Saturday, August 13, 2005

Guest blogger: A Three-Legged Goat Should Never Stand Outside In The Winter 

Today's guest blogger is Jeff Raleigh, a US diplomat currently stationed in Afghanistan.

Here we are in the midst of a good old-fashioned Kabul summer. You know the kind, where the aroma of rotting sheep fat wafts delicately out from some of the City's best butcher stalls. Or where the pungent odor of a six-camel caravan softly drifts across the night making us gasp for a breath of the searing hot Kabul air.

Ah, summer in Kabul. The rise in temperature is matched by the rise in dust and dirt in the air. No humidity, no trees, no water, no breeze. Not that there isn't any wind. As a matter of fact, each afternoon around 4:00, a searing wind picks up from the west, or the east since I'm not real good on compass points, and blows a day's accumulation of dirt, dried feces and other even worse elements across the city and into the world famous CAFE compound where our intrepid band of Embassy staff spend more hours than you could ever imagine. We are together under trying circumstances but spend it with a great deal of humor and savoir faire, though I don't know if that is really the phrase to describe our Executive Protective Detail (EPD) guards.

These are our "shooters", the guys who protect State department employees when we venture into the wilds of Afghanistan. They are a mixture of former Marines, Special Forces and Rangers. Some of them were street cops before they took the opportunity to make big money as a shooter in one of the world's dangerous places, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, nations under threat from Islamic terrorists.

Their humor, which tends to be a bit rougher than that found in the salons of the Bel-Air or the Upper West Side, is honest and direct. Their stories, honed by years of sharpening in barracks and bivouacs around the world, usually touch upon three subjects; beer, women and running away from cops. Or chasing someone who was running from a cop. So far the best story was about a three-legged goat who died of exposure while drunk. When told by "Top," a decorated Ranger 1st Sergeant and the dead goat's former owner, is hysterically funny, even if his most heavily used word is "frikin," an all purpose word used as a sop to good taste that fools no one.

Virtually every night a group of the shooters, "Top," "Hunter," "Big Country," "Pyro," (whose real name is Cannon Ball!) and others in the ever-changing cast of Embassy characters open their lounge chairs and beer coolers, invite every woman who lives in the CAFE to join them, and set up shop in front of my hooch. They then tell stories and drink beer until the very wee hours of the morning. An old guy like me usually leaves around 11:00 PM, but most of them stay until 1:00 or 2:00. Amazingly the next morning they are up, loaded with M-16s, 9MMs and armored vests and ready to move.

Another amazing thing is that we never have fights either of the fist variety or with guns. Now you have to understand that we live in a guarded compound and are not allowed to leave it on other than official business, a term that has taken on a very elastic quality these past few months of lockdown. The shooters have never been allowed to enjoy what little life, restaurants, private parties, etc., that Kabul has to offer. So the situation at the CAFE is made up of equal parts boredom, cheap and plentiful booze, testosterone laden shooters, all armed, and just the right amount of starry-eyed young women who still think big guys with guns are cool to inject a note of volatility that in most situations would inevitably lead to trouble. Here, in part because it is a dangerous situation and in part because most folks are fairly bright, nothing untoward has happened. (Though we did institute a No Guns Allowed rule in our bar.)

We doubt that we will have any lessening of our rules until at least after the September 18 election. As we approach the final weeks before Afghanistan's parliamentary election, Islamic terrorists are doing all they can to disrupt it and to kill as many innocents as they can. Today, for instance, they blew up a bomb in a women's market. Brave folks these terrorists.

These are the same type of terror bombings taking place in Iraq, most of which are aimed at police stations, schools or election organizations. A question for each of you; Do you remember before the 2003 war a number of western peace activists took up positions in front of Iraqi industrial and military locations in order to prevent the US from bombing them. How many "peace" activists have you seen take up posts in front of election locations, schools or mosques in Iraq or Afghanistan the last two years, locations that symbolize democracy and freedom? Locations that are targeted by Islamic terrorists, crueler and more deadly that the KKK.

So the question must be asked, if "peace activists" are really concerned with peace and freedom why won't they stand in front of these very real facilities of freedom? Perhaps you can ask if you bump into one of them at a "peace" rally back in the States.

I know we could use some folks in addition to the soldiers and Marines who now lay their life on the line each day to protect democratic institutions here and in Iraq.

Jeff writes occasionally at his own blog.


New poll from Iraq 

Our special correspondent Haider Ajina writes:
The following is my translation of a headline and article in the August 13th Edition of the Iraqi Arabic newspaper "Sotaliraq":

Iraqi poll shows 87% of Iraqis prefer a federal rather than a central government.

A poll taken by 76 branches of an organization, which calls it self "Citizen's Alliance for Free Elections" (CAFE) shows that 87.1% of Iraqis polled prefer a federal rather than a central government.

The poll, published on Thursday, was of 30,000 Iraqis in all 18 provinces, and took 2 months to conduct, [was unveiled] in a press conference held by (CAFE) and attended by four of its prominent members. Dr. Janan Mubarek (a woman) (president of the Iraqi center for the advancement of working women) and Mr. Salem Albedry (president of Students against war) and Mr. Fahed Jawad of the "Al-Wusool" a humanitarian organization and Mr. Alwan Aljeboory. All confirmed the following results:

87.1% of those Iraqi polled prefer a federal rather than a central government.

84.4% of those polled requested that it be mandated that women to receive representation.

10.4% said they did not want women to get any representation.

65% preferred that Islam be one of the religious sources for the constitution.

26% prefer that Islam be the only source for the constitution.

Those in attendance discussed the results of the poll. Mr. Albedry said that CAFE had embarked on a national campaigned to educate Iraqi citizens about the constitution during the month of June & July. "We did this by organizing town hall educational meetings in all of Iraq's 18 provinces. We put together almost 1500 meetings, which were attended by 43,303 Iraqis (as of July 25th)."

Mr. Albedry added that hundreds of our members, who are trained volunteers, organized these meetings and the education of the citizens. They also took the poll during these meetings and reported the results to the Iraqi national congress. Dr. Mubarek said that the polling questions were not filled haphazardly. The people answered the questions in the poll after being educated at the meetings. This solidifies the poll's importance.

At the closing of the conference members of the CAFE appealed to the Iraqi national congress to seriously consider the results of this poll while writing the constitution.

Those opposed to the poll say that the poll was not scientific because it did not have scientific parameters and to be cautious in interpreting the results. They did however point out that the large number of people polled makes it a significant important poll.
The last point is an important one - the poll is not scientific, but it accords with anecdotal evidence - for example, the Kurds are overwhelmingly in favor of federalism, and Shia increasingly so (by the way, the link in Arabic is here).


Friday, August 12, 2005


"If there was a Democratic president on 9/11, would there have been a difference of opinion in the American left about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?" an interviewer asks Chris Hitchens:
Not from people like Michael Moore... who makes a perfectly good brownshirt... Or Noam Chomsky. No, it would not. To them it would have been further proof that the ruling class just has two faces and one party. But I think, in the mainstream of the democratic and Republican parties, you would have seen an exact switch. Richard Holbrooke's position (Holbrooke was Clinton's UN Ambassador and is a leading Democratic foreign policy thinker) would be Dick Cheney'’s position. The ones in the middle would have just done a switch, finding arguments to support or criticize the war. In fact, I remember that people in the Clinton administration spoke of an inevitable confrontation coming with Saddam. They dropped this idea only because it was a Republican president. That is simply disgraceful. It is likewise disgraceful how many Republicans ran as isolationists against... Al Gore in the 2000 elections. The only people who come out of this whole affair well are an odd fusion of the old left - the small pro regime change left -– and some of the people known as neoconservatives who have a commitment to liberal democracy. Many of the neocons have Marxist backgrounds and believe in ideas and principles and have worked with both parties in power.
The angry older man of the new anti-totalitarian left is always interesting to read, although you might find that on some things you might have to agree to disagree on, like this statement: "All political factions in this country have been lousy on this issue [the Palestinians], but none lousier than the Democratic party. The Democrat party truly is what some people crudely say: a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Israeli lobby. It is one thing it has never deviated on: that and abortion. The only two things the Democrats have never flip flopped about."


Help, one of our cities is missing 

The latest study by California's Bay Area Center for Voting Research, ranking 237 U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000 on a scale from the most liberal to the most conservative (or Detroit to Provo, Utah), reminded me of something.

Sometimes when you're driving, the most bizarre thoughts spring to your mind. A few days ago, while driving to work, this occurred to me: I cannot recall a single instance over the last few years where I've read or heard anything about the city of Baltimore, either in a political or a non-political context. I'm pretty sure that just about every other sizable American city has popped up on my radar for one reason or another in the recent past - so what has happened to Baltimore?

Any readers from around there? Or can anyone enlighten me as to why a reasonably well informed person - albeit a foreigner - can miss a whole city in the news for a few years?


Aussie jihadi - the story unfolds 

Two days ago I reported on the story of a new terror tape aired by a Mid East TV channel, where a masked gunman harangues the West with an Australian accent. The story was true, but the direct quotes I used were not - some readers got the Crocodile Hunter/Crocodile Dundee jokes, some didn't.

Meanwhile, the story is developing:
Former army private Mathew Stewart has emerged as the chief suspect in the hunt for the masked terrorist with an Australian accent.

Stewart left home four years ago to fight alongside Osama bin Laden and has not been seen since.

Australian Federal Police officers immediately identified Stewart as the probable hooded figure who appeared in a terror video aired on Arab TV this week.
I'm eagerly awaiting now how Australian tabloids will christen our latest jihadi. Mat the Rat? Mudjahedin Mat? Al Qaeda Stew? Mooloolaba Muj? (Mooloolaba is a little town on the Sunshine Coast, 100 km north of Brisbane, where Stewart comes from).

The story how he got there is quite bizarre:
Private Mathew Stewart was patrolling the streets of Dili, East Timor, in 2002 when he was confronted with the full horror of live combat.

The quiet soldier and keen surfer from Queensland's Sunshine Coast stumbled upon the almost unrecognisable body of a Dutch journalist killed by militia.

Financial Times reporter Sander Thoenes, 30, had been shot in the chest and badly beaten. According to his comrades, Stewart was deeply traumatised by the discovery, his first encounter with death on the front line.

He was discharged from the army's 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment for psychological reasons a short time later, sending him into a spiral of depression and self-doubt.

While other East Timor veterans looked for a change of lifestyle back home, Stewart began fixing his sights on the war unravelling in Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks on New York the previous year.

Furious at his perceived mistreatment in the Australian army, Stewart began making plans to fight for the other side.
It's ironic (in that grim sense of irony) that being traumatized by seeing a dead body would send a person on a sure path of seeing even more dead bodies, but it's doubly ironic that Private Stewart's turning point in life came in East Timor. It was the Australian intervention there in 2000 that guaranteed East Timor's transition to independence after a quarter of a century of a bloody Indonesian occupation costing 200,000 Timorese lives (a staggering one third of the entire population). Coincidentally, Australia's role in wrestling this small Catholic nation from under the domination of Muslim Indonesia has been cited by Osama bin Laden himself as one of the reason why Australia is now in Al Qaeda's sights.

I won't be surprised if there is more to this story, though, than just a traumatized and disgruntled ex-serviceman.

And if true, then it's yet another nail in the coffin of the intelligence community excuse that "it was impossible to infiltrate Al Qaeda". If an Australian soldier, with no apparent background in Islam, can walk off the street and sign himself up with the Terror Inc, then so could have any CIA infiltrator. Whether such asset inside Al Qaeda would have proven valuable in practice, particularly considering the risk of the mission, is another matter.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Another courageous political statement by a rock star 

And so it came to pass that the Political Relevancy Deprivation Syndrome has struck the legendary Rolling Stones, who recorded this little ditty for their new album:
How come you're so wrong? My sweet neo-con, where's the money gone, in the Pentagon...

It's liberty for all, democracy's our style, unless you are against us, then it's prison without trial...

You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite. You call yourself a patriot. Well, I think your are full of sh*t!
As Mick Jagger says, "It's not aimed, personally aimed, at President Bush. It wouldn't be called 'Sweet Neo Con' if it was."

Well, that's a relief, then.

Adds Jagger: "Keith [Richards] said, 'It's not really metaphorical.' I think he's a bit worried because he lives in the U.S… But I don't."

Maybe it's also because Keith's instincts, for all the excesses of the past, are now rather conservative.


The only good wounded soldier 

"Like the rest of the 13,877 Americans wounded in Iraq, Rodgers has a story to tell." But Terry Rodgers isn't just your typical wounded veteran:
One day a nurse came in to ask Rodgers if he wanted to meet President Bush, who was visiting the hospital. Rodgers declined.

