relatively peaceful while helping Afghan government forces gain the necessary competency to resist an insurgency that seems to spring from all the rocks, culverts and ridges along this edge of the Sankalay Mountains.
"None of us want to walk away from here without accomplishing what we set out to do," said Army Capt. Ryan Occhiuzzo, from Kansas City, Mo, "Still, we're leaving. At some point it will be up to the Afghan security forces to contain the situation and protect the people."
Insurgents keep up a steady harassment in this area. Members of Pakistan's Taliban have infiltrated the area and taken shots at Afghan and U.S. soldiers on duty in observation posts with Iranian bolt-action rifles.
Occasionally, the Taliban launch more ambitious, deadly attacks. On June 22, Army medic Spc. Levi Nuncio, 24, of Harrisonburg, Va., was killed by small-arms fire, and another six troops of Charlie Company were wounded. "[Pakistani Taliban] fighters get paid for each attack they conduct. The insurgents will even tape the attacks on us so they have proof to show their commanders," Occhiuzzo said. The three platoons under his command patrol an area of hundreds of square miles, much of it not accessible except by helicopter. Throughout the area are villages that have had very little contact with the outside world.
The main road in Kunar province is called California Highway by the American soldiers here. Portions of it have been rendered almost impossible to travel by the large number of improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban.
"There has been a spike in IED attacks along California, it's a main road for commerce," said Capt. Bryce Matson. "It's been difficult for Charlie Company, tough on the platoons who are doing their best trying to secure the area. The main thing for Charlie Company is to get the local Afghan police out there to clean it up -- it's not an easy task."
It took years of effort supported by the U.S. Army to build up the main road, but from the air deep crevasses can be seen along the route, the damage left over from IED explosions.
The cumulative challenges haven't discouraged junior officers here. But they understand the time is limited to accomplish tasks that have eluded American forces here so far.
"In a way this is our last hurrah," said Matson. "We are beginning the drawdown at the end of this year. We have to be strategic about how we plan, where we pull our troops and where we need them most. If we don't do this right, one day we'll be back here again. I have no doubt about that."
AP Exclusive: Afghan government blocks bribery probe, apparently to avoid prosecutions
Associated Press Tuesday, October 11, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan - A major investigation into an influential Afghan governor accused of taking bribes has been shut down and its top prosecutor transferred to a unit that doesn’t handle corruption cases, Afghan and U.S. officials said.
The closing of the investigation into the former governor of Kapisa province, Ghulam Qawis Abu Bakr, comes on the heels of a grim U.S. assessment several months ago that no substantive corruption prosecutions were taking place in Afghanistan — despite President Hamid Karzai’s pledge to root out graft.
The Abu Bakr investigation raises troubling questions yet again about how much U.S. taxpayer money is lining the pockets of powerful Afghan officials, and whether the U.S. is doing all it can to persuade Karzai to crack down on corruption. It also suggests that the lax prosecution of corruption extends to all levels of government.
U.S. officials had hoped the case would be the first conviction of a relatively significant person in Afghan government. While Abu Bakr’s influence wanes outside Kapisa province, he is still connected to the Hizb-e-Islami political party, which wields considerable clout with the palace and has ties to militants.
Abu Bakr was suspended as governor after CIA Director David Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, presented Karzai with documentation showing that he was colluding with the Taliban, according to an Afghan official in Kabul with direct knowledge of the incident.
In the two years since Karzai unveiled a new anti-corruption task force, powerful government figures have been accused of corruption and even investigated, but seldom brought to court. It appears that Abu Bakr will be no exception.
Most of the approximately 2,000 cases investigated by the anti-corruption unit since its birth in 2009 have stalled, said a NATO official familiar with the unit, who spoke anonymously about a sensitive situation. The 28 convictions so far have all been of minor players. The attorney general’s office has been infiltrated by power brokers, ranging from lawmakers to warlords, who are systematically blocking cases, the NATO official said.
In general, little has come of Karzai’s promises after a fraud-marred 2009 election that he would make rooting out graft a priority. In fact, a corruption scandal involving the country’s largest private bank in the interim has incriminated a number of Karzai allies, including relatives.
The first hint that corruption would not be taken seriously in the attorney general’s office came in the summer of 2010, when a Karzai aide was arrested on charges of accepting a car in exchange for his help in thwarting a corruption case. Karzai ordered the release of the aide, Mohammad Zia Salehi.
But with the negative publicity, Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko ordered his prosecutors not to discuss details of their cases with the U.S. officials advising them, or they would be considered U.S. spies, said an official who worked in the anti-corruption unit.
Both the attorney general’s office and Abu Bakr declined to comment directly on the case. The current head of the anti-corruption unit at the attorney general’s office also declined to comment on the Abu Bakr case, which he insisted was ongoing.
“The case against Gov. Ghulam Qawis Abu Bakr has not closed. Our unit is still working on that case. They are trying to collect evidence and complete the case and get it ready to send it to the courts,” said Gen. Abu Baker Rafiyee. “When the case will go to court is not clear. It will be whenever it is ready for the court.”
