[Afghan News] April 6, 2012 - 04-06-2012, 04:03 PM
Sabir Shah, Afghanistan's 'Wright brother,' constructed an airplane by himself.
By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent April 6, 2012 at 11:43 am EDT The Christian Science Monitor
Afghanistan’s rural Ghazni Province usually appears on the news radar only to herald a tragedy: Five Polish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb days before Christmas. A group of armed men accused a widow and her daughter of adultery in November and stoned the pair before shooting them in front of their home.
In other words, it’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find a hobbyist aviator in his backyard building what he describes as the first airplane ever designed and constructed in Afghanistan.
Yet, over the past three years Ghazni-native Sabir Shah managed to fashion a one-man “microlight,” aircraft at his family home using instructions from the Internet and parts from the local market.
While impressive compared with a Wright Brothers’ creation, the plane is far from a marvel of modern aviation. But Mr. Shah hopes it’s enough to inspire government support or private investment in Afghan aviation.
So far though, aside from modest, but passing interest from a few government officials, he’s received little attention. Most Afghans, including his own family, have called him crazy and told him to get a regular job. Still, Shah remains determined to create a business building airplanes for Afghanistan.
“I believe that if you want something, you can get it,” he says.
Shah is an unlikely candidate to be Afghanistan’s aviation advocate. A high school graduate with no pilot training nor aeronautical engineering background, he’d never even traveled by airplane when he started building one.
For Afghans wishing to learn how to fly, the options are extremely limited. The country has a fledging air force, but there are no other practical opportunities for pilot training. The Ministry of Transportation and Aviation offers flight classes, but ministry officials admit that few students actually take the courses because Afghan airlines almost exclusively hire foreign pilots with better training and more experience.
After high school, Shah considered going on to college. Yet even though public universities are free, his family couldn’t afford losing the extra pair of hands.
Given his circumstances it’s easy to understand why people were skeptical when Shah announced his plans to build a microlight airplane after seeing one featured on a documentary and doing a bit of Internet research.
“I didn’t have money and there was no one to help me,” says Shah. “Everyone was saying, ‘Have you studied about airplanes? Do you know anything about airplanes?’ I would say, ‘I have got some recommendations from the Internet.’ Nobody believed I could build it.”
Undeterred, Shah continued his research and worked a series of odd jobs to save up money for parts and equipment. As he progressed, friends and family donated money. An uncle in Australia gave him a vital $2,000 donation and even Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili contributed $1,000 when he learned of the project.
After three years, Shah had constructed a microlight airplane using a propeller he made himself, a small Toyota car engine, a homemade fiberglass body, a wing made of a metal frame and cloth, and some spare gauges he bought at the market for his instrument panel. The project cost Shah a total of $12,000, a small fortune here.
When it came time for his first test flight, the Afghan Ministry of Defense agreed to use a military helicopter to transport Shah and his plane to an airfield north of Kabul. The trip was the first time Shah had ever traveled by air. “I was frightened a little when I was looking down,” he says, recalling the trip.
Before Shah climbed into the pilot seat, a retired Afghan pilot who’d flown jets for the Soviets and now managed the airport gave him a few pointers. Otherwise, he was relying on manuals he’d collected on other microlight aircraft.
As his plane sped down the runway, his fear momentarily faded. The flight lasted less than a minute before he set it down on the runway again.
In a total of four takeoffs, his longest and last flight traveled about a quarter of a mile – nothing compared with professional tests, but 11 times farther than the original Wright Brothers’ flight. However, that final flight ended when he crash-landed just off the runway. Though he walked away from the crash, the plane was damaged beyond repair.
Considering that it’s been 64 years since a pilot first broke the sound barrier and 25 years since a plane circumnavigated the globe without stopping or refueling, Shah’s achievement may seem hardly worth mentioning. But his accomplishment is much less about the actual plane he built and more about his creativity and inventiveness in a country where innovation and ingenuity are in short supply after three decades of war.
“Innovation doesn’t mean anything in this country,” says Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of parliament from Ghanzi, who has been a pilot since 1973 and is now starting his own airline. “We always look at the past and behind us instead of looking forward.... He’s a young man who must have used his own know-how to build his own airplane, which should be encouraged.”
Despite the challenges, Shah says he’ll keep working. If he can find a scholarship to study abroad he will, but he doesn’t know how to look for such an opportunity and doubts it will happen. For now, he hopes his initial success will attract investors as he endeavors to start his next project, an eight- to 10-seater airplane that he hopes can be used for domestic travel in Afghanistan.
Details Emerge on Coming U.S. Offensive in Eastern Afghanistan
By Yochi J. Dreazen | National Journal via Yahoo! News - Apr 04 02:33pm
A campaign that will likely be the last major U.S. offensive of the Afghan War is set to begin later this year in eastern Afghanistan, the region where the conflict began and where senior NATO officials hope their involvement will effectively come to an end.
U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington have provided National Journal an array of details about the coming push, which represents a high-stakes -- and politically complicated -- attempt to better secure Kabul as well as Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan before the American exit from the country accelerates. With Washington planning to shift U.S. troops out of their lead combat role next year, it is also likely to be the last major American offensive of the long war.
That foray will be led by thousands of troops from the 1st Brigade of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, set to deploy to eastern Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province in the coming months. The brigade will be augmented with additional combat, support, and training personnel, which means the new U.S. influx could include roughly 5,000 additional troops.
A senior U.S. government official in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new troops will have three primary missions. First, they will work to expand the so-called “security bubble” surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks in recent months. Second, they will try to better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed last year.
The third mission will be the most important, the most complicated, and potentially the most dangerous. The troops, the senior government official said, will move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of antigovernment fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.
The new operations along the border will pit the U.S. reinforcements against battle-hardened militants from the Haqqani network, which has emerged as the most skilled U.S. adversary in either country. Eastern Afghanistan’s mountains, unpaved roads, and rugged terrain will make it a difficult fight for both sides.
Navy Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, the spokesman for Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the overall goals of the campaign in eastern Afghanistan will be “for the forces to focus on an expanded Kabul security perimeter, the link between Kabul and Kandahar, and the border areas.”
The spokesman declined to discuss the exact timing or size of the new push, citing the need for operational security. Information on the coming deployment of the 82nd Airborne brigade, which hasn’t yet been disclosed by the Pentagon, came from the unit’s official Facebook page and a US. official with knowledge of the plans.
The new military push will unfold very differently from those which followed the Obama administration’s initial troop surge into Afghanistan, in part because all of those 33,000 are set to return to the U.S. by the end of this summer.
The surge troops were almost entirely deployed to the restive southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, long-standing Taliban safe havens which held special significance for the armed movement because many of its key leaders were born there. U.S. forces built a network and set up combat outposts throughout both provinces and manned them for more than a year.
Violence across the south has fallen since the push, but it’s far from clear that the largely unproven Afghan security forces will be able to hold -- or expand -- those modest gains when U.S. troops begin to depart the region to shift east or return home.
