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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.

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.”

Militants attack key NATO base in Afghanistan

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KABUL – The Taliban said Sunday they were behind an attack on NATO’s main base in southern Afghanistan, the third on international forces in a week, showing their determination to meet fire with fire.


US soldiers walk to board a helicopter at an airfield in Kandahar on May 7. The Taliban has said they …

As US and NATO troops escalate operations against the militants in their heartland of Kandahar province, the Taliban are making good on threats of a nationwide campaign against targets allied with the Kabul government.

“We attacked Kandahar air base with rockets last night,” Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP by phone from an undisclosed location.

The attack in Kandahar was the third on international forces in a matter of days after a suicide attack in the capital on Tuesday and an attack on Bagram Airfield, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul, the following day.

Seven hours of fighting at Bagram resulted in the deaths of an American contract worker and 16 militants, NATO said. Nine NATO soldiers were wounded.

Earlier this month the Taliban announced a new nationwide campaign of attacks in Afghanistan, targeting diplomats, Afghan parliamentarians and foreign contractors, as well as foreign forces.

Ahmadi said that one rocket landed near a shopping strip on the Kandahar Airfield (KAF), another near a helicopter landing zone.

The attack had caused “massive damage,” he said, adding that the militants had killed 13 foreign soldiers and wounded many others.

The Taliban regularly exaggerate the impact of their operations.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there were no fatalities in the attack, which began around 8:00 pm (1530 GMT) on Saturday.

“A number of ISAF personnel and civilian workers have been injured and are receiving medical treatment. There are no confirmed fatalities,” an ISAF statement said.

A total of five rockets were fired into the base and “a number of insurgents were attempting to enter the base on the north side. They were repelled by security forces,” it said.

KAF is the main base in the area for troops fighting the insurgency, which is concentrated in Kandahar. It houses around 23,000 personnel.

The base regularly comes under rocket fire, when all personnel are ordered to take cover until an all-clear is sounded.

KAF sits on the edge of Kandahar city, the provincial capital, where Taliban are digging in as US, NATO and Afghan troops build an operation aimed at squeezing the militants out of their traditional home.

The attack came just hours after Britain’s new foreign minister William Hague met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan, where Britain has 10,000 troops.

Hague, accompanied by Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, said they had made clear to Karzai that Britain expected to see his government make progress to match the international strategy for ending the insurgency.

Britain’s military and aid commitment in Afghanistan is the second-biggest behind the US.

There are currently 130,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban insurgency under US and NATO command.

The number of foreign troops is set to rise to 150,000 by August as part of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy aimed at speeding up the end of the war now well into its ninth year.

Most of the fresh troops are being deployed to the southern hotspots of Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand province, and military planners say they hope to have eradicated the Taliban threat by the start of Ramadan in August.

The road between Kabul and Kandahar was the scene on Sunday of a Taliban ambush on a police convoy that killed the police chief of a district of Ghazni province, the provincial governor, Mohammad Musa Akbarzada said.

Mohammad Nabi Patang, police chief of Andar district, was travelling to the provincial capital, also called Ghazni, when his convoy was attacked, Akbarzada told AFP.

The Taliban were blamed for a bomb attack on an Afghan police vehicle on Saturday in the Manogay district of Kunar province, in which four police officers and four civilians were wounded, the interior ministry said.

In Kapisa province northeast of Kabul, five Afghan civilians were killed on Saturday when an anti-tank mine left over from the Soviet invasion exploded as they were digging on their farmland, the ministry said.

‘Final Solution’ Frenzy –From Afghanistan with Love

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By Tariq Saeedi

With Qasim Jan in Kandahar, Khalil Azad in Kabul, SM Kasi in Quetta, and GN Brohi in Nushki and Dalbandin

(nCa) – Had Van Gogh been given a canvas the size of the Eurasian landmass in 1890, he would probably have painted what the United States in painting now: Spectacular psychosis smothering withered sanity, towering talent defeated by raging madness, sky-high ambition smashed by rock-hard realities, a troubled genius in self-immolation.