"I don't want anything to do with him," he explains. "My belief is that his ego is getting people killed and mutilated for no reason -- just his ego and his reputation. If we really wanted to, we could pull out of Iraq. Maybe not completely but enough that we wouldn't be losing people -- at least not at this rate. So I think he himself is responsible for quite a few American deaths."

Bill Swisher, a spokesman for Walter Reed, says it's "fairly common" for patients to decline to see visitors. "We've had visitors from Sheryl Crow to Hulk Hogan," he says, but he has no idea how many have refused to see Bush, who has visited the hospital eight times.

Rodgers says he also declined to meet Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. This wounded soldier has lost faith in his leaders, and he no longer believes their repeated assurances of victory.

"It's gonna go on as long as we're there," he says. "There's always gonna be insurgents trying to blow us up. There's just too many of 'em that are willing to do it. You're never gonna catch all of 'em. And it seems like they have unlimited amounts of ammunition. So I don't think it's ever gonna end."
Which is why "The Washington Post" decided to give this particular wounded vet a humongously long story.

Surprised? Not really.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

One language only, please 

In a sharp break from American tradition, the Denver Public Library is promoting a plan that would make seven of its branches "Spanish focused," banishing English language books to the backroom. The "Languages and Learning" plan would dramatically increase Spanish language offerings and staff, designating some locations as Spanish dominant. The proposal is currently under review by the Library Commission and an advisory board.
Not for me to tell the beautiful Colorado how to run their things, but bilingualism annoys the hell out of me. And it's not because I don't like Spanish - or Polish for that matter - or because I like English better, but because in countries built by generations of migrants coming from everywhere around the world, the common language is one of the most important glues that bind us all together.

I came to Australia seventeen years ago, knowing maybe 50 English words. I did not expect any "Polish focused" institutions to keep me in a linguistic ghetto; I wanted to learn the language of the land so I could make the most of the opportunities that Australia could offer me. It's the love of books that got me where I am. I'm looking now at an old notebook, where I wrote down all the words that were new to me together with their translation and phonetic pronunciation. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the unexplained, and one of the first books in Australia that served as my English teacher was a children's book about monsters and legendary creatures. So I look at these words, which were once so new and so strange; "devour", "lair", "hump", "abominable", "ferocious"...

I don't quite agree with Mauro E. Mujica, chairman of the board of U.S. English, Inc., who said that "Denver's action is a dubious first in American history: a major U.S. city is creating a public institution that intentionally excludes native-born Americans," not only because you don't have to be a native-born American to feel excluded from a "non-English-first" facility, but because, even worse than excluding non-Spanish speakers, the brave new Denver libraries would perpetuate the exclusion of Spanish speakers from the mainstream of the American society by downplaying the need for linguistic integration.


Terror from Down Under 

Threats of terrorism attacks by a masked man with an Australian accent on Arab television were being examined by Australian intelligence officers, the attorney-general's office said today.

A videotape of a man wearing a balaclava and speaking English with an Australian accent was aired on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel and reshown on Australian TV.

The videotaped message, whose authenticity has not been confirmed, warned that more terrorist attacks would be launched on the West.
Suspicions as to the masked man's origin were also raised by several lines in the speech, including
"I tell ya, fellas, if youse won't pull the troops out of Iraq, then, crikey, there's gonna be a whopper of a terror attack."
"The Sheik [Osama bin Laden] will soon throw another infidel on the barbie."
The video ends with the masked narrator throwing a phone set at the camera.


The new Anglospheric ally 

In what could become the world's most significant 21st-century strategic alliance, a strengthened partnership is forming between the two largest English-speaking democracies: the United States and India. President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cemented bilateral ties in recent White House talks, paving the way for greater trade, investment and technological collaboration. In time and with the cooperation of other friendly powers in the region -- notably, Japan and Australia -- this new alliance could emerge as an essential counterweight to China. Essentially, it will be an Anglospheric alliance in Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Read the whole excellent piece by Larry Kudlow. As he notes, India is not only the world's largest democracy, but also is also an Anglospheric liberal democracy, sharing in the British heritage of parliamentarism and common law (not to mention sporting obsessions like cricket). English is the second language, and after decades of statist mismanagement, the country is powering ahead, creating a very strong - and numerically significant - middle class. It now accounts for around 20 per cent of the population (and growing fast) - that's a staggering 200 million-plus people. Of course, it will take decades to slowly improve the lives of the other eight hundred million or so - but so it will in China.

Which, of course, is another aspect of the relationship that Kudlow only briefly touches upon - the United States needs a counter-balance to the growing global influence of the Red Giant, and India is the only country which can strategically provide it.

It is just as well, because the latest opinion research suggests that India is currently the most pro-American country in the world, with 71 per cent of the population having a positive opinion of America (in contrast to the rest of the world, a substantial increase over the past three years). This has, undoubtedly, something to do with the growth of the aspirational, entrepreneurial middle class, which is comfortable with globalization and has regular contact with the United States, but I would venture a guess that on a deeper level, India can feel a strategic kinship with the United States, having in the past faced off on numerous occasions against both China as well as radical Islam.


Wrong choice of villains 

A puppeteer in Britain has been rapped for portraying Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as villains, a report said today.

American-born Brent de Witt, 41, has been scolded for using the pair's characters in the traditional children's puppet play, Punch and Judy.

The show had crowds in fits of laughter - but a few dissenters at the seafront in Broadstairs, southeast England, failed to see the joke.

"I put them in the show as villains who would go and steal Punch's sausages," De Witt told the Daily Express. "It was very topical and just a bit of fun.

"But then we had a few people who did not care for it and instead of telling me they went straight to the council.

"They sent word down for me to take the characters out of the show"...

Bin Laden, cast as the devil, is defeated by Mr Punch in traditional fashion: clobbered with a stick.
I get the feeling that if only Mr de Witt had cast George Bush as the villain, he would have received a grant from the council and in invitation to participate in a local arts festival.


Fellow blogger needs your help 

Dr Zin from the indispensable Regime Change Iran is sending out an SOS:
Monday, I had a disaster. My laptop died and cannot be repaired. This is the second laptop I have gone through this year.

Given the nature of my work and the extensive hours put into this news service (I have invested 6-10 hours daily, 7 days a week since 2003, plus a full time job), I need a new laptop if I am to be able to continue.

I have never made a specific request before, but I love this work and want to continue. Therefore, am asking you for help.
Please help if you can.


Volcano erupts in southern Iraq 

A previously unknown group has threatened employees of two state-run news organisation if they report on Japanese and other coalition forces in the Samawah area, staffers said yesterday.

The threat from the Volcano Eruption Organisation was distributed on Thursday in the southern city of Samawah, 370km southeast of Baghdad. The warning was contained in pamphlets found near the offices of the As-Samawah newspaper and Muthanna Television, both run by the government's Iraqi Media Network, employees said...

The statement, which included a picture of four masked gunmen, was entitled "a warning to all employees of Muthanna Television and As-Samawah newspaper not to publish reports about occupation forces that praises their forged projects."
Seeing how little positive news is published in the West about the successes in reconstruction work throughout Iraq, one would have thought that the Volcano Eruption Organisation has actually managed to successfully intimidate all of our mainstream media, who - come to think of it - if they do report, tend to report mostly about "forged" reconstruction projects.

Samawah also happens to be the home of the Australian contingent, which provides security for the Japanese "occupying" army engineers, who are constructing "forged" project throughout Al Muthanna province. Samawah has also seen some Sadr-generated riots over the last few days, as Baby Ayatollah with bad teeth tries to stir up public resentment about local services.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Out-Chrenking the Chrenk 

Only days after I have announced my retirement from blogging, and already blogosphere has spontaneously started to rise up to fill in the "Good news" shoes:

All Things Conservative
is starting his weekly Monday Iraq good news round-up.

And Alenda Lux has stepped in with an Afghan good news round-up.

My involvement in the "Good news" series will be continuing for another month or so, but rest assured that I'll be trying to make sure that one way or another the series continues after I'm gone.


Working for the KKKaliphate 

Neo-Nazi skinheads are working with radical Islamists in a growing unholy alliance that has European law enforcement officials concerned about a new front in the war on terrorism...

Sources in the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Italy, Switzerland and in the Middle East are warning that the world should not be surprised to see young, white males involved in terrorism and in league with Osama bin Laden.

Just a few years ago, Muslims represented one of the biggest harassment targets of neo-Nazi skinheads in Europe. But anti-Muslim hate crimes by skinheads have seen a dramatic drop-off - even as their movement takes on more visibility and bigger numbers.
I'm not at surprised at all. Consider:

1) fascism and Islamo-fascism have a long history of mutual admiration, reaching back at least to the days of the World War Two flirtation between the Nazis and the anti-British Arabs in Palestine and Iraq - continued, when after the war many wanted Nazi war criminals found sanctuary throughout the Arab world.

2) today, both share a long list of common enemies: the Jews and Israel, "decadent" liberal democracy, capitalism and globalisation. Skinhead thugs would also be attracted to Islam as a "manly" warrior-creed, unlike the "soft" and "Judaic" Christianity.

3) one of the most intriguing unanswered question of the 1995 Oklahoma bombing is the possible Middle East connection of its perpetrators.

4) recall that already in the aftermath of September 11, many American neo-Nazis actually came out in support of the terrorist attacks.

Both the far left and the far right have always hated the Western civilization. Now they've found somebody else who shares their loathing.


Don't mention the war (in Afghanistan) 

According to Muhammad al-Masaari, a Saudi and a former resident of Italy, now living in - you guessed it - London, who runs extremist media sympathetic to Al Qaeda, has told the Italian news agency that withdrawing from Iraq won't make Italy safe from terrorism unless accompanied by a withdrawal from Afghanistan and other overseas military commitments.

We've heard often enough that the war in Iraq made us a target and increased the risk of terrorist attacks. We almost never hear - certainly not from the same people - that the war in Afghanistan made us a target and increased the risk of terrorist attacks. Self-serving critics are yet to explain how the liberation of Iraq has exposed us to any greater wrath of Al Qaeda that destroying Al Qaeda's very base of operations.

Italy has troops both in Iraq and Afghanistan; France only in Afghanistan, but the sucker still can't get an even break:
Militant Pakistani groups had recently become increasingly critical of France, the report said, citing statements in March by the Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammad) - a banned al-Qaida-linked militant group in Kashmir - that branded France "hostile to Islam".
Politically and diplomatically, France is the most Arab-friendly country in Europe, but it apparently all counts for nothing if you decide to do some peacekeeping in Afghanistan and ban headscarves in schools.


Bizarre story of the day 2 

Harry Potter's worldwide popularity is so broad-based that it has become favorite reading for Islamic terror suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Lori, who for two years has overseen the detention center's library, said J.K. Rowling's tales about the boy wizard are on top of the request list for the camp's 520 al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, followed by Agatha Christie whodunits.

"We've got a few who are kind of hooked on it. A couple have asked if they can see the movie," said Lori, a civilian contractor who asked that her last name not be publicized.
Remember how in the aftermath of the "Koran in the toilet" non-scandal, it transpired that the detainees were responsible for three times as many cases of Koran desecration as the guards? Are you surprised, then, that Harry Potter book, which was initially used to be read to the detainees as a form of torture, now top Guantanamo bestseller list? Gives a whole new meaning to "number one with a bullet." And no one better drop their copy of "The Half Blood Prince" into a loo, or all the kiddies around the world will riot.

The question is, why? Do the jihadis identify themselves with the story of a boy wizard fighting against Lord Voldemort, a.k.a. the George W Bush? Does Hogwarts bring back fond memories of madrassas and Afghanistan terror training camps? Is the robed an bearded Dumbledore just a bin Laden/Al Zawahiri father-teacher figure for the mudjahedin? Or do the unholy warriors, just like everyone else, deep down simply enjoy a quiet night in, a cup of warm tea, and a good book?

America is the Great Satan - the tempter and the seducer. It should try to tempt more. Every cell at Guantanamo should have been equipped with three TV monitors playing non-stop Western programming (captioned in Arabic and Pashto), and the floors strewn with Western magazines. No exotic cuisine at the canteen, either - hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza and stake, watered with a choice of Coke or Pepsi.

In the long run it would probably beat the "stress positions".


Bizarre "news" of the day 

Coded electronic signals bandied in recent days among al Qaeda Middle Eastern elements across secret Internet sites all carry the same message: the supreme leader, Osama bin Laden, has come out of hiding in Afghanistan and set out, or is about to set out, for Iraq. This is the sense gained from this correspondence by DEBKAfile's exclusive counter-terror sources.

