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Delhi’s Rs 450-cr gift to Kabul

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India proposes to announce a $100-million (about Rs 450 crore) financial aid for Afghanistan aimed mostly at building of public institutions and capacity augmenting during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul this week. “There could be fresh assistance of about Rs 450 crore”, a senior government.

While Osama Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan and its outcome on the war against terror will dominate the two-day trip, Prime Minister Singh is set to send out the message that “peace, prosperity, stability” of Afghanistan and “its people” are “top- of-the-mind issues” for India.

India is also concerned about the end-game in Afghanistan. With Osama’s killing taking US-Pakistan ties to an all-time low, experts think Delhi will be better heard in Kabul now.

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6 NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan

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Focus Information Agency

Kabul: A total of six NATO soldiers were killed in attacks in Afghanistan on Wednesday, four of them in a bomb explosion in the insurgent-hit south of the country, the alliance said, AFP reports.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gave no further details of the four soldiers’ deaths in the blast, saying it was a matter of policy not to identify the nationalities of casualties.

The coalition had earlier announced that a soldier was killed in another bomb attack, as military deaths hit new record highs since the war began in 2001.
The sixth soldier died fighting rebels in eastern Afghanistan, the force said.

Afghan president announces council for talks

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KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he had appointed members of a committee that will aim to talk peace with the Taliban, including warlords, ex-insurgent commanders and Muslim clerics.


Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership

“Today we will announce the list of the High Peace Council members,” Karzai said during a ceremony marking Afghanistan’s national literacy day.

His office released a list of 68 people hand-picked by Karzai to lead his efforts to broker a peace deal with Taliban and other insurgents fighting to topple his Western-backed administration.

The list included former president and warlord Burhanuddin Rabani, warlords Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaf and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq — all key figures in the resistance during the 1996-2001 Taliban rule over the country.

These commanders helped the United States and other Western allies topple the Taliban from power in late 2001.

The creation of the council was a key decision made in June at a “peace jirga” in Kabul attended by community, tribal, religious and political leaders from across the country.

Dozens of pro-government Islamic clerics, former government officials and tribal elders are also part of the new council, along with at least seven women, Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said.

“This council is mandated to broker peace through negotiation and reconciliation” with the Taliban, Omer told reporters.

“The mandate given to the High Council for Peace is a big mandate. The government will respect their mandate,” he said.

Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership aimed at speeding an end to the war heading into its 10th year — but the Taliban have rejected talks unless NATO-led foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Officials have said the council would include former members of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, a militant group led by former prime minister and mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami is currently in a tenuous alliance with the Taliban, although both sides remain suspicious of each other.

“There are sisters on the list, too,” Karzai said earlier Tuesday, without naming any of the women to be appointed.

But a rights watchdog characterised the members as “unlikely peacemakers” and noted women’s representation of just 11 percent.

“There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption,” said Rachel Reid, Afghan analyst with New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“This is a disappointing outcome for Afghan women and girls. Women are once again being short changed. The government had promised them more robust representation than this,” she said.

Omer said that one more woman would be added to bring the total to eight.

HRW has been vocal in opposing any erosion of women’s rights as a cost of opening a dialogue with the insurgents, who banned women from education, work or leaving their homes without male relatives during their brutal regime.

The United States and NATO have more than 150,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, most of them in the southern hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Karzai renewed his call Tuesday for the Taliban to stop fighting and join the peace process.

“Compatriots! Do not destroy your land for other’s interests. Do not kill your people for other’s interests, do not close down schools for other’s interests,” he said a speech at a Kabul high school, referring to insurgents.

Karzai has made indirect references to Pakistan and other neighbouring countries allegedly supporting the Taliban for long-term strategic interests. On occasions he has named Pakistan directly.

“Taliban and others, if they consider themselves from this country, and consider themselves Muslims and Afghans, must know every bullet they fire is a bullet at the heart of this land and at the interest of enemies of this land,” he said.

Key Karzai Aide in Graft Inquiry Is Linked to C.I.A.

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.


Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts met last Saturday in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Kerry said he believed that he had won a commitment from the Afghan president to allow an American-backed anticorruption unit to work unhindered.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Mr. Salehi was arrested in July and released after Mr. Karzai intervened. There has been no suggestion that Mr. Salehi’s ties to the C.I.A. played a role in his release; rather, officials say, it is the fear that Mr. Salehi knows about corrupt dealings inside the Karzai administration.