The new offensive into eastern Afghanistan won’t involve such a sustained effort. Instead, U.S. officials at the Pentagon and in Kabul say it will involve short assaults against specific targets. Troops may stay in a given area for a few days or weeks, but the current plans don’t call for them to set up large numbers of combat outposts or to remain in the region’s valleys or towns for months at a time.
American officials familiar with the coming offensive freely admit that its success is far from guaranteed. Defeating the Taliban or forcing them to come to the negotiating table will be virtually impossible so long as they can re-arm inside Pakistan or use bases there to plan new strikes. But Pakistan has rolled back its modest counterterror efforts because of widespread fury there over the unannounced U.S. raid into the heart of the country to kill Osama bin Laden, and over a recent incident in which an errant U.S. strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The U.S. has identified the specific Pakistani factories where most of the ammonium nitrate used in the bombs to kill and maim NATO troops is produced. Asked if Islamabad had taken any steps against the facilities, the senior U.S. official in Kabul didn’t hesitate in responding: “As of this moment, they haven’t acted at all to shut down the factories on their side.”
Afghan peace envoy 'killed by suicide bomber'
By Yaser Hameed AFP via Yahoo! News
A suicide bomber assassinated an Afghan peace envoy and former mujahedeen commander on Friday, in the latest blow to stuttering reconciliation efforts in the violence-wracked country.
Maulavi Mohammad Hashem Munib, the head of the government's High Peace Council in Kunar province, was killed along with his son and a bodyguard, the presidency said in a statement.
"He was on his way home from Friday prayers when he was attacked by a suicide attacker," provincial police chief Ewaz Mohammad Nazari told AFP.
One witness said that both Munib and the attacker had been torn to pieces, with body parts littering the scene.
Kunar, an eastern province bordering Pakistan, is a stronghold of the decade-long Taliban-led insurgency against President Hamid Karzai's government and its Western allies.
Karzai condemned the attack, saying that "the enemies of the people of Afghanistan have martyred one of the messengers of peace".
"The terrorists are trying to undermine the role of elders who are working for the good of Afghanistan, but they should realise that they can never achieve their evil goals by such heinous acts," he said.
The national head of the High Peace Council, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated last year by a purported Taliban envoy who hid a bomb in his turban.
Rabbani's murder -- Afghanistan's most high-profile political killing since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks -- was a major setback to Karzai's hopes of securing a deal with the militants.
As well as trying to negotiate with insurgents, the High Peace Council tries to reconcile them with offers of money and jobs.
But in a report last month the International Crisis Group questioned the organisation's "efficacy and legitimacy", citing "the predominance of mujahedeen and factional leaders" appointed to it.
Munib -- also a member of Afghanistan's Ulema Council, a government-funded Islamic authority -- was a former senior commander of Hezb-i Islami, one of the major Afghan mujahedeen groups that fought Soviet troops in the 1980s.
It is now sometimes regarded as the second-biggest insurgent organisation in Afghanistan after the Taliban, but Munib left it before Karzai took power and he had never taken up arms against the current government.
Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, a senior official in the Peace Council, described Munib as an "influential figure", saying he had "drawn many insurgents to lay down arms and join the peace process" and blaming the Taliban for his death.
The Taliban could not immediately be reached for comment.
Progress towards peace negotiations in Afghanistan has been long, slow and complicated, with no sign that substantive talks are underway.
Kabul has said several times that it is in negotiations with the Taliban, who insisted in turn that they were only prepared to talk to representatives of the United States. Washington says the process should be Afghan-led.
NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force has 130,000 troops in Afghanistan helping fight the insurgency and train Kabul's forces, but the bulk of them are due to be withdrawn by the end of 2014.
Analysts say there is a risk of the conflict deepening afterwards without a sustainable peace deal.
In its report, the Brussels-based ICG said the government's reconciliation programme "has taken on the look and feel of a large intelligence and mercenary operation aimed at establishing militias as a bulwark against the insurgency".
It added that it was "foundering in the wake of increased violence and targeted assassinations of leading political personalities".
U.S. drone attacks from Afghanistan to end after 2014: FM
DUBAI (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool said on Thursday Afghanistan would not be used as a launch pad for U.S. drones attacks on neighboring countries after NATO combat forces leave by the end of 2014.
"Afghan soil will not be used against any country in the region," Rasool told Al Jazeera television when asked if Washington would be allowed to launch drone strikes against Pakistan after the troops' withdrawal.
U.S.-operated drones have repeatedly carried out deadly missile strikes against suspected al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.
"The presence of the remaining forces in Afghanistan is for training, equipping and securing Afghanistan's security. It has been mentioned, it is going to be mentioned, that this force is not for use against any neighbors in the region," Rasool told the Doha-based channel.
Rasool was in Qatar for talks over the opening of Taliban office in Doha.
(Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Alison Williams)
US Does Not Seek Permanent Bases in Afghanistan Post 2014: Clinton
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 05 April 2012
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sought to downplay fears that the US would seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan in its long-term strategic agreement with the embattled country, suggesting that such a presence would lead to instability in the region.
Clinton said on Tuesday that while Nato would have an ongoing role in Afghanistan, this did not include plans for the US to have permanent military bases, according to quotes in an Associated Press report.
"We anticipate that a small number of forces will remain at the invitation of the Afghan government for the purpose of training, advising and assisting Afghan forces and continuing to pursue counter-terrorism operations," Clinton told hundreds of people at a dinner at a hotel in Virginia, US.
"But we do not seek permanent American military bases in Afghanistan or a presence that is considered a threat to neighbors which leads to instability that threatens the gains that have been made in Afghanistan."
Clinton said the focus of the upcoming Nato summit in Chicago would define the next phase of transition in Afghanistan, working towards a 2013 goal when Nato-led forces would move from a predominantly combat role to a supportive role, only participating in combat when necessary.
More than 50 heads of state will meet in Chicago on May 20-21 to discuss progress on ending the war in Afghanistan and future strategy.
She said Nato also wants to make it clear to the Afghanistan government, its citizens, and the insurgents that the alliance would not abandon the country, according to the AP report.
"By the end of 2014, Afghans will be fully responsible. In Chicago, we will discuss the form that Nato's enduring relationship with Afghanistan will then take," Clinton said.
Clinton has previously said that the US and Afghanistan would sign a long-term strategic agreement before or during the Nato summit to outline the US' role in Afghanistan post-2014.
Reports that the US would seek permanent military bases as part of this deal have been widespread for at least a year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told TOLOnews last month that the US having permanent military bases in Afghanistan after the official Nato withdrawal in 2014 would be tantamount to failure.
"It's strange that while insisting that in 2014 the American troops...will leave Afghanistan, at the same time Washington is discussing with Afghanistan very purposefully about establishing four or five military bases for the post 2014 period," he said.
"If you need the military presence, then you are continuing to implement the mandate of the [UN] Security Council. If you don't want to implement the mandate of the Security Council or if you believe that you have implemented the mandate already, but still want to establish and keep the military bases, I don't think that's logical."
