Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pakistan's spy agency is said to collaborate with the Taliban

Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency not only funds and trains Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also maintains its own representation on the insurgency's leadership council, claims a new report issued by the London School of Economics. Assertions that Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, continues to nurture links with the Afghan Taliban are not new. But the scope of that relationship claimed by the report's author, Matt Waldman, is startling and could prove damaging to the fragile alliance Washington is trying to foster with Pakistan, its military establishment, and its weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. Waldman, a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, based his assertions on interviews with nine Afghan Taliban commanders as well as with Afghan and Western security officials. The report claims that it is official Pakistan governmental policy to support the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan, and that the ISI has a strong voice on the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban's leadership council, named after the southern Pakistani city believed to serve as the council's haven.

World Bank cancels 750,000 million dollar aid for Pak istan

The World Bank (WB) has cancelled an aid of 750,000 million dollar to Pakistan after the government failed to initiate necessary measures to utilise the money. The aid, which was provided by Japan on behalf of the World Bank, was to be used for the development of mineral resource sector.A World Bank team visited Pakistan in April 2008 to gauge the progress made over the project, following which Pakistani authorities demanded the deadline of the project to be extended till March 2009. However, even after the extension, authorities failed to initiate the project, forcing the World Bank to cancel the aid.

'For Neda' tells story of symbol of Iran's post-election protests

Music posters still hang on the walls; stuffed animals decorate a twin bed in the corner of the room. Clothes lie neatly folded in the closet.Neda Agha-Soltan's bedroom in Iran remains practically untouched since the day she died. A little more than a week away from the one-year anniversary of her death on June 20, 2009, Neda's family refuses to forget their daughter's spirit. Journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan traveled to Tehran to interview Neda's relatives in their home for a new documentary on her life and her tragic death. HBO's new documentary, "For Neda," tells the personal story of the woman who unwittingly became the symbol of the post-election reform movement in Iran when her death was captured on a cell phone video and shown around the world. "She is any girl, anywhere, but this just wasn't anywhere," the film's producer and director, Antony Thomas, told CNN. "I wanted to show the people who demonstrated, whatever happened, that their courage has not been forgotten." Not able to find a professional camera crew that would accept the assignment, Kamali Dehghan, a print journalist who had never handled a movie camera before, took a two-day crash course and smuggled a camera into the country. "I was ready to be arrested in Tehran at any moment. When I rang the bell to their home, I thought an officer could arrest me at anytime," he told CNN. Explored through the life of Neda, the film examines the repression and inequality that women in Iran have struggled with since the arrival of the Islamic regime. "She was a hero, but she was not superhuman; she was a hero like millions of other girls in Iran," Kamali Dehghan said. Speaking out for the first time since Neda's death, her father, Ali Agha-Soltan, describes his youngest daughter as a woman with "no fear in her body." Her brother, Mohammed, is still mourning the loss of his best friend. He has not cut his hair or shaved since she died. Neda's picture adorns the front of his mobile phone. Neda's mother's, Hajar Rostami, describes her daughter as a rebellious girl who never outgrew her independent streak. She argued with her schoolteachers about having to wear the mandatory head covering, or hijab, in class. Growing up in Tehran, Neda enjoyed the latest Western fashions, singing and dancing, all forbidden to women in public. "She had this freedom to be herself in that family. They have respect for women's rights, so Neda could be herself in that family. She didn't have to play a role; she didn't have to pretend," Kamali Dehghan said. The HBO film will debut in the U.S. at 9 p.m. ET Monday, but the network allowed Voice of America's Persian service to broadcast it in Farsi into Iran last week through its satellite TV channel and its website. Voice of America said attempts to show the film were interrupted by Iranian authorities jamming the satellite signal. Voice of America viewers also complained of electrical outages during the time slot. On Friday, the Islamic republic aired its own investigative documentary into the death of Neda titled "Intersection." In the film, the government points the finger at the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran for Neda's death. The PMOI is a Marxist group advocating the regime's overthrow that the government often has blamed for post-election violence. Prepared for a censorship attempt, HBO and Thomas decided to post the full documentary on YouTube and worked with tech specialists to convert the 70-minute film into a small enough file to play on Iranian mobiles via a Bluetooth connection. Thomas and Kamali Dehghan said they've received thousands of e-mails from inside Iran since the HBO film has been seen around the world. But the most important approval, Thomas said, was from Neda's family, who still lives in Iran. "We can't leave Iran; she is still here," Neda's mother told Kamali Dehghan. "She is there, still in that room, still in that house."