Some of the signals schedule his date of arrival as the second half of September when Ramadan is estimated to begin. His arrival in Iraq is planned to signal the launching of the biggest offensive his organization has ever launched against the US army. If these signals are a true representation of bin Laden's plans and not a red herring, what is planned is a dramatic landmark battle in the global war on terror and the Iraqi conflict.
(hat tip: Mark E). Make of it what you will. Debka is well known for, how shall we say it, strange stories from anonymous intelligent sources. If true, it would certainly give the whole new meaning to the concept of Iraq as a flypaper and a terrorist magnet.


The decline and rise of the American society 

I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We're in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that. This revival has been a bottom-up, prosaic, un-self-conscious one, led by normal parents, normal neighbors and normal community activists.
So writes David Brooks, noting in his latest opinion piece the whole surprising range of social indicators which have improved (often dramatically) over the past ten or fifteen years. I won't summarize it - read the whole thing.

All this just goes to show - in case anyone really needed a reminder - that no trend is irreversible. I remember in the early 1990s, the gnashing of teeth among social conservatives about how the culture wars were lost and the society was all going to hell fast (metaphorically, but for some, literally). Fifteen years on, and many, if not most, of the negative trends previously seen as evidence of our civilization's descent into barbarism are in reverse. This is not to say that all is well - but it's better.

Brooks thinks that the explanation lies partly in a natural reaction to various excesses and stupid - yet once fashionable - ideas that have damaged the social fabric of America. His other explanations - better parenting, greater civic participation - merely beg the question as to what in turn accounts for these changes.

I think the answer is in largely generational - partly, it has to do with Baby Boomers growing older, and partly, with the forward march of Generations X and Y. Every generation is shaped by, and reacts to, both other generations (particularly their parents) and to the objective conditions of the outside world (including, importantly, the prevailing economic conditions). If various social trends are on the mend, it's because the Xers and the Ys are reacting to the world that their parents made, as well as to the realities of living in a post-industrial, globalized society.

As an aside, Glenn Reynolds finds it amusing and intriguing that the social renewal has been happening at the same time as pornography and violence became more prevalent on the internet, in video games, and elsewhere.
Maybe the porn, and the videogames, provided catharsis, serving as substitutes for the real thing. Maybe. And maybe there's no connection at all. (Or maybe it's a different one -- research indicates that teenagers, though safer and healthier, are also fatter -- so perhaps the other improvements are the result of teens sitting around looking at porn and videogames until they're too out-of-shape and unattractive for the real thing...) Most likely, the lesson is that -- once again -- correlation isn't causation, despite policy entrepreneurs' efforts to claim otherwise.


Good news from Afghanistan, part 15 

Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Winds of Change. To James Taranto, Joe Katzman, and all of you who support the series, as always, many thanks.

Recently, a group of talented young Afghans found themselves abroad as great ambassadors for their country – for both good and bad reasons:
Four young Afghan students did more than merely stun their competitors when they came away with some of the top prizes at an international mathematics competition held recently in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They also changed how students from 22 other countries perceive Afghanistan.

Ahmad Mustafa Naseri and Mustafa Naseri, both 17 (and unrelated), students at the Turkish-run Afghan-Turk School in Kabul, won gold medals while Omid Sadiqyar and Mohammad Rafi Firoz, also 17 and students at a similar school in the northern Shiberghan province, were awarded silver medals following a day-long algebra competition in May.

Ahmad Mustafa said that while he was proud of his gold medal, he was saddened to discover that students from other countries thought of Afghanistan only as the home of terrorism, drugs production and internecine conflict.

“One competitor from Australia told me, ‘I was very surprised that Afghans were taking part in this competition – we always hear that Afghanistan is a major drug producer and a country for terrorists who are always fighting one another,’ " said Ahmad Mustafa.

But now, Ahmad Mustafa said, the Australian promised to return home and talk of the talented and brave Afghans he had met.
The Australian student is not alone – the negative image of Afghanistan is quite widespread, as the latest Harris Poll shows:
While the U.S. public has been paying a fair amount of attention to the situation in Iraq, they have not been paying as much attention to Afghanistan. However, when asked specifically about the situation in Afghanistan, U.S. adults, on the whole, feel quite negative about the prospects for success.
Sadly, there simply aren't enough gifted math students in Afghanistan to send abroad to unmake the negative image of their country being perpetrated by the Western media. Focusing almost exclusively on drugs and violence might make for exciting news, but it does great disservice both to the people of Afghanistan, who already have to work under great disadvantages to turn around one of the most impoverished nations on earth, but also to the international public, on whose strong support the Afghans are relying to rebuild their country.

Below, the past four weeks’ worth of stories from the other Afghanistan.

SOCIETY: The parliamentary election is on the horizon, looking to repeat the success of the last October’s presidential poll. Voter registration has been steaming ahead:
The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) claimed… estimated 50,000 people register as voters on a daily basis across Afghanistan.

JEMB's international spokesperson Bronwyn Curran reckoned about 600 thousand voters had been listed hitherto. Thirty-six percent of those registered as voters are said to be women.

Of the 1,052 voter registration centers set up across the country, eight (three in southern Zabul and five in Kandahar) remain closed for lack of workforce.
These are, of course, all new registrees, in addition to the millions who have already been registered prior to the presidential election last year. And the Joint Electoral Management Body has also launched a separate campaign to register returnees. The registration officially ended on 21 July, with women constituting 40 per cent of new enrollees.

The first ballot papers have arrived:
The first shipment of millions of ballot papers for legislative elections arrived in the Afghan capital Friday, about eight weeks ahead of the polls that will see the war-torn country take another crucial step toward democracy.

The papers, flown in on a giant Antonov transport plane, were the first to arrive of some 40 million that have been printed in Britain and Austria ahead of the Sept. 18 elections.

"The arrival of these ballot papers marks an important milestone in our plans to hold" the elections, said Bissmillah Bissmil, chairman of the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body. "It heralds the start of the huge logistical challenge that we face in transporting these ballot papers safely and securely across the whole of Afghanistan."

From the capital, Kabul, the papers will be transported to polling stations by air and road. Donkeys will take them to more remote locations.
You can read the official campaign regulations here. The electoral commission has also established a separate media commission for the upcoming elections: "The Media Commission is composed of three Afghan and two international commissioners who are tasked with monitoring the media coverage of the election campaign; addressing complaints of unfair reporting and coverage, or other violations of Afghan media law; and setting-up and overseeing a sponsored advertising program that will provide each candidate with equal radio and television air time during the campaign period (14 August to 15 September)."

Foreign election assistance continues to arrive. NATO, which currently has 10,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, will be boosting its presence to 12,000 to increase security for the election. There will also be 93 Austrian troops.

An EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) has now been deployed in Afghanistan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be sending a 50-strong election support team. The Japenese government is contributing $8 million towards the cost of the election.

United Nations Development Fund for Women is assisting with electoral education:
To raise awareness and understanding of the parliamentary process, UNIFEM has published a manual titled "Parliamentary Manual: Institutional and Legal Principles," which has been distributed widely among government offices, Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) staff, and through the JEMB's provincial offices to more than 6,050 candidates in Dari and Pashto. English, Dari and Pashto versions have also been distributed among journalists, UN agencies, gubernatorial offices throughout Afghanistan, embassies, and some international and local NGOs. Additional copies of the manual are available from the UNIFEM Afghanistan office or website...

UNIFEM is partnering with Afghan National Radio and Television to produce a TV and radio program, based on the manual, to inform parliamentary candidates and the general public about fundamental constitutional and parliamentary concepts. Expert Afghan resource persons debate and discuss the material drawn from the manual on 30-minute weekly shows that are aired each Thursday from 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. on Afghan state TV, and rebroadcast every Friday from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. The shows then go on state radio on Sunday from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m.

The program, which began broadcast on 23 June, has 11 episodes that cover topics such as constitutional state structure, the Afghan legal system, constitutional rights, election law principles and procedures, constitutional rules and regulations, parliamentary structure, constitutional law making, and public and constituency relations. The last program will be aired on 12 July, and will focus entirely on answering audience questions.
Another program is aiming to educate women throughout the provinces about the coming election:
Female civic educators have been dispatched to provincial areas of Afghanistan to promote awareness of the forthcoming parliamentary elections among women, officials at the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWA) announced on Thursday in the capital, Kabul.

According to MoWA, the 10-day programme, which began last week, involves 63 women meeting village leaders and approaching the local media, mosques, NGOs and schools to help with the information campaign.

"We have to use all possible means to deliver election information to women in rural areas where the majority of women are illiterate," Nafisa Kohistani a MoWA public information officer said. Cultural sensitivities and discrimination against women are likely to discourage female involvement in the historic poll slated for 18 September, observers say.

"The teams will also encourage and identify women who will voluntarily help election staff on voting day," Kohistani said, adding that every team consists of three female educators and aims to target at least 1,000 women per province.
There is indeed a significant presence of women in the election: "328 women are running for the lower house of parliament, where 68 of 249 seats have been set aside for female representatives. An additional 237 are running for seats on provincial councils that will in turn appoint a third of the upper house."

And generally, women have shown great interest in the poll:
With less than seven weeks to September's historic parliamentary elections, women have shown greater interest in participating, the Afghan-UN joint electoral management body (JEMB) announced on Wednesday in the capital Kabul.

According to the electoral body, there had already been a marked increase in women's voter registration - particularly in the troubled south and southeastern provinces where no or very few women had registered during last October's presidential elections.

"It is very encouraging that in Afghanistan after so many years without elections, already women's participation is pretty high level," Rebecca Cox, a member of the JEMB, observed.

In fact, women's registration was already quite close to 50 percent, the JEMB member explained, noting the progress to date. Of the over 12 million registered voters in Afghanistan today, more than 40 percent of the total were female.

Meanwhile, JEMB officials said voter registration by Afghan women increased by 35 percent in conservative southern Urozgan province and 23 percent in southern Helmand province.

"In the Ajristan district of Ghazni [southern province] no women registered last year; this year 13,000 women registered. In the Dasho district of Helmand province, only one woman registered last year; this year 1,361 women registered as eligible voters," Momena Yari, another member of the electoral body, explained.
USAID is also training officials and educating voters:
During the last two weeks in June, USAID-funded civic educators held 1,589 training sessions in the central region of Afghanistan, reaching 52,176 voters, of whom 18,726 were women. Since May 1, 2005, a total of 222,550 citizens have attended civic education sessions.

Election administration trainers held three five-day training programs for the newly appointed Provincial Electoral Commissions (PEC). This concluded the initial PEC training, resulting in 128 trained Electoral Commissions. Plans are currently underway for a two-day follow on training to deal with issues that these individuals will confront during their first month of work.
And a board game is aiming to teach Afghan children about rebuilding their country:
With the spin of a wheel, one Afghan child might land up in an ambush by gunmen. Another could be taken to the safety of a health clinic or classroom.

These are all scenarios 10- to 14-year-olds must confront in the Road to Peace, a board game devised by the UN. About 10,000 copies are being distributed to war-affected children, former child soldiers and refugee families, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN assistance mission.

It comes in two languages, Dari and Pashto, and aims to teach children about the peace process and reconstruction of their country.

The foldable cardboard game is illustrated with a swirling path from one corner, the Past - with tanks, explosions and a Taliban-style execution - to another, the Future, with cheery family scenes, factories and a river.

Along the way, up to six players take turns spinning a wheel and moving their pieces.

If they land on a negative scenario, such as girls being turned away from school, they move backwards.

Landing on a positive square, such as the signing of the Bonn agreement in 2001, lets a player advance.
As the country prepares to elect for the first time its national parliament, work continues to build a modern legal infrastructure for the country. Thanks to a USAID grant of $200,000, a new court complex has been opened in Paktia province. USAID is also engaged in legal training:
USAID’s rule of law activity reflects a transition from supporting the creation of a government to ensuring that the new government has the capacity serve as a legitimate alternative to Afghanistan’s violent political past. USAID is supporting Kabul University in establishing a Law School, combining elements of the current faculties of Shari’a and Law & Political Science. At the request of the two Kabul faculties, USAID is now conducting intensive English classes for 33 professors of the law and sharia faculties. Short-term training programs are being conducted at provincial courts, in court administration, computer literacy, and requested legal topics. To date, USAID has trained 25 judges in basic computer literacy and 5 judges in a training-of-trainers computer literacy course. USAID has provided 41 Ministry of Justice officials with English language classes. 26 court professional staff have received computer literacy training.
Meanwhile, in an important legal first: "A milestone was recently achieved in Afghanistan's road to human rights protection in the administration of justice with the adoption of the new Penitentiary Law. In the current situation, the prison system is unable to uphold the basic international human rights standards related to persons deprived of their freedom. Afghanistan however has acceded to key international human rights treaties for such protection. The passing of the Penitentiary Law which incorporates all the required protections according to international standards signals a significant commitment by Afghanistan to implement the provisions of international human rights treaties."