Several months ago, U.S. Embassy personnel concluded that no substantive corruption prosecutions were taking place in Afghanistan, according to a former senior U.S. familiar with a briefing which occurred before the Abu Bakr case was halted. The former official was told during the briefing the drive to crack down on graft by the Afghan government had ground to a halt more than a year before.
Current and former U.S. officials said the American administration was trying to downplay their anti-corruption work in its Afghanistan policy because it was such a failure.
The case against Abu Bakr opened last year after allegations surfaced he had received a $200,000 bribe in exchange for the contract to build a cell tower, an Afghan official said.
Abu Bakr lives in Mahmud-i-Raqi, the capital of Kapisa province, in a large house. He has three other houses in Kabul, all built, according to the original witness statements, with stone and gravel paid for by foreign donations intended for roads, schools and clinics.
About 20 witnesses said the governor forced local construction companies to give him truckloads of gravel and stone for his expensive homes, according to the officials. The witnesses reportedly said the governor threatened to halt their construction projects if he didn’t get what he wanted.
However, when prosecutors traveled to Kapisa in late June to get more evidence, the witnesses were no longer willing to cooperate.
“They changed their story,” the Afghan official said. Prosecutors also met with Abu Bakr, who denied everything.
Only one witness was still willing to testify, a man named Shah Agha who said Abu Bakr shut down his rock-crushing plant after he refused to donate 100 trucks of gravel — worth about $10,500 — for the construction of one of his houses. Agha said within an hour of giving his statement in Kabul, his phone started ringing.
“It was people, friends, asking me why I had talked against Abu Bakr,” Agha told the AP. He said his testimony could only have gotten out so quickly if someone inside the attorney general’s office was tipping people off.
Four months ago, the Abu Bakr case was abruptly closed, despite pleas from the prosecutor for more time to gather evidence, according to officials. In July, the top prosecutor was demoted, and sent to oversee conditions in Afghan prisons, according to an Afghan government document obtained by The Associated Press. Her pay was cut by $50 a month, or about a fourth of her monthly salary.
At least three prosecutors who have persisted in sensitive investigations — two of them involving Abu Bakr — have been removed or transferred, either to other departments or to remote provinces, according to a senior U.S. official.
Almost everyone in the Abu Bakr case would only speak anonymously, especially in Mahmud-i-Raqi, for fear of recrimination and of angering a man still considered more powerful than the current governor. One provincial official said he spoke to construction companies who acknowledged paying off Abu Bakr in exchange for contracts, including one that involved U.S. funds to pave a road. The official said Abu Bakr demanded the company raise the price of its bid to include a $150,000 kickback.
Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah contributed to this report from Kabul. Desmond Butler contributed from Washington.
Birth and Death: Afghanistan's Struggles with Maternal Mortality
TIME.com By Joanna Kakissis Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011
Kabul - When Fawzia went into labor with her fifth child, she knew something was wrong. She felt like her insides were being ripped apart by knives. She bled so much that her clothes were soaked. "I did not want to die," recalls Fawzia, 25, who, like many rural Afghans, only uses one name. "I prayed and hoped the pain would go away. But when it didn't, I asked to go to a hospital."
Fawzia, an ethnic Hazara from Jaghori district in the volatile center-east province of Ghazni, had never been to a hospital, and says she had no idea where to find one. She had given birth to her other children at home, and the closest clinic is a two-hour drive away. When she got there, the staff said they couldn't help her. Go to Kabul, they said. It took another 10 hours to drive to Rabia Balkhi, a women's hospital in central Kabul that offers free services to impoverished women. (See pictures of Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley.)
By then, Fawzia had lost so much blood that doctors were worried she wouldn't make it. Dr. Taiba Motaqi, 30, a resident in obstetrics, knew right away that the young woman had a ruptured uterus. The complication is rare among pregnant women in the developed world, but it kills many Afghan women each year. Fawzia underwent an emergency C-section, a common procedure at Rabia Balkhi Hospital. "Women come here with problems like this at the very last minute," Dr. Motaqi says. "We have to work quickly to save them."
When Fawzia got married 10 years ago, the Taliban were still running Afghanistan, and women's rights were at a nadir. Most women gave birth at home, and the few who managed to venture to hospitals often discovered that the facilities were understaffed and lacked equipment and medicine. In late 2001, the U.S.-led military campaign pushed the Taliban out of power, and since then, millions of dollars in U.S. and foreign aid have gone to help build clinics and hospitals and train health workers. It was supposed to be a new beginning for Afghan women marginalized by the Taliban's brutal and theocratic rule. But a decade later, Afghanistan still ranks as the worst country in the world to be a mother. (See pictures of the battle against the Taliban.)
About 18,000 Afghan women die during childbirth every year, says the Afghan Health Ministry. According to a recent report by the NGO Save the Children, Afghanistan ranked as the worst place to give birth, followed by Niger and Chad. In these countries, 60% of all births are not attended to by skilled health professionals. On average, about 1 in 23 mothers are expected to die from pregnancy-related causes. Children also die young and suffer from malnutrition, and education for girls is poor.
