Saturday, September 10, 2005

Blogs aren't enough 

John at Powerline is writing about the latest AP/Ipsos poll numbers, which show President Bush getting hammered on just about every issue, from the response to Katrina, through Iraq and war on terror, to the economy. However problematic its methodology, the poll is hardly an anomaly, perhaps exaggerating, but not inventing the trends.

Contrary to the media coverage, American economy is doing quite well at the moment. The war on terror is also going well. In both cases though, the coverage has been quite sporadic, making one wonder just exactly on what information - or perhaps the lack of information - is the public basing its opinions on. Iraq and Katrina, on the other hand, present an information overload. Sadly though, because of the strong institutional (and no doubt to some extent political) bias for the negative, as well as a chronic inability or unwillingness by the media to provide the news consumers with a broader context against which to judge the war efforts in Iraq and the aid efforts in New Orleans, people are getting a skewed and unbalanced picture of the situation on the ground. Little wonder so many are so negative.

(Not to get the news consumers totally off the hook here. Despite the life-long media conditioning, most people should have enough life experience and common sense to be able to keep things in perspective and not get too caught up in perpetual crisis mentality.)

Blogs have been doing a fantastic job in trying to fill in the information gaps and correct the bias, both on the Tigris and on the Mississippi, but blogs can only go so far. Let's be honest about it - not many people read blogs. We are talking about the daily readerships in thousands, or tens of thousands; even less when you count unique visitors. Even adding up the cumulative numbers for the whole of the blogosphere the results would be less then they appear, since there are so many people out there who visit a large number of sites every day.

There is little doubt that for all the talk about the new media, the old one still rules the roost. Newspaper circulations and TV ratings might be falling, but tens of millions of people still get their information from the larger dailies and a half a dozen major channels, often supplemented by their local print and electronic media.

This will perhaps change in the future, but not anytime soon. In the meantime, we are facing the well entrenched adversarial media who will fail to put a dent only in those meta-stories that are too inherently positive to be spun away in short-term, such as the immediate response after September 11, or the liberation of Iraq in early 2003. Anything else - events that are less clear-cut and more ambiguous, or processes that can be slowly chipped away at - never mind the actual stumbles that can be infinitely magnified - will be used against you in the court of the public opinion, ruthlessly and consistently.

What's the solution? If I had all the good answers I would probably be a rich man - or certainly a lot wiser one.

As we are working from a position of a major advantage, our side of politics needs to work twice as hard at putting forward our message. Powerline's John thinks that on this account, at least, the Bush Administration has failed:
The "turn the other cheek" approach that the administration has followed for years--don't respond to attacks, no matter how unfair, just try to ride out the news cycle and move on--has resulted in one needless wound after another, and cumulatively they have now damaged President Bush's standing with the public, likely beyond repair.
The media, just like Mother Nature, shows that dripping water will over time erode a mountain. But two can play that game, even if one side starts with a major handicap and has to suffer perpetual frustration in doing so.

Secondly, Fox is not enough. We need a bigger media presence on TV, and even more so in print. That, again, will not be easy. The money, I believe could be found, but the bigger problem is the overwhelmingly left-liberal political culture of journalism. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, because we are not looking for propaganda mouthpieces, but simply enough forums that will give equal time and consideration to both sides of the story.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Conversion on the road to Huston 

In the last week, Joseph Brant lost his apartment, walked by scores of dead in the streets, traversed pools of toxic water and endured an arduous journey to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in his hometown New Orleans.

On Sunday, he was praising the Lord, saying the ordeal was a test that ended up dispelling his lifelong distrust of white people and setting his life on a new course. He said he hitched a ride on Friday in a van driven by a group of white folks.

"Before this whole thing I had a complex about white people; this thing changed me forever," said Brant, 36, a truck driver who, like many of the refugees receiving public assistance in Houston, Texas, is black.
As Tim Blair writes, “Racist America Donates” – and in an unprecedented way. Of course, of millions affected by Katrina, blacks are a minority, but they constitute the most visible victims in New Orleans. Once again American people are proving the American elites wrong.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"The Flight That Fought Back" 

The story of Flight 93 is extraordinary. "The Flight That Fought Back" is an extraordinary documentary.

On September 11, at 9 PM (ET/PT), Discovery Channel will screen this documentary in the United States, with other countries to follow soon (please check you local TV guides for details). Thanks to the show's creators, I got a sneak preview and just finished watching it.

I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You simply cannot miss it. I never type in capitals to make a point, but you can take it that I am now. Extensively researched and drawing on some previously unpublished information, "The Flight That Fought Back" provides the most complete and comprehensive recreation of events onboard Flight 93. It's a stunning, immensely moving production.

The film, part re-enactment, part interview with family members, fleshes out the stories of those ordinary men and women who had found themselves in a situation that was far from ordinary, and who performed, too, in a way that was far from ordinary. Those onboard were a cross-section of America - young and old, all races and walks of life, everymen and everywomen - they were America. The sadness at so many lives interrupted and so much potential destroyed can only be mixed with the admiration for the spirit of the 33 passengers and 7 crew members, and the hope that springs from their sacrifice.

For me, the most poignant moment came with the recollection by Tom Burnett's wife, Deena, that Tom had been reading about Gettysburg, and had remarked to her upon the courage of soldiers who knew they were going to die, yet they marched forward against the enemy. Knowing they will never see their families again, the soldiers wrote short notes to their loved ones, and pinned them to the trees.

Those onboard Flight 93 didn't write notes; they spoke on cell phones and left messages on answering machines, but then they, too, became citizen soldiers and laid down their lives for the greater good, saving countless others. This is the reason why the Islamofascists cannot win - because ordinary people, our brothers, sisters, parents, children, friends - can and will rise up to the challenge when the circumstances call.

On September 24, 2002 the United States Congress passed the Flight 93 National Memorial Act. The Act created a new national park unit to commemorate the sacrifice of crew members and passengers. The memorial will reside on the site in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001.

In conjunction, Discovery Channel will do the following:
Discovery Communications will air two specially created public service announcements that encourage viewers to donate to the Flight 93 National Memorial fund. The PSAs, one of which features Sarah Wainio, the sister of Honor Elizabeth Wainio who was a Discovery Communications employee aboard Flight 93, will air during the premiere of THE FLIGHT THAT FOUGHT BACK and across Discovery's U.S. networks on September 11.

DVDs of THE FLIGHT THAT FOUGHT BACK will be available online at www.discoverystore.com. Discovery Communications will contribute all revenue generated from DVD sales to the Flight 93 National Memorial fund. In addition, from September 11 to September 17, a percentage of all retail revenue from any Discovery product sale will be contributed to the memorial fund.
Visit the site, and consider donating to the cause.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The sins of (a) commission 

The inevitable happens:
With many blaming the growing scope of Katrina's devastation on the Bush administration, Sen. Hillary Clinton called yesterday for a 9/11-style probe into how the federal government responded to the crisis.

"It has become increasingly evident that our nation was not prepared," Clinton (D-N.Y.) said in a letter to Bush asking him to set up a "Katrina Commission."
After the water is pumped out and the mud hosed out, there will be plenty of blame to go around, between all three levels of government and over the last few decades. The "Katrina Commission", should it actually eventuate, promises to be however merely like another exercise in Bush-bashing, this time officially sanctioned.

This is at the same time that it's becoming clear that major breakdowns have occurred on the state and local levels, whether it was the reluctance to surrender some of the authority to the federal government, the botched evacuation with hundreds of school and municipal buses remaining unutilized, or the law and order and manpower problems.

The last point deserves some evaluation. Only just over 3,500 out of 11,500 Louisiana National Guardsmen are in Iraq. The state authorities dragged their feet with mobilizing the remaining 8,000, although that was partly offset by the arrival of National Guard from other states (7,500 within the first 24 hours).

The law enforcement forces already on the ground did not manage to exert sufficient influence. Three days ago, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, had this to say about the New Orleans Police Department: "I would say they are significantly degraded and they have less than one-third of their original capability." The Police Department was significantly more optimistic, saying that only 200 out of 1,500 officers have walked off the job. A few joined in to help themselves in NO's shops.

But Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu turned defensive at any efforts by the feds to shift back some of the blame previously wholesalely shifted on them by the state and local guys:
"If one person criticizes our sheriffs, or says one more thing, including the President of the United States, he will hear from me - one more word about it after this show airs and I - I might likely have to punch him -– literally."
Increasingly, though, it looks like Louisiana in general and New Orleans in specific were a disaster waiting to happen, not just in a sense that a medium-sized city situated below water level in a hurricane-prone region is a disaster waiting to happen, but that the whole political, social and economic culture of the state was one big dysfunctionality, only held in equilibrium by the absence of a genuine crisis. In the end, these things always come out in the wash, and this time the wash was Katrina. As Mark Steyn writes,
New Orleans is a party town in the middle of a welfare swamp and, like many parties, it doesn't look so good when someone puts the lights up.
Or, indeed, turns the lights off.

There is a case to be made that the federal authorities have not done enough/quickly enough - Steyn, for example, argues elsewhere that the federal bureaucracies learned nothing in the four years since 9/11 - but on the other hand, I think people tend to have unrealistic expectations of what even the most efficient, best organized and best resourced organizations can achieve in dangerous, emergency situations. On this point, see an interesting perspective from a former Air Force logistics officer (hat tip: Michelle Malkin). I have a feeling though that the tide has finally turned, and the rescue, aid, and eventually reconstruction effort is now powering ahead with sufficient momentum to make it look like what people traditionally expect America in action to be.


Two tribes 

In the absence of information and outside assistance, groups of rich and poor banded together in the French Quarter, forming "tribes" and dividing up the labor.

As some went down to the river to do the wash, others remained behind to protect property. In a bar, a bartender put near-perfect stitches into the torn ear of a robbery victim.

While mold and contagion grew in the muck that engulfed most of the city, something else sprouted in this most decadent of American neighborhoods - humanity.

"Some people became animals," Vasilioas Tryphonas said Sunday morning as he sipped a hot beer in Johnny White's Sports Bar on Bourbon Street. "We became more civilized."
Nothing surprising. Extreme events - whether war, or natural disasters - bring out extreme reactions out of people; either special heroism and generosity which are not required at the times of peace and tranquility, or special barbarity and callousness that a well-functioning society normally manages to contain. In New Orleans we hear stories of gangs raping women and shooting at rescue helicopter, but we also hear stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Today's related must-read from EjectEjectEject about his two tribes (no relations to an old Frankie Goes To Hollywood song).


Good news from Afghanistan, part 16 

Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. As always, big thanks to James Taranto and Joe Katzman for their support of the series, and to all my readers and fellow bloggers whose encouragement has kept it going for over a year now.

Across Afghanistan, good news for the farmers, and the rest of the population:
The country's farms are alive again.

Seven years of drought had left fields monochrome plains of brown dust. But good snows and rains have many Afghans seeing color again -- seas of golden wheat undulate in the breeze, green apricot trees are plump with yellow fruit, melons of every hue dot fields.

It is much-needed relief for impoverished farmers as well as the estimated 3.4 million Afghans who have been relying on food handouts from overburdened international aid groups.

One wheat farmer sees the end of the drought as a sign that God is pleased with the country's fledgling democracy.

"Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has started to recover from the drought and people's lives have been getting better," said Fazah Rahman, 36.

"In previous years, no one even bothered to plant crops because our lands were dry like a desert, but that has all changed and everyone is sowing their land," he said.

Mohammed Sharif-Sharif, a senior official at the Agricultural Ministry, said the harvest is exceeding expectations.