The repatriation program for Afghan refugees reaches another milestone:
More than 2.5 million Afghans have repatriated from Pakistan as the UN refugee agency's largest voluntary repatriation programme continues to assist refugees to return to Afghanistan.

The programme, initiated in 2002 in both Pakistan and Iran, passed the landmark number today with the departure of the 207,210th Afghan refugee from Pakistan so far this year. In addition, more than 1.2 million Afghans have returned from Iran, bringing to over 3.7 million the total returns to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan.

"This is an unprecedented number of people returning to their homeland and a testament both to the improving conditions in Afghanistan and the desire of Afghan refugees to participate in the rebuilding of their country," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in Geneva.

"Even the 200,000 Afghans who have received UNHCR assistance to go home from Pakistan in 2005 make this our largest voluntary repatriation programme anywhere in the world this year," he said.
And returns are continuing:
"I have never seen Kabul and have no idea how it will look. But my mother assured me that we are going from one home to another," said 19-year-old Aalia Bibi as she boarded the truck taking her back to Afghanistan and ending 25 years of exile for her family...

"I stand today in front of my Afghan brothers and sisters to share this moment of joy that finally I am returning home with dignity and respect," said Innayat Ullah, an Afghan elder also repatriating to Kabul.

"In all these years of exile, I have realized one thing that I want to share with my countrymen here: no one can rebuild and reconstruct Afghanistan except Afghans themselves. So I have decided my fate and I am going to be among others who returned to do the same," he added.
Various initiatives are underway to accomodate the returnees. For example, "the provincial government is planning to set up a town for refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the outskirts of Ghazni City... The proposed town would be constructed on 10,00 acres of land, which would be sub-divided into 1,200 plots."

Meanwhile, the successes and the continuing challenge of creating an education system almost from scratch:
The progress in Afghanistan over the last three years is undeniable. Approximately 5 million children are now enrolled in school — and 40 percent of them are girls.

Malaly Pikar Volpi, director of the Policy Council on Afghan Women, said educating girls is part of a backlash against the repressive Taliban regime.

“Because education for girls was forbidden by the Taliban, it has come to symbolize freedom and prestige in Afghanistan," she said. "Groups that were especially persecuted by the Taliban, such as the Tajiks and the Hezaras, are now forcefully sending their children to school.”

But not everyone is convinced that America is doing all it can to ensure women receive an education in the region. According to UNICEF, 60 percent of Afghan girls under age 11 are not enrolled in school, even though 1,600 schools for girls have opened since 2001.

Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr. Massouda Jalal praised progress in Afghanistan but cautioned that more work remains.
USAID is also helping Afghan teachers:
USAID’s Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP) focuses on teacher training, accelerated learning programs for students, and textbook printing and distribution. During the current reporting period, July 3 – 16, 2005, the Teacher Education Program (TEP), completed the training of 425 teacher educators. These teacher educators will form the province-level foundation for nationwide in-service teacher education efforts. The participants, all of whom are teachers in the formal school system, came from Kabul City (212), Kabul Province (30), Parwan (69), Logar (42), Paktia (42), and Kapisa (30).

APEP’s accelerated learning partners are now recruiting mentors (teachers) to help meet the additional instructional and supervision demands of implementing the 4th grade curriculum. At this level, the number of subjects taught increases, and students are observed and tested more frequently. As of June 30, APEP had trained an additional 2,592 mentors for its classes.
No child is being left behind in Herat: "Eighteen visually-impaired children are being imparted education at six schools in the western Herat province, with some of them bagging top positions among their classmates. Special teaching and instructional techniques are being brought into use to educate the students, whose levels range from nursery to eighth."

There is also this assistance from South Korea: "Mohammad Karim Khalili, second Afghan vice-president, has inaugurated an Afghan-Korean education centre in Afshar, northwest of Kabul. The nine million US dollar project was funded by South Korea and has six departments including masonry, tailoring, electricity, computers, welding and car repair. Three hundred and sixty students are expected to graduate each year."

Afghan higher education minister Amir Shah Hassanyar has also recently spoke of challenges of reviving his country's universities:
He painted a portrait of a “once proud” higher education system, with a million students and several strong universities, that was left in tatters by a decade of rule by the former Soviet Union, a period of strife and civil war that began after the Soviets departed, and the repressive rule of the Taliban.

Right now, he acknowledged bluntly, the “quality of education is very, very low.” Nearly two thirds of the 2,000 teachers at Afghanistan’s 19 colleges have only a bachelor’s degree, “and most of those degrees were earned long ago.” Only 104, he said, have Ph.D.’s, and most of those were earned in the former Soviet Union.

“Afghanistan faces an immense challenge in raising the educational level of its university staff and meeting international standards of teaching and research,” the minister said.

The country must not only retrain those instructors but develop nearly 3,000 more to meet burgeoning student demand. In 2002, the universities had 4,000 students; this semester, they have 40,000, and by 2010 they are expecting to have 100,000. And many of the students, Hassanyar said, are not prepared for university level work. Getting women back into education poses a particular challenge, since they were barred from schooling by the Taliban.

The list of other challenges is long: a 30-year old curriculum; facilities in “dire need” of reconstruction, repair and modernization; multiple universities that remain dominated by factions and ethnic groups; a dearth of library resources and textbooks.

Some progress has been made — the country has moved to a credit-hour system, updated its higher education laws to allow for the creation of private universities, and developed a 2-, 5-, and 10-year strategic plan that includes the creation of system of community colleges, one in each of 34 provinces, that will provide technical and vocational education.

Afghanistan needs significant help to achieve its goals, Hassanyar said, and partnerships with institutions elsewhere are essential (some already exist: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is helping Balkh University’s plant and animal science departments update their teaching techniques and their technical materials, for instance, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is working with the Afghan University for Education to train teachers, since the country’s elementary and secondary schools are arguably in worse shape than the higher education system).
And a successful program that brings Afghan students to the United States continues:
Four teens from Afghanistan will arrive in Fort Wayne this month to spend a year with area families learning about American culture and attending local schools.

This is the second year teens from the war-torn country will visit Indiana and several other states across the country as part of Youth Exchange and Study, a program under the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Three of the teens will arrive Sunday after a monthlong training session to help them adjust to life in the United States and two weeks before school begins at Homestead, Heritage and Woodlan high schools, where they will attend.
Just as big a challenge is ensuring the access to decent standard of health care for millions of Afghans who never had it before. Soon, basic health care will be reaching remote parts of the country:
Health Minister Dr Saeed Mohammad Amin Fatemi has said 214 Basic Health Units (BHUs) will be operative in different parts of the country in the next two months.

In a chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, Fatemi said the step would help reduce burden on main hospitals in big cities besides provision of better health facilities to patients.

Dr Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the ministry, said the centres would be established in areas where people have no access to health services. They will be equipped with treatment facilities like family planning, mother and child healthcare and health education besides curing other diseases.

Fahim said the cost of construction work, which had been initiated some four months back, was being provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Professional training also continues: "The Medical College of the University of Nangarhar, in Eastern Afghanistan, graduated 61 midwives and about 200 other students in other medical professions so far. This class of graduating midwives comes from Nangarhar, Konar, Laghman and Nuristan provinces."

Both the media and the access to media continue to expand in the new Afghanistan. BBC is gaining a considerable audience throughout the country: "Despite limited survey work due to safety considerations, the BBC attracts 2.8 million listeners in five surveyed provinces of Afghanistan – an increase of two million on last year's Kabul only survey. That survey showed that BBC World Service programmes in Pashto and Persian had a 60 per cent reach in the Afghan capital."

Read also about Corridors, the hard-hitting current affairs program on TV, which is openly tackling many social taboos in this deeply conservative society.

In the run-up to parliamentary election later on this year, Afghan media professionals have been participating in a workshop to better prepare them for the task of covering national politics:
More than three hundred journalists and media professionals belonging to both governmental and independent media from all over Afghanistan took part on a three day workshop in Kabul about "The role of Media in Parliamentary Elections". The election-training exercise was in view of the upcoming political election on September 2005 (Wolesi Jirga and provincial elections).

The training was organized by the Ministry of Information and Culture in cooperation with the Bakhtar Information agency, UNESCO, Internews and JEMB; and with the support of the UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), UNAMA and the Asia Fundation.

From 28 to 30 June 2005, the participants from print (50%), radio (45%) and TV (5%) media outlets, of which two-third belonging to independent media, gathered in Kabul (110 were coming from the provinces). They discussed subjects such as: the right and duty of balance, accuracy and impartiality; the right and duty to inform during election; neutrality; non discrimination among candidates; raising voters’ understanding through print and electronic media on how to exercise the vote; role of freedom of the press during election (watchdog, reporting violation of electoral or media law etc); the safety of journalists (women’s in particular); clarification of Afghan election statute and local challenges.
In cultural news, "a new independent cultural and intellectual organisation was founded in Ghazni province on Friday. More than 70 Afghan writers, journalists and intellectuals from Ghazni and other provinces attended the opening ceremony of Lawang Cultural Organisation (LCO)."

And on a less serious level - yes, Bollywood is officially conquering Afghanistan:
Doors for Bollywood have opened now even in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. Performing in front of 30,000 audiences will be Suniel Shetty, Sonu Nigam, television stars Rahul Roy and Hussain.

Afghanistan is a huge market for Bollywood and is very excited for this first of its kind show, informs the Indian organiser of the event.

Suniel Shetty has more reasons to smile than the rest going, as action films are a huge favourite there. Looks like Suniel will soon be adding hordes of fans to his fanclub!
Long forgotten - or worse still, destroyed – historical heritage of Afghanistan is finally being preserved and looked after. For example, "experts from the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, are back on the ground in western Afghanistan. They're working with local authorities on a $1 million project to preserve the crumbling, centuries-old minarets in Herat and Jam, which are in danger of collapse."

In the capital, meanwhile, "reconstruction work began on July 2 at the Khwaja Eshaq Khatelani shrine, also known as Shah Shahid, located in Kabul's 8th district. Sayed Makhdum Rahin, the minister of information, culture and tourism, addressed a ceremony to mark the start of work and said, "Shah Shahid is one of the historic shrines of Kabul city, and based on agreements between the information ministry and USAID, it will be reconstructed in four months at a total cost of 34,530 US dollars." The present shrine to Khatelani dates back to reconstruction work carried out under 18th Afghan king Ahmad Shah Durrani, but has suffered recent environmental damage."

And a Japanese archeological team has discovered the one that the Taliban didn't manage to find and destroy - an ancient Buddhist mural in a cave in Bamyan, near the dynamited giant statues of Buddha.

And in sport news, the Asian Cricket Council is planning to promote the game that is so popular in neighboring Pakistan, as well as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Council will spend $60,000 trying to nurture young talent in Afghanistan.

RECONSTRUCTION: One of the world's poorest economies slowly continues to expand:
In a bid to boost foreign and domestic investment and restore economic activity to the war-ravaged country, the government, over the last four months, has allowed 900 private companies to do trade and business in Afghanistan.

The government had released same number of licenses to investors in the first six months of the last financial year indicating a rising trend in economic activity this year. The volume of investment stood at around $800 million the previous year, creating jobs for about 100,000 people.

Shakib Noori, a senior official of the Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA) told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday, about $200 million had been invested over the last four months, promising jobs for more than 37,000 people.
The financial situation of the Afghan government is also improving with time:
The Government of Afghanistan reported that due to improvements to administrative procedures it collected revenue more evenly throughout the year. The Mustofiats (provinces) reported nearly a 40% increase in revenue collections over last year.

The major revenue codes that exceeded expectations were direct taxes, indirect taxes (customs duties), sales of state property and services, and land and other taxes (mainly pension contributions). Revenue from rents for use of government property performed at or near expectations. Fees and licenses and miscellaneous taxes were the major revenue areas to perform below expectations.
A UN-administsred reconstruction fund reaches a milestone:
The three-year-old United Nations-supported Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) has received, as of the end of June, over $1 billion for projects ranging from the recurrent and capital costs of the Government to priority programmes, such as micro-financing, education, power, water supply and sanitation.