Kandahar leaders give go-ahead for offensive, Karzai says

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, were in Kandahar Sunday to sell their plan of an upcoming military operation in the province. And according to Karzai, the meetings were successful. After a meeting with about 300 people Karzai said the leaders have given him the green light to start a military operation in the province that was once a Taliban stronghold. With McChrystal in the front row, Karzai delivered a full-court press to the group of leaders Sunday, trying to get their support. The group sat on carpets and cushions on the floor as they listened to Karzai passionately talk about increasing security and ending corruption. He also had a strong message for the Taliban. "First I call on the Taliban for peace. Do not kill your country men and children. Do not kill innocents," Karzai said. "Separate yourself from al Qaeda and the terrorists." Karzai did not say when the upcoming military operation but did say American soldiers would have a role in it.

Mobs burn villages, slaughter Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan

OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyz mobs burned Uzbek villages and slaughtered their residents Sunday as ethnic rioting engulfed new areas in southern Kyrgyzstan. The government ordered troops to shoot rioters dead but even that failed to stop the spiraling violence. More than 100 people have been killed and over 1,000 wounded in the impoverished Central Asian nation since the violence began Thursday night. Doctors and rights activists say that toll is far too low because wounded Uzbeks are too afraid of being attacked again to go to hospitals. Thousands of Uzbeks have fled in panic to the border with Uzbekistan after their homes were torched by roving mobs of Kyrgyz men. Some Uzbek women and children were gunned down as they tried to escape, witnesses said. Fires set by rioters have destroyed most of Osh, the country's second-largest city, and looters have stolen most of its food. Triumphant crowds of Kyrgyz men took control of most of Osh on Sunday while the few Uzbeks still in the city of 250,000 barricaded themselves in their neighborhoods. The rampages spread quickly Sunday to Jalal-Abad, another major southern city, and neighboring villages, as mobs methodically set Uzbek houses, stores and cafes on fire. The rioters seized an armored vehicle and automatic weapons at a local military unit and attacked police stations around the region trying to get more firearms. Police and the military appeared to be on the defensive across the south, avoiding clashes with mobs. The riots are the worst violence since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a bloody uprising in April and fled the country. The Uzbeks have backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south had support the toppled president. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva blamed Bakiyev's family for instigating the unrest in Osh, saying it was aimed at derailing a constitutional referendum on June 27 and new elections scheduled for October. A local southern official said Bakiyev supporters attacked both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to ignite the rioting. From his self-imposed exile in Belarus, Bakiyev issued a statement denying any role in the violence and blaming the interim authorities for failing to protect the population. Bakiyev was propelled to power in 2005 on a wave of street protests, but his authority collapsed amid growing corruption allegations, worsening living conditions and political repression. Otunbayeva asked Russia for military help Saturday to quell the violence, but the Kremlin refused, saying it would not meddle in an internal conflict. Russia did send a plane to deliver humanitarian supplies and evacuate some victims. Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian military air bases, but they are in the north, away from the fighting. The U.S. Manas air base in the capital, Bishkek, is a crucial supply hub for the coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said the interim government had not asked for any U.S. military help. The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan voiced a deep concern about the raging violence and called for the "immediate restoration of order and a respect for rule of law." It said it was discussing humanitarian aid with the interim government. The government in Uzbekistan criticized the "unlawful actions" against Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan but was not likely to cross the border and intervene. In Jalal-Abad on Sunday, thousands of Kyrgyz men brandishing sticks, metals bars and hunting rifles gathered at the city's horse racing track and marched out to burn Uzbek property while frightened police stayed away. Uzbeks felled trees on the city's main thoroughfare, trying to stem their advance. Kyrgyz mobs killed about 30 Uzbeks Sunday in the village of Suzak in the Jalal-Abad region, Talaaibek Myrzabayev, the chief military conscription officer in Bishkek, told The Associated Press. Another Uzbek village, Dostuk, was burned by Kyrgyz assailants, but the casualties there were not known, he said. Ethnic Uzbeks also ambushed about 100 Kyrgyz men Sunday on a road near Jalal-Abad and took them hostage, he said. Vehicles on the main highway near Jalal-Abad repeatedly came under fire from unidentified gunmen. In the nearby village of Bazar-Kurgan, a mob of 400 Uzbeks overturned cars and killed a police captain, local political activist Asyl Tekebayev said. Residents said armed Kyrgyz men from elsewhere were flooding into the village to retaliate. In 1990, hundreds were killed in a violent land dispute between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh, and only the quick deployment of Soviet troops quelled the fighting. With no Russian troops in sight, the interim government announced a partial mobilization of military reservists up to 50 years old. "No one is rushing to help us, so we need to establish order ourselves," said Talaaibek Adibayev, a 39-year old army veteran who showed up at Bishkek's military conscription office. The official casualty toll Sunday rose to at least 80 people dead and 1,066 wounded, with more than 600 hospitalized, the Health Ministry said. The figure didn't include the 30 Uzbeks killed near Jalal-Abad or other deaths there. Witnesses saw bodies lying in the streets of Osh on Saturday, and more scattered inside the many burned buildings in Uzbek neighborhoods. As Uzbek refugees, mostly women and children, fled the city toward the border, witness said many were shot at and killed. Maksat Zheinbekov, the acting mayor of Jalal-Abad, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Bakiyev's supporters had triggered the riots by attacking both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The fertile Ferghana Valley where Osh is located once belonged to a single feudal lord, but it was split by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Stalinist borders rekindled old rivalries and fomented ethnic tensions. Both ethnic groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim. Uzbeks are generally better off economically, but they have few representatives in power and have pushed for broader political and cultural rights. Kyrgyz residents interviewed by AP Television News in Osh blamed Uzbeks for starting the rioting with attacks on students and Kyrgyz women. Ethnic Kyrgyz from neighboring villages then streamed into the city to strike back, they said. "Why have them Uzbeks become so brazen?" said one Osh resident, who gave only her first name, Aigulia, because she feared for her safety. "Why do they burn my house?" Aigulia said her house was destroyed by Uzbeks overnight and all her Kyrgyz neighbors had to run for their safety. She said the area was still unsafe, claiming Uzbek snipers were shooting at them. A Kyrgyz man, Iskander, said he and others burned Uzbek property to avenge their attacks. "Whatever you see over there — all the burnt restaurants and cafeterias — were owned by them and we destroyed them on purpose," he told APTN. "Why didn't they want to live in peace?"