Often the challenge is just getting women to hospitals. Rural Afghans, even in relatively progressive provinces like Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, are suspicious or dismissive of doctors. In the town of Bamiyan, the main hospital has a new maternity ward. But head midwife Sediqa Hosseini says many of the 25 beds in the ward are often empty. On a recent summer afternoon, Hosseini, a tiny, serious woman in a baby blue headscarf, greets the 12 women who have checked in. One is Fatima, a 25-year-old farmer's wife. "When Fatima arrived, her baby was coming out shoulder first," Hosseini says. "She had to have a C-section. Without help, both of them would have died."
Fatima says her husband took her to the hospital when her labor became so painful that she was doubled over. Hosseini says few husbands would have done the same. Many rural men prefer to pray with a mullah to cure illnesses, she says. "They believe this is more reliable than medicine." As she breast-feeds her newborn daughter, Fatima says she wouldn't have gone if it had not been for a community-health worker who told her hospitals are safe and free. (See pictures of the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.)
Adding to the problem is that rural Afghan women are also conservative, and some are ashamed of being pregnant because it's a public acknowledgement of sex with their spouses, says Gulpari, a midwife in Bamiyan's remote Sayghan district. Sayghan is a dusty, wind-lashed stretch of bare mountains, cratered dirt roads and some 60-odd villages of compact mud huts. Gulpari lives in the village of Khudadadkhel, where she works at the small, understaffed Sayghan clinic that mostly treats stomach ailments and lung diseases.
Most of Sayghan district's residents are Tajiks who are Sunni and far more conservative than Bamiyan's main ethnic group, the Shi'ite Hazara. Hazara women were liberated enough to take up arms against the Taliban in the 1990s. The Tajik women rarely leave their homes, Gulpari says, but she's managed to convince some of them to let her help them when they give birth at home. "In 15 years, I've never lost a mother," she says.
Gulpari says she decided to do this work when she was a girl and watched a relative who was a midwife help a scared young woman give birth to her first child. She began apprenticing while the Taliban was running Afghanistan, and many men threatened her for doing what they deemed "dirty work." Now she says even conservative men in her village accept the value of what she does. The Community Midwife Education Program, financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, has trained thousands of rural Afghan women to work as midwives, according to a recent report by the Council of Foreign Relations think tank. (Read about Taliban strikes undermining U.S. optimism.)
But in many rural areas, there is still a shortage of midwives — Gulpari says she's only one of four midwives for at least 40,000 people in the area. "I'm not fooling myself," she says. "There are so many women, probably thousands, that I don't see. That I will never see. Some live in ravines deep in the mountains that take days to get to because you can only go by foot or donkey. I'll never know what happens to them."
Even women like Fawzia, the young mother from Ghazni, who are determined enough to get to urban hospitals, face other problems. Many hospitals don't have the money to stock medicine and instead send patients to street markets to buy drugs that are often fake or mislabeled, says Dr. Faizullah Kakar, an epidemiologist and special adviser on health to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "Even if they are the right drugs, it wastes time to go out and buy them," says the doctor, who has worked with U.S. doctors who trained staff at Kabul's Rabia Balkhi Hospital. The Afghan Safe Birth Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has helped reduce deaths during C-sections at the hospital by 80% between 2008 and '10 by providing medicines as well as good training, says Dr. Kakar. The project at Rabia Balkhi was supposed to be a model for other Afghan women's hospitals to follow. But in April, the U.S. government cut the program's $5.8 million annual funding, and Dr. Kakar says the Afghan government
doesn't have the money to keep it going. By October, the hospital will no longer be able to buy medicine. "I'm worried we will once again have an epidemic of mothers dying here," he says. (See more about the struggles in Afghanistan.)
The doctor is also worried about what the budget cuts will mean for Afghan infants. In 2008, UNICEF reported that 52 out of every 1,000 Afghan infants died within the first two weeks of birth. That's a rate 10 times higher than in the U.S.
More than 22,000 babies are born in Rabia Balkhi Hospital every year. Dr Motaqi, the resident in obstetrics, isn't married and doesn't have children of her own, but the shy, intense doctor often visits the hospital's neonatal unit, which smells like rubbing alcohol and powder. There are healthy babies there, but on a recent afternoon she stops near a boy who is tiny and almost still. His skin is tinged blue, and he flutters his eyelids, which are crusty with dried tears. Dr. Motaqi clasps his miniature hand between her thumb and forefinger. "He was born too soon, and he came out the wrong way," she sighs. "He's going to die."
The doctor walks back to Fawzia, the mother from Ghazni province, who lost her son on the drive to the hospital. "I felt him stop moving," Fawzia says, curled up in her hospital bed. She's sleepy from the anesthesia. Dr. Motaqi sits on the edge of Fawzia's bed and tries to manage a smile. — With reporting by Karim Sharifi / Kabul; Moneer Nyazi / Bamiyan
|2011, afghan, news, october|