The ARTF, established in May 2002 after the ouster of the Taliban regime, is administered by the World Bank under the supervision of a management committee comprising the Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, UN Development Program (UNDP) and World Bank.
More about the Fund here.

Great Britain will be contributing another $350 million towards "paying salaries to government employees, improving condition of schools, hospitals and a number of other public facilities."

Canada also continues to assist with reconstruction:
Since the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in January 2002, Afghanistan has been the single largest recipient of Canadian bilateral aid with pledges of more than $616 million in reconstruction and development assistance. Delivered through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada's assistance supports priorities identified by the Afghan government in its National Development Framework. Current support is focused on interventions in the areas of governance, rural livelihoods, and support to the Government of Afghanistan...

Specific results of CIDA-funded initiatives include:

- More than 62,000 former combatants have been disarmed and demobilized through the CIDA-funded Afghan New Beginnings Program. Under the program, former soldiers selected reintegration packages to enable them to slowly return to a new civilian life. Training programs included initiatives in agriculture, tailoring, teaching, and demining.

- The Microfinance Investment and Support Facility (MISFA), which is one of the Afghan government's top priorities, expanded the existing microfinance network in Afghanistan and provides a range of financial services, including loans for income generation and enterprise development, savings services, and consumer loans to low-income people, particularly women. Canada is the lead donor to this program, one of the largest microfinance schemes in the world, and one which has reached almost 100,000 clients so far, 91 percent of whom are women.

- The Government of Afghanistan has asked Canada to be the sole donor for the National Priority Programmes Co-ordination Unit within the Government of Afghanistan. Through this project, CIDA is helping the government of Afghanistan to direct its resources and programs into the provinces where it will have the greatest strategic reach and impact. It will also help the Government of Afghanistan extend the positive reach of the central government to rural Afghanistan.

- More than 8,000 villages have been identified for funding through the National Solidarity Program, enabling an estimated 140,000 families to access basic rural infrastructure.

- More than 9,000 pieces of heavy weaponry such as artillery, tanks, and rocket launchers have been surrendered and returned to central government control. These weapons are the same that bombarded Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan for months and killed thousands. This impressive achievement was made possible by very close collaboration between development and political officers from the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, and Canadian military personnel based in Afghanistan.
Japan, too. is contributing:
Japan signed a USD$17 million agreement with [United Nations Development Programme] today; an expression of Japan's commitment to simultaneously address peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan...

The funds provided by the Government of Japan will go towards UNDP's National Area Based Development Programme, under the leadership of MRRD, which will facilitate long-term macro economic planning in the regions and the training of government staff. In addition, the immediate need for urban employment, increased agricultural productivity, and the reduction of the landmine threat will be addressed in partnership with the Ministries of Urban Development and Housing, and of Agriculture, together with the UNDP-supported Programme Implementation Unit, FAO and the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA).
And this: "The Government of Japan and the United Nations (UN) decided to extend assistance of a total of 3,660,415 US dollars (approximately 402.64 million yen) through the Trust Fund for Human Security for the project "Improving Human Security by Rebuilding Urban Communities" to be implemented by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) in Afghanistan... The project is expected to focus not only on physical rehabilitation but also on the restoration of a sense of solidarity in the communities. The project is expected to improve the living conditions of approximately 100,000 people."

USAID is also funding reconstruction project carried out by the Coalition forces: "The Quick Impact Program (QIP) is USAID’s funding mechanism that allows [Field Development Officres] to undertake specific development projects in their provinces. FDOs select appropriate projects and activities in consultation with the military at the [Provincial Reconstruction Teams] and with local leadership. The primary purposes of QIP projects are to extend the reach and influence of government throughout the provinces and to create a climate of improved freedom and economic activity. Projects implemented through QIP include tertiary roads, bridges, water supply, irrigation, government administrative buildings, schools, clinics, micro-power generation and gender training courses. Starting in FY03, QIP has received total funding of $137.3 million, including $75 million from the FY05 supplemental budget. As of June 2005, 116 projects have been completed, 106 are under construction, and 126 are under planning and design. It is expected that over 600 projects will be completed by the end of FY06."

Japan and the UN are collaborating on a project to make Afghan cities more livable:
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security have announced that they will provide over 3 million US dollars towards upgrading homes and urban community facilities in informal settlements in the three Afghan cities of Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad.

The funding, amounting to a total of US$ 3,560,585 will be disbursed through the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security in support of a year-long project designed to provide basic urban services and shelter for more than 100,000 people in 48 settlements in the three cities. The project is scheduled to commence in August 2005 and completed by July 2006...

UN-HABITAT said the project will help communities living in designated settlements to improve basic services including waste collection and disposal and community infrastructure. This will be done through community mobilisation, enabling women to play their role in local development, and promoting inclusive community-level decision-making.
On the topic of urban renewal, one historic city will be expanding: "A government delegation including reconstruction minister Mohammed Yusuf Pashtun attended the inauguration of a project to expand the town of Bamian, provincial capital of the central province of the same name. Bamian, is the site of the two giant Buddha statues, is not only important for Afghanistan, but is a historical and archeological site of world significance, said Pashtun. The government has therefore decided to expand the city, because Bamian is seen as the most attractive historical site for tourists in Afghanistan, he said."

USAID is working with the Afghan government to make sure the basics are right for some of Afghanistan's key industries:
In a unique approach to improving competitiveness, USAID and the Ministry of Finance jointly developed a 2 year competitiveness project. The program combines two important efforts to produce a sustainable and competitive private sector: 1) working with three existing industries (carpets, dried fruit and nuts and marble) to develop more complex products for which buyers will pay a premium; and 2) developing and supporting a cabinet-level National Competitiveness Council that is a forum for the public and private sectors to coordinate and debate the role of government in supporting private sector development.

Recent activity with the carpet cluster includes workgroup meetings on carpet buyers survey, carpet design award, wool and other inputs, and transportation. In addition, the project provided technical and management support to the Ministry of Commerce for the upcoming National Carpet Exhibition.

Market surveys are in process in India for fruit and nuts. In addition, a business plan for an integrated raisin processing plant is currently under consideration for the financing of the required equipment. The results of a preliminary survey of the Khogiani quarry, part of the marble cluster, indicates that the deposit is very valuable. A business plan is currently being developed for an initial investment of quarrying equipment.
USAID's valuation teams are currently cooperating with the authorities in providing professional valuation of state-owned enterprises throughout the country in order to prepare for privatization.

There is also assistance for businesswomen:
The International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, recently organized a two-day workshop on “How to Market your Business” for 40 women entrepreneurs in Kabul. The event, which was held July 26-27, is part of a larger IFC regional program to strengthen women-owned small and medium enterprises.

The workshop was designed for women who have some experience in formal small and medium-sized businesses and who seek innovative, nontraditional and growth-oriented approaches to their enterprises. It was delivered using IFC’s Business Edge management training methodology and expertise. The training series aims to increase productivity, profitability, and growth in small businesses by improving their financial, operational, and marketing management. It also focuses on the soft skills needed for effective human resource management and sound leadership. In particular, the Kabul workshop focused on the introduction to marketing concepts, the targeting of markets, and pricing.
In Kabul, a new asphalt-producing plant has been opened on July 4. "According to the state-run Bakhtar Information Agency, the equipment for the plant was made in India and was donated to Kabul city by USAID. The plant has a production capacity of 40 tons of asphalt per hour."

Meanwhile in exploration, gold deposits have been recently discovered in the Herat province. Satellite imaging also showed presence of rare precious stones used in nuclear tests. Also: "Two citizens of the Qarqin District of Jowzjan Province have discovered a deposit of natural gas in ground close to the Amu River, Sheberghan Aina TV reported on 27 July. Jowzjan Governor Roz Mohammad Nur said that he will send a team of oil and gas experts to study the area thoroughly. Afghanistan has small natural gas fields mostly in Jowzjan."

In energy news, USAID is currently working on refurbishing the Kajaki Hydroelectric power plant in Helmand province. Also, "Japan has agreed to provide five million US dollars to reconstruct and expand power distribution networks in the western province of Herat. The 10 million dollar project will be co-financed by the Asian Development Bank and is expected to be complete by October 2006."

And in a major new investment program:
The Asian Development Bank and the Afghan government signed a $50 million agreement on developing an efficient power distribution system in Afghanistan.

The government will use the fund, half debt and half donation, to create a large network for countrywide power supply. The present decrepit power supply system, benefiting only a small portion of the Afghan population, leaves a lot to be desired.

Finance Minister Anwarul Haq Ahady said at the agreement-signing ceremony: "So far, power supply is confined to major cities… but this is just the beginning of a long-term project, which aims to illuminate all villages across Afghanistan."
Cross-border cooperation with Pakistan is on the rise:
Pakistan and Afghanistan have decided to take effective steps to further improve business to business interaction and enhance bilateral trade through further streamlining of procedures, holding single country exhibitions and establishment of joint chambers of commerce and industry.

The two countries have also decided to constitute a Pak-Afghan Joint Customs Committee, which will examine the issues relating totrade and transit trade and submit proposals for appropriate solutions.
There's more collaboration:
Islamabad has offered to explore the possibility of establishing industrial parks in Afghanistan and in the Pak-Afghan border areas to fight poverty...

Pakistan is establishing a network of roads connecting Karachi Port, Port Qasim and Gwadar Port to Afghanistan to facilitate bilateral trade sand develop trade links to the Central Asian Republics. Pakistan will establish 12 customs stations at the Pak-Afghan border and state-of-the-art facilities are being set up at Torkham and Chaman for trade facilitation and speedy cargo clearance.

The Pakistan side also informed the Afghan side that Pakistan attaches high priority to stability and economic development of Afghanistan. We have always been staunch supporters of all initiatives of the international community for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, they said. The JEC was informed that $49.926 million had been utilized out of the $100 million development assistance announced by Pakistan in 2002 for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.

The Pakistan delegation made a presentation on progress on various projects like Chamn-Gwadar railway line, rehabilitation of Torkham-Jalalabad Road, Ghulam Khan Khost Road, power transmission lines to Khost, provision of 200 trucks, 100 buses, 38 ambulances, assistance for Kabul University, rehabilitatin of schools, faculty block in Bulkh University, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kidney Centre at Jalalabad and construction of a 150-bed hospital along with a 50-bed thalassaemia centre in Afghanistan.

Both sides agreed that efforts would be made to improve the network of roads, including Torkham-Jalalabad Road. to create trade access to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Both the countries agreed to establish a joint committee to ensure prompt implementation of the decisions of the JEC and also decided to convene the next meeting of the JEC in Islamabad.
In communications news, better public phone infrastructure is coming to the capital:
The 300 telephone booths established by the Communication Ministry at different spots in the central capital would start functioning in a week.

Abdul Hadi Hadi, spokesman for the ministry, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Wednesday of the 300 calling points, 150 had been established in busy markets while the remaining in other populated areas.

He said calling cards worth 250 and 500 afghani would be used to make calls from the booths. A call to digital and cell phone number will consume one and five afghanis per minute respectively. The system has been operationalised by a US company at the cost of $200.
More here.

The government is rolling out wireless network across Afghanistan:
In a country where communications are often either poor or nonexistent, the Afghan government has launched a major effort to make internet access more widely available by introducing a digital wireless network.

Currently operating only in the capital, the network will soon be available in 12 provinces and should be operational throughout the country by the end of the year, according to Communications Minister Amirzai Sangeen.

So far, the government has spent 70 million US dollars on creating, and expects to spend another 50 million to complete the project this year. Sangeen said that 9,000 digital phones are ready to be connected to the network.

Linking Afghanistan up via wireless internet connections is seen as vital to both economic and political development, as the government in Kabul continues to struggle to exert control over some provinces.

"Trade centres, government offices, schools and other institutions will benefit from the internet network," said Sangeen.
The government is also offering concessions to businesses to network remote areas of the country:
The Afghan government... announced special concessions for private investors for extending telecom facilities to small towns and far-flung areas across the country.

Announcement to this effect was made by Communications Minister Amirzai Sangin while speaking at a function organised by the Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA) here. Besides others, the ceremony was attended by a number of private investors.

The minister said special concessions like issuance of free licenses and fee waiver for one year would be extended to entrepreneurs who invest in provision of telecom facilities to people of the far-off areas.

He said the government was planning to connect all parts of the country by extending the telephone facility to even smaller towns and backward and far-off districts of the country.

The minister informed digital system had been working in 11 provinces under the government control, but they wanted the investors to come forward and extend the services to other provinces and areas of the country.

"Connecting every village, town and district of the country through a communication network is our mission," said the minister, inviting investors to come forward to fulfill the mission.
And in somewhat more low-tech news, postal service has resumed in Kandahar, for the first time in a quarter of century.