Lavrov also believed such a move would be likely to prove unstable to the region.
"We want to understand what the reason is for it and why this is needed. We don't think it would be helpful for the stability in the region."
Suicide Bomber Kills Afghan Peace Envoy
VOA News April 6, 2012
Authorities in eastern Afghanistan say a suicide bomber has killed the head of a provincial peace council and his son.
The peace envoy was on his way home from Friday prayers in Kunar province at the time of the attack. Another person was wounded in the assault.
The peace council works to bring Taliban fighters to the negotiating table to discuss laying down their weapons.
The negotiating body came under attack last year when a suicide bomber assassinated its chief, Burhanuddin Rabbani. That suicide attack was Afghanistan's most notorious assassination since the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban.
In southern Afghanistan, officials say a NATO fuel tanker crashed Friday, killing seven people and injuring three others.
The tanker flipped over and burned in the Panjwayi district. A passing minivan was engulfed in the flames.
Elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, NATO says a bomb blast killed one soldier from coalition forces. The victim was not identified.
4 Afghan police killed; 7 people die in truck fire
By AMIR SHAH | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Four Afghan policemen were killed on Friday as the Taliban have stepped up their attacks against government and NATO troops to undermine the U.S.-led coalition's effort to build up Afghan forces so they can take the lead in the next few years.
The policemen died in three separate incidents in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, according to police officials.
One was killed when the Taliban attacked in Marjah district. A second died when a roadside bomb he was searching for exploded in Washer district. Two others were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside mine in Gereskh district.
In neighboring Kandahar province, a fuel tanker overturned and caught fire on Friday, killing seven people, police said.
Kandahar provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Razaq said three other civilians were seriously wounded in the morning incident in Panjwai district.
The Taliban claimed they fired a rocket at the fuel tanker, causing it to explode. But Razaq said no rockets were fired.
He said the tanker caught on fire after it overturned and that a passing car was also set ablaze.
In northeastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a suicide bomber assassinated the head of the peace council in Kunar province, which works to bring Taliban fighters to the negotiating table.
The bomber set off his explosives near Sayed Fazelullah Wahidi, who was walking home from Friday prayers with his son and a bodyguard in Watapoor district, said Gen. Ewaz Mohammad Nazari, the chief of police in Kunar.
"The suicide bomber came up to him and greeted him and then blew himself up," Nazari said.
He said Wahidi was killed at the scene. His son died in a hospital where he and the bodyguard were treated for their injuries, Nazari said.
Separately, the coalition reported the deaths of two NATO service members.
One was killed Thursday in a roadside bomb explosion in the south. The other died Friday following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. No other details were disclosed.
So far this year, 99 NATO troops have died in Afghanistan.
Also, the coalition reported that an unmanned aerial vehicle crashed Friday in northern Afghanistan. The cause of the crash was being investigated. NATO said no one was injured.
The unmanned aircraft went down near Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
The Taliban said in an email that their fighters shot down the aircraft, but the coalition said initial reports indicate that there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.
Associated Press Writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report.
Karzai Orders Prosecutor and Tribunal in Scandal Over Kabul Bank’s Losses
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG The New York Times April 5, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — With Afghanistan’s foreign backers set to meet next month in Chicago, President Hamid Karzai ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor and the creation of a special tribunal to try those involved in the near collapse of Kabul Bank, a scandal that laid bare the crony capitalism and corruption that has thrived here in the past decade.
Mr. Karzai also ordered that hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding loans by the bank be repaid within two months, his office said in a statement. Most of the loans were taken by politically connected insiders — including the president’s brother Mahmoud Karzai — and investigators have said that few of the loans were ever meant to be paid back.
Cleaning up the financial and legal mess created by the government’s nearly $900 million bailout of Kabul Bank — a sum almost equal to the government’s annual revenue — has been seen inside and outside Afghanistan as a test of President Karzai’s willingness to tackle Afghanistan’s widespread corruption.
The bank, once Afghanistan’s largest, was seized by regulators in August 2010 after being left dangerously overexposed by shareholders who used it as virtual piggy bank, doling our loans to themselves, friends, relatives and business associates. Western officials have described it as little more than a Ponzi scheme.
Afghan regulators have since imposed tighter controls of the country’s nascent financial industry. But the authorities had made only incremental moves to deal with the Kabul Bank fallout until this week’s unexpected action by Mr. Karzai.
For instance, only $77.5 million in loans from the bank had been repaid as of Jan. 1, according to bank documents obtained by The New York Times. And almost half that amount came from the servicing of legitimate loans, which investigators estimate made up less than a tenth of the bank’s loan portfolio.
The lingering scandal has proved to be a source of persistent embarrassment for the Afghan government, and led Western officials to warn that it could eventually result in cuts to the billions of dollars in annual aid on which the government depends.
An Afghan central bank official said Thursday that along with the moves announced by the president’s office, the authorities were also quietly tightening the terms under which the bank’s two largest shareholders are being detained. The men — Sherkhan Farnood, the bank’s founder, and Khalilullah Frozi, its former chief executive — were arrested last summer and jailed for a few months pending trial, and then released in the fall, ostensibly to help investigators find missing assets.
Instead, they became lunchtime fixtures at some of Kabul’s most expensive restaurants. And Mr. Farnood, a world-class poker player, has been hosting high-stakes card games at his home in Kabul’s fanciest neighborhood.
The central bank official said that the men’s behavior was “an affront to decency,” and that they would now be required to spend their nights in prison in accordance with the original terms of their release. The official asked not to be identified to avoid upsetting what he called the two men’s “allies” — the powerful businessmen and government officials who are also tied into the Kabul Bank scandal.
Aware of those connections, Western officials in Kabul said they were taking a wait-and-see approach to Mr. Karzai’s decisions to appoint a special prosecutor, create a tribunal and order the loans repaid.
The statement from the presidential palace, released on Wednesday, said the decisions were made at a meeting of senior Afghan officials a day earlier. It was not clear if a special prosecutor had been selected, and it did not say what would happen to those who did not repay their loans.
The American Embassy, in a statement, said it “noted with interest” the moves by Mr. Karzai. “We look forward to seeing the results of these decisions, especially the return of assets stolen from Kabul Bank and prosecution of those responsible for the crisis,” it said.
Financial support for the Afghan government after NATO’s combat mission here ends in 2014 is going to be a major topic when alliance leaders gather next month in Chicago, and it would help Afghanistan’s case if the government was seen to be getting serious about dealing with the Kabul Bank scandal, another Western official said. “If you’re judging the Afghans on what they’ve done up to today, they’re not getting high marks for this,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to preserve his relationship with Afghan officials.
The International Monetary Fund is also preparing to review its program for Afghanistan. Many donors look to the fund for guidance on their own direct aid programs, and the fund’s approval is needed to continue disbursements from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, a collective donor effort through which aid money is funneled directly to the Afghan government.
Afghanistan lost about $70 million in payments from the trust fund last year after the I.M.F. refused to renew its program because of poor banking oversight.