What we are witnessing today, and what may unfold in the coming months, is Von Gogh’s ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ on cosmic scale. — Welcome to the ‘Final Solution,’ Made in USA.

In this series of investigative reports we shall sum up the results of thousands of kilometers of arduous and risky travel by our team in search of clues scattered in the harsh terrain of the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the adjoining, equally unforgiving, landscape of Afghanistan and Iran.

Our startling findings are explained and augmented by experts and sources in Moscow, Washington, Kabul and New Delhi.

This series starts with what is happening in Pakistan and will expand gradually to cover the Greater Central Asia and its immediate neighbourhood.

We will tell a dreadful story, segment by segment, part by part.

This is the first part of our ‘Final Solution’ Frenzy series and in this report we shall describe what we found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the subsequent report we shall connect these findings with explanations and interpretations of experts.

As with our previous reports, this series would be abrupt and incomplete. It is not possible to come up with an alpha-to-omega story, complete in all respects, merely through investigative reporting. Without generous leaks from well placed sources a story of this kind must remain unfinished.

So, let’s start cutting through the web of deceit, ambition, cruelty, backstabbing and violence.

Training camps in Afghanistan

There were persistent reports that the Americans, through their contractors, were operating at least two training camps, churning out an assortment of terrorists.

It sounds strange that a country supposedly fighting a global war against terrorism would train its own terrorists. Nevertheless, the crux of investigative journalism is that every lead, no matter how ludicrous, should be followed to its logical end if it promises some relevance.

In one of our earlier reports (Mumbai Mystery: American Designs on Pakistan and India), we uncovered that the Americans had tunneled into some Jihadi outfits in Pakistan. The links to all four parts of our Mumbai report are given at the end of this narrative.

In the Mumbai report we mentioned that as far as we had been able to determine, the earliest deal between the Americans and the Jihadis took place in Quetta in August 2007.

With the help of our experts in Moscow, we predicted in our Mumbai report that bombings and acts of terrorism were likely to increase in Pakistan in the coming months. Our Mumbai report was published in December 2008 and since then Pakistan has hardly seen a day of respite.

There is no joy in being right in this case; we are not gloating. All we are trying to register is that most of the substance of our previous reports has withstood the test of time.

We also told in our Mumbai report that Michael Vickers, the assistant secretary of defence for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (ASD/SOLIC&IC) was the author of the chaos that were going to be systematically unleashed in Pakistan. It is necessary to remind that Vickers was directly running the Jihadi war against Soviet Union for about six years and he has personal contacts with almost all the players in the current mix.

We underlined in our Mumbai report that Vickers would mainly use United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) for beating Pakistan to near-pulp. Here, again, we were right on the mark, as we shall show in our subsequent reports in this series.

Based on the findings in our previous reports, we started examining the possibility of existence of American terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Interviews with some knowledgeable persons in Afghanistan and Pakistan suggest that at least one of the training camps run by the American contractors is located in either Ghowr or Uruzgan province of Afghanistan.

What is important from the point of view of our reports is not the exact location of these camps but the fact that they do exist at all. We will return to the subject of these camps in our succeeding reports in this series.

Chicken lunch before hawk chase

It was early October 2009. We were sitting in a killi – a small clan-village – in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, not far from the border with Afghanistan. We shall not disclose our exact location but it was somewhere between the towns of Dalbandin and Nushki in Chagai district of the Balochistan province of Pakistan.

The chicken, cooked hastily, was tasty without being tender. The flatbread was improbably large, perfectly round and evenly baked.

The lunch over, we started planning on the travel route for the next few days. Most of the legwork by our field contacts had been completed already. We were about to start verifying some of the leads that looked significant.

The first, and the closest point, was where we expected to see some young men who were not Muslims. We started off after downing a pot of excessively sweetened black tea.