Transport infrastructure inside Afghanistan, as well as linkages with the outside world, are slowly improving after decades of complete neglect. The Asian Development Bank has recently approved a $55 million grant to help rehabilitate the road network of Afghanistan. "The grant will cover the 90 kilometers (56 miles) between the towns of Qaisar and Bala Murghab which is the last unpaved section of the national primary road."

Another road construction project has just started: "Construction work on the 48 kilometres Lashkargah-Kandahar road kicked off the other day. The road, linking the provincial capital with the Herat-Kandahar Highway, is being constructed with $30 million assistance from the United States."

Iran has contributed to making Afghanistan's highest airport at Bamian safer to operate by installing weather-related instruments. Meanwhile, a new, $3-million traffic control system has been unveiled at the Kabul airport on 12 July. More about it here:
The Kabul [Air Control Center] took control of high-altitude commercial and cargo flights on May 15 and low-altitude civilian and military flights on July 11. Since then, the Kabul ACC has handled more than 10,000 high-altitude flights and 500 low-altitude flights. Each flight generates hundreds of dollars of revenue for the government of Afghanistan to improve infrastructure, build landing routes and further develop a modern air traffic control system.
Speaking of airports, here's an ambitious new plan to create the necessary infrastructure throughout the country:
Thirty Afghan provinces across the country will get their own airports during the next three years. Besides, the Kabul, Nangarhar, Balkh, Herat and Kandahar airports will be renovated and reconstructed to bring them on a par with international standards, said Transport Minister Inayatullah Qasmi.

In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News here on Thursday, the minister informed construction agreements of 18 airports had already been inked with different companies, while contracts for the remaining would be signed in near future. He said loans had been received from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for construction of the airports. In the first phase, he revealed, construction work would be initiated on Faizabad, Maimana, Bamyan, Chaghcheran, Zaranj, Farah and Qilla Naw airports.
A new program aims to revive Afghan tourism:
Afghanistan has struggled to surmount decades of war and poverty. Now, newly trained trekking guides plan to help visitors climb the country's majestic peaks in an effort to revive tourism.

A total of 22 Afghans from across the country graduated Thursday from an internationally sponsored mountaineering training course in the capital, Kabul, the U.S. Agency for International Development said in a statement.

The guides, hailing from northern Nuristan to central Bamiyan province, are part of a program to establish environmentally friendly tourism in Afghanistan, the statement said. They include two young women and seven former soldiers...

Besides USAID and UNEP, other sponsors include Mountain Wilderness International, an Italy-based group dedicated to preserving mountainous regions around the world, and the Aga Khan Foundation, a Muslim development fund.
In agriculture – still the major industry and the employer of the population - Iran and Pakistan will cooperate through Central Asia's Economic Cooperation Organisation to develop Afghan livestock sector.

USAID is also assisting:
USAID’s forestry project aims to rehabilitate pistachio woodlands in the pistachio belt extending from northern to north-western Afghanistan and conifer forests in eastern Afghanistan; provide cash-for-work opportunities to vulnerable people through labor-based reforestation projects; develop the technical and managerial capacity of the Government and local forestry experts; and promote conservation and stewardship of forests in rural villages surrounding forest rehabilitation projects. USAID works too achieve these ends in collaboration with the Afghanistan Conservation Corps (ACC).

Project progress to date includes complete seeding for thirty-two reforestation subprojects in twelve provinces for a total of 186 hectares of pistachio woodlands and 93.8 hectares of conifer forest. Remaining activities include irrigation, weeding, site protection and monitoring. Assessment of germination rates produced an overall average survival rate of 67% among all sites, with 57% for 17 pistachio sites and 61% for 15 conifer sites. The project has generated 121,765 labor days of work to date.
In other recent USAID initiatives: "USAID is improving Afghanistan’s irrigation infrastructure to increase agricultural productivity. Projects include dams, spillway and diversion channels, intakes, and distribution systems. The Sar-e Haus Dam, the largest dam in Northwest Afghanistan, provides irrigation for an estimated 600,000 people. USAID recently completed the left dam abutment, which supports the weight of the dam. Reinforcement of the old center spillway is scheduled to begin in August 2005, and the contractor is currently mobilizing. Some difficulties with local politicians appear to be resolved."

In another irrigation-related project, "the Asian Development Bank has agreed to fork over $25 millions for the repair of water reservoirs and small dams to help revive the decrepit irrigation system in the northern Balkh province";

Cotton production is now reviving in parts of the country:
Afghan farmers have returned to cotton cultivation, sowing the crop over 6,000 hectares of land in the northern Kunduz province after decades of strife.

Mohammad Ibrahim Turkman, director of the provincial agriculture and livestock department, said on Thursday Kunduz was headed for a bumper cotton crop this year after a sharp and persistent decline in its cultivation over the years.

In an exclusive chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, Turkman recalled the province used to produce around 85,000 tons of cotton annually before the breakout of the war, which saw a precipitous fall in the crop yield.
Afghanistan's national air carrier, Ariana Airlines, will be flying fresh fruit to Saudi Arabia, starting with 5000 tons of apricots.

And in another good agricultural news, thanks to the United Nations' help, the number of locust has been drastically reduced across the country.

HUMANITARIAN AID: The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department has recently set aside further 20 million euro for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan and Iran. "From 2001 to 2004, ECHO provided humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan worth € 218 million. This aid has helped sustain the massive return of refugees and IDPs to Afghanistan, provided essential aid to remaining refugees and IDPs, tackled humanitarian needs resulting from the drought, and generally alleviated the sufferings of the victims of the conflict and drought."

British charity is helping with disaster relief:
Merlin, the UK charity which specialises in medical relief and health care worldwide, is assisting thousands of vulnerable people affected by floods in Badakshan province, northern Afghanistan.

With ongoing health projects across Badakshan, Merlin was ready to respond swiftly to the crisis and has already started distributing medical supplies to affected communities in four districts of the province...

Merlin will focus on setting up and managing mobile clinics and ensuring health facilities have adequate medical supplies, jerry cans to collect and store water, and chlorine solutions for water purification.

Merlin teams will also distribute soap, insecticide-treated bed nets, and leaflets with instructions on how to prepare oral rehydration salts to relieve symptoms of diarrhoea.

Merlin will also promote health and hygiene messages through leaflets and posters in public places including markets, shops and mosques, and through media outlets, to raise awareness of how to prevent water and sanitation-related diseases.
Afghanistan itself is an impoverished country, but its people are also keen to help their compatriots wherever they can. The Laghman city government, for example, is distributing 6,500 plots of land in different parts of the municipality to the local homeless.

The Afghanistan Red Crescent Society is trying to promote self-help in local communities:
The Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) has initiated a fundraising programme which empowers the local communities to respond to natural disasters in appropriate time.

The Disaster Management department of the ARCS has installed donation boxes in the different provinces of the country to increase local fundraising and to mobilise local resources to respond to disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, drought, accidents and other emergencies.

"The donation box saved my life," said Pari Gul sitting in her room cradling her 3-month-old son. Pari Gul is a resident of the village of Safer Khan in Zindajan district, located 25 Km west of Herat City.

She was badly burnt when fire surrounded her in the kitchen during the preparation of the midday meal for her family. At that time there was no one to help Pari Gul.

A member of her family informed the ARCS donation committee of Pari Gul's accident, and she was then taken to the central hospital of Herat city. She was treated for 20 days and most of the expenses were covered by the ARCS donation box in the village.

Pari Gul's husband is a daily worker who earns 100 Afghanis, the equivalent of two US dollars a day, and the amount is not enough to cover even their daily expenses.

The donation committee in Safar Khan Village has responded to eight other similar cases in the village.
Another charity has been helping young Afghans acquire useful skills:
As many as 68 youths completed an extensive nine months vocational training course organised by Save the Children - a non-governmental organisation (NGO) - in the southern Kandahar province on Monday.

Fakhruddin Ilyasi, chief of Save the Children in Kandahar, told Pajhwok Afghan News the youths trained in auto-mechanic and embroidery skills were fully prepared to launch independent businesses.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, is conducting mine awareness courses for Afghan bus drivers:
Drivers can also help by spreading awareness throughout the country, as Hafizully, a 63-year-old driver from Maidan, explained. "These pointers are useful not only for us driving down the road, but also at home and in the towns and villages we go through, where many people still live with mines and other munitions around their homes."

Since November 2004, over 2,600 drivers have attended 160 presentations in nine provinces around the country. By sharing their knowledge about the risks of mines, all of these drivers can help reduce accidents in the future.
The Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees is expanding its operations: "DACAAR moves into three new provinces to provide improved drinking water and sanitation facilities to rural communities in Central and Northern Afghanistan. The targeted areas are remote districts located in Faryab, Ghor and Badakhshan provinces where drinking water is not available."

People in Peril Association Slovakia (PIPA) is working to help Afghan women improve their economic standing: "A microfinance program for women is launched in the province of Kapisa. It is to support women’s income-generation activities such as carpet-making, sewing and farming. Women are attending special trainings on marketing skills, reading and writing abilities. We are planning to empower about 200 women through vocational trainings and 40 of them will receive a small credit for starting income-generation activities. Loans will be paid off in a couple of months and money will be used for crediting another group of women."

PIPA is also supporting political development of Afghan women: "PIPA conducts two rounds of 3-months courses in rights awareness, building civil society, advocacy, leadership and project management skills for 50 rural women leaders in the provinces of Kapisa and Parwan. After trainings, 10 community-based committees are gonna be established. Main task of committees is to advocate for rights of local women and to participate in public affairs, development planning and policy making. Women committees will be linked to the local network comprised of the local women NGOs, ministries and governmental offices for farther cooperation."

And education: "The first ever Slovak field office in Kabul was founded by People in Peril Association in order to establish a long-term development programs in support of girls and women in rural Afghan areas. Our first project strengthened the educational system in Afghanistan. A school for 450 girls and boys was built and opened in the region of Kapisa and 100 female teachers improved their teaching abilities via trainings provided by Afghan Women's Resource Center (AWRC), a PIPA's local partner."

And this humanitarian assistance from Pakistan: "Pakistan has provided 42 truckloads of food items worth Rs25 million to Afghan authorities in Quetta, provincial capital of the Balochistan province... The aid package including flour, sugar, pulses, spices and biscuits, would be transported to Kandahar for onward distribution among deserving people."

THE COALITION TROOPS: In addition to providing security for the people, the Coalition forces currently stationed in Afghanistan are working on a whole range of other projects, in particular reconstruction work and humanitarian assistance.

To kill two birds with one stone - help rebuild the country, and deny recruits for the Taliban - the US Army is planning a series of ambitious reconstruction projects employing poor and workless Afghans who might otherwise be tempted to work for the Taliban.

Col. Guy Sands, commander of the Army Reserve's 360th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), reflects on the contribution his troops have made over the past ten months to making Afghanistan a better place:
The projects started by the CA brigade employed many Afghans, giving them skills to do future projects on their own. They also helped the local economy because materials for the projects were purchased from local vendors. One of the major undertakings was improving and fully repaving roads, like the one from Kandahar north to Tarin Kowt in the Uruzgan province.

“An estimated 80,000 Afghans during the past year have found employment working on projects or programs initiated by Coalition forces,” said Sands. “We opened 82 new schools and most of the work was done by the Afghan people.”

However, not all of the projects were aimed at teaching Afghans new skills. Some projects provided assistance to those in need, like flood victims. More than $70 million has gone toward humanitarian aid and medical assistance, provided by the CA specialists working at the 14 Provincial Reconstruction Team locations.

“We supported humanitarian missions, giving 50,000 blankets and 10,000 single-family tents to flood and wintertime victims, treated 28,000 people, visited more than 200 villages, and inoculated 40,000 animals for disease,” said Sands...

In a land where 80 percent of personal wealth is connected to the amount of livestock a person owns, animal health care is almost as important as human health care. The PRTs have made strides in reestablishing local and district level veterinary and agricultural clinics.

Thousands of farm animals have been vaccinated and given medical treatment to prevent the outbreak of contagious diseases that in previous years destroyed entire herds...

Another significant project involved refurbishing and reopening the farmers markets. Markets were reopened in the towns and cities of more than 16 provinces and 180 districts. The markets allow farmers to get a fair price for their goods...

Personal security against those who terrorize Afghans is another problem. Coalition Forces placed the PRTs in areas that needed not only economic assistance, but physical security as well. The CA teams have assisted in enabling and facilitating the training and operational employment of legitimate police forces throughout Afghanistan.
Projects continue in the Baghran Valley:
More then $1.5 million is being spent on civic improvements in the Baghran valley of southern Afghanistan in an effort to show the benefits of peace and improve educational opportunities for the people there.