"This year, we will be in need of less food aid from other countries," he said. "In the past seven years, nearly all our wheat was imported. But fortunately, it will significantly drop this year."
Whether or not God is indeed finally smiling on the long-suffering people of Afghanistan and blessing their new democracy with rain, the things are definitely becoming interesting for this, one of the poorest countries in the world. With parliamentary election coming up soon, the world's attention is slowly - though one fears, judging by the past experience, briefly - returning to Afghanistan. The political, security, economic and social challenges facing the country are enormous, but progress have been slowly and often painfully made, much of it missed by the media, and thus the Western audiences.

If you have been following this series for the past year or so, this will not come as a surprise. Below, another four weeks's worth of stories from Afghanistan, which so often got lost in the usual media chatter about drugs and violence.

SOCIETY: The authorities have officially announced on August 15 the start of the election campaign:
"The official campaign period for the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house, and provincial-council elections will begin on 17 August," UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said. Candidates will be allowed to campaign until 15 September, when a 48-hour moratorium will be imposed. More than 10 million Afghans are reportedly eligible to vote. Candidates will be allowed to hold rallies, distribute posters and leaflets, and appear in private and state-run media. 'Each Wolesi Jirga candidate will be allocated an advertisement of five minutes to be broadcast twice on radio or one advertisement of two minutes to be broadcast twice on television,' Baheen said. Baheen said candidates for provincial councils will get one advertisement of four minutes broadcast on radio or one advertisement of two minutes broadcast on television.
More on the election on the airwaves here.

And so, one year later, the Afghan authorities and the international community are facing up to the logistical challenge of another election:
Afghanistan is preparing for landmark parliamentary elections using a combination of stone-age and modern technology to get polling stations open in under six weeks time.

Mountainous and remote terrain, low levels of literacy and the sheer number of candidates -- almost 6,000 -- all add up to one of the most difficult elections the international community has ever organised.

"I don't think the United Nations have ever seen an election like this, with up to 400 candidates on each ballot paper," Julian Type, of the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body [said]...

Despite the challenges and the threat of violence from increasingly active Taliban militants, officials said they thought the lower house and provincial council elections on September 18 would go ahead on time.

"We are very confident we will be able to deliver the operation successfully and have all staff... in place," James Grierson, electoral head of logistical support, told a news conference in Kabul.

Some of Afghanistan's remote mountainous districts are only accessible by donkey, while airplanes must be used to freight the 135,000 ballot boxes, 140,000 bottles of ink and 403 tons of furniture to many of the country's 26,000 polling stations, the electoral body said.

Fourteen cargo planes will make deliveries across Afghanistan, in addition to the 1,200 deliveries by cargo trucks and flights by nine helicopters to remote areas not accessible by road.

"The topography dictates that we will have to use air, road and even donkeys to distribute our material across the country," Grierson added.

The furniture must be flown into Afghanistan for this election because the chairs and tables used at the country's first presidential polls in October have already been donated to local schools.
Being any one of the 6000 candidates is not the safest occupation in Afghanistan, but perhaps the most courageous among the lot are women:
Three-hundred-twenty-eight of the parliamentary candidates are Afghan women. Another two-hundred-thirty-seven women are provincial council candidates. “I want basic human rights for men and women,” says Sabrina Sagheb. Ms. Sagheb is the head of the Afghan Basketball Federation and a representative of the International Olympic Committee. She says she hopes to help end practices such as forcing women into unwanted marriages or forcing them to wear burkhas.

Journalist Noorzia Charkhi hopes to represent her native province in the new parliament. But like a number of Afghan women candidates, her life has been threatened. “I’m not going to quit," she said, "because I want to show people that a woman should be able to do these things.”

Extremists set fire to parliamentary candidate Zobaida Stanekzai's front door. “They were trying to scare me into dropping out,” she said, “but my decision to be a candidate is unshakeable.”
Meet one of the candidates:
Sitting on the floor of a nomad's tent on an August morning, out of the searing sun, an election candidate was making her pitch to a group of women, children and old men clustered around her.

Fareeda Kuchi Balkhi, who wants to represent Afghanistan's nomadic tribes in Parliament, campaigned recently among Kuchi tribesmen in Kabul.

"I want to serve you. I know the pain in your hearts, and if I do not serve you, I pray to God not to grant me success," she said. "I want schools. I want grazing lands for the Kuchis. I want mosques, clinics, we should have midwives and women doctors," she said, counting each item on her fingers. "I want you to have a peaceful life."

The candidate, Fareeda Kuchi Balkhi, is one of seven women campaigning to represent Afghanistan's nomadic tribes, known as the Kuchis, in the Parliament to be elected Sept. 18. Barely 4 feet 6 inches tall, with indigo tattoos marking her forehead and chin, and wearing a black veil and the traditional red and gold embroidered dress and baggy pants of the Kuchis, Mrs. Balkhi is undeniably a true representative.

Before the official opening on Aug. 17 of the election campaign, she traveled from her home in northern Afghanistan to campaign among the nomads who have pitched their tents on the dusty plains around Kabul, the capital.
While candidates campaign across the country, efforts are being made by the authorities to further educate the people about the election. Read this story about Afghanistan's only election info line:
When the centre opened last month, it handled nearly 500 calls a day on six telephones, said Abdul Manan Danish, the official in charge.

"Now the number of people asking questions has gone up to between 700 and 1,500 a day," he said, attributing this rise, and the resulting need for more telephones, to the publicity given to the 180 number.

Nadia Sultani, a female worker at the centre, says the focus of questions has shifted in the time since they opened.

When people were having to register to get voting cards, most questions centred on how this should be done. Now, most callers simply want to know how to vote.
There are other ways of reaching and educating voters:
In Bamiyan Province, where two historic Buddha statues one stood, a crowd has gathered to watch a very modern performance.

The audience laughs appreciatively at the actors' antics, but the play has an entirely serious goal.

It's to show what Afghan voters will go through when they cast their ballots on 18 September -- and to encourage people to go to the polls.

Shamsuddin Yousofzai, dressed in a pointed green hat with red tassels, takes time out from playing a clown to talk to Reuters.

"The purpose of this show is to inform and teach people about elections and the benefit of elections," Yousofzai said. "Through these shows we give instruction to the people, and also it is a way of also entertainment and fun for the people of Bamiyan who have suffered so much and I am really proud to be a part of it."

The Joint Electoral Management Body is using more orthodox means to reach potential voters, with messages on radio, television, and newspapers.

But the more unusual mobile theater is playing a key role, too, according to university student Akbar Khan.
Foreign assistance also continues to arrive for the elections. The United States has promised an extra $8 million towards the cost of conducting the poll. The Netherlands is contributing an extra 4 million euros ($5 million) on top of a previous contribution of 4 million euros, towards the logistical support in the elections. New Zealand is giving $0.7 million and Australia $2 million (with another $5 million to go towards reconstruction). Germany is contributing $3.24 million, and Belgium $1 million:
Furthermore, the Federal Foreign Office is financing projects organized by several non-governmental organizations in the sphere of political education. For example, the Free and Fair Elections Association, an Afghan umbrella organization focusing on the training and the work of national election observers, is receiving EUR 250,000 [$309,000] from the Federal Foreign Office budget. The Independent Parliamentary Association of Afghan Women, which supports female candidates for parliamentary seats, has been allocated EUR 59,800 [$74,000].
In election secuirty assistance, Slovenia is sending its largest so far peacekeeping unit. Overall, NATO is sending additional 2,000 troops for the duration of the elections, bringing its total commitment to 11,000. "The additional [International Security Assistance Force] troops would be from ten nations - Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United States."

And in another good news for election-day security, the Taliban have announced that they will not be targeting polling stations.

In the meantime, a symbolic gesture will bind Asia's biggest democracy with one of Asia's newest:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lay the foundation stone for Afghanistan's Parliament building, a gesture more than symbolic for the two nations.

That the Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy will be asked to do the honours seems natural, but Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's choice also shows the distance the two nations have travelled in recent times.

The fact that the task of building the Afghan parliament has fallen on India's Central Public Works Department may also be another reason why Singh will be asked to lay the foundation stone.

Singh is scheduled to be in Afghanistan between August 27 and 29. The visit itself will make history of sorts as Singh will be the first Indian Prime Minister in almost four decades to travel to Afghanistan. Indira Gandhi had last gone there in 1969.
Afghanistan is working to acquire a new national anthem:
Afghanistan is looking for a new national anthem that the government hopes will bring harmony to the country after nearly three decades of conflict.

A panel of poets, writers and musicians tasked with writing a new anthem after seeking the views of all ethnic groups released a draft this week for public comment.

The current anthem -- a jaunty, martial tune -- is sung in Dari, the language of the Tajiks who made up the bulk of the Mujahideen government that came to power after the fall of the Moscow-backed regime in 1992.

But many Afghans feel the lyrics -- which praise the Mujahideen for defeating the Soviet Red Army -- are now outdated, and they want something more broadly nationalistic that would bring together the country's varied ethnic groups.

Afghanistan had no national anthem from 1996 to 2001 under the Taliban, who banned all forms of music as un-Islamic.
Here is the text of the proposed anthem. On a related topic, one of Afghanistan's best known singers Amir Jan Saboori is visiting Afghanistan: "Saboori is meeting with government officials and academics in an effort to create music schools where a new generation can learn about the traditions of Afghan music while safeguarding its future. 'The best way to help strengthen the field of music in Afghanistan is to establish schools where musicians both living here and in other countries can come together and exchange ideas,' he says."

There's more along the same lines:
In what could be described as a brave move, artistes have called for the government to initiate concrete measures for promoting the performing arts in the southern Kandahar province - a former stronghold of the vanquished Taliban regime.

Renowned singers and musicians argue a mass exodus of artistes from the country - induced by decades of strife and total neglect of art at the official level - has retarded cultural activities in Afghanistan in general and the southern province in particular.

Abdul Qayyum Naseh, a widely-acclaimed singer who has educated hundreds of students including girls in Kandahar, underlines the need for official patronage of music and greater facilities like training centres and cash incentives for musicians.
Much effort is being made to train the much needed professional cadres, which over the past few decades have been decimated by violence and emigration. USAID is training government officials: "In July 2005, USAID delivered eight different training seminars for Ministry of Finance personnel. Training topics included: value-added tax, business receipt tax, income tax coverage, income tax liability, and fixed/presumptive taxes. Since the beginning of 2005, USAID has facilitated training for approximately 833 Ministry of Finance staff members by conducting 45 different seminars). In addition, comparisons between "pre" and "post" examinations illustrate a 25% increase in staff comprehension."

USAID is also supporting female judges: "Twenty female judges received USAID-funded laptop computers at a ceremony held July 26 at the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Shinwari presided and the Chief Administrator and Chief of Personnel were on the dais. In contrast to a desktop, the laptops can be carried between home and court, charged wherever there is power, and used for 2-3 hours during power outages. USAID is also providing computer training classes for the women judges at an off-site USAID-funded computer lab. This is part of a larger USAID effort to increase the capability of Afghanistan’s legal professionals."

Tax officials are also getting trained: "Twenty-three commerce and law graduates, nominated by the Finance Ministry as tax officers, completed three months training... This was the first batch of the tax officers being trained ahead of September 23, date set for implementation of the new taxation law."

Refugees continue to come back to Afghanistan, providing the authorities with the challenge of integration. Japan has donated another $2 million towards the cost of repatriation Afghan refugees from Pakistan. On a smaller scale, "The UN refugee agency... assisted 183 returning families with building material for construction of houses in Orgun district of the southeastern Paktika province."

Read also, how this international initiative is trying to forster good relations and cooperation in Bamyan province, not just between different ethnic groups living there, but also between the old residents and the returnees:
In the village of Sar-i-Qul Topchi, near Bamiyan town, men representing Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun communities have gathered in the home of Haji Abdul Mohammed for one of their regular meetings. The 22 men are members of the local peace committee created as a result of a UNHCR co-existence project, implemented by the non-governmental organization, Save the Children Japan.