The ties underscore doubts about how seriously the Obama administration intends to fight corruption here. The anticorruption drive, though strongly backed by the United States, is still vigorously debated inside the administration. Some argue it should be a centerpiece of American strategy, and others say that attacking corrupt officials who are crucial to the war effort could destabilize the Karzai government.

The Obama administration is also racing to show progress in Afghanistan by December, when the White House will evaluate its mission there. Some administration officials argue that any comprehensive campaign to fight corruption inside Afghanistan is overly ambitious, with less than a year to go before the American military is set to begin withdrawing troops.

“Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep,” one Obama administration official said.

Others in the administration view public corruption as the single greatest threat to the Afghan government and the American mission; it is the corrupt nature of the Karzai government, these officials say, that drives ordinary Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade. Earlier this year, American officials did not press Mr. Karzai to remove his brother from his post as the chairman of the Kandahar provincial council. Mr. Karzai denies any monetary relationship with the C.I.A. and any links to the drug trade.

Mr. Salehi was arrested by the Afghan police after, investigators say, they wiretapped him soliciting a bribe – in the form of a car for his son – in exchange for impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.

Mr. Salehi was released seven hours later, after telephoning Mr. Karzai from his jail cell to demand help, officials said, and after Mr. Karzai forcefully intervened on his behalf.

The president sent aides to get him and has since threatened to limit the power of the anticorruption unit that carried out the arrest. Mr. Salehi could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for President Karzai did not respond to a list of questions sent to his office, including whether Mr. Karzai knew that Mr. Salehi was a C.I.A. informant.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment on any relationship with Mr. Salehi.

“The C.I.A. works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan,” said Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the agency. “Reckless allegations from anonymous sources don’t change that reality in the slightest.”

An American official said the practice of paying government officials was sensible, even if they turn out to be corrupt or unsavory.

“If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road – and certainly not at our behest – put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now,” the American official said. “If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

Last week, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, flew to Kabul in part to discuss the Salehi case with Mr. Karzai. In an interview afterward, Mr. Kerry expressed concern about Mr. Salehi’s ties to the American government. Mr. Kerry appeared to allude to the C.I.A., though he did not mention it.

“We are going to have to examine that relationship,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are going to have to look at that very carefully.”

Mr. Kerry said he pressed Mr. Karzai to allow the anticorruption unit pursuing Mr. Salehi and others to move forward unhindered, and said he believed he had secured a commitment from him to do so.

“Corruption matters to us,” a senior Obama administration official said. “The fact that Salehi may have been on our payroll does not necessarily change any of the basic issues here.”

Mr. Salehi is a political survivor, who, like many Afghans, navigated shifting alliances through 31 years of war. He is a former interpreter for Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek with perhaps the most ruthless reputation among all Afghan warlords.

Mr. Dostum, a Karzai ally, was one of the C.I.A.’s leading allies on the ground in Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The agency employed his militia to help rout the Taliban from northern Afghanistan.

Over the course of the nine-year-old war, the C.I.A. has enmeshed itself in the inner workings of Afghanistan’s national security establishment. From 2002 until just last year, the C.I.A. paid the entire budget of Afghanistan’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security.

Mr. Salehi often acts as a courier of money to other Afghans, according to an Afghan politician who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.

Among the targets of the continuing Afghan anticorruption investigation is a secret fund of cash from which payments were made to various individuals, officials here said.

Despite Mr. Salehi’s status as a low-level functionary, the Afghan politician predicted that Mr. Karzai would never allow his prosecution to go forward, whatever the pressure from the United States. Mr. Salehi knows too much about the inner workings of the palace, he said.

“Karzai will protect him,” the politician said, “because by going after him, you are opening the gates.”

Mr. Salehi is a confidant of some of the most powerful people in the Afghan government, including Engineer Ibrahim, who until recently was the deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence service. Earlier this year, Mr. Salehi accompanied Mr. Ibrahim to Dubai to meet leaders of the Taliban to explore prospects for peace, according to a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting.

Mr. Salehi was arrested last month in the course of a sprawling investigation into New Ansari, a money transfer firm that relies on couriers and other rudimentary means to move cash in and out of Afghanistan.

New Ansari was founded in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan. In the years since 2001, New Ansari grew into one of the most important financial hubs in Afghanistan, transferring billions of dollars in cash for prominent Afghans out of the country, most of it to Dubai.