They are not Muslims

We drove for about an hour and reached a place almost at the border of Afghanistan. It was pre-evening (Asr) prayer time when we reached a small, nondescript teahouse.

“When I point at someone with my eyes, just watch but not overtly and not immediately. And, don’t talk when you look,” said our local contact in a low voice.

We sat down on the palm-frond mat on the dirt floor. After a while, he looked meaningfully to his right and quickly averted his eyes. In a few seconds we gave a brief, furtive look and saw two bearded young men, somewhere in their late teens, dressed in slightly dirty baggy trousers and long shirt, no different from everyone around, walking toward a low mound to attend to the call of nature. They emerged shortly from behind their mound that served as open air toilet and went straight to the prayer mat.

Some ten minutes later, our local partner made a similar gesture toward another young man, with a mere hint of a beard on an otherwise smooth face, who was also walking to the toilet-mound. He also returned after unburdening his urinary bladder and walked directly to the prayer mat.

We had seen enough; there was no point in sitting there any more and attracting unnecessary attention.

“This kind of people started appearing more than a year ago,” said our local man.

“After attending to the call of nature, they don’t even wash their hands. They don’t perform necessary ablutions (Wudoo) before going from toilet to prayer mat,” he said after we had started driving to the next point in our journey.

“They are not Muslims,” he said.

Yes, we could see that they were not Muslims. After attending the call of nature, it is mandatory for all Muslims to perform ritual ablutions before they can stand for prayers. The only exception is when water is not available, which was clearly not the case.

‘Taliban’ in American Helicopters

After having seen the young men who wanted to look like practicing Muslims without bothering to go through the obligatory ablutions for prayers, our next stop was to meet someone who could tell us about ‘Taliban’ being transported in American helicopters.

We drove on a dirt trail for about thirty minutes and reached another point, still not far from the Afghan border. One of our local contacts in Afghanistan had confirmed earlier that he had spoken to some people who had seen the so-called Taliban being carried in American helicopters. He was waiting for us at a makeshift gasoline station. Border crossing is no big deal in those parts.

Our man told that he had spoken to several people who had seen bearded young men disembarking from American helicopters near the border of Afghanistan with Pakistan. Based on the accounts narrated by our contact person, we understood that batches of four to ten persons were dropped twice or thrice a month, every time at a different location but always in walking distance from the Pakistan border.

The villagers on the Pakistani side of the border also confirmed that illegal border crossing was a universally common phenomenon on the entire border line in Chagai district.

Next, we drove to see the man who had been left for dead.

Murder after prayers

In a killi about thirty kilometers from the Afghan border we met Osman (not his real name). He is in his early forties and told a tale that is not uncommon in those areas.

He said that two persons, who said that they were Afghan traders, hired his car for a day trip along the border. Since it was the area where anything can happen at any time, Osman took a friend along for company.

The ‘Afghan traders’ said that they had to meet some people near the border and the trip would be over in less than half a day. At a deserted place near the Afghan border the clients said that since it was prayer time, they should stop the car and pray.

Osman and his friend also joined the prayer, led by one of the Afghans. Soon after completing the prayer, while rising from his prayer position, the prayer leader took out a pistol from his side pocket and shot straight at Osman’s friend. He was hit in the shoulder and fell back like a log.

Then he pointed the weapon at Osman and pulled the trigger again. Osman was wearing a loose and baggy shirt and the bullet passed through his shirt sleeve, grazing his upper arm slightly. He also fell down, pretending that he had also been hit.

The two Afghans took the car, sped toward the border, and into Afghanistan.

Osman says that when the car snatchers disappeared, he carried his friend on his shoulder for about a couple of kilometers before he found someone willing to give him a lift to the hospital. His friend survived but remained bedridden for more than six months.

Less than a week later the car was found connected to an act of terrorism in Quetta.

Unregistered automobiles

There were reports that more than half of the automobiles and motorbikes in a wide swath of Balochistan, from Dalbandin to Taftan in the north, and from Pasni to Gwadar in the south, were running without any number plates.