Each committee member has received training in conflict resolution and attended workshops where co-existence issues were discussed. The committee is designed to complement existing village authorities such as elders and local councils known as shuras. Once formed, families are encouraged to bring their disputes to the committee. The grievance is then investigated by a working group of five committee members before a decision is issued.

In Sar-i-Qul Topchi, as in other communities of mixed ethnicity, disputes are more often about access to land or water than religion. A second phase of the co-existence project ensures that the root cause of the dispute is addressed. In this case, water pipes and a small dam are being constructed to improve the volume of water provided by a mountain stream which serves the communities.

The construction work is a joint effort between the UN refugee agency, UN Habitat and the Afghan government's National Solidarity Programme.

"The three-month building project is aimed at providing people in these villages with irrigation water, short-term job opportunities, and, of course, promoting co-existence among the different communities," says Mustafa Hussaini of UNHCR in Bamiyan.

For Amir Dud, a peace committee member, the end result is straightforward. "Having access to water means ending disputes among the different tribes in this area," he says.
In health news, USAID is helping to improve the quality of medical training: "To improve the capacity of health providers, USAID focuses on designing and delivering training and professional development courses. In June, a total of 571 doctors, nurses and midwives completed refresher training courses in newborn care, family planning, infectious disease and antenatal/postnatal care. USAID delivered Essential Obstetric Care (EOC) courses at Malalai Hospital, Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif Civil Hospital to update the knowledge and standardize the skills of 30 participants in key safe motherhood practices according to national clinical standards. In addition, a two-day community mapping refresher training course was conducted in Herat province for 30 staff from Herat and Faryab provinces."

USAID is also working to improve access to health care throughout rural areas:
USAID’s Rural Expansion of Afghanistan’s Community-based Healthcare (REACH) program sent monitoring teams to visit 65 health facilities and 803 community health workers (CHW) in Baghlan, Paktia, Herat and Ghazni between July 31 and August 13. During the same time period, approximately 6,700 basic health kits and 18,000 bars of soap were distributed to CHWs and provincial hospitals.

In early August, REACH conducted re-orientation seminars on proper case management of Acute Watery Diarrhea in the four main Kabul hospitals: Infectious Disease Hospital, Indira Ghandi Children’s Hospital, Maiwand Hospital, and Khair Khana Hospital. A total of 80 participants (doctors, nurses, and chiefs of service) were trained.

REACH is supporting the MOPH in the first revision of the original Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), published and released in March 2003. The revised version, which reflects two years of BPHS experience and incorporates elements of care formerly designated "second tier" (i.e., mental health and disability) will be termed "BPHS-2005". In this revision, BPHS is expected to continue to be the foundation of the Afghan health system in providing quality basic health services to its primarily rural population for the coming years.
This initiative is also saving lives: "Since opening last week, the World Vision Afghanistan-sponsored neonatal unit in Herat has saved the lives of at least 20 newborn children. However, more funding is needed so the unit will be able to save even more children." In related news:
Midwives represent a new hope for the survivability of infants and mothers. Many rural communities in Afghanistan rely on midwives as the only professional care provider for pregnant women.

The Medical College of the University of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan graduated 61 midwives recently and about 200 students in other medical professions so far. This class of graduating midwives comes from Nangarhar, Konar, Laghman and Nuristan provinces.
In education news, USAID's help for Afghan education system continues:
As part of its comprehensive education program, USAID has printed and distributed 35.7 million textbooks for grades 1-12 since 2002. An additional 6.2 million have been printed and are ready for distribution. However, the Afghan government often receives specific and unexpected requests from its constituents. The following collaborative effort demonstrates USAID’s agility and dedication in helping the central government respond to provincial requests.

During a visit to Bamiyan in late July, Afghan President Karzai met with students who informed him that they were in need of more 8th and 9th grade textbooks. The president promised the students that they would have the additional textbooks within 10 days. Upon return to Kabul, the President informed the Minister of Education. USAID and the Ministry of Education (MOE) collaborated to ensure that the students’ needs were met within the deadline. At the time of the request, USAID’s printers had all the subjects needed for 9th grade. Another printer had printed 4 subjects for 8th grade. He agreed to immediately switch to print the remaining subjects needed for 8th grade. The partial set of 8th grade and all of the 9th grade textbooks were delivered to the MOE on August 2 and the remaining 8th grade textbooks will be ready by August 8 and will then be delivered to Bamiyan. The Minister was extremely appreciative of USAID’s ability to respond so quickly.
Young people are flocking to IT and English language courses:
Ten-year-old Asad doesn't look any older than his age, but he has already been offered work by several non-governmental organisations, NGOs. His secret? A strong command of English and some computer skills.

Just a few streets away, at 28-years old and with a degree in engineering from Kabul University, Abdul Hadi Shahidzai vainly looks for work in a land trying to rebuild from years of wars.

His problem? No English and little knowledge of computers...

Asad, a level four student at the private National English and Computer Centre in Kabul, is now expanding his computer skills. He is part of an army of young people who see this as their future.

The centre opens at six in the morning, and Asad arrives to polish his English before going to school for normal lessons, and then returning for computer studies at five in the evening.

"I have been asked several times by NGOs to work with them but I'm too young really, and my family wouldn't let me," he told IWPR. Every day outside this and hundreds of other centres in the capital and elsewhere, dozens of students gather in groups, practising their English or discussing computer programmes as they wait for classes where between 30 and 40 students, both male and female, work together.

The centres have mushroomed in the past four years, although some go back much further. The first such school, called Ariana, opened its doors as an English language school in 1971 during the reign of King Mohammad Zaher Shah.

Since the 2001 fall of the fundamentalist Taleban regime, with its ban on educating girls and prohibition of the internet, there has been a huge growth in computer courses. And as most IT lessons are given in English, the two skills go hand in hand.

Today, a total of 760 computing and English language centres throughout Afghanistan are registered with the education ministry, according to Sadruddin Ashrafi, the ministry's head of curriculum matters. Of these, he said, 235 are in Kabul.
India, meanwhile, is renovating Kabul's historic school:
The Habibia School here, one of Afghanistan's premier institutions devastated by the civil war and the diktats of the Taliban, has been restored to its former glory by a team of Indian engineers.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will pay a two-day visit to Afghanistan Aug 28-29, will inaugurate the school building, restored at a cost of $5.1 million (Rs.220 million).

But the task of rebuilding the school was not an easy one. When the Indian team began its work, the four-storey building spread over 15,000 square metres looked like a building used for target practice for all types of weapons, ranging from AK-47 assault rifles to rockets.

Project director A.K. Aggarwal said his team removed 10,000 tonnes of rubble, including live and spent ammunition, from the building before beginning repairs.

Educationists say Afghanistan's former Taliban regime had killed the soul of the school when it issued diktats that forbade the teaching of subjects like science. It also sacked the highly respected principal, Sayed Naasir Askarzada.

Today the school has a brand new building, complete with the restoration of all damaged elements, new floors, marble walls in corridors, aluminium windows, a new central heating system, new furniture and laboratory equipment as well as a large computer room.
Elsewhere in the country, "the Afghan Education Foundation (AEF) has trained 800 teachers including 295 female on modern teaching methods and techniques in the southern Kandahar province." Also in Kandahar province:
The Ghazi Abdullah Khan School in the Spin Boldak district of the southern Kandahar province was inaugurated after reconstruction on Tuesday.

Reconstructed with financial assistance from an NGO, the school has 36 classrooms. Senior education department official Pir Mohammad told Pajhwok Afghan News the renovation work had been initiated last year.

Students' problems will be resolved with the opening of the school, he hoped, recalling around 1,600 pupils were enrolled in the school before the reconstruction work was launched.
Free from the Taliban suppression, Afghanistan's free media has a chance to develop and expand. Recently, Tolo Television, Afghanistan's private TV channel, has expanded transmission to cover Kandahar City. It's another step in the channel's short but successful history:
[Director Saad Mohseni] said their programmes were now reaching more than 13 million people across the country. He said apart from Kandahar, their programmes had been visualising in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif while it would cover the eastern city of Jalalabad within the next two weeks.

A statement issued from the TV station said Tolo TV also broadcasted via satellite across the region, covering Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Gulf States, Turkey, and Central Asia...

Asked about the widespread criticism from clerics, especially the Ulema Council led by Afghanistan's Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, Mohseni said 80 per cent of people were watching the programmes and they liked it.
And now Tolo is to give Afghanistan its own Oprah:
Afghanistan is to get its own Oprah Winfrey-style chat show touching on taboo women’s issues, a television station said... in a move likely to anger hardliners in the conservative Islamic nation.

Called Bonu, the Persian word for women, the show will be launched by privately-run Tolo Television, which has drawn condemnation from mullahs for airing music videos of scantily clad women and for accepting large US grants.

Tolo was the subject of international attention in May when the female host of its most popular music programme was found dead with gunshot wounds in a mysterious killing, for which no one has been charged.

The station said in a statement that the new chat show would examine topics such as education, changing social norms, marriage, leadership, motherhood and physical and mental health

Female host Farzana Samimi will be joined by psychiatrist Dr Yassin Babrak to talk about issues affecting women, it said.

“Our aim is to drive social change through open and frank discussions regarding the issues facing women in Afghanistan today,” Samini was quoted as saying. Tolo Television was launched in October 2004 and has become the nation’s most popular station, reaching an estimated 15 million Afghans in Afghanistan alone as well as others across the region by satellite.

Director Saad Mohseni said: “Our programming is about building Afghanistan’s future, that is why we have Bonu as well as our news and current affairs programmes examining the way forward.”
Meanwhile, in another recent initiative to help the development of Afghan journalism:
A new institute to promote investigative journalism will soon be established in Afghanistan.

The proposed institution, unregistered thus far, currently training 10 Afghan journalists on investigative reporting.

The moving spirit behind the project Abdul Ghafoor Liwal said this was the first venture of its nature in the war-ravaged country as compared to other states across the world. He said investigative reporting was a well developed technique in modern world playing a major role in solving problems of society.
Also: "Two Afghan trainers participated in a two-month training course for Asian and African journalists held in Berlin. The course, held at the International Journalism Institute (IIJ), got under way on June 8 and concluded on August 9, with 15 participants from Asian and African countries."

While some damage can't be unmade, some memories can be at least brought back:
When the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan destroyed two 1,600-year-old Buddha statues carved into Bamiyan Valley's soaring cliffs, the world shook with shock at the demise of such huge archaeological treasures.

Now, artist Hiro Yamagata plans to commemorate the towering Buddhas by projecting multicolored laser images onto the cliff sides where the figures once stood.

"I'm doing a fine-art piece. That's my purpose — not for human rights, or for supporting religion or a political statement," said Yamagata, whose other laser works include a permanent display at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Against a canvas of desert darkness, 14 laser systems powered by solar panels and windmills will project 140 overlapping faceless "statues" sweeping four miles across Bamiyan's cliffs in neon shades of green, pink, orange, white and blue. Each image will continuously change color and pattern.
First Special Olympics have been held in Afghanistan in late August, with 360 athletes with intellectual disabilities participating in athletics, bocce and football. Says Mr Troy Greisen, Managing Director, Special Olympics Asia Pacific: "One of our goals in Afghanistan is to establish new local programmes in communities across the country. We are here to expand this movement and spread the message of hope to parents and families of persons with intellectual disabilities. Through these Games we will demonstrate that these capable individuals that have hurdled such difficult circumstances can not-only be proven as great athletes, but can also be fully accepted, empowered to serve as leaders and that their abilities can actually outshine their disabilities."

Lastly, Afghanistan gets its first Mr Afghanistan:
Khosraw Basheri feverishly pumped iron for years, toning his body so it rippled with muscle and veins. His hard work paid off when he claimed a historic title in his war-battered country -- Mr. Afghanistan.