Among the conditions the I.M.F. imposed when it finally agreed to renew the program in October was a forensic audit of Kabul Bank.
Graham Bowley contributed reporting.
Hizb-e-Islami peace team to hold talks with US, Afghanistan
Peshawar, Apr 6(ANI): The Hizb-e-Islami's (HI) has said its peace team will hold talks with the United States and Afghanistan in Kabul to chalk out a roadmap for peace in the war-torn country.
Speaking after the 44th founding anniversary of HI at the Shamshatu refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar, Afghanistan political committee head, Dr Ghairat Baheer, said that two rounds of talks have been held in the past.
He said negotiations were still in early stages, and added that no breakthrough has been achieved as yet.
"We want a meaningful dialogue in a transparent manner in order to chalk out a peaceful solution of the Afghan problem and do not believe in secret dealings," The Express Tribune quoted Baheer, as saying.
Baheer said that Taliban were their "brethren" and added that they were trying to forge a joint strategy with them, so that a unified Afghan response could be given in talks.
"Americans are losing the war in Afghanistan," said Baheer when asked about the US position in Afghanistan but he added that he was optimistic of an amicable resolution.
He said that Americans were acknowledging that war was not a solution to the problem.
"We can offer the US, a face-saving solution and opportunity of a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan," he added on being asked what they could offer to US. (ANI)
Afghanistan: 5 areas of concern after the US leaves
The Christian Science Monitor
Although the end of the war in Afghanistan is in sight, not everyone is looking forward to it. The total withdrawal of US and NATO forces by 2014 will have profound, direct effects on the country's security, economy, and society. Here are five areas that are likely to see an impact.
Security and the Taliban
The most immediate concern over the US's withdrawal from Afghanistan is how it will affect Afghan security. The Taliban and other Afghan militants still launch regular attacks against Western forces, and the Afghan military and police forces that NATO has been training are not yet prepared to take on responsibility for their own security.
The Afghan government is already worried about accelerated US plans, announced in February, to end combat operations a year before its anticipated 2014 withdrawal. "A decision to push this a year earlier throws out the whole transition plan. The transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations," a senior Afghan security official told the Monitor soon after the announcement. "If the Americans withdraw from combat, it will certainly have an effect on our readiness and training, and on equipping the police force."
And Afghan forces depend heavily on Western money as well. If the financial support dries up, warns Mahmood Khan, a member of parliament from Kandahar Province, "there will not be enough troops to secure the country, especially the rural areas."
Such concerns are a major factor in why the US has been attempting peace negotiations with the Taliban. But the talks remain a long shot at best, in part because the US timetable for departure is already public, lessening the Taliban's incentive to negotiate.
'Three Cups Of Tea' Author To Pay $1 Million After Court Probe
April 6, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
U.S. author Greg Mortenson, who wrote the best-selling book "Three Cups of Tea," has agreed to pay his charity $1 million following a court probe into financial mismanagement.
Mortenson, who co-founded the charity Central Asia Institute (CAI) that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also agreed to resign from his charity's board for "financial transgressions."
The court probe was conducted by the attorney general of the western U.S. state of Montana, where the charity is located.
It followed public claims by some former associates of Mortenson that he fabricated several dramatic scenes in his best selling books and used his charity for his own enrichment.
Mortenson's inspirational books about his experiences building schools in northern Pakistan and northwestern Afghanistan have inspired millions of people to make donations to CAI.
But the probe found he made inadequate distinctions between the donated money and his own personal income.
In one case, the charity spent nearly $2 million on charter flights to maintain Mortenson's busy speaking schedule, even though he kept most of the speaking fees he earned for his personal use.
The investigation also found vast amounts of money were spent overseas without supporting receipts and other documentation, indicating a significant lack of financial accountability by both Mortenson and his charity.
Nonetheless, the court probe concluded that the CAI has done worthwhile work in building schools and that "despite the severity of their errors, CAI is worth saving."
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock told reporters, "The humanitarian efforts of Greg Mortenson and CAI are impressive, and even the greatest detractors would admit that together they've accomplished a tremendous amount to further education in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
CAI has helped communities build over 180 schools, and supports 56 more. It has also helped build 30 women's vocational centers.
A US television network (CBS) last year said that many of the schools CAI claims to run never actually opened. But the court probe did not delve into that issue, leaving the questions unanswered.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Afghan Commandos Graduate, Ready to Lead Night Raids
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 05 April 2012
Afghan Army Commandos are ready to take responsibility for the contentious night raids independently of Nato-led forces, the army special forces chief General Sayed Abdul Karim said at the seventh graduation ceremony of Afghan commandos in Kabul Thursday.
The commandos were fit to launch operations against insurgents in Afghanistan, Karim told the people attending the graduation of the 144 new commandos, saying the insurgents did not have the ability to resist and fight against the Afghan special forces.
His comments were a pointed reference to the ongoing negotiation between the US and Afghanistan over army night raids on Afghan homes, undertaken to combat insurgent activity.
Director of Infrastructure for the Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mohammad Moein Faqir added that the support of Afghan people for the national forces was necessary for in order to be able to destroy the insurgency.
"Your enemies don't want you to have a peaceful Afghanistan so be decisive and irreconcilable [to their ideas]," he said.
Karim said the seventh graduation has brought the total number of Afghan soldiers with special forces training to more than 1000.
US officials said Tuesday that an agreement between the US and Afghanistan over the night raids was close, even "days away". The deal is expected to put Afghans in the lead for night raids and call for Afghan judges to issue warrants for the operations, officials said.
Afghan forces currently lead about 40 percent of the night raids, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little.
Valley will test legacy in Afghanistan
Sydney Morning Herald April 6, 2012
Australians will leave their local trainees to face a dogged Taliban, reports Dylan Welch.
At dusk, the strains of the Last Post rise from Patrol Base Wali to the big American artillery guns atop the hill above. Minutes later, as the sun disappears behind the dusty grey mountains of the Mirabad Valley, the Islamic call to prayer replaces the martial music, summoning the dozens of Afghan National Army soldiers at the base to the camp’s makeshift mosque.
Near the artillery guns, an Australian mortarman peers from the hill over the patrol base and through the fading light, noting the details of vehicles as they pass along a major route through the valley.
In February snow had covered the entire area and the mortarmen were enduring sub-zero temperatures and winds so strong they would blow the heavy 50-calibre machinegun they man to the left and right.
But in less than a month the Mirabad Valley has undergone a seasonal transformation.
The melting snow has swelled the main river, the Tiri Rud, and local farmers have used the water to flood their fields. As a result the valley floor is a blanket of deep green, speckled with the light pink petals of budding almond trees.
It appears idyllic but, unsurprisingly for a country stuck in a vicious cycle of foreign wars and civil strife, it is anything but.
Home to some of Afghanistan’s most impoverished Pashtuns - the ethic group from which the Taliban’s ranks are filled - for many years the Mirabad was known by soldiers as the "Mira-badass Valley", due to the grinding nature of the insurgency.