The projects range in scope and size from an $80,000 renovation of a health care clinic to the construction of two police stations costing $300,000.

The improvements will raise the quality of life and improve the government of Afghanistan ’s ability to maintain law and order.

More than $300,000 will be spent for the construction of two police stations and a district police headquarters that will house district leaders and provide a base of operations for local police forces. Four police vehicles and 10 motorcycles are being provided to law enforcement officials in the area. The cost of these transportation assets is more than $125,000.

Four schools are being renovated, each at a cost of nearly $200,000, at various locations throughout the area so men, women and children will be able to have a comfortable place that fosters learning. Road construction, repair and maintenance equipment, at a cost of more than $250,000, has been purchased both to help encourage commerce and to improve the reaction time of local law enforcement agencies.
The troops continue work on road construction in remote parts of the country:
A new road is under construction which will link the cities of Orgun-E and Sharana, where it can there link up to the ring road system – the major trade roads in Afghanistan that form a loop by connecting major cities.

Engineers from Company B, 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) and 391st Higher Headquarters Company Engineers started the project July 5 and are expected to finish the 64-kilometer road some time around December 15.

The current road linking the two cities more resembles a series of trails, which makes travel difficult and slow for the “jingle trucks” that carry supplies and goods in the area.
Says Lt. Col. Alberto C. Rosende, Task Force Wildcat Commander: “Orgun-E is a major hub in this area and is a on a main trade route from Pakistan... We want to ensure that we can connect Orgun-E to Sharana so that these goods can get to the ring road. Cities in Afghanistan didn’t grow because of the rivers; they grew up because they were on the ring road or connected to it.”

Another major road project is also nearing completion: "One of the most encouraging successes of the United States Military presence in Afghanistan is the approaching completion of the TK Road, a road bringing together the cities of Kandahar and Tarin Kowt. Coalition forces have been dedicated to connecting Afghanistan by road, a task that has spanned 14 months and 117 kilometers."

The troops' contribution to improving the health standards across the country is many and varied. For example:
The Khost Provincial Government in conjunction with Coalition forces donated a Mobil Medical Vehicle to the Ministry of Health in order to provide better medical services and care to remote, isolated regions of Khost province.

The vehicle donation ceremony was conducted at the Khost Ministry of Tribal Affairs and attended by Dr. Amir Bad Shah, Minister of Public Health, Lt. Colonel George Donovan, 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment commander, Maj. Cory Costello, Task Force Devil surgeon, Lt. Col. Charles Miller, Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team commander, Capt. David Harper, 2-504th surgeon and various tribal elders.

“The reason we are donating this vehicle is simple,” said Harper. “Over the past few months I have visited many of the villages throughout the Khost province and found some of those villages do not have a clinic or a medical provider. With this vehicle, local doctors from Khost can drive out to remote locations and provide care and medicine to those in need.”
The troops are make a contribution by sharing their expertise: "Fifth-year students from the school of medicine at Kandahar University completed a three-day course on Advanced Trauma Life Support conducted by the university, the Kandahar Hospital, and the Regional Development Zone June 27. ATLS is a standard trauma evaluation designed so any medical facility can treat a trauma patient and is taught worldwide, said Dr. (Maj.) Michael Woll, a general surgeon with Medical Detachment A, 249th General Hospital, Ft. Gordon, Ga., who is among the eight physicians who taught the class."

The troops will also be involved in providing election security in close cooperation with local authorities:
Soldiers of the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion are establishing a Joint Election Operations Center at the Afghan National Police Headquarters in Jalalabad.

“All agencies involved in elections will have one point of coordination,” said Capt. Chris Corsten, Civil Affairs Team, explaining the purpose of the JEOC.

Corsten, first met with leaders of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army leaders to explain the purpose of the JEOC and how the two Afghan agencies would be more closely interwoven in the coming months to provide security for the elections in September.
Here's the latest "adopt a village" initiative:
Approximately 50 Airmen recently volunteered to organize an entire container, 20 feet by 10 feet by 8 feet weighing nearly 63,000 pounds filled with donated supplies for a tertiary mission here—adopt a village.

Airman separated the supplies into groups broken down by male, female and adult and children’s supplies that would be used in the next mission.

“No one comes close” was an Air Force slogan used to describe the capabilities and accomplishments of the United States Air Force. This slogan took on a whole new meaning when over 35 Airmen traveled to a village, several miles outside Bagram, to equip local Afghan children with supplies for their future.

“No one comes close” to the pride and patriotism exhibited by the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing men and women that bright sunny day when they pulled up to the village with the cloud of dust bellowing behind the sport utility vehicles.

Airman hand-delivered bags filled with basic school supplies to about 100 children from KHAROTI– a small village within Afghanistan’s Parwan Province in the Kohe Safi Region near the east river range. 13.5 km southest of Bagram.

In addition, “each child received his or her own toy and bundle of school supplies,” said 1st Lt. David Knight, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron operations officer.

“We also dropped off about tow pickup trucks full of large bags of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing with the village elder. The toys and school supplies were donated by our troops here and their support system back home. The donated items never seem to stop coming!”
It's not just the American troops. Read about the contribution of Lithuanian and Estonian troops in remote areas of the country.

Australia is now returning to Afghanistan with a force of 150 troops, including 50 members of special services. The Australian government is also considering sending in a provincial reconstruction team in April next year to assist with rebuilding the country.

Then there is this humanitarian aid from the Brits:
Shortly after arriving, it became obvious to the service members that this was not a normal school environment.

The students of Lamashaheed School in Kabul attend classes in conditions that make learning difficult and can even endanger the children's health. But still, the teachers continue to instruct and the children eagerly attend class.

The U.S. military and the United Kingdom's 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles have embarked on the civic aid mission of supplying hospitals and schools in Kabul with essential supplies and material support. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Hendrick Felix and his staff of Soldiers, Airmen and Seamen keep an inventory of prayer rugs, Qurans, children's clothes, sugar, tea, beans, rice, stoves, hygiene kits and school supplies.

The RGR supports 13 schools, seven kindergartens and as many local hospitals as their supplies allow.
And Canadians: "Ottawa has decided to operate the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar Province starting in August, international news agencies reported. Canada is expected to dispatch 250 troops to Kandahar in addition to around 800 Canadian troops currently serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul." The Provincial Reconstruction Team will be operating with the assiatnce from the Canadian International Development Agency:
The Security Sector Reform Fund will support small-scale initiatives in the Kandahar province in areas such as policing, counter narcotics, justice reform, and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The Fund (whose size is to be determined over the next few months) will be drawn from the current allocation for Afghanistan ($250 million from 2005-2009).
SECURITY: NATO is progressively expanding its role in Afghanistan:
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will expend its responsibilities in southern Afghanistan in early 2006, and hopes to take responsibility of the whole country in two years, a NATO official has said.

When NATO assumes responsibility for the who country, some US troops will continue to stay and operate in Afghanistan, Lieut. Gen. Ethem Erdagi, the Turkish commander of ISAF in Afghanistan said...

The NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan commands more than 8,000 soldiers from 37 countries, with the task of supporting the Afghan government in safeguarding national security, and establishing national institutions in accordance with the Bonn Agreement.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assumed leadership of the ISAF mission in August 2003. Afghanistan is the military alliance's first ever mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area.

ISAF has taken the authority of north and west of Afghanistan respectively early this year, and it will expand to the south in the spring of 2006, and then to the east, in a counter-clockwise motion throughout the country.
This will free up the American troops for security tasks elsewhere in the world.

In Kandahar province, better and more integrated cooperation between Afghan and American forces is being implemented:
The civic and military forces of Afghanistan are being instructed on how to reach out and touch someone, so to speak, with a Provincial Coordination Center and the assistance of Coalition forces.

The mission of the PCC has been to synchronize and coordinate efforts of the Afghan National Police Afghan National Army, NDS (Afghan intelligence agency), and Afghan Highway Patrol, said Capt. Wayne Ehmer, battalion logistics officer for 3rd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 82d Airborne Division, and effectively react to threats that seek to destabilize and discredit the government of Afghanistan.

To help accomplish the mission, the PCC has one representative from each office, as well as a quick reaction force of 100 men: 50 from the ANA, 40 from the ANP and 10 intelligence specialists.

In addition, the PCC houses an administration office and a completely Afghan-run communication center.
Amnesty program continues to bear fruit, most recently with the surrender of fourteen Taliban fighters linked to one of Afghanistan's most wanted commanders:
The group surrendered in troubled Paktika province south of Kabul on Wednesday [6 July] and promised to give up a secret stash of weapons and to support the government, provincial governor Mohammed Gulab Mangal told AFP.

“Fourteen Taliban who were actively fighting the government surrendered and joined us today,” the governor said.

The rebels who gave themselves up were linked to Jalaludin Haqani, a powerful Taliban commander and the regime’s former minister of frontiers and tribal affairs, officials said.

Haqani has a five-million-dollar price on his head on a list of Al Qaeda and other militants wanted by the United States since the September 11 attacks and the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

“They said they were missioned in Pakistan to torch schools, attack government institutions and coalition forces and since they did not want to destroy their country they gave up fighting,” said the governor.
In other recent developments:

"A senior Taliban commander, along with 14 armed supporters, Wednesday [6 July] threw his weight behind the Afghan government headed by President Hamid Karzai... Mohammad Akbar - hailing from Orgun district - had been a commander of former Taliban minister Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani... Akbar renounced militancy on Tuesday at a huge gathering attended by representatives of the government and coalition forces, religious scholars and tribal elders";

"Around 30 former jihadi commanders pledged support to the Afghan government at a meeting in Maidan Shahr on Thursday [7 July]";

In Khost province, "two local Taliban leaders, allied with former minister Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saturday [9 July] renounced militancy and pledged allegiance to the government";

Also in Khost province, Mullah Sadiq, former senior Taliban commander has surrendered to the authorities on 15 July;

Maulvi Gul Sha Wazir, known as Tractor Mula, a senior Taliban official surrendered to authorities in Khost province on July 16.

The Taliban are also having increasing problems recruiting:
Taliban-led rebels have been hit so hard they are asking families to hand over sons as young as 14 to fight, the US military operational commander in Afghanistan said yesterday...

Maj-Gen Kamiya said the ranks of Taliban in some areas has been so shattered by heavy fighting that the rebels are forcing families "to give up one son to fight".

"They have been hit so hard they now have to recruit more fighters. They are recruiting younger and younger fighters: 14, 15 and 16 years old," Maj-Gen Kamiya said.

"The enemy is having a hard time keeping its recruit rates up."

He said part of the reason the rebels have suffered such losses recently was that they have been caught gathering in large groups three times and pounded by airstrikes.

About 170 suspected insurgents were killed in a week-long battle last month in a mountainous militant hideout.

"There is no [rebel] organisational chain of command . . . because we have succeeded thus far in disrupting their means to regroup and conduct a coordinated attack," Maj-Gen Kamiya said. "They can no longer move around with impunity."
Demobilization and integration of child soldiers in entering the next phase:
The second major phase of Afghanistan’s child soldier demobilization and reintegration campaign got underway in the west of the country... with an expected 3,500 children likely to benefit from the initiative in the coming three months.

Local Demobilization and Reintegration Committees, made up of community leaders and locally-based NGOs, began work this week in Herat province to identify and assess up to 500 eligible children; that is, those children of 18 years or younger who have been attached to a military unit with a formal command structure who wish to benefit from the programme’s reintegration opportunities. The nationwide programme, which is supported by UNICEF, began in February 2004 and to date has assisted just over 4,000 former child soldiers.
In the latest developments, "local committees made up of community leaders and local NGOs began work in the western Herat province to identify and assess up to 500 eligible children in mid-July."

Disarmament of local militias is also progressing well:
More than 200 local commanders have been disarmed and tens of thousands of arms and ammunitions collected in Afghanistan since the government-led Disbanding of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) started early June, officials at the disarmament and reintegration (DR) commission confirmed to IRIN on Tuesday.

"In the last 36 days since DIAG was launched more than 16,000 guns and up to 100 trucks of ammunition have been collected throughout the country," Masoum Stanekzai, a minister advising Afghan President Hamid Karzai and deputy head of the DR commission, said on Tuesday in the capital, Kabul.

Stanekzai said that the process was proceeding peacefully and had not faced any reaction or resistance from any armed groups so far.