The 23-year-old businessman from western Herat province flexed and grinned his way to victory Saturday in Afghanistan's first-ever national competition to select a top bodybuilder.

"I will never forget this day, the day I became Mr. Afghanistan," said Basheri, sweat and makeup streaming down his massive frame. "This has been my hope for the past two years, since I started preparing myself for this."...

"The most popular sport after football (soccer) in Afghanistan is bodybuilding," said Sayed Mohammed Payanda, secretary general of Afghanistan's National Bodybuilding Federation. "Most people in Afghanistan, especially young people, like bodybuilding very much."

It's so popular, in fact, that Arnold Schwarzenegger -- the former bodybuilder and movie star turned California governor -- is among the most widely recognized Western celebrities here.

Modern gyms and athletic clubs have popped up in many provinces in recent years, Payanda said, adding that some Afghan bodybuilders have returned from neighboring Pakistan and Iran since the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime was ousted in 2001 and President Hamid Karzai subsequently took office.
RECONSTRUCTION: Afghanistan's public finances are improving: "Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance released total domestic revenue totals for the first 3 months of Afghan calendar year 1384. The total is now $77.16 million, a 40% increase from the same period last year (Afghan year 1383). Of the $77.16 million, customs operations represent 53% of the total figure, with $41.45 million collected within the initial 3-month period. Taxes account for 10% of total domestic revenue, with $7.7 million collected so far. This shows considerable progress from last year (1383) and is promising for the remainder of the year."

Foreign assistance continues to arrive. India is a major helper in rebuilding Afghanistan: "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, carrying offers of fresh aid and seeking to blunt rival Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan, heads tomorrow to Kabul for the first visit by an Indian premier in 29 years... India, one of the six top donors to Afghanistan, has pledged S500m in aid to Kabul since 2002 and Singh would unveil fresh assistance of $50m during the visit."

During the Prime Minister's visit, three accords covering education, healthcare and agricultural research were signed between India and Afghanistan, and an extra $50 million committed by India towards reconstruction.

Spain is also contributing more resources towards reconstruction:
Spain will allocate 10 million euros [$12.3 million] for the first phase of developing Afghanistan's infrastructure, a Spanish Foreign Ministry official said.

The Spanish Agency for International Cooperation under the Spanish Foreign Ministry will allocate the money for constructing water supply systems, roads, and hospitals in the poorest province of Badghis in northwestern Afghanistan.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry official and four experts of the agency will arrive in the country in early September to oversee the restoration of Afghanistan's civil infrastructure, a plan suggested by Spain.

A total of 125 Spanish peacekeepers are already in the Badghis province, restoring health services, water treatment facilities, and roads.
Russia, meanwhile, is considering various options for debt relief to reduce Afghanistan's $10 billion debt burden. And here's a retrospective on the Japanese contribution so far.

But reconstruction is also a local effort: "More than 400 local representatives from around Afghanistan [met] in Kabul to exchange development ideas and experiences from around the country. They are all involved in development projects through the National Solidarity Programme, NSP, a flagship programme created by the Afghan Government with the support of the World Bank."

Under the Kabul Urban Reconstruction Project, "the World Bank has provided $25 million of interest-free loan to the government for bringing improvement in the basic urban services in the most vulnerable areas of the central capital."

A major infrastructure project is now back on track:
The Washington sisterhood's campaign against the Taliban, led by the Feminist Majority Foundation, had thwarted ambitious plans by the US energy firm Unocal to build a strategic pipeline across the wastelands of Afghanistan.

But what a difference a war makes. In the new Kabul, the $US3.8 billion ($5 billion) gas project is being resurrected and one of the finer pairs of hands on this dog-eared brief are those of Mary Louise Vitelli, a fortysomething New York lawyer.

She explains that in the 1990s she was fighting a very different war. Far from the battlefields of Washington, she was working in Russia, on a World Bank attempt to reform the former Soviet Union's antiquated coal industry.

What she remembers of the US capital makes her prefer Kabul.

"Washington was the most sexist place I've ever worked," she said.

"Here the minister sets a different tone. He has women in key senior jobs and I'm welcomed in the provinces. I'm the team leader and there is no problem."

Her boss, the Minister for Mines and Industries, Mir Mohammad Sediq, brims with the kind of confidence that separates the stayers from the faint-hearted in the global resource development race.

Afghan optimism about the Unocal project is understandable. If the pipeline goes ahead, the Afghan Government might make up to $US300 million a year (the equivalent of its ostensible budget) purely from transit fees along a pipeline that will enter Afghanistan's north-west corner, follow the ring road that skirts the spread-eagled Hindu Kush and exit through the still restive south-east...

Representatives of the four governments that are a party to the pipeline project - Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan - are to meet in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, soon, where they hope to sign off on Turkmenistan's capacity to supply gas and Pakistan's willingness and ability to buy it, and on the outline of a private consortium to build and operate the pipeline.
In other power news, a new Indian infrastructure project will bring more electricity by the end of the decade:
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (POWERGRID) - a government of India enterprise - has bagged... international transmission project in Afghanistan. POWERGRID and ministry of external affairs, GoI, entered into an agreement to this effect on August 12...

Giving details the statement said the entire expenditure on the project shall be borne by GoI under the assistance programme to Afghanistan. The project will strengthen Indian presence and involvement in the reconstruction process in Afghanistan and will enhance international profile of POWERGRID. The project is scheduled to be completed by February 2009.

The project will enable Afghanistan to imort power from generating stations located in Uzbekistan to Kabul to bridge the gap in demand and supply. The project comprises construction of 220 KV double circuit transmission line from Pule-Ku i to Kabul (202 km) and new 220/110/20 KV sub-station at Kabul.

The transmission line is passing through snowbound tough hilly terrain, steep hills with altitude ranging from 1800 m to 4000 m above see level and temperatures as low as 30 deg C (a part of Hindu-kush mountain range). The materials of about 15000 MT required for the project shall be transported from India to Afghanistan by sea route via Bandar Abbas port in Iran and thereafter through 2500 km roads of Afghanistan.
In another cross-border project that could bring benefits to locals:
An Iranian delegation Wednesday held talks with provincial authorities on a proposed gas pipeline from Turbat-i-Jam to the western Herat province.

Representatives of the Non-governmental Gas Producer Association of Iran said they would launch the project following a green signal from the Iranian government. The delegation said the Herat officials would be informed in the next two weeks.

Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, Herat Mayor Mohammad Rafiq Mujaddedi said the 13-member team called on Governor Syed Hussain Anwary and expressed willingness to launch the project. He said the two sides agreed on signing a formal agreement after the go ahead from the gas and petroleum ministry of Iran.
In communications news, the cell phone network keeps growing:
Five more cell-phone companies have expressed their willingness to launch services in Afghanistan, officials told Pajhwok Afghan News.

Al-Kozay, National Kam International, Watan Mobile Company, and two firms from Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are ready to launch operations in Afghanistan, where Roshan and the Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) are already active.

Earlier, the Communication Ministry had announced 80 companies were interested in getting licenses for launching services in Afghanistan. But in the final analysis, five of them have stepped forward to accept the government's terms and conditions.
The previously foreshadowed 300 public phones have now been installed across the capital: "Three hundred new telephone booths have been installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul. During the inauguration ceremony, the Afghan minister for communication, Amirzai Sangeen, explained that half the phone boxes were placed in the city's shopping areas, while the rest were installed in the more densely populated areas of the capital. Built by the German company Siemens, the booths cost 200,000 US dollars and were paid for by the Afghan government and installed by a local private company."

Here's another report about the Kabul public phones:
Like strange hooded aliens, sparkling yellow telephone stands have sprouted in Kabul's dilapidated streets, drawing curious looks and hesitant attempts to use them.

“Brother, how can I drop the coin in the phone?” a young man asked Jamaluddin as he left his work at the education ministry.

Jamaluddin explained that the new phones accepted pre-paid cards rather than coins.

Standing slightly taller than a man, the 300 new phones - comprising a central pillar and a cobra-like plastic shelter for the handset - bring a touch of progress to this city of more than three million people.

Half the phones are spread through the capital's streets, while the other 150 have been set up in ministries, public hospitals and police precincts for public use.

The phones, which went into service on August 11, have brought renewed hope of a way to communicate for the capital's countless poor, who cannot afford mobile phones or the more expensive Public Call Offices, PCOs.

Afghanistan got its first coin-operated public telephones in 1973. At that time, a call needed a single one-afghani coin fed into a slot. In addition to Kabul, the phones were installed in Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif.

But like so many other public services, the phone system fell into disrepair after the collapse of the communist regime in 1992 and in the subsequent fighting between rival mujahedin groups that devastated Kabul .

Now an Afghan-American company called Afghan Pooshesh (Afghan Coverage) has set up the network of public phones at a cost of 180,000 US dollars. The money has come from the communications ministry, which has signed an installation and one-year maintenance contract with the company.
In transport news, the Asian Development Bank will be funding the development of the civil aviation sector:
The Asian Development Bank will help improve Afghanistan's air transport system by boosting management of the country's civil aviation administration, through a technical assistance (TA) grant approved for US$1 million.

The TA will improve the air safety oversight of the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and maintenance of a financial management system that will be developed to enhance financial governance of airport operations.

It will help develop air safety regulatory frameworks to be adopted in a phased manner in coordination with other aid agencies, with the ultimate goal of establishing an independent civil aviation authority. It will also help draft a civil aviation act that will remedy the deficiencies of the existing acts, as well as other civil aviation regulations and safety orders needed.

Work manuals for airworthiness control, flight operations inspection, personnel licensing, air operator certification, and accident and incident investigation will likewise be developed.
There's also action on provincial roads: "The Afghan government, in collaboration with the World Bank, will is to start the reconstruction of 260 kilometres of roads that lead to villages in seven provinces, officials said on August 27. An agreement was signed between the ministers of rural rehabilitation and development, public works and the World Bank on the 15 million US dollar project. Sohrab Ali Safar, the minister of public works, said the programme will cover the reconstruction of roads for villages in Kabul, Herat, Bamian, Kunduz, Logar, Paktika and Parwan provinces, and will create jobs for 600,000 people."

Agriculture is still the major industry and the main employer throughout the country. Afghanistan's only sugar factory is planning not only to revive the local economy (and an old local industry) but also do its bit in the fight against drugs:
The factory is ready, the workers trained, but the rest is something of a gamble.

Will the farmers of Baghlan province, northwest of Kabul, plough up their poppies and swap the rich harvest of opium for sugar beet?

Many say that they will, even though poppies have been a reliable source of income over the years of jihad and civil war.

At a recently refurbished factory, the only sugar plant in Afghanistan, manager Abdul Karim Wazeri said he is trying to persuade all the farmers of the northern provinces to plant beet. If they do, he has pledged to buy their entire crop for the next two or three years.

He told IWPR that nearly 200 workers were already at the factory, being paid a wage of three US dollars a day, and that the plant could process 100,000 tonnes of beet a year from which 15,000 tons of sugar would be produced.

At least one farmer appears ready to make the switch.

"Even though we'll earn less than with poppies, it will be much better because we can cultivate and sell sugar beet freely, without any threats or restrictions," said Taza Mir, a 63-year-old farmer in the province.

Taza Mir is old enough to remember the days when beet was the major crop in Baghlan and the province was noted for its sugar.
There is also assistance under the US Department of Agriculture's Food for Progress program:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that it will donate 5,150 metric tons of soybean oil and 10,000 tons of soybeans to International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), a private voluntary organization, for use in Afghanistan.