New Ansari’s offices were raided by Afghan agents, with American backing, in January. An American official familiar with the investigation said New Ansari appeared to have been transferring money for wealthy Afghans of every sort, including politicians, insurgents and drug traffickers.

“They were moving money for everybody,” the American official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The flow of capital out of Afghanistan is so large that it makes up a substantial portion of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. In an interview, a United Arab Emirates customs official said it received about $1 billion from Afghanistan in 2009. But the American official said the amount might be closer to $2.5 billion – about a quarter of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

Much of the New Ansari cash was carried by couriers flying from Kabul and Kandahar, usually to Dubai, where many Afghan officials maintain second homes and live in splendorous wealth.

An American official familiar with the investigation said the examination of New Ansari’s books was providing rich insights into the culture of Afghan corruption.

“It’s a gold mine,” the official said.

Following the arrest, Mr. Salehi called Mr. Karzai directly from his cell to demand that he be freed. Mr. Karzai twice sent delegations to the detention center where Mr. Salehi was held. After seven hours, Mr. Salehi was let go.

Afterward, Gen. Nazar Mohammed Nikzad, the head of the Afghan unit investigating Mr. Salehi, was summoned to the Presidential Palace and asked by Mr. Karzai to explain his actions.

“Everything is lawful and by the book,” a Western official said of the Afghan anticorruption investigators. “They gather the evidence, they get the warrant signed off – and then the plug gets pulled every time.”

This is not the first time that Afghan prosecutors have run into resistance when they have tried to pursue an Afghan official on corruption charges related to New Ansari.

Sediq Chekari, the minister for Hajj and Religious Affairs, was allowed to flee the country as investigators prepared to charge him with accepting bribes in exchange for steering business to tour operators who ferry people to Saudi Arabia each year. Mr. Chekari fled to Britain, officials said. Afghanistan’s attorney general issued an arrest warrant through Interpol.

American officials say a key player in the scandal is Hajji Rafi Azimi, the vice chairman of Afghan United Bank. The bank’s chairman, Hajji Mohammed Jan, is a founder of New Ansari. According to American officials, Afghan prosecutors would like to arrest Mr. Azimi but so far have run into political interference they did not specify. He has not been formally charged.

In the past, some Western officials have expressed frustration at the political resistance that Afghan prosecutors have encountered when they have tried to investigate Afghan officials. Earlier this year, the American official said that the Obama administration was considering extraordinary measures to bring corrupt Afghan officials to justice, including extradition.

“We are pushing some high-level public corruption cases right now, and they are just constantly stalling and stalling and stalling,” the American official said of the Karzai administration.

Another Western official said he was growing increasingly concerned about the morale – and safety – of the Afghan anticorruption prosecutors.

So far, the Afghan prosecutors have not folded. The Salehi case is likely to resurface – and very soon. Under Afghan law, prosecutors have a maximum of 33 days to indict a person after his arrest. Mr. Salehi was arrested in late July.

That means Afghan prosecutors may soon come before the Afghan attorney general, Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, to seek an indictment. It will be up to Mr. Aloko, who owes his job to Mr. Karzai, to sign it.

“They are all just doing their jobs,” the Western official said. “They are scared for their lives. They are scared for their families. If it continues, they will eventually give up the fight.”

To Rawalpindi, via Kabul

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C. Raja Mohan

Optimists might yet hope that Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will undo some of the damage he did last week by making nice to Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on the margins of an international conference in Kabul on Tuesday. But don’t bet on it.

Qureshi’s behaviour might have been outrageous in terms of diplomatic protocol, but there is nothing personal to it. In any case, Qureshi is unlikely to have much time for Krishna in Kabul.

Qureshi, a feudal from southern Punjab with a penchant for the theatrical, has every reason to preen on the international stage he has this week in Kabul. Thanks to his army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani’s shuttle diplomacy to Kabul in recent weeks, Pakistan has acquired a pivotal position in the political transition that is beginning to unfold in Afghanistan.

Some in Delhi interpret Qureshi’s unexpected decision to walk back from the prior understandings so carefully crafted in the weeks before Krishna’s visit to Islamabad as having something to do with the statement of Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, made in an interaction at this newspaper a couple of days before the talks.