Following the completion of Afghan militia forces disarmament under the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants, which ended in late June, the government of Afghanistan and UN are now focusing on the DIAG initiative as a major security programme.

More than 60,000 former combatants were disarmed by the DDR, which took the international community nearly 20 months and over US $150 million to complete. In addition to the decommissioning of ex-combatants, nearly 35,000 light and medium weapons were collected under the DDR.
The work to reintegrate former fighters into society continues, including through this $15-20 million Canadian program that focuses on giving decommissioned combatants necessary work skills.

In one of the recent developments, "nearly 60 residents of the Rustaq district of Takhar province surrendered 70 weapons to the government on August 3. They included rockets, machine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition, some of which the residents kept for security. Mohammad Faqir, 28, said that he had voluntarily handed over a Kalashnikov and a box of ammunition. The voluntary surrender comes after two former commanders in the area, Piram Qul and Bashir Chahabi, gave up their weapons in order to run as candidates in the parliamentary elections."

Taliban also continue getting disarmed:

"Afghan National Police officers turned in more then 1,000 rockets and other munitions to U.S. forces near Ghazni on July 7 after having collected them from around the region. In addition to the rockets, police collected more then 400 mortar rounds, more than 200 recoilless rifle rounds, 150 machine gun rounds, 75 rocket-propelled grenades and four anti-tank mines. Ninety-five percent of the munitions were reported as serviceable and one quarter were still in their original packing materials";

"Police July 12 unearthed a huge dump of arms and ammunitions in Koh-e-Safi area in Sorobi district, south of the Afghan capital. Sorobi police chief Colonel Sher Shah Yousafzai said the cache, including eight missiles, five rockets, 160 different kinds of mortar bullets and three machine-guns was buried in the Koh-e-Safi area";

Two large arms caches recovered by the Afghan Army in the southern Ghazni and Kandahar provinces, following tips from the locals, on July 17. One "included 800 different kinds of missiles, 770 Dhawan shells and large ammunitions", another "765 ZKO-1 guns, 5 stands of MB-12, 2 stands of BM-82, one mortar shell, 700 boxes full of different kinds of bullets and other ammunitions";

"At least five people were detained in connection with the discovery on Tuesday [19 July] of the 880kg of explosives and 5,000 fuses hidden in a house in the eastern city of Jalalabad";

On July 27, "Kabul police have discovered munitions stores in the districts of Mosahi, Sorobi and Khak-e-Jabar. The interior ministry press office said the weapons caches included mortars, an RPG rocket launcher, machine guns and missiles";

"Thousands of rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition have been seized in central Afghanistan in the largest cache of militant weapons discovered in months... The raid in Ghazni province’s Khogyani district Saturday [30 July] netted some 2,000 surface-to-surface rockets, 3,000 mortar rounds, 500 artillery shells and 100 boxes of anti-aircraft bullets";

"Three caches of munitions were discovered in southern and eastern Afghanistan August 2. The first was discovered near Bamian and consisted of 60 rocket-propelled grenades, 17 anti-tank missiles and 600 rounds of anti-aircraft gun ammunition. Another cache was near Kabul and consisted of 20 hand grenades, one anti-personnel mine, one mortar round and materials to make improvised explosive devices... The third cache was discovered near Kandahar and consisted of an unusual amount of fertilizer and plastic explosives. It was transported to Kandahar Airfield by EOD personnel."

Training and fielding of the new Afghan security forces continues. Graduates keep joining the forces on the ground:
Training completion certificates were distributed among 374 policemen during the 23rd graduation ceremony held at the Police Training Centre here on Thursday [14 July]. The Bonn Agreement states, 26,000 National Police will be recruited and trained till 2007 to ensure law and order in the war-ravaged country.

Speaking on the occasion, commander of the training centre Colonel Mirza Mohammad Yarmand said a total of 44,387 officers, soldiers and sergeants had been trained and graduated in the centre so far...

Police training centres are operational in seven provinces including Balkh, Kandahar, Paktia, Nangarhar, Kabul and Bamyan over the last two years imparting three-month and 15 days training to soldiers and officers respectively to improve their professional abilities.
Another 590 soldiers graduated from the Kabul Military Training Academy on July 25.

Army officers are getting schooled, too: "Military operators and planners from the Afghan National Army’s National Military Command Center have graduated from a comprehensive training course in how to operate a national army. The 78 officers, who will act as the eyes and ears of the Afghan Army, received more than 220 hours of instruction. They were provided the tools and techniques to operate in the strategic, operational and tactical levels of war throughout the full spectrum of military operations."

And Afghan artillery has been getting some valuable training and practice.

Army Materiel Command headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va., and other military logistics depots and supply centers are playing host to a delegation of Afghan military personnel eager to learn the world's best practices. In a related area, "more than 80 officers from the Afghan National Army have graduated from an eight-day acquisition workshop that taught them the basics of contracting. The primary goal of the course was to provide a basic understanding of the contracting process, from planning through contractor selection to contract award and administration. Another goal was to give the students insight into subjects such as alternate contract types and ways to correct problems with contractor performance."

In other recent security successes:

“Local forces had arrested six Pakistani fighters and eight Afghan Taliban insurgents with weapons and explosives. Three of the six Pakistanis were arrested on Thursday [7 July] while planting a landmine in the Kunar province while the other three were arrested on Saturday [9 July] in Khost province... Five suspected Taliban, including two provincial level commanders, were detained in the central province of Uruzgan on Saturday [9 July], and three others others were held in Kandahar on the same day";

Four Taliban killed and one arrested in a clash with security forces on July 10. "The gun battle broke out yesterday when police, acting on a tip-off from local villagers, raided a militant stronghold in the Chanaran valley of Daychopan district, Zabul province";

In joint military operation in the Dai Chopan district of Zabul province between 11 and 13 July, U.S. and Afghan forces killed 19 insurgents and captured six in fighting; "23 other people were being questioned about involvement in the fighting. A cache of munitions was found in a mosque during the operation, including rocket-propelled grenades and machinegun ammunition";

Six suspected Taliban, including a most wanted militant, captured during raids in two districts of Kandahar province on July 13;

The arrest in mid-July of a militant on the Coalition's most-wanted list, Mullah Mohammad Anwar from Zurmat district in Paktia province;

"U.S.-led forces killed 24 suspected Islamist militants on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, Pakistan's military spokesman said on Friday [15 July]. The fighters, believed to belong to pro-Taliban and al Qaeda forces, were killed crossing into Pakistan late on Thursday near Lowara Mandi";

Two important Taliban commanders, Mullah Abdur Rahman and Mullah Naimatullah, captured in the Darra-i-Noor area of the Shah Wali Kot district by the Kandahar Army Corps on July 16;

Twenty Taliban killed by American and Afghan force in Khost province on 17 July. Five of the killed were foreigners; three Chechens and two Uzbeks;

The arrest on 18 July in Pakistan of five senior Taliban leaders;

Two senior Taliban commanders arrested in Kandahar province on July 18;

Four Talibans blown up when the bomb they were setting exploded prematurely by the side of the highway en route to Tirin Kot, in Uruzgan province on July 20;

Three Taliban arrested in Uruzgun province on July 23 with anti-government propaganda;

One Taliban commander killed and another captured in Zabul province on July 23;

"Nineteen missiles deployed for an attack on [Lashkargah] city centre were defused and three suspects apprehended in the southern troubled province of Helmand on Sunday [24 July]";

Twelve Taliban arrested by security forces in Zabul province on July 24;

Fifty Taliban killed and twenty five captured in fighting in Uruzgan province's Dihrawud district on July 26;

Three Taliban killed and two arrested by the police in Zabul province on July 27;

"Afghan and U.S. forces killed three insurgents and captured 15 others in combat west of Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province" on July 28;

Six Taliban fighters killed during the clashes in Shinkai, near the border with Pakistan on July 29;

Two Taliban commanders, Mullah Gol Mohammad and Mullah Asadullah along with four other, captured in Helmand province on July 30;

Capture of 20 Taliban, following the attack on an aid group's car in Sangin district of Helmand province on August 1;

"Three important Taliban members have been arrested in Shinkai district of the southern Zabul province" on August 3.

The war on drugs is also moving ahead. "The British ambassador to Afghanistan has held up the eastern province of Laghman as an example for the rest of the country in eradicating opium poppies. Addressing a meeting held on July 6 in Laghman, Ambassador Rosalind Marsden said she appreciated the population's voluntary participation in the destruction of poppy fields. 'The central government did not have to send police to eradicate poppies from Laghman,' said the diplomat, whose country is leading the counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan. According to a survey of the United Nation Office of Drugs and Crimes, over 3,000 hectares of poppy fields were voluntarily destroyed last year in Laghman."

There's also legal assistance coming from overseas:
A team of anti-drug investigators, lawyers and judges will start prosecuting major narcotics cases in Afghanistan -- the world's largest opium and heroin producer -- as part of a new U.N. program launched Thursday [28 July].

The Criminal Justice Task Force, which includes 36 investigators, 33 prosecutors and 15 judges -- all Afghans -- will assist in the arrest and trial of serious drug offenders.
Local authorities and USAID are trying to help farmers kick the habit:
On July 2, 2005, the Minister of Agriculture, Governor of Uruzgan Province, USAID Director Patrick Fine, high ranking officials from the Afghan Government, the United States Embassy and USAID, around 300 farmers, village elders, and district officials, and hundreds of school students attended the opening ceremony of a seeds and fertilizer distribution program in Tirin Kot district of Uruzgan Province, southern Afghanistan.

The ceremony was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture and the Governor of Uruzgan, in recognition of the efforts made by the people of Uruzgan to reduce poppy cultivation. From 2004 to 2005, poppy production was reduced by 50% in Tirin Kot and Chora districts of Uruzgan Province, without outside assistance.

In recognition of this achievement, and with support from USAID, the Government of Afghanistan is distributing 46.5 metric tons of corn seed, enough to plant over 900 hectares of corn, and 232 tons of fertilizer to 3,500 farmers, permitting an expansion of this year’s corn crop.
In the most recent development, "the Afghan government in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will spend $42 million to provide an alternative source of living to poppy growers in Kandahar and Uruzgan."

There is also a religious-based anti-drug campaign under way:
Afghanistan is launching a nationwide religious campaign to reduce addiction in the post-war country, officials at the Haj and Awqaf (Religious Affairs) ministry announced on Tuesday.

Around 500 Afghan religious leaders have participated in a symposium in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to discuss combating drug abuse throughout the country.

"As drug abuse is forbidden in Islam, religious leaders can be very effective in the struggle against drug abuse - particularly at the grass roots level," Neyamatullah Shahrani, minister of Haj and Awqaf, said in Kabul.

The two-day gathering aimed at understanding drug addiction from an Islamic perspective and to identify the role of mosques in various aspects of drug demand reduction, Shahrani said.

"After the symposium these religious leaders will go back to their provinces and with the help and coordination of local Mullahs, a nationwide campaign of preaching on drug demand reduction will be launched," the minister explained.
In other recent successes in the war on drugs:

"Police seized 15.5 kilograms of hashish in the western province of Farah on July 5... According to a report from Nangarhar province, 76 kilograms of precursor chemicals, used in processing raw opium into of heroin, have been seized. Police have detained those involved in smuggling the chemicals";

3,890 kilograms of hashish have been seized in the Ahmadabad district of the southeastern Paktia province on Monday 11 July. This is the largest seizure of drugs in the province so far;

"Police in the western province of Herat announced that they had foiled an attempt to smuggle 100 kilograms of opium on July 19. The alleged smuggler has also been arrested";

Burning of 60 tonnes of hashish, opium, morphine and heroin with a street value of hundreds of millions of dollars in the two weeks up to July 20;

106 kg of opium recovered by the police in Baghlan province on July 20;

Four drug smugglers arrested with 90 kg of opium in Zabul province on 21 July;

Another four smugglers arrested in Herat on July 23 with 40 kg of opium;

"Two alleged narcotics traffickers named as Abdul Malik and Mohammad Yunus have been arrested in the Shinwari district of Nangarhar province, and 32 kilograms of heroin seized [on July 31]... According to reports, 42 heroin laboratories have been destroyed in Shinwari district so far";

"Security officials in central Zabul province seized 745 kilograms of opium and six kilograms of heroin from two cars on August 3. Two suspected traffickers have also been detained";

"Security officials in the eastern city of Jalalabad Wednesday [August 3] claimed they had captured four drugs-traffickers in police uniform with 183 kilograms of heroin."

One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, Afghanistan will be a peaceful and normal country, but when that happens, it will be due to the efforts of Afghan math students rather than the Western media.


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