IFDC will sell the soybean oil in Afghanistan, and sell the soybeans in Pakistan. Proceeds will be used over a two-year period to fund its technical assistance and market development activities designed to increase the quality and quantity of local wheat produced by the Afghan milling industry. IFDC also will provide a portion of the proceeds to the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture and its extension staff to conduct research trials to improve high-value crops. The proceeds also will be used to conduct on-farm demonstrations to improve crop technology for key high-value foods and wheat crops in seven provinces in southern Afghanistan.
USAID, meanwhile, is trying to assist the revival of the dried fruit and nut industry:
Before the Soviet invasion, exports of dried fruit and nuts were significant to the agricultural economy in Afghanistan. Today, as Afghan producers re-enter the global market, aflatoxin contamination is one of the primary constraints to meeting export quality standards. Aflatoxins are produced by the molds Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus...

To meet global market export standards, USAID is funding aflatoxin detection and reduction projects. In January 2005, a training program on aflatoxins and testing procedures for detection was held. Twenty three men and women from the Raisin and Dried Fruit Export Promotion Institute of the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Faculty of Science of Kabul University participated in the three day, hands-on training in aflatoxin detection and measurement.

In addition to training for key Afghan personnel and ministries, on March 2005, the renovation of the laboratory at the Raisin and Dried Fruit Export Institute was completed. The lab is now capable of detecting and measuring aflatoxin levels in parts per billion using fluorometric equipment. A suitable location for another testing laboratory in Kandahar is being identified by the Export Institute.

In a move to build international confidence in the dried fruits and nuts of Afghanistan, the Ministry of Commerce held a conference in Kabul in June 2005. At the conference, Ministry and industry representatives decided that beginning in August 2005, testing and certification would be required for all exports. The newly renovated laboratories are staffed with trained personnel and ready to facilitate this major step toward Afghanistan’s regaining a share of the dried fruit and nut export markets.
There are also other ways that USAID us trying to assist Afghan agriculture:
USAID’s Rebuilding Agricultural Markets Program aims to improve food security, increase cropping productivity and rural employment, and improve family incomes and well-being.

A dedication ceremony was held in late July in Balkh province for the hand over of 100 km of recently constructed farm-to-market roads. Work continues in Ghazni, Nangarhar and Kunduz; four kilometers of road were completed during the last two weeks of July. To date, 362 km of farm to market roads have been rehabilitated.

From July 17 – 31, USAID disbursed 2,649 loans, a 17% increase from the prior two week period. To date, 18,546 loans have been disbursed with approximately 85% of these loans granted to women.

During the last two weeks of July, work began on the construction of a fruit and nut processing building at Mazar-e Sharif and work continued on two facilities with refrigeration units for fruit processing in Kandahar. Also, the construction was completed at the vegetable dehydration factory near Charikar in Parwan province. The vegetable dehydration factory is now employing 80 process workers per shift and securing produce from 1,400 production farmers from the surrounding area. To date, USAID has constructed 145 market centers.
Here's more on the Charikar plant:
A food processing plant in the central Parwan province has been established with a $4 million aid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Spread over an area of 10 acres, establishment of the factory had created 10,00 jobs and enabled the northern provinces to export fresh vegetables to other countries.

Engineer Haroon, an official of the project, told Pajhwok Afghan News this was the first vegetable processing plant in the country established by the USAID. He said vegetables like carrot and tomato would be packed and processed in the plant for onward shipment to international market.
Speaking of fruit and nuts, after decades of disruption, Afghanistan's famous fresh and dried fruit are reaching foreign markets again:
The government is airlifting for the first time 12,000 tons of fresh fruits to India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the southern Kandahar province.

Officials said 6,000 tons of grapes would be exported to India and the UAE each on Wednesday via the air route to save the commodity from going rotten.

Afghanistan's fresh fruits are in great demand in India, Pakistan, the UAE and Gulf states, but decades of conflict have left the government with little ability to arrange speedy shipment of the produce.

Abdur Raziq Rafiqi, chairman of the Kandahar Chamber of Commerce, said fruits were airlifted abroad for the first time in the history of the province.

In a chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, he informed three storages had been constructed in the province to preserve fresh and dry fruits throughout the year. Two of these have been built with financial assistance from the US while the third will be completed soon with the help of India.

The two storages, he added, had the capacity for storing 44,000 tons of fruits. "At present, 22,000 tons have been placed there."
Meanwhile, one American is putting his experience to use to rebuild Afghan grain industry:
Dave Frey is using his 27 years of experience as the administrator of the Kansas Wheat Commission to help the people of Afghanistan.

Frey, 54, left for Kabul three months ago to serve as the director of the Grain Industry Alliance. The agency is a subcontractor of the taxpayer-funded Rebuilding Agricultural Markets in Afghanistan Program.

The country plans to import a half-million tons of wheat and flour, most coming from Pakistan. Plans are to build a center to market grain, including a flour mill in Kunduz. But his focus in Afghanistan extends beyond wheat.

"We also will be expanding and building marketing centers for grapes," he said. "Most people don't realize that Afghanistan was a great grower of table grapes."

Since Frey arrived in May, projects have included building a fresh fruit exports marketing center in Habib City, west of Kandahar. And cold storage facilities are being built to make prolonged storage of grapes and other fresh fruits a possibility.
Lastly, this year's wheat harvest is very good: "The 2005 wheat harvest will be the second largest in nine years (2003 wheat production was 4.36 million metric tons and just over two percent larger), and nearly 86 percent greater than last year, despite just a six percent increase in area cultivated."

HUMANITARIAN AID: Ahead of winter, the United Nations is starting food distribution: "The United Nations announced launching of food distribution among half a million poor Afghans ahead of the winter season. The Winterization Programme, which has already been initiated in some remote parts of the country, is aimed at distributing food among the impoverished ahead of the snowfall. The humanitarian aid flow from the World Food Program (WFP) included delivery of 23,000 metric tones of wheat, pulses, edible oil and salt."

Iranian Red Crescent Society is also helping: "The five-truck humanitarian assistance consists of the following relief items: 750 tents 5250 sets of blanket 750 plastic jerry cans of 10 liters 750 sets of utensil 300 layers of carpet 750 sets of kerosene stove 38 rolls of plastic sheet."

The World Food Program is providing assistance on the ongoing basis:
During the reporting period [11-17 August], 126,000 beneficiaries were assisted with more than 2400 mt of food...

Improved access to the local market and provision of potable water was achieved when 45 unit wells were dug and 13.5km road was rehabilitated through WFP’s food for work projects in Pashton Kot district of Faryab province in the north region.
With the bureaucratic red tape finally cut, Afghani disabled will finally benfit from this humanitarian consignment:
The government of Pakistan has waived off a demurrage of Rs. 3.168 million of over and thousand wheelchairs to be distributed amongst the needy and disabled Afghani people.

A consignment of 2x40 containers comprising wheelchairs donated to a registered NGO “Helping Hands Centre” Kabul Afghanistan for distribution amongst the needy/disabled Afghan Peoples were shipped from Hong Kong, landed at the Karachi Port in December 2003.

The consignment could not be cleared from Karachi Port due to non-fulfilment of required formalities by the consignee.

As a gesture of goodwill towards the peoples of Afghanistan, the Government of Pakistan has waived off the entire demurrage accrued on the shipment of wheelchairs. This decision has been made purely on humanitarian grounds and keeping in view the good and friendly bilateral relations Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees is working to provide water in drought affected areas:
A new water supply project has been launched in the northern Faryab Province where today, access to safe water is limited. Drinking water shortages in Faryab are in some cases consequences of the recent years of drought.

Up to five districts in Faryab Province are expected to be covered during this one year project funded by EC providing around 56,000 people with improved water and sanitation.

The main activities concern provision of improved water with the support of hygiene education and sanitation facilities. To ensure a high level of sustainability and lasting water supply, all wells will be linked into a community-based maintenance system including spare part shops and hand pump mechanics. Furthermore, water samples will be collected and tested by DACAAR.

When wells are established in the districts both men and women will receive hygiene education contributing to improved health status with particular focus on women and children. During the year DACAAR will conduct an impact study to monitor effects of training activities and see how hygiene and sanitation practices and knowledge change.
One Afghan boy now has a chance for a normal life after a timely medical attention in the United States:
Two months ago when Zia Urrahman arrived in Fort Wayne from Afghanistan, he could hardly raise his right arm above his head. The burns the young boy suffered had caused abnormal shortening of skin tissue.

After three surgeries at St. Joseph Hospital, a much more mobile Zia was finally reunited with some of the Indiana National Guardsmen who first met him while serving in Afghanistan. The gathering Wednesday night at Science Central was a celebration of the boy’s recovery and the first chance for many of the soldiers to see Zia’s progress.

“We know (the St. Joseph Hospital staff) will do it,” Maj. Brad Boyle said. “But it’s surprising how well he’s doing.”

Boyle, a physician’s assistant with the Indiana National Guard 113th Support Battalion, first met Zia when the 5-year-old was taken to Camp Phoenix where Indiana’s 76th Brigade was stationed last fall. Boyle’s efforts to help Zia included fundraising efforts with his wife, Dr. Lorinda Browning, to bring the boy and his father to Fort Wayne for treatment.

“When we saw him, he was very small – about 2-foot tall, very shy and hunched over,” said Boyle, who lives in Decatur. “It’s great to see now he’s just like other kids.”
Zia is now healing nicely and is about to head back home. Meanwhile, 6-year old Basira Jan has arrived in Indianapolis for treatment for her heart condition:
Two Indiana National Guard units began the effort to send Basira to Indianapolis while they were serving at Camp Phoenix. Florida National Guard members continued the project as they replaced Indiana troops at the camp.

Basira was scheduled for tests at Riley on Monday to pinpoint her heart condition. She might have Tetralogy of Fallot, characterized by four defects, including a hole in the heart and an enlarged lower right chamber.

Her surgery was expected to be performed in the next two weeks, depending on what Monday's exams reveal.

Riley Hospital, its staff and the Central Indiana Rotary's Gift of Life program, which brings children from developing countries to the United States for heart surgery, joined in assisting Basira.

She is the second Gift of Life patient from Afghanistan. In February, Qudrat Ullah Wardak, a then-14-month-old boy who had little time to live because of a complex heart problem, came from Kabul helped by the Guard.
Another serviceman and his community are helping one Afghan school:
Many East Texas children are now back in school. On the other side of the world, many Afghani kids were not so fortunate, until recently. One Tyler soldier, his men, and his church, are making it their military mission to transform at least one school house.

Last February, as part of his mission, Major Pierre Fenrick arrived in what he was told was a nice, middle class Afghani neighborhood, people living their dream. What he saw, though, seemed more like a nightmare. They have no water. They have wells outside. They have electricity, but no air conditioning. Also, Major Fenrick saw families living in the bombed remains of Russian barracks.

One day, the major and his men came across a school. There were Classrooms with just four textbooks, and children who had never owned a pencil. So, he contacted his wife, telling her that he thought they needed to adopt the school.

That's where Faith Community Church in Tyler stepped in. The church sent 14 giant boxes filled with school supplies to children whose names they did not even know. With the supplies, soldiers passed out government backpacks with a message saying the U.S. and Afghanistan are friends.
American children, meanwhile, will be helping their Afghan peers:
Hundreds of American children at Caserma Ederle have a parent deployed on a mission to improve the lives of people in Afghanistan. Many of those kids will be participating in a project over the next several months to do the same thing.

"They are contributing to something that their deployed parent is contributing to," said Tamara Browning, a program operations specialist with Child and Youth Services.

The idea behind Operation Help Out came from a soldier deployed to Afghanistan. He told his wife he had noticed large numbers of kids showing up in communities during medical visits. Soldiers treating the kids soon discovered most of them weren’t in need of medical attention. They just wanted the lollipops that were passed out after the treatment was provided.

Many of those standing in line weren't wearing shoes.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on earth, so there’s also concern that kids won't have enough warm clothes this winter.