This was the easiest thing to verify. All we had to do was to drive around the area and look at every vehicle to see whether it had a registration plate or not. Yes, more than half of vehicles of all description did not have any registration number at all.

It was difficult to understand the reason for this mass anomaly. An unregistered vehicle is an ideal getaway transport for terrorists, criminals and everyone else interested in breaking the law.

Theft of cars

Driving from place to place in pursuit to confirm the findings of our team, we heard repeatedly that theft of motor vehicles, especially cars and SUVs, was an organized crime, reaching the scales of a sophisticated business in Balochistan. Stealing a parked automobile is definitely easier than snatching it at gunpoint.

What we could gather from our conversation with several people was that vehicles were stolen from all parts of Pakistan and smuggled across the border to Afghanistan. Sometimes, a car is stolen as per specifications of the client i.e. a particular make, model and colour.

These cars and SUVs go to Afghanistan and some of them are used for cross-border forays into Pakistan and Iran, as seen in Osman’s case. Sometimes these vehicles, after commitment of a crime, are abandoned deliberately to put the investigators on the wrong trail.

So far, we had found that some young men are regularly crossing over from Afghanistan to Pakistan, some of them were Muslim in appearance but not in essence, and quite possibly some of them are being carried by Americans in their helicopters close to the border of Pakistan. We had also found that automobiles were being stolen or snatched at gunpoint, taken to Afghanistan, and later used in the acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

What next?

Funding mechanism

A terrorist must work for someone. Self employed terrorists are far and few between. If they were working for someone, there must be a system to provide them with funds when in Pakistan.

This was a challenge. With a small team running on a shoestring budget we could not trail anyone for long. Tracking multiple targets was simply impossible.

We did the next best thing — We watched the moneychangers in Quetta, the administrative centre of Balochistan province.

Quite a few moneychangers in Quetta are concentrated in one of the bustling streets of the cramped city. With the help of cooperative fruit vendors, shoeshine boys, tobacconists, and just plain loiterers, we created a temporary network to keep an eye on some moneychangers.

In a few days we found that some people were changing US dollars to Pak rupees regularly. This, in itself, can hardly be called a suspicious activity except for the fact that they were not changing all of their money from a single vendor. Instead, they went from moneychanger to moneychanger, never converting more than $ 2000 from a single vendor. This was an obvious precaution to avoid being noticed.

Because of our insufficient capacity to study the money-changing phenomenon in detail, this can, at best, be considered implied evidence. The thing to remember is that terrorism is a comparatively low cost enterprise.

The corridor of instability between Afghanistan and Iran

In our first investigative report on Balochistan, published in March 2005, we reported that a corridor of instability exists in the territory of Pakistan through which all kinds of players were traveling from Afghanistan to Iran and Back. This report is not available on our own website anymore because we lost our archive after it was hacked. However, the report received wide audience and it can be seen at dozens of portals; two links are given at the end of this narrative.

In that report we said that if you marked Shah Ismail and Ziarat Sultan Vais Qarni in Afghanistan and Jalq and Kuhak in Iran, and connected Shah Ismail with Kuhak through a slowly arching line, and Ziarat Sultan Vais Qarni with Jalq through another line running in parallel with the first one, the space between these two lines would form a corridor that is used by the American defence contractors, and many other kinds of players, to travel between Afghanistan and Iran through Pakistan.

Now we would like to report that the corridor has somewhat narrowed down in width but there is more activity through it to destabilize Iran, and put pressure on Pakistan.

The main reason why it is so easy for anyone to use this corridor to travel between Afghanistan and Iran is that the patrolling in Balochistan is done mainly by the irregular militia and (FC) frontier constabulary, mostly manned by illiterate personnel.