Some see Pillai’s affirmation on the role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence as a needless provocation on the eve of the talks; others read it as an opportunity that Kayani simply seized. The Pillai episode should not distract us from a larger difficulty that has enveloped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to revive the peace process with Pakistan.

Seen from Delhi, the Mumbai trail leads relentlessly to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI. As the former director general of the ISI, the current army chief, and the most consequential political figure in Pakistan, Kayani has no incentive to put his prime instruments against India in the dock just because they plotted the 26/11 attacks.

Add to this Rawalpindi’s new triumphalism on Afghanistan. The Pakistan GHQ believes that the balance of power in the region is tilting towards Pakistan for the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks. After a decade on the defensive, Kayani believes, his army has the United States and India on the ropes.

Kayani senses that the US needs the Pakistan army more than ever if it wants a dignified exit from Afghanistan. The army sees Washington with no option but to write ever bigger cheques for Islamabad. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed over one of those for $500 million in Islamabad on Monday.

China, the rising power in the region, has signalled a deeper interest in Afghanistan and could provide the economic resources needed for a future Pakistan strategy in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Beijing has unveiled a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan to underline the commitment to sustain Pindi’s strategic parity with Delhi.

As Washington’s Afghan trumpet sounds increasingly uncertain, President Hamid Karzai has decided that he needs some understanding with the “Talib-jan”, his new phrase of endearment to the Taliban that has drawn some political flak from his rivals in Afghanistan.

The only one who can deliver reconciliation with the Taliban is, if we might, Kayani-jan. Meanwhile, India is tripping all over itself in Kashmir, again.

Rawalpindi would rather cash in than make concessions to India on terrorism. When its policy of holding on to the Afghan Taliban and the LeT is paying off, Rawalpindi has no reason to abandon them as Washington and Delhi want it to do.

Last week’s diplomatic fiasco in Islamabad is rooted in the fact that Delhi and Rawalpindi no longer agree on the nature of the relationship between terrorism and the peace process.

The positive and productive engagement between India and Pakistan until 2007 was built on the agreement hammered out between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf in January 2004. Rawalpindi promised to control cross-border violence and Delhi agreed to negotiate on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

By all accounts much progress was made.

Since he took charge, Kayani has repeatedly signalled that he has no stake in what Musharraf might have done with India. Delhi can indeed finesse the question of terrorism originating from Pakistan, but has no leverage now to change Rawalpindi’s behaviour.

If it wants to win a measure of influence on Pakistan’s decision-making, Delhi must start to think about Rawalpindi and Kabul in an integrated manner, much like Pakistan which views India and Afghanistan as part of a single security complex.

For Rawalpindi, the search for influence in Kabul is not an end in itself. It is about altering the balance of power with India. To successfully transform relations with Pakistan, the prime minister needs to recast his Afghan policy.

Until now Dr Singh has held firm in his conviction that reconciling with Pakistan is more important than raising the stakes in Afghanistan. The time has come for Dr Singh to invert that mental map. Put simply, the prime minister must see that the road to Rawalpindi runs through Afghanistan.

If Dr Singh does not think boldly about a new Indian policy towards Kabul, he will find India losing ground in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistan-Afghan trade and transit agreement signed in Islamabad on Sunday underlines Rawalpindi’s determination to push India out of Afghanistan. The agreement explicitly affirms

that India will not be allowed to export goods to Afghanistan through the border at Wagah. The American and Afghan calls for a broader regional framework including India were vetoed by the Pakistan GHQ.

Central to any restructuring of India’s policy must be a decision to intensify the engagement with the Pashtun leaders on both sides of the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India can no longer deny itself the option of engaging the Pashtuns, including the Afghan Taliban, who hold most of the aces in the unfolding battle for the lands between the Indus and the Hindu Kush.

NATO ‘friendly fire’ kills Afghan soldiers

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By Mohammad Yaqob

GHAZNI, Afghanistan – Police said Wednesday six Afghan soldiers were killed in a NATO air strike in Afghanistan, where the military announced the deaths of another three foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban.


Western military air strikes targeting the Taliban have mistakenly killed scores of Afghan civilians and security forces

Local police in troubled Ghazni province, in south-central Afghanistan, said NATO “friendly fire” on an army post killed six officers, in an incident that the US-led NATO force said it was investigating.

The air strike late Tuesday was originally aimed at Taliban militants, said Nawruz Ali Mohamoodzada, a provincial police official.