Browning said Operation Help Out will focus on gathering those three items: lollipops, shoes and warm clothes.
One charity is helping Afghan women: "Medair has been assisting poor women in Kabul city since 1996. In the present programme women learn new skills such as tailoring, machine embroidery, leatherwork and broom- and basket-making. They are encouraged to sell their work and are given business advice from the supervisors. As a further help for them, adult literacy classes are run every lunchtime for all participants. Learning to read and write is very important to the women, who value the independence this gives them." One trainee, Sheelah, says:
The outfits I made at the beginning were sold back to me at a very low price as I was still training. Then I sold them on to my family and neighbours. Initially I could only make about 30 Afghanis profit on each outfit, but once people saw that the clothes were well made they started to ask me more about the course and began to order specific clothes. I bring small samples of the different materials home so that they can choose the colour and style that they like. I take their measurements and then our trainer helps me to design and cut out the material. Now I can earn 60-70 Afghanis per outfit and combined with the 55 Afghanis per day that I receive from the training centre, I can now cover the expenses of my family. I thank Medair for accepting me in this training and giving me the chance to support my family.

When I finish this training I hope to start a small business from my home, sewing clothes for my friends and neighbours. But I will need to purchase a sewing machine and a painted sign for the doorway.
Christian Children's Fund is trying to bring literacy to Afghan children and youth.

An Italian charity is working to revive tourism, and at the same time help re-integrate former fighters into the society:
How to turn a veteran Afghan mujahideen fighter into a mountaineer guide.

That is one of the goals of an Italian-run course in the peaks north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"I have lots of experience in these mountains fighting the Russians," said Commander Rahim Khan, one of the former mujahideen fighters, who handed in his weapons earlier this year.

We want to open again the door of the Afghan Hindu Kush to mountaineering

For centuries, Afghanistan's Hindu Kush mountains have served mainly to keep out would-be invaders - from the British to the Russians.

The hope is the peaks could now work the other way - attracting climbers, trekkers and other visitors, amid tentative efforts to exploit the country's potential as a tourist destination.

It's early days. Because of security concerns, serious tourist dollars remain a distant prospect - not least because the US and many other governments still advise their citizens against visiting Afghanistan.

No one doubts the potential is there though - especially in its mountains, some of the highest in the world and many of them unclimbed.

That's why the Rome-based organisation, Mountain Wilderness, has started training people as guides, "ready for when they start arriving," explains the group's energetic leader Professor Carlo Pinelli.

Twenty-two would be mountain guides - including 2 women - were signed up for the first course.
THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to providing security, the Coalition troops are also helping to rebuild the country as well as trying to help its people in many different ways. A senior US commander is updating on the reconstruction of Afghanistan:
"We have made great strides in building the Afghan security forces,” said Brigadier General James Champion of the U.S. Army Joint Task Force in Afghanistan. “Today we have over a twenty-four-thousand-man-strong army in operational units throughout the country and five-thousand more in training,” he said.

General Champion said the U.S. has agreed to contribute nine-hundred-million dollars in recently allotted funds to assist the Afghan National Police. More than forty-one-thousand police officers are now serving with the Afghan National Police and some nine-thousand more are in training.

The U.S. continues to assist with reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. In Kunar and Nangarhar provinces in northeast Afghanistan, over five-thousand Afghans are employed in a variety of reconstruction projects.

Over one-thousand-five-hundred men, women, and children recently received medical care from U.S. forces. Remote villages in areas that have never had water now have wells. And a commercial trade school is planned for Nangarhar to train Afghans needed job skills.

In the central eastern portion of Afghanistan more than three-thousand Afghans are working on development projects. Significant improvements are being made to roads and highways. These projects are expected to improve security and promote trade and commerce in the region.

The U.S. is assisting in the establishment of a provincial government complex to serve the previously isolated Bermel Valley. In Oruzgan province, U.S. and coalition forces are refurbishing schools. Numerous wells are being planned to provide fresh water to remote villages. The Afghan National Police have taken over the primary security role for Oruzgan. General Champion said these police officers “are clearly demonstrating their ability to conduct large-scale and coordinated operations” against insurgents.

In Zabul and northern Kandahar provinces, major reconstruction projects are underway, including the Tarin Kowt to Kandahar road. Less than thirteen kilometers remain to complete this one-hundred-twenty-two-kilometer highway. More than one-thousand Afghans are working in Nimroz and Helmand provinces on projects that include flood planning and disaster relief.
Reconstruction is progressing in the Baghran Valley:
Afghanistan's Baghran Valley, once home to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, will receive more than $2 million in U.S. reconstruction funds over the next six months. The area will receive $2.4 million in an effort to bring peace, prosperity and security to the region once known as a bastion of Taliban ideology. Projects include reconstruction of the area's most prominent Mosque, a new high school, road repair, and equipping the local police force with motorcycles...

As the provisional reconstruction team announced the projects, former Taliban leader Rais Bagharni, a participant in the government of Afghanistan's reconciliation program, announced his intent to run in September's parliamentary elections.

"Reconstruction is my jihad," Bagharni said, adding that he was committed to helping the [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] with reconstruction efforts in the area.

One of the area's most visible projects is paving a 700-meter road through the town's center, which will give the people living in the area easier access to the shopping district.

In another nearby ceremony recently, Kandahar province Gov. Assa Dullah Khalid; U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bert Ges, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment; and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robbie Ball, commander of the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team, cut the ribbon on a bridge spanning the Tarnak River. The bridge cost nearly $300,000 and took almost two years to complete. The bridge links the Baghran Valley with nearby major centers of commerce, which will improve the overall economy of the area.

The projects, which will use contracted Afghan construction firms, are expected to take anywhere from three to six months to complete, officials said.
Work is also ongoing in Kapisa province:
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) stationed in the Parwan province, Thursday launched four construction projects in the neighbouring Kapisa province, north of the central capital Kabul.

The projects included construction of a bridge in Tagab, compounds of police stations in Nijrab and Alasai and establishment of a veterinary hospital in the provincial capital Mahmood Raqi.
Read also this report on the work of the Farah Provincial Reconstruction Team:
The 170-square meter compound stands out against the dusty reddish brown rock of southwestern Afghanistan. It’s a small compound with sparse amenities in the middle of nowhere. A few small saplings dot the compound but offer no shade or relief from the summer heat, which on a day in June topped out at 148 degrees.

But the base that houses the Farah Provisional Reconstruction Team is a beacon of hope and a magnet for reconstruction and a better life for the Afghans who live near.
The troops are constructing roads:
If the fight to defeat the Taliban can be measured in distances, one of the ongoing battles is 76 miles long. And it’s combat engineers, not infantrymen, who are carrying the fight to build a road between Kandahar and Tirin Kot (Map).

Nearly 1,000 active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers from the Kandahar-based Task Force Pacemaker have been working since April to finish the final 48-mile stretch of road.

Millions of man-hours and $22 million — much of it from the U.S. Agency for International Development — have been pumped into the project, which should be finished within the next month. A company contracted by USAID is following behind the soldiers and will lay a longer-lasting top coating on the road by the end of October.

In the meantime, the task force’s two construction crews, which includes units from Alaska, Hawaii and North Carolina, are pushing the northern and southern sections closer by about 700 meters a day. The crews are expected to meet Wednesday just north of the small village of Kekhay.

But this project isn’t just about building a road.

While construction crews were putting down a coating of crushed rock on the road Saturday near Elbak, a handful of other soldiers were examining villagers during a medical civil affairs project.
The troops are also building accommodation for internally displaced families:
The US military in Afghanistan as part of its commitment in rebuilding the war-torn nation has agreed to help authorities build shelter for some 2,000 displaced families in the capital city, commander of the US army Engineering Department in Afghanistan said Monday.

"Representatives from the Afghan Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Refugees, Kabul Municipality, USA ID and I signed a memorandum of understanding on a multi-phase project on July 23 to provide housing for displaced Afghans," Christopher J. Toomey told journalists.

The project, he said, would be built on 270 acres of land in Chil Dukhtaran area of Char Asiab southwest of Kabul.

"It will provide dwellings for up to 2,000 displaced families currently living in Kabul," he added.

However, he declined to say the budget sanctioned for the project.

More than 2,000 internally displaced Afghan families have been living in the war-damaged buildings in the capital city Kabul over the past three years.

This is the first time that the US military gets involved in building accommodation for displaced and destitute Afghans.
Medical outreach missions, like this one, continue to bring assistance to Afghan people in remote areas:
Paratroopers and medical personnel assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne) treated more than 600 Afghans, and their farm animals, in the Nawbahar village. The village is located north of Kandahar and is the former homeland of the Taliban.

The village medical outreach visit, or VMO, treated 616 people. One hundred and four individuals also received dental treatment during the visit. Veterinarians with the group also treated hundreds of farm animals, the most common illness among them being worms.

The paratroopers also assisted local police forces fix their patrol vehicles and motorcycles and taught several classes to the ANP on the topic of vehicle maintenance.
In another similar mission:
Coalition forces have completed a 10-day civic assistance mission that included medical, veterinary, and mechanical assistance.

Aug. 8 marked the end of Operation Rimini. The village medical outreach mission was a true joint effort with participation by three Coalition members.

“Team Village,” as the group was called, included American medical, veterinary and mechanical personnel; two Romanian soldiers, one a dentist; and a security element of American and Afghan National Army soldiers, as well as soldiers with varying skill sets.
Meanwhile, an army surgeon has performed a life-saving surgery on an Afghan girl:
Karishma tried to be like any other eight year old, running and playing with boundless energy, but for her, there was an end to the energy.

She could never have had a normal, long life because of heart problems – until a year ago.

Two U.S. Special Forces medical personnel, a medical sergeant and doctor, crossed paths with Karishma in September 2004 ultimately leading up to a successful lifesaving closed-heart surgery performed Aug. 14 by Dr. (Maj.) Michael Myers, a cardiothoracic surgeon stationed at the Bagram Airfield hospital.

“The surgery went extremely well,” the surgeon said. “She is a strong little girl. She will live a long, happy, healthy life.”

Karishma was three months old when her family found out she had heart problems from a doctor in Peshawar , Pakistan . They diagnosed her with Ventricular Septal Defect -- a hole in the heart’s wall -- a type of heart malfunction present at birth.
It's not just the American troops which are active across the country. Several Balkan countries have combined to send a medical team: "A joint medical team of Macedonia, Albania and Croatia left [on 7 August] for peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan... Each of the three signatory-countries of the Adriatic Charter sends one doctor, two medical technicians and one nurse to form the 12-member medical team. They will join the mobile surgery hospital of the Greek Army stationed at the Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan."

Here's the contribution from Lithuanians: "The more ISAF mission goes into specific, the more help Afghan people receive. Arrived on June the 19th, the Lithuanian personnel started giving their personal advice on many matters. Based in Chagcharan, Ghor province, western central, together with local Provincial Reconstruction Team, the Lithuanian personnel rendered a very welcome visit to the city hospital of Chagcharan."

Canadians, meanwhile, are working to spread the news:
Canadian troops in Afghanistan are handing out free radios to help counter the messages of fear and hate propagated by the Taliban.

"We're distributing them to everybody. Workers, students, basically anyone of voting age," Master Cpl. Kevin Langlois told CTV News.

According to Langlois, most Afghans are illiterate and depend on oral communication for information.

One of the stations broadcast by the radios is overseen by the brother of President Hamid Kharzai. His station asks voters to get involved in politics, and questions candidates on how they'll rebuild Afghanistan's damaged infrastructure.
And New Zealanders are constructing a security checkpoint:
After only a month in Afghanistan members of the New Zealand Defence Force Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business.

Army Engineers have just finished constructing a permanent checkpoint for the Afghan National Police (ANP), about thirty kilometres north east of the Kiwi's base at Bamiyan.