Australian army sapper Jamie Larcombe was shot dead during a patrol in the Mirabad in February last year, and dozens more Australians have been wounded there.
"Until last year there wasn’t as much ANSF presence in the Mirabad Valley," says Wali’s commanding officer, Major Leigh Partridge, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces - a coverall term for the Afghan National Army (ANA), the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP).
Following a clearance operation by the ANA in August last year, the ANP placed about 20 checkpoints along the valley, which have limited the insurgents’ ability to move about the valley.
That has seen a much improved security situation, and as a result the Australians and the ANSF have been able to engage with the local population to try to encourage their support for the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Major Partridge commands an Australian mentoring team that is part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has controlled the war in Afghanistan since 2003.
Major Partridge and his superiors say the Mirabad Valley is one example of a war against the Taliban insurgency, which they believe they are winning.
However, the Mirabad and Australia’s presence there are also a microcosm of the problems that the ISAF and the international community face in Afghanistan as they move through the final two years of a war that is increasingly unpopular.
Three Australian soldiers were wounded late last year when an Afghan National Army soldier turned his gun on them at Nisar, the eastern-most patrol base in the Mirabad Valley.
And while security has undoubtedly improved in the valley, questions are being raised about whether the ANSF will be able to maintain such security once the Australian troops pull out.
While the ANA are now comparatively tactically skilled and capable of running province-wide security operations, there remain concerns about their ability to provide higher-level military capabilities such as air support, logistics and intelligence that are vital to a standing army.
There are also concerns regarding the ability of the military to stay a cohesive force once ISAF ends in December 2014.
Many Afghans and Western commentators doubt the ability of the Karzai administration to exert effective control over the nation, particularly the Pashtun-dominated south.
"If they are left as they are, there is considerable doubt that the current government in Kabul will remain viable and that the Afghan security forces will have the ability to control and counter the growing insurgency," Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn write in An Enemy We Created, published last month.
Strick Van Linschoten and Kuehn are the only two Western researchers who live beyond the razor wire and personal security detachments in the southern Taliban heartland city of Kandahar.
Possessed of strong contacts inside the Taliban movement, they have drawn a fascinating picture of the rise, fall and seeming resurgence of the Islamist group.
Unlike the generals running the war, the pair believe that the US failed to dedicate enough resources and attention to Afghanistan post 2002, as it became mired in the bloody Iraq conflict.
Such neglect was a boon for the Taliban who, while badly shaken and fragmented after the 2001 invasion, have once again become a parallel or "shadow" administration in parts of the south.
Such a view is hotly contested by one of the deputy ISAF commanders, British Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw. While he acknowledges the mistakes of the past, he is optimistic about the next two years.
"If I take you back to 2010, the insurgency had been increasing in intensity over a number of years," he tells the Herald during an interview in his office at ISAF headquarters in Kabul’s green zone.
"Clearly one of the factors was that we were attempting to do what we were doing, frankly, with inadequate manpower."
However, a US-led troop increase of more than 30,000 in 2010 and 2011 and a resultant push into Taliban-occupied areas saw a significant change in the coalition’s fortunes.
"The momentum of the insurgency, for the first time, we saw reversed, and actually quite significantly reversed, because we had been expecting with a greater spread of ISAF forces on the ground ... an upsurge in violence."
Despite the ISAF leadership expecting an increase in violence levels of between 17 and 19 per cent, 2011 saw a reduction in insurgent attacks of about 9 per cent.
The generals are hopeful the trend will continue in 2012. But over recent months, amid the worst winter in decades, came a series of events that were disastrous for morale and for the relationship between the coalition and their Afghan partners.
US soldiers were depicted in a video urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents. Others burned copies of the Koran at Bagram Air Base. Another went on a killing spree near the home town of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, murdering 16, mostly women and children.
Some began to detect a war-weariness and disillusionment in the effort in Afghanistan. Suddenly, people were using phrases such as "Vietnam syndrome" in reference to the war.
But General Bradshaw bridles when such a phrase is used.
"I think that’s a totally inappropriate analogy. This is not the same situation at all ... underlying campaign progress is moving forward," he says hotly.
"The Afghans and ourselves regret some of the recent incidents very much indeed. They’ve come as much of a surprise to us as they have the Afghans."
He believes that the insurgency is "in reverse" and that reversal will continue between now and December 2014, the self-imposed deadline for all ISAF combat operations.
Australia’s officer in charge of Middle Eastern operations - which includes Afghanistan - Major General Stuart Smith, is also reluctant to declare the game over.
"We need to remember it’s not five minutes before midnight now - we’ve got until 2014," he says.
"[We should] allow that space to occur and monitor what is going to be a challenging year this year, but let’s also accept the number of [violent] incidents are statistically down and events where the Afghans are taking the lead are up."
Looming over all the decisions being made in Afghanistan - both for the war and for the peace that ISAF says will follow - is the upcoming NATO leaders summit in Chicago in late May.
It will be there that the final details of the international community’s financial support of the Afghan state - particularly its security forces - will be decided upon.
Already the US is saying the West will need to subsidise the ANSF to the tune of $4.1 billion a year over the decade it is expected to take before the country can stand on its own.
With European countries such as France and Germany already under extreme financial pressure following the global economic downturn, it remains to be seen exactly how much of the bill they will be willing to foot. General Bradshaw, while adamant the cost will be met, does not appear convinced that everyone will come to the table.
"Sure, the international community have got a little further to go in providing that part of the $4.1 billion that the United States are hoping will come from the others," he says.
"But I don’t think there’s any real doubt that the cost will be met, somehow or other."
The Taliban were originally a group of Islamic students - "Taleb" is "student" in Dari and Pashto and Taliban its plural form - who fought against the Russians in the 1980s.
During the lawless and violently internecine years that followed the Soviet withdrawal they became a prominent force in southern Afghanistan. By 1996 they were ruling from the capital, Kabul.
With an administration that stretched to more than 90 per cent of Afghanistan they installed a puritanical theocracy that forbade music and television, forced women to conceal themselves behind head-to-toe veils and jailed men who did not grow their beards to the requisite length.
They also held public executions for petty criminals and women who committed adultery.
While their policies were widely condemned by the international community, ultimately it was the safe harbour they provided to the al-Qaeda emir, Osama bin Laden, that saw them undone.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US invaded and the Taliban forces were quickly routed. A decade later, however, their exiled leadership has shown remarkable resiliency, in part due to their deep connections to the Pashtun ethnic minority and also because of the support they have received from Islamist groups and, some say, elements of the Pakistani and Iranian states.
While figures of Taliban members inside Afghanistan are unreliable - many are seasonal fighters and farm for much of the year - broad estimates put their numbers between 25,000 and 35,000.
There is also the Haqqani network of insurgents, which has an estimated membership of between 4000 and 15,000.
Even the high estimate, 50,000, is a small amount compared with 150,000 ANA soldiers - plans are for that to rise to more than 300,000 by 2014 - who are supported by 133,000 well-equipped, trained and supplied ISAF troops.