Pakistani students held hostage in Kyrgyzstan, one killed

ISLAMABAD : Several Pakistani students were held hostage by extremists in Kyrgyzstan and one of them was shot dead, Aaj News reported on Sunday. Foreign Office spokesman said the government is now in contact with the Pakistani ambassador in Kyrgyzstan and will help recover the students held hostage in Kyrgyzstan. Motives behind the abduction and other relevant details regarding the incident are not immediately known.

U.S. Military Intelligence Puts Focus on Afghan Graft

NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON — The military’s intelligence network in Afghanistan, designed for identifying and tracking terrorists and insurgents, is increasingly focused on uncovering corruption that is rampant across Afghanistan’s government, security forces and contractors, according to senior American officials. Military intelligence officers in Afghanistan are scouring seized documents and interrogating captured fighters and facilitators — but not just to learn about insurgent networks that plan attacks, plant roadside explosives and send out suicide bombers. They are also looking for insights on how to combat a widespread perversion of authority by Afghan power brokers, which senior officials describe as “a plague” on the American-backed effort to build an effective and competent government and win the support of the Afghan people. It is a remarkable but perilous military undertaking in a sovereign country, particularly in a place of conspiracy theories and constantly shifting alliances, where it is hard to know who can be trusted and where many people are historically skeptical of what they see as intrusiveness by outsiders, this time by the Americans. The United States and its NATO allies may find themselves following leads that point to the top levels of government, because even close family members of President Hamid Karzai have been accused of engaging in the drug trade and enriching themselves with lucrative business deals. American contractors are among those accused of wrongdoing, and some in the United States government have been known to look the other way rather than upset Mr. Karzai. The new military anti-corruption effort is a joint operation with Afghan law enforcement and judicial authorities. But on Saturday, The New York Times reported that some in Afghanistan, including one of Mr. Karzai’s former top intelligence aides, complained that the Afghan president himself was increasingly mistrustful of the United States and had talked of cutting his own agreement with the Taliban. A central goal in the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, which is commanded by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is to win over the country’s population. That goal requires persuading the Afghan people to support the central government in Kabul and not shadow Taliban governments that exist in many provinces. To that end, anti-corruption efforts are every bit as important as killing or capturing militants, if not more so, according to senior officers involved in the effort. “Where once our whole network was to capture and kill Al Qaeda and the Taliban, now the information we’re trying to get is the information for the networks of corruption and government and influence,” said a senior American military officer in Afghanistan. “The intelligence we were focused on before was just to drive the next target we were going to get,” he said. “Now our targeting is much more focused on the government: How do you control for corruption? How does the process work for security contracts?” Top NATO officials in Afghanistan drove the creation of a new anti-corruption task force last October, and it has already succeeded in forcing out a number of provincial security officials suspected of significant wrongdoing, many of whom have been brought to trial. The task force, whose senior NATO leader is Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the alliance’s director of military intelligence in Afghanistan, gathered information that allowed Afghan officials to arrest, try and convict a border police commander who was pocketing salaries from ghost personnel on his payroll as well as stealing money meant for widows of officers killed in action. Other provincial-level police chiefs have been removed from their posts because they were involved in corrupt activities uncovered by the task force’s intelligence operations, although they were not brought to trial because of a lack of the kind of evidence that could be presented in Afghan courts, officials said. These actions, while still limited in scope, have served as “a shot across the bow” of the security ministries, said another senior American military officer. “The word is out that we are going to continue to look at corrupt behavior in the police and that we have an effort under way,” the officer said. “In a counterinsurgency