The building with barrier arms will allow the ANP to stop and search vehicles at a road junction linking the north of Bamiyan with Kabul.
And the Italians are conducting humanitarian missions: "The Italian contingent in Afghanistan, 'Italfor 11' helped the Afghan population distributing aid in an orphanage in the Kartenau district in Kabul. It hosts more than one hundred deaf-mute and mentally ill children. Four nuns operate in Kabul from nearly one year: Sister Maria, Italian from Milan's Marcelline nuns; Sister Ela, Polish of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and two Pakistani nuns of the Dominican congregation. The institute is called 'Afghanistan National Association of the Deaf (ANAD)'; here nuns work with other volunteers and give shelter to disabled children who were abandoned by their parents. They try to recover and educate them to make them autonomous. The orphanage is funded with donations coming from Caritas international. To help the four nuns Cimic team (civil and military cooperation) has showed Italian people's solidarity delivering 150 kilos of food (floor, sugar, pasta and rice) hundreds of toys, clothes for children, 100 pairs of shoes and soap and toothpaste which are very precious in Afghanistan due to their high price. These materials were collected in Italy by the regiment of tactical and logistic of Solbiate Olona headed by Colonel Gerardo Restaino. One month ago the regiment carried on a campaign to collect aid in Orate, in parishes, schools and associations in the Milan and Varese provinces. Materials delivered at the Anad institute came from school number 2 of Abbiate Grasso, Agesci and Busto Arsizio's Holy Heart parish."

SECURITY: The three-way security cooperation is progressing:
Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United states have agreed on accelerating joint efforts to root out terrorism, secure the border between the two neighbours and ensure peaceful legislative elections in Afghanistan.

The announcement was made after senior military officials of the three countries met in Pakistan's Rawalpindi city, some 22 kilometres from here, on Wednesday.

The meeting was attended by Chief of General Staff of the Afghan National Army General Bismillah Khan, Pakistan's Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ahsan Saleem Hayat and Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, Commander of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan.

The 12th meeting of the tripartite commission was the first one attended by four-star generals from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the training of the Afghan army continues:
The scars of recent wars mark Kabul’s military training centre, and the walls by the eastern gate lie in ruins. But just yards away, white-painted buildings and asphalt roads signal the change from an era of warring militias to the formation of a disciplined new army.

Gathered round an instructor in the dusty compound, 10 kilometres east of the capital, 40 men are being given a practical demonstration in handling the Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Some of them already know the gun well. It was the weapon of choice in conflicts spanning more than two decades which devastated Afghanistan, and which continue today as forces of the ousted Taleban clash with troops of the Afghan government and United States-led Coalition.

“It is not important whether they’re familiar with guns or not. This is a training centre, and we are training the soldiers here to learn much more than that,” Brigadier General Ghulam Sakhi Asifi, the commander of Kabul Military Training Centre, told IWPR.

In another corner of the training ground, a similar number of soldiers are listening to an instructor dealing with other aspects of basic training.

There appears to be no shortage of recruits, many of whom can be seen working in classrooms as well as in the compound.
Most recently, "a group of 126 soldiers graduated from the military training centre of the Afghan National Army, ANA, on Monday. The graduation ceremony was attended by civil and military officials, as well as French trainers and the commander of the French contingent of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The head of the training facility, General Gulbahar, presented the new soldiers with certificates to mark their completion of a four-month course. Gulbuhar said 26 of the graduates would be made officers in the ANA, while the remainder would serve as soldiers."

The army will be deployed in all provinces of the country for the September election.

There's also recognition for one promising Afghan officer: "An Afghan Army sergeant is believed to be the first soldier from his country to attend the U-S Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss. Command Sergeant Major Roshan Safi, who joined the Afghan Army after the fall of the Taliban three years ago, will spend nine months at Fort Bliss. He'll then return to his duties in Afghanistan. Safi's American counterparts helped him win a spot in the prestigious and selective school."

And leaders are getting additional training: "More than 60 senior leaders from the Afghan National Army and Ministry of Defense participated in a three-day leadership seminar held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Aug. 1 through 3. Designed to enhance the leadership capabilities of Afghanistan’s senior military leaders, the seminar was the fourth in a series sponsored by the Office of Security Cooperation-Afghanistan and presented by MPRI, the private professional services company that works with OSC-A to mentor the top leaders within the Afghan Defense Ministry. Previous seminars focused on decision making, strategic planning and force management."

Afghan police members, meanwhile, have been receiving riot control training from the members of the 164th Military Police Company's police tactical advisor team, a part of the Jalalabad Provinical Reconstruction Team. There's also more general training:
A platoon from the 92nd Military Police Company, Baumholder , Germany , recently joined Task Force Rock as it continues its combat and civil assistance missions in Zabol province, Afghanistan...

The main focus of Caffarel's mission with TF Rock will be to provide effective training to more than 1,000 Afghan National Policemen who patrol the 11 districts of the Zabol province. The MPs will meet that goal by providing an intensive two-week course to every policeman in the province prior to the parliamentary elections Sept. 18.

The training will focus on weapons marksmanship, conducting searches, and executing site security. For the months after the elections, Caffarel's platoon has designed a four-week follow-on course for the ANP that focuses on typical police work, such as identifying and collecting evidence, conducting interviews, gathering intelligence, and establishing and operating a traffic control post.
And in Kabul, a graduation:
The Afghan National Police grew in ranks and capability recently as the German-led Kabul Police Academy graduated the first class of police officers from its comprehensive three-year officer training course.

The 210 new officers celebrated during a morning ceremony that emphasized their hard work and accomplishments and highlighted their new responsibilities now that they are lieutenants, or sarans.

As cadets at the academy, they studied 23 subjects during more than 3,400 hours of classroom training. Topics ranged from criminal investigations and social sciences to police tactics and operations.

In addition to being extremely well trained in police operations, the new sarans are in top physical condition. Before and after their classes, they supplemented their physical fitness classes with sports and defensive training activities.
The Afghan army is now putting its training to good use with demining:
The Afghan National Army recently put their training to use as they successfully conducted the first ANA-led demining operation in Afghanistan. The mission highlighted not only the expanding military capabilities of the ANA, but the government's commitment to achieve a mine-free Afghanistan for future generations.

With the approval of the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the ANA leadership took charge and organized two days of real-world demining operations at the Area Military Depot of Pol-e-Charkhi. HALO Trust, a British-based non-governmental organization dedicated to humanitarian mine clearing, identified the area as containing mines.
The US is spending heavily to provide the Afghan army with a proper physical infrastructure:
The US army has invested over 600 million dollars during the current year to rebuild the fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA) and its facilities, commander of US army Engineering Department in Afghanistan said...

"The value of our active contract is 630 million US dollars. We are currently working to award the reminder of our fiscal year 2005 contracts to a total of about 500 million dollars," Christopher J. Toomey told media at a press conference.

Sixty million dollars of this amount will be spent on construction of headquarters, company facilities and border crossing points mostly in the eastern portion of the country, he added.

"These facilities provide a vital security and counter-narcotics upgrade to the current Afghan national assets," stressed the US army official.

Toomey, who transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan last month, said his prime goal includes oversight of construction, rehabilitation and refurbishment of Afghan army facilities here.

"We are building ANA bases in Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Gardez. Each installation has its own independent power plant and waste water treatment station to ensure power and running water," he said.

The projects, completed so far, could support over 35,000 soldiers, he said. Another 500 to 600 million US dollars, he added will be awarded in contract in fiscal year 2006.
Read also this story of an Oklahoman who was in charge of constructing a military academy:
It is back to school at NSU in Tahlequah and that's where you'll find Dr Jim Wilhite.

He's lecturing future elementary school teachers. But "Doctor" Wilhite is also "Colonel" Wilhite and was recently called up for active duty in Afghanistan. So he put teaching teachers on hold and left to train troops as he built a military academy for Afghan soldiers from scratch.

Wilhite had to select the site, hire the faculty and recruit the students - with what he says was one of the biggest targets in Afghanistan on his back. And doing it all with a budget that was slashed from $65-million to nothing. "I'm a school teacher. I'm used to my budget being cut. In fact, I said 'General, I'm a bottom feeder. My budget has been cut; I'm a school teacher.' I've never had it cut quite that much. But I said, 'You want a school, I'll get 'er done.'"
The first army medical training center has also been inaugurated:
The Afghan National Army's first military medical education center opened recently here with the help of the ANA Surgeon General's office and the Office of Security Cooperation Afghanistan.

Located on the National Military Hospital campus here, the center will consolidate medical training for ANA combat medics, nurses, medical faculty and medical officers. The facility can accommodate, house and feed up to 500 students and has 27 classrooms.

Before the new facility, medical training was conducted in various locations around Kabul such as the Kabul Military Training Center, the military hospital and the Pol-e-Charkhi garrison.

"This is a much better learning environment for the students," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Luis Montes, combat medic in OSCA's medical plans and operations section. "They have everything they need on the campus of the National Military Hospital. The students have professional instructors and will be able to receive instruction within the hospital from the physicians and nurses."
Smaller medical clinics also continue to be constructed: "The recent grand opening of the Afghan National Army’s Darulaman Garrison troop medical clinic marked the completion of the 201st Corps’ third new soldier healthcare facility. The other 201st Corps clinics, located at the Pol-e-Charkhi Garrison and the Kabul Military Training Center , were completed in August 2004 and February 2005, respectively. The opening of the new clinics is a clear indication of the ANA’s movement toward well-managed healthcare for its soldiers. As the Afghan National Army continues to grow toward a final strength of 70,000 troops, the need for quality, accessible healthcare for its soldiers increases as well."

There are also new personnel centers for Afghan army personnel.

And in the latest contribution to the equipping of the security forces, "a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the southern Helmand province donated 6 vehicles and 20 motorcycles to police headquarters. Deputy police chief Haji Mohammad Ayub told Pajhwok Afghan News the PRT had also hired 30 foreign trainers for imparting training to police personnel in the province."

On the wider security canvas, the amnesty plan continues to bear fruit:

"Five former mujahedin commanders in the eastern province of Kunar have surrendered and joined the government under the national reconciliation process. One of the commanders, Qazi Abdul Rahman, was a leader of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami, and had worked as chief of rural rehabilitation and chief justice of Kunar during the early Nineties";

"A former jihadi commander and deputy police chief of the western Herat province surrendered thirty light arms under the UN-funded Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reconstruction (DDR) process [on August 9]... The arms surrendered by Ghulam Sarwar Haideri included 18 AK-47 assault rifles, one rocket, four DP machine-guns and some other light weapons... The commander had collected 280 arms from his men a month back and handed it over to the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process";

"Two commanders in the Dara-i- Noor district in the eastern Nangarhar province surrendered arms to Afghan National Army (ANA), officials said on Sunday [14 August] Commander of the second military corps General Aminullah Patianai told Pajhwok Afghan News commanders Golina and Allah Nazar were loyalists of Hazrat Ali, former mujahideen commander and chief of the Nangarhar police";

Also on the same day, "a commander, involved in a string of clashes with security forces, surrendered to the government along with 18 supporters in the restive eastern province of Kunar on Sunday. Kunar Governor Asadullah Wafa told Pajhwok Afghan News the Taliban-linked commander Ismail joined the government as a result of efforts by local tribal elders. The governor added Ismail had also pledged to give in his weapons";

Those disarming continue to get reintegrated into the Afghan society:
Twenty former commanders, disarmed in the first phase of the DDR process, were issued certificates on the conclusion of a month-long training in fields of commerce and human rights.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's New Beginning Programme (ANBP) said the 20 erstwhile commanders trained were among 200 who had surrendered weapons and opted for a return to civil life as a result of the disarmament plan.