“It mistakenly hit an army post in which six soldiers were killed. An investigation has been launched,” he told AFP.

Western military air strikes targeting the Taliban have mistakenly killed scores of Afghan civilians and security forces, fanning opposition to foreign troops, sparking angry protests and remonstrations from the Afghan government.

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: “We are aware of an incident and we are getting information”.

About 140,000 international troops are fighting alongside Afghan forces to quell a Taliban-led insurgency into a ninth year and train Afghan counterparts to take over so that they can eventually leave.

The fiercest fighting is taking place in southern Afghanistan, heartland of the insurgency and the focus of a new US-led push to reverse Taliban momentum.

Reports emerged Wednesday that British troops, who make up the second largest contingent after those from the United States, are to withdraw from one of the deadliest battlefields in the south and hand control to the Americans.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox was expected to announce later Wednesday that British forces will be pulled out of Sangin district in Helmand province, the BBC and newspapers reported.

US forces, who now outnumber the British in Helmand, will then take charge.

Of 312 British service personnel to have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion to unseat the Taliban regime, 99 were killed in the market town of Sangin and the surrounding area.

It has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting the British military has endured since World War II.

The area is particularly dangerous because it contains a patchwork of rival tribes and is a major centre for Afghanistan’s opium-growing trade.

Western military losses in Afghanistan are now at record levels.

NATO announced that three troops, whose nationalities were not given, died Tuesday in bomb attacks in the south.

The deaths bring to 339 the number of foreign soldiers to have died in the Afghan conflict this year, according to an AFP tally based on a count kept by the icasualties.org website.

In July alone, 17 foreign soldiers have died. June set the record for the war, now in its ninth year, with 102 deaths.

Strategic planners warned the summer “fighting season” would see a spike in deaths, as NATO and the US beef up deployments in an effort to speed an end to the war.

The arrival of General David Petraeus as commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has focused attention on the rules of engagement, as many soldiers believe a principle of “courageous restraint” is leading to higher casualties.

Petraeus’s sacked predecessor US General Stanley McChrystal put restrictions on troops, including fewer night raids and air strikes, as well as combat rules, aimed at cutting civilian casualties.

In a restive region just south of Kabul, four Afghan police officers were killed by a bomb, the interior ministry said.

The officers were on patrol in a troubled part of Logar province when the bomb hit their vehicle Tuesday. The ministry blamed the attack on the Taliban.

US academic all praise for Pakistani students

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By Zaheer Mahmood Siddiqui

LAHORE, An American professor has a dream to simultaneously hold journalism classes for Pakistani and the US students.

“Pakistani students are well informed, dedicated and hard working. I see proudly at young journalists of Pakistan. We should try to do some projects together. I don’t know how it is going to work but I have an idea of holding journalism classes through video conferencing,” Prof Sherry Ricchiardi of Indiana University School of Journalism told Dawn here.

Ms Sherry and her husband, Frank S. Folwell, director of photography at US Today, are on a visit to Pakistan to hold workshops and seminars on journalism in public and private universities.

“The Pakistani youths are very open and sharing. I met almost 60 to 80 in Islamabad; someone was covering human and women rights, someone was covering domestic violence, etc. A couple of guys asked credibly good questions. During that interaction and the one at Safma office in Lahore, I met many youth for five minutes or so, but it seemed we knew each other for ever. I am getting many e-mails from a couple of them. Wherever we go, there is a connection with us and it has been great here again,” said Ms Sherry who had been to Pakistan some three decades ago along with Frank.

“We were here as journalists as well as travellers during pre-Russia era. We just came here on our own as we wanted to see this part of the world. We had landed in Lahore, flew to Rawalpindi and then to Kabul,” recalled Frank and added they were fascinated by this part of the world after driving back from Kabul to Rawalpindi through Khyber Pass.

The couple found no change in the attitude of the general public here towards foreigners. “One day walking on a sideway, I felt dizzy and sat on the ground. A woman came out of nowhere, took us to her home and offered all sort of help. It was a nice moment,” said Sherry.

However, there were not much women in the profession of journalism or Sherry could not found them during her maiden visit to Pakistan. “Now, a number of young women I met told me that they are coming into mainstream journalism,” she said.

“New technology is amazing for journalists,” said Sherry but was interrupted by Frank: “She has been the last person to go for computer.”