To check on this theory, we drove across the breadth of Chagai, Kharan, and Panjgur districts, reaching just four kilometers from the border of Iran near Kuhak. Throughout the journey we encountered several check posts and mobile patrols but hardly anyone could even read our identity documents much less determine whether we were genuine travelers or someone else in disguise.

We also learned during this road trip that at least two Indian nationals had been caught, using this corridor to reach Iran.

It is worth mentioning that the corridor of instability identified by us terminates right near the town of Pishin in Iran where an act of terrorism several months ago took the lives of dozens of people, including 15 senior officials of Pasdaran.

In the next two reports, hopefully at intervals of about a week or so, we shall describe how a Russian atheism specialist explains the phenomenon of suicide bombing and how a Russian counterterrorism expert decodes our findings to create a fairly understandable picture.

Plans to reconcile Afghan fighters show progress

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KABUL: Afghanistan has made progress encouraging insurgents to lay down their weapons, an official in charge of peace talks in the war-torn country said on Wednesday but that help from neighbour Pakistan remains crucial.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made reconciling with insurgents a priority of his second term and plans are afoot for a large assembly — or peace jirga — involving different factions of Afghan society, for late April or early May.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai is in charge of a plan to reintegrate low-level cadres of the insurgency into society and also leads preparations for the peace jirga. He said there were signs that some insurgents were responding positively to both policies.

“Some delegations are coming from different provinces, they are meeting with the leadership of the government and they are indicating their willingness to join this process and on that front there is a lot of contact ongoing,” Stanekzai told Reuters.

“The representatives of one of those groups have come to Kabul … all these are indications that the people of Afghanistan are tired of the war and they want to find a way out of this current situation.”

That was a reference to the militant group Hizb-e-Islami, which last month sent a delegation to Kabul for talks with government officials.

Stanekzai said a programme to encourage fighters to give up weapons in return for jobs, training and protection from other militants, was also gradually bearing fruit.

“There are people who are joining with laying down their weapons and with this reintegration process,” Stanekzai said. There were initial indications, he said, that insurgents in the provinces of Baghlan, Herat and Kunduz wanted to join the reintegration programme.

Washington has exerted pressure on Kabul to take greater responsibility for security in Afghanistan by setting a July 2011 deadline for U.S. troops to start withdrawing from the country, but has said it is premature to expect the Taliban to talk.
“This is a jirga of the Afghan people. We will not draw the line that who is the opposition or who is the insurgent on the other side,” Stanekzai said. Community leaders who attend could include Taliban sympathisers, he said.

There are three main insurgent factions in Afghanistan: the Taliban, loosely led by the Quetta Shura in Pakistan, Hizb-e-Islami, and the Haqqani network, which is thought to lead attacks in the east and southeast of Afghanistan.

None has formally agreed to attend the peace jirga and the Taliban has dismissed Kabul’s reintegration efforts.

Stanekzai said on an individual level he believed there was support for the peace jirga among the Taliban but “when it comes to the formal responses, it’s very difficult to find out who is their real spokesman.”

PAKISTAN CRUCIAL

The insurgency in Afghanistan is at its deadliest since the war started in 2001, and critics have blamed the resurgence of groups like the Taliban on insufficient oversight of the war by Washington and NATO, and a weak Afghan government.

Stanekzai said Pakistan’s support was necessary to make reconciliation a success. If Pakistan’s recent arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Baradar was intended to prevent the spreading the insurgency in Afghanistan, he said, then he welcomed it.

“(But) if they are replaced with others who continue with the same kind of operation, and those who are willing to join the peace process … are then arrested, then it will not be welcome,” Stanekzai said.
The Afghan government has asked Islamabad to repatriate Baradar to his native Afghanistan. Last month, the former top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan said talks he was involved in with top Taliban leaders were scuppered by Baradar’s arrest.

“We are formally hearing from the officials from Pakistan, they are supportive of these initiatives, but at the same time we need to see a fundamental change in their policy to Afghanistan and both countries need to genuinely cooperate,” Stanekzai said.