Ahmad Jan Noorzadi, in charge of the ANBP press office, said similar training courses were being mulled for the remaining people to help them reintegrate into the national mainstream. The training programme is being pursued by the ANBP with financial assistance from the Japanese government.
USAID is also continuing to help with disarmament and reintegration:
It is anticipated that almost 66,000 former officers and soldiers will officially enroll in the UN Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program when the final numbers are released at the end of August. The program has two objectives: to break the historic patriarchal chain of command that exists between the former commanders and their men and to provide the demobilized personnel with the ability to become economically independent. The process of disarming the officially recognized Afghan Military Forces (AMF) came to a close at the end of June 2005, when the President formally presented the last Medal of Honor. Those men and three women have now started the process of returning to be valuable members of civil society - some having been continually involved in conflict for more then twenty years.

Through its Looking Beyond the "R" initiative, USAID is committed to improving capacity and providing creative solutions to assist DDR personnel who have graduated from the UN program. Programs under this initiative are intended to complement and further reintegration assistance provided by the UN. USAID is building upon the $700 package of training, tools and/or stock that the individual receives to identify means of providing additional capacity, leverage and sustainability. By Fall 2005, USAID commitments to Looking Beyond the "R", totaling almost $10 million, will be in place.
Not just the local militias, but Taliban, too, continue getting disarmed - except involuntarily:

"Police officials claimed unearthing huge cache of arms in the Khogiani district of the southern Ghazni province [on August 6]. Ghazni police chief Abdur Rahman Sarjang told Pajhwok Afghan News the weapons included different types of rockets, missiles, shells and other heavy bullets";

"Police in the eastern Nangarhar province seized huge quantity of explosives on Saturday [6 August]. The contraband, measuring about 3.5 tons, were hidden in 75 bags and ready for transportation to an unknown location";

"Three separate caches were discovered across eastern Afghanistan Aug. 7. The first cache, discovered near Jalalabad, consisted of an anti-aircraft gun, 23 mortar fuses, 38 rockets, 40 mortar rounds, 14 rocket-propelled grenades and several hundred rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition... Another cache, this one discovered northwest of Asadabad, contained a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, 12 shotguns, 10 pounds of explosives, several bolt-action rifles, and about 50 rocket-propelled grenades... The third cache was discovered inside a long tunnel north of Salerno and contained 50 tank rounds, 30 recoilless-rifle rounds, and 20 mortar rounds";

"Members of the Helmand province governor's security task force turned in a large cache of ammunition, consisting of 172 rockets, 123 mortar rounds, and six tank rounds, to the Lashkar Gah provincial reconstruction team Aug. 14. Afghan security forces recovered the cache in a village northeast of Lashkar Gah. Officials reported that this is the first time the governor's security forces in Helmand province turned in a cache to coalition forces. It also is the largest the provincial reconstruction team has received in the past three months... Coalition forces reported a 25 percent increase in the number of caches recovered by Afghans and Afghan forces as compared to this time last year";

"Officers of the National Security Directorate have discovered an arms cache in the Bala Koo area of Mahipar, between Kabul and Jalalabad. According to a source in the directorate, the arms were dumped by Taleban insurgents in preparation for attacks during the forthcoming parliamentary election. The weapons have been transferred to Kabul";

Twenty remote controlled bombs
unearthed at a cemetery in Kandahar province on August 23;

A man has been arrested in Kabul with 75 pencil detonators on August 25;

"The International Security Assistance Forces, ISAF, have seized a large quantity of munitions in Kabul, Ghor and Baghlan provinces in the past week [late August]. The munitions include light and heavy weapons, mines and other types of weaponry. An ISAF spokesman in Kabul said that the munitions were handed over for destruction under the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme, a UN-backed body administering the disarmament and demobilization project."

In other recent security successes:

"Three high-ranking Taleban have been arrested in the Shinkai district of the southern province of Zabul, officials said August 4. District chief Wazir Mohammad said they had received a tip-off regarding the insurgents' whereabouts and conducted a joint operation with coalition forces and Afghan National Army soldiers in the Bolan and Mamo districts of the province";

Three improvised explosive devices located and destroyed by Afghan and American forces around the country on August 5 and 6;

"A suspected suicide bomber was detained Aug. 6 at a U.S. base south of Salerno near the Pakistani border as he attempted to detonate a series of explosives attached to his body. The potential bomber attempted to enter a U.S. facility in the region under the guise of needing medical attention. At the gate he produced a grenade and attempted to detonate the device. The grenade failed to detonate and the man was apprehended by security forces";

Eight Taliban killed in a gun battle with American and Afghan forces in Zabul province on August 7; one Taliban killed and six arrested in clashes in Uruzgun province on the same day;

"Mullah Taj Mohammad, a prominent Taleban fighter, was arrested in Kandahar province on August 7. Defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said the Afghan National Army arrested Taj Mohammad and seized a cache of weapons in the village of Balk during a sweep";

At least 16 Taliban fighters killed on August 8 in a firefight southwest of Deh Chopan;

"Afghan soldiers and U.S. paratroopers killed Qari Amadullah, believed to have led up to 50 Taliban militants armed with rockets and rocket-propelled grenades, during a firefight Tuesday [9 August] in eastern Paktika province... Five other militants were killed and three U.S. service members were wounded during the clash, which erupted in an area where Afghan and U.S. forces were trying to kill or capture suspected Taliban insurgent leaders";

On 10 August, six Taliban killed in a clash near Wazikhwa in the southern Paktika province;

Eighteen Taliban killed in a gunbattle in the Dai Chopan district of the southern Zabul province on August 11;

"Three insurgents were killed and two Afghan National Police were injured during a firefight that occurred near the city of Deh Rahwod in southern Afghanistan's Uruzgan province on Aug. 12";

"Afghan and U.S. forces killed six enemy combatants after the militants fired at a forward operating base near the city of Deh Rahwod in southern Afghanistan on Aug. 14";

"Qari Ahmadullah, a prominent Taleban commander, has been killed in Paktika province in recent clashes. He was believed to have led more than 500 fighters in Paktika";

Twenty two suspected Taliban killed, and sixteen arrested, including commander Mulla Janan, in a joint Afghan-American operation in district Khawaja Bagh in Zabil province on August 14. On the same day: "Taliban commander Mulla Moosa Kalim was killed when a land mine exploded in district Soori of Zabil province. Six Taliban forces are reported to have been killed and 16 captured in an operation by Afghan forces in the districts of Choora and Deeraod in Ozargan province";

On August 14, in Tirin Kot district of Zabul province, "police hunted down and killed six suspected guerrillas who attacked a highway checkpoint";

The arrest in mid-August by Pakistani authorities of Ustad Mohammad Yasir, appointed last year as Taliban's chief spokesman;

Six Taliban killed near the Deh Rawod district of the southern Uruzgan province on August 16;

Six Taliban killed in the Deh Rahod district of the southern Zabul province on August 18;

Thirty suspects arrested on August 19 in connection with an attack on a checkpoint in the central Maidan Wardak province;

Overall, 100 Taliban killed across Afghanistan in three weeks up to August 22 (including 40 in the Konar province);

Following a tip, Afghan police arrested two roadside bomb cell leaders and three other members of the cell in Paktika province on August 22;

Sixteen Taliban killed on August 23 and 24 in Kandahar area and Zabul and Uruzgan provinces;

"U.S. and Afghan government soldiers killed six suspected Taliban militants and seized bombs in a raid on a rebel storehouse" in Zabul province on August 24;

Abdul Khaliq Agha, Taliban commander in the Panjwai district of the southern Kandahar province captured on August 25;

"A letter found in the pocket of a dead Taleban fighter proclaimed: 'martyrdom is our aim'. A group of eight Taleban fighters attacked a US military convoy on the Kabul-Paktia road on August 28. One Taleban fighter, Mullah Abdullah, was killed and another was detained in the clash. The incident occurred in the Poza area of Logar province, said Qudratullah, a provincial police official. The Coalition Forces suffered no casualties, he added. A similar attack on US troops occurred in Logar some days ago, with no casualties."

Six Taliban killed in a clash in Zabul province on August 30;

"Payenda Mohammed, who was thought to have led about 150 rebels, was killed along with three other militants in a fierce battle in Kandahar province Wednesday [31 August]... [he was] a suspected Taliban commander responsible for numerous rocket attacks, ambushes and other guerrilla-style assaults in southern Afghanistan".

There is some good news in the war on drugs:
Afghanistan has reduced the production and cultivation of opium for the first time since the Taleban regime fell in 2001, but sustaining progress in the fight against narcotics will be an uphill struggle, a UN official and analysts said.

"The progress made in curtailing cultivation in 2005 must be viewed with caution: these achievements are fragile and could be easily reversed in the course of a season," Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, said while unveiling preliminary findings from a UN survey this year.

The area of land used to grow opium poppies dropped 21 percent over the past year, although the opium harvest fell by just 2.4 percent, largely because crop yields surged after heavy rains ended a seven-year-long drought, he said.

The news is likely to boost optimism ahead of parliamentary elections in September, seen as a crucial step on the country's road to democracy almost four years after US-led forces ousted the fundamentalist Taleban.
More resources are being spent on poppy eradication and substitution:
The Afghan government announced the other day an allocation of $20 million dollars to the western Farah province for eradication of poppy cultivation and providing farmers an alternative source of living...

50 percent of the allocation was available for spending on a project aimed at providing Farah people an alternative to poppy cultivation. The rest of the funds to be spent on development and reconstruction projects would come from international donors.

According to Counter-Narcotics Ministry officials, $380 millions have been pledged to the government for financing alternative livelihood and reconstruction projects to benefit growers shunning poppy cultivation.

Of the aid committed by different donors, $200 millions have been handed over to the government, which is awaiting the remaining payments for immediate allocation to the provinces by the end of the year.
USAID and the British government announced they will spend $54 million aid for poppy eradication in the Badakhshan and Sar-i-Pul provinces. Kandahar provincial government is distributing 40 tons of processed seed to farmers as an incentive to give up poppy cultivation.

Afghan law enforcers are also learning from the best: "An Afghan police officer is learning from Jacksonville, Fla., police about street-level drug enforcement and coordination among law enforcement agencies. Nazar Ahmad Shah spent the second half of a two-week U.S. visit in Jacksonville based on the recommendation of Robert Goosey, a U.N. law enforcement project manager."

And a country on the other side of the world, which knows very well the scourge of drugs, is starting to share its expertise:
Colombia and Afghanistan are becoming counterdrug allies. Colombia has begun exporting counternarcotics know-how to Afghanistan in a bid to stem that country's record heroin production, which, in turn, bankrolls al Qaeda.

Much of the emphasis will be on Colombia's teaching the Afghans how to find and attack drug labs. Bogota yesterday re-established diplomatic ties with Kabul.

The two countries were brought together in the drug wars by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican. He sent a letter in February to the chief of Colombia's national police, announcing the arrival of congressional staffers in Bogota to start planning an Afghan-Colombian alliance.

"We warmly welcome the restoration of formal relations between Afghanistan and Colombia and especially the joint efforts of Colombia and its elite national police to help Afghanistan tackle the enormous problem of heroin production, which also fuels terrorism," Mr. Hyde said yesterday.
In other recent victories in the war against drugs:

"The Afghanistan Counternarcotics Police recently seized 390 kilograms of 'fully processed heroin' in Nangarhar Province, according to a 6 August Interior Ministry press release. The seizure is the largest since the formation of the Counternarcotics Police in 2003";

643 kg of opium seized in Zabul province and a trafficker arrested on 11 August; this comes just over a week after a previous seizure of 700 kg of opium in the province;

"Police arrested a suspected drug smuggler and seized 96 kilograms of opium on the Herat-Badghis highway on August 13";

Shooting down of a handglider trying to smuggle 18 kg of heroin to Tajikistan;

194 kg of opium seized in Kandahar province on August 24.

Let's hope that the drought has well and truly broken for the people of Afghanistan, both literally and metaphorically. After three decades of unrest, bloodshed and oppression, the country surely deserves some gentle rain and greener fields.


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