However, after a series of losses to the ISAF in 2010, the insurgents have backed away from direct confrontations and have embraced indirect attacks, using rockets and IEDs against coalition forces, and a campaign of assassinations targeting Afghan leaders who supported the Karzai government and ISAF.
A White House quarterly report to Congress released in September discussed the new tactics: "Insurgent assassination and intimidation tactics became increasingly directed against Afghan government and tribal leaders, particularly against the [ALP], in an effort to erode popular support for the government and its security elements."
Worryingly, the new tactics appear to have had the effect desired by the insurgency. A poll conducted for the White House report showed that the number of people who believed security in their area was good had dropped from 50 per cent in June 2010 to 33 per cent 12 months later.
"This change appears to affirm the effectiveness of the insurgents’ strategy of perception-oriented targeting," the White House report said.
Another polling statistic that would have given the White House cause for concern was that an overwhelming 87 per cent of Afghans said government corruption affected their daily lives.
Another document - this time a leaked 2011 ISAF report compiling the views of more than 4000 captured insurgents - also revealed that the Taliban were inured to the ongoing war.
"While they are weary of war, they see little hope of negotiated peace. Despite numerous setbacks, surrender is far from their collective mindset," the document stated.
"For the moment, they believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable course of action."
Back at Patrol Base Wali, the C Company’s soldiers continue to go on patrols, attend local shuras, or gatherings of local community leaders, and help build bridges and pave roads for the local community.
While Major Partridge and his soldiers have yet to experience a "contact" - a fight with the Taliban or an improvised explosive device or suicide bomber explosion - they can only ignore the risks of their job and continue to train the Afghan soldiers that will, perhaps as early as next year, take over security responsibility for Oruzgan province.
"I honestly believe that the ANA are going to be OK after we’ve left," Major Partridge says.
While some share his optimism, others believe Afghanistan’s benighted history of foreign invasions followed by crippling and bloody civil wars may repeat itself post-2014.
Strick Van Linschoten and Kuehn, however, have an even more dismal view.
"Corruption and the poor performance of the Afghan government in conjunction with oft-voiced promises and pledges have eroded the credibility of the government in Kabul and the international actors. There is an obvious disconnect between the message and the deed," they write.
"The Taliban, on the other hand, while employing terror tactics, appear to be consistent in message and deed, and if not in reality then at least in the perception of many.
"These developments have translated in some parts of Afghanistan into greater support of the local population; they are regarded as the more predictable and lasting option."
Dylan Welch travelled to Afghanistan with the Defence Department.
Afghans store opium as hedge against uncertain future: U.N.
Reuters By Jack Kimball Thu Apr 5, 2012
KABUL - Opium is emerging as a new gold standard in Afghanistan, where traders and farmers are hoarding the drug as a source of ready cash t o hedge against the risk of a power vacuum when foreign troops leave, the country's U.N. drugs tsar said.
Fear is mounting amongst Afghans and foreign governments alike that the planned pullout of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014 and Afghan national elections in the same year could see the country engulfed in more conflict.
"You see suddenly people are rushing to opium and cannabis as in the euro zone we were rushing to the Swiss franc before the euro," Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview.
"It is hedging for a very insecure future indeed, it's basically an economic reflex, understandable by itself, toward a very insecure question mark, what will I be, where will I be, how will I be and my family too," he said.
Afghanistan supplies about 90 percent of the world's opium, from which heroin is made. Corruption also infects many aspects of life and the buoyant drug trade flourishes.
The poppy economy in Afghanistan, which provides an income for insurgents, grew significantly in 2011 with soaring prices and expanded cultivation, according to a U.N. report.
In 2011, the farm-gate value of opium production more than doubled from the year previously to $1.4 billion and now accounts for 15 percent of the economy, the UNODC said.
Despite a recovery in the poppy crop after an outbreak of disease in 2010, opium prices remain high even as supplies increase without a rise in demand because Afghans throughout the drug supply chain fret over future stability, Lemahieu said.
"A lot of people were buying the opium and the cannabis as a kind of gold standard, as a kind of security, financial guarantee for a very insecure future," Lemahieu said.
"Wall Street principles are being applied by the Kandahar farmers every day," he said of one of Afghanistan's top poppy producing provinces.
With foreign combat forces leaving by end-2014, and with much of their cash and air power expected to go with them, the Afghan government will need more help fighting poppy cultivation, experts say.
Afghanistan holds national elections in 2014 but President Hamid Karzai is barred from standing again, upping the stakes for political elites vying for power in a society riven by ethnic divisions and myriad feuds.
That uncertainty will help fuel an expected increase in opium production over the coming years as people seeking to influence politics scramble for more cash to fund patronage networks, Lemahieu said.
"The unclear political transition post 2014 is a major driver for an increase of the informal, illicit economy, in which the narco industry forms an essential part," he said.
"That insecurity, that instability, that uneasiness with this big question mark post 2014 is driving so many people towards making sure that they have the war chests filled, because we just don't know what the future is to bring."
(Editing by Alison Williams)
Locals Deny End To Drugs Trade In Afghan Province
April 5, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Ahmed Hanayesh, Frud Bezhan
PARWAN, Afghanistan -- Hamid lies on a dirty street corner consuming heroin from a small yellow bag, open sewage running nearby.
The weary teenager, draped in a dirty blanket, says he bought the heroin at the main shopping street in Charikar in northern Parwan Province. Shopkeepers there sell everything from tranquilizers to heroin, he says.
"Everybody is selling or using heroin or marijuana. I don't know if the government doesn't know about it or what," Hamid says. "Everyone here is using and selling drugs. If you pass the markets, you can see small packages for sale with heroin inside them."
Hamid's account contrasts sharply with that of local officials in Parwan, who recently declared they had halted the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs in the province.
In February, Parwan Governor Abdul Basir Salangi claimed an end to the cultivation of opium -- the main ingredient in heroin. He also said security forces had disrupted the flow of illicit drugs entering and leaving Parwan.
It is not hard to find people like Hamid who counter the official line. Hamid lists heroin, hashish, and marijuana among the drugs that are readily available.
'A Thousand Addicts'
Habibullah, who owns a small tailor shop in Charikar, says the authorities have done little to halt the widespread use and trade of drugs in Parwan.
"A thousand addicts pass by my shop every day. There is no lack of drug dealers here," Habibullah says. "They are available in public, everywhere. The government knows about this, but they don't do anything. By neglecting this, the government is the culprit for the deaths here."
Health officials weigh in with statistics indicating that the number of drug addicts in Parwan has surged -- from just 7,000 in 2010 to more than 15,000 at the beginning of this year.
That rise is part of the general increase in the number of drug addicts across Afghanistan, where the government estimates there are more than 1 million drug users out of a population of just over 30 million -- one of the highest drug-use rates in the world.
The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry says the increase is being fueled in part by the rising cultivation of opium. Around 90 percent of the world's supply of opium comes from Afghanistan.
With supplies growing, health experts such as Naimutallah Rashid, head of the drug treatment center in Charikar, warn that more Afghans will become addicts. And this, he says, will require that the government do more to provide adequate medical care for them.
According to the UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC), only one in 10 addicts receives drug treatment, a problem it attributes to underfunding and the lack of treatment facilities.
The UNODC says there are roughly 700,000 people in Afghanistan who want treatment for their addiction but cannot gain access to a facility. And even when they do gain access, long-term treatment is rarely available, making the likelihood of relapse high.
Local Officials Blamed
Rashid says up to 30 people come to his treatment center each day. With only a limited number of beds available, he says, many addicts are turned away.
"We have 20 beds, which are occupied for three months at a time. Depending on their condition, we keep patients for either 15 days or 30 days," Rashid says. "We give them medication and keep them for a while, after which they are released."
Many locals in Parwan have blamed local officials for turning a blind eye to the worsening drug problem in the province, with some even accusing officials of having a hand in the drug trade.
Rushna Khaled, a spokeswoman for the governor's office in Parwan, denies the accusations.
"I absolutely deny the accusation that high-ranking officials are involved in dealing and trafficking drugs," she says. "Local officials in Parwan don't have any connections with this, and they should not."
But locals such as Abdul Waseh Saeedkhali accuses local officials of playing an active role in the drug trade in Parwan and in many other parts of the country.
Saeedkhali says he can't reveal any names because his life would be in jeopardy.
"Security officials are paying some attention to the drug problem, but the trafficking of narcotics is a big issue and business in Afghanistan, with high officials involved," he says. "However, nobody is brave enough to name the people involved."
Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ahmad Hanayesh in Parwan
U.S. and Its Allies Still Wrangling Over Afghan Policies
Bloomberg By Viola Gienger Apr 5, 2012
More than two years after it embraced a revised strategy to end the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is still wrangling with its Afghan and Pakistani allies over two of the most important elements of the war plan.
In Kabul, Afghan leaders want suspected insurgents captured in special operations raids to be handed over to them immediately. Across the border, the Pakistanis want the right to approve in advance drone strikes on al-Qaeda, Taliban and other targets in their country. U.S. officials say that one risks losing valuable intelligence in Afghanistan and the other could tip off the enemy in Pakistan to impending attacks.
The negotiations reflect the differences and suspicions that divide the U.S. from the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Their support is essential to the NATO-led coalition’s hopes of withdrawing most of its remaining 128,000 forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, while retaining the leeway to pursue militants who threaten the U.S. and its allies.
“The U.S. objective in both of these negotiations is to try to ensure that the U.S. has the ability to protect its national security interests, especially against transnational terrorist groups,” said Caroline Wadhams, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress policy group in Washington. “The distrust makes it very difficult to give away any concessions” on either side.
President Barack Obama is under pressure, even from some of his more supportive Democrats in Congress, to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan. ‘Lean Forward’
“It is time to lean forward on transitioning the responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan government,” said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, at a hearing last month with Marine General John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “I believe we need to look for ways to push this process to go as quickly as we can safely do it.”
The Obama administration wants to be able to fill the gaps in the capabilities or willingness of the military in Pakistan or the 352,000 police officers and National Army soldiers in Afghanistan to act, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
In Afghanistan, the latest sticking point is how long the U.S. can hold Afghan prisoners captured in nighttime operations for interrogation before handing them over to local authorities, according to a U.S. official and a congressional staff member. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations. Losing Intelligence
Handing over suspected Taliban and other insurgents captured in special operations night raids to Afghan custody immediately could cost the U.S. valuable intelligence because it often takes days or longer to extract and verify information from captured militants, said two U.S. intelligence officials.
Worse, said one of the officials, in some cases the Afghans may be eager to take control of such “night raid” prisoners before they can reveal the names or plans of collaborators in the Afghan government or security forces.
Operational security can vary depending on the professionalism of the Afghan forces involved. U.S. Army Colonel Chris Toner, who returned in January from a year commanding the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in eastern Afghanistan, said he operated under the principle of “trust but verify” and knew his Afghan counterparts as “men of character.” Operational Security
His area covered Paktia and Khost provinces along the Pakistani border. Khost Province was the site of a December 2009 attack on a U.S. base that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives and wounded six others. The alleged attacker was a Jordanian double agent offering supposed information on al-Qaeda leaders.
“We did watch to see if there were any indicators that our operational security was being violated,” Toner told an audience today in Washington at the Institute for the Study of War, whose founder, military historian Kimberly Kagan, has advised the U.S. military in Afghanistan. “In the 12 months over there, I had no indications that it was.”
Calls for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 may not settle issues of force size or legal immunity for prosecution, an issue that was the death knell for an agreement to keep U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2011.
The Obama administration had hoped for a security agreement to cover such points last year, said Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army Ranger platoon leader in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. is operating under a 2003 security agreement without an expiration date that lets either side withdraw at any time. Stay-Behind Force
“Senior U.S. defense officials have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan quite recently hammering out what the size, disposition and composition of a U.S. stay-behind force would look like,” said Exum, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, a policy group in Washington.
“It’s in the interests of Afghanistan to strike some kind of deal,” Exum said.
On the Pakistani side of the border, the U.S. intelligence officials said requiring prior approval from Pakistan for drone strikes in the remote frontier areas risks allowing supposed Pakistani allies to alert the targets in advance. They said no Pakistani official was informed in advance of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May 2.
“The threat picture is not going to get a lot better over the next couple of years,” said Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Virginia, and a former special operations adviser to the U.S. military. “There’s a strong concern that the U.S. keep several of these groups off-balance, that it can continue to target, in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, a range of these groups.”
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NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to raise doubts
NATO troops are due to hand over responsibility for preventing the Taliban's advance in Afghanistan to local police and soldiers after 2014. Observers fear the country could descend into civil war.
"I am still optimistic," says ISAF spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson. He says the recruitment and training of Afghan troops is coming along well and asserts that the goal to train 157,000 police officers and 195,000 soldiers has almost been achieved.
He also points out that half of the country's population lives in areas that are already under Afghan control. "In the past weeks and months, the forces have proven that they are in a position to deal with a broad range of tasks," he says, adding that he believes they will be ready by 2014 to take over responsibility for the whole country.
However, it is difficult to find an independent observer who shares this view. Many warn that the situation is increasingly difficult to control. "The Taliban's influence has grown over the past four or five years," says Candace Rondeaux from International Crisis Group, pointing out that if this was not the case NATO might be prepared to stay longer.
Many regard the mission as a failed one, saying that now it is a matter of getting troops and equipment out without further losses.
There are doubts within NATO ranks too. In February, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of US forces, said that only one percent of Afghan units could conduct operations independently.
Moreover, the fact that between 25 and 33 percent of soldiers leave the army every year means that they often do not have time to develop their skills.
Currently, between 5,000 and 8,000 young men are being trained every month so that recruitment targets can be reached in time.
The task is not being made any easier by the fact that ISAF soldiers sometimes become the victims of their Afghan comrades - 17 have been killed since January.
Shopping with a Kalashnikov
Another problem is that the police have a poor image within the population, says Thomas Ruttig from Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. "The national police force is partly comprised of former militiamen from the time of civil war – they go shopping with a Kalashnikov and are corrupt."
Moreover, "some of the worst human rights violators of the pre-Taliban era have high positions," he says.
Marco Overhaus from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs is also disillusioned about the capacities of the national police, estimating that only a few units can operate without international support. "A police force cannot be effective if it is not supported by a halfway decently functioning legal system," he comments.
It was these problems that led the US Army to start training Afghan Local Police (ALP) units. But observers fear these are causing more problems than they solve.
"The militias are often formed according to ethnicity and are not very friendly in areas where there are different ethnic groups," says Ruttig.
Human Rights Watch has accused the ALP of murder, rape, theft and intimidation, pointing out that they are little different from other armed groups in Afghanistan.
There is also ethnic rivalry in the national army in which few Pashtuns, who make up the majority, serve. "Most army members are from minorities and do not speak Pashtu," says Shukria Dellawar from the Center for International Policy in Washington DC. She says the army finds it particularly difficult to gain the confidence of the population in the south and east, where soldiers are often accused of being "puppets" of the West.
There are also problems linked with money. Currently there are negotiations underway about possibly discharging around a third of Afghan troops (125,000) by 2016 but observers warn that it would be reckless to release thousands of armed men into an environment where there are few job prospects and a great deal of insurgency.
Although most observers agree that the Taliban will not simply take over after 2014, Candace Rondeau thinks they are likely to control large parts of the country. She fears the central government will collapse and the country will disintegrate into civil war if the situation continues as it is today.
For his part, Carsten Jacobsen admits that there are many unknown factors but thinks that overall, "we will be in a position to hand over responsibility to the Afghan forces in 2014."
Author: Dennis Stute / act Editor: Sarah Berning
Lack of Female Lawyers in Afghan Southeast
When women are prosecuted, they are unlikely to tell male lawyers key facts that could count as extenuating circumstances.
IWPR By Hejratullah Ekhtiyar 5 Apr 12
Afghanistan - Women accused of crimes in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province say the lack of female representation in the legal profession is obstructing equal access to justice.
Female law graduates exist in the southeastern province, but they are not choosing to enter the mainstream legal professions.
All cases in Nangarhar are handled by male lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
Some of the approximately 50 women now in prison in the province say they were too ashamed to tell defence lawyers and prosecutors the full facts about their cases, which might have mitigated the verdicts passed on them.
Habiba is currently serving a ten-year sentence for murdering her husband, but says there were serious extenuating circumstances which she felt unable to disclose to the male lawyers she dealt with.
“My husband had sexual relations with my 17-year old daughter. I repeatedly told him to stop it, but he threatened to kill me. My Islamic beliefs and my conscience meant I could not bear the shame of it, so I killed my husband,” she said. “I couldn’t tell male lawyers all the details, but I could have confided in female lawyers. I am sure I would have been released, as such actions are punishable by execution under Islamic law.”
Breshna is in jail for setting her mother-in-law on fire, and she too claims she would have been able to present a better defence if her lawyer had been a woman. Men, she said, just did not want to listen.
“The lack of female judges and lawyers is a big problem,” she said. “Out of a sense of shame, we cannot tell men the truth about our cases. Female lawyers and judges would understand the problems facing women better. No matter how much I complained about my mother-in-law’s cruelty, the male lawyers wouldn’t show mercy.”
Abdol Satar Khalil, a defence lawyer working for Women For Women, an NGO in eastern Afghanistan which hires defence lawyers for female defendants, said these suspects often omitted personal details when talking to defence and prosecution lawyers.
“They say nothing, out of shame. But they don’t realise how detrimental it is for them to hide the truth,” he said, explaining how his organisation employed female family counsellors who could get suspects to open up to them.
Abdul Qayum, head of the appeals court in Nangarhar, said having female prosecutors question defendants of the same sex would be better for ensuring justice.
“It is true that many female suspects conceal the truth from male lawyers, particularly in ‘moral’ and family cases. The lawyer doesn’t get told the whole story. That also has an impact on the punishment imposed on the defendant,” he said.
In Afghanistan, the loosely-defined term “moral crime” is often applied to women who run away from home or refuse to get married. These are not offences in the written criminal code, but it is common for courts to impose jail sentences of up to a year on women deemed guilty of them.
Although levels of female participation in public life in Afghanistan have increased dramatically since the Taleban government was ousted in 2001, progress has been slower in the provinces.
“It is unfortunate for [Nangahar] that we have no female interrogators in the police, in the prosecutor’s office or in the judiciary,” Khalil said. “Female interrogators and [defence] lawyers for women are the foundations for fair justice.”
Anisa Omrani, head of the Nangarhar provincial department for women’s affairs, said it was not clear why female graduates in both mainstream and Islamic law were not coming into the profession.
“We are prepared to work with them on getting them appointed,” she said.
A lecturer in law and politics at Nangarhar university, Sherzad, called for efforts to encourage more women into the law.
“The religious scholars should motivate our female students and their families, because there’s a need for them to work in the police and legal institutions, as a religious obligation it is something our society is in dire need of,” Sherzad said.
Other commentators cited more fundamental reasons why women did not become lawyers – conservative prohibitions on women working outside the home, and the low wages offered in the public sector.
Fazl Hadi Fazel, an appeals court judge in Nangarhar, said pay was a major issue when the limited number of women with qualifications could get work elsewhere.
“The main problem is the low salaries,” he said. “The non-government organisations pay high wages in dollars to female professional lawyers, so they aren’t prepared to work for the low salaries offered by the government.”
Judge Abdol Qayum acknowledged this was the case. “We had a female lawyer until last year, but she left the post because the pay was low wages,” he said.
While female students do graduate every year from the law and sharia faculties of Nangarhar state university, as well as from the the Ariana private university, they seem unwilling or unable to enter the legal professions.
For Shafia Weqar, a law student at Nangarhar university, conservative attitudes are the main obstacle.
“Our society takes a negative view not only of female judges and lawyers, but also of all women who work in offices and outside the home,” she said. “People believe that these women are involved in moral corruption. But the truth is that women can contribute a great deal to society. In particular, they are very much needed as judges and lawyers. I don’t believe that’s even counter to Islam.”
Weqar will not be taking up a career in the law, as she believes she can make more of a difference if she gets involved in politics.
“That is the way I want to defend and protect the rights of women in my society,” she added.
Masuda, a third-year student in the law and politics faculty of Nangarhar university, wants to move into the judiciary when she graduates.
She is critical of women who avoid legal careers in favour of other areas, but admits her family background has given her a head start.
“I have no problems with my family,” she said. “My father is a judge. He has encouraged me to finish my education and become a judge or a legal officer in future.”
Hejratullah Ekhtiyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar. The prisoners quoted in the story were interviewed by a female journalist asked to remain anonymous.
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