fight, we cannot afford to have abusive behavior by police, and we cannot afford to have corrupt behavior by police.” That officer, like other the others who discussed the effort, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of military intelligence operations. The military is focused on battling corruption at the local and provincial levels in ways that illustrate a commitment to good governance for the population to see in their day-to-day lives. Yet, Pentagon officials acknowledge that this localized effort must be supported by a more senior-level, political decision by the Obama administration on how to deal with corruption at the uppermost echelons of the Afghan government. American military officials have worked closely with Afghan law enforcement authorities and developed information that local prosecutors have used in newly established trials at the detention center for detainees accused of corruption or drug charges. Ultimately, this kind of information could also be used to help the Afghan government weed out corrupt governors. American officers are cognizant that some Afghans may make false accusations to use the anti-corruption effort to take down political opponents. The antidote for such abuse, officials say, is to demand multiple sources of information, with multiple sources of confirmation, before making taking action. “It’s a lesson we learned from Iraq — to ‘mass’ intelligence against one individual,” said the senior American officer. “We mass the analysts, we mass the interrogators and we mass the exploiters of the information before making a move.” Weeding out corruption is not the only significant adjustment of military intelligence activities in Afghanistan as the Defense Department shifts the bulk of its attention from Iraq. In Iraq, a relatively well-educated and high-tech society with a similarly well-organized insurgency, American troops seized computer hard drives and cellphones that provided a trove of information about militant networks, including detailed accounting of foreign fighters flowing into the country. In Afghanistan, by contrast, there is a much lower level of technical sophistication with far fewer computers, hard drives and other communications equipment to exploit. In addition, insurgent networks in Afghanistan are far more fractured and decentralized than in Iraq. More than 90 percent of detainees from recent security sweeps in Afghanistan are from their local areas, and are not foreign fighters or insurgents from other districts within Afghanistan. Thus, they have little information about the broader insurgent network that can be exploited. Interrogations of these recent detainees yield a “good news, bad news” version of events, officials said. According to senior American officers, many detainees expressed deep frustration at the Taliban leadership in exile inside Pakistan. These detainees — even the group aged 35 to 55 and who are in leadership ranks of the provincial insurgency — tell interrogators that they are short of money and tired of taking orders from leaders who remain at a safe distance from the fight. At the same time, these detainees still express a lack of confidence in the Kabul government, and remain unwilling to reintegrate and stop fighting, officials said. The troop increase ordered to Afghanistan by President Obama has brought with it increases in the intelligence-gathering and exploitation effort, as well. The American military operation in Afghanistan is operating with significantly increased numbers of sophisticated surveillance aircraft and a growing number of analysts to exploit the widening stream of information. The number of American military and civilian interrogators has doubled since last summer, to about 75 people, a senior military officer said. And “fusion cells” — teams of people who gather and assess information from the battlefield to quickly pinpoint a likely target for a follow-on raid — have been pushed from the large headquarters in Kabul out to military outposts across the country.

Karzai, Pakistan and the Taliban?

If you still thought things hadn’t dramatically changed on the Afghan chessboard ever since U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to begin pulling out from mid-2011, you only need to look at President Hamid Karzai’s recent utterances, or more accurately the lack of it, on the Taliban and Pakistan, the other heavyweights on the stage. For months Karzai has gone noticeably quiet on Pakistan, refusing to excoriate the neighbour for aiding the Taliban as he routinely did in the past, The Guardian quoted a source close to the country’s former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh as saying. Karzai, in fact, has lost faith in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and is increasingly turning to long-time Taliban supporter, Pakistan, to end the deadly insurgency, it said. Saleh and interior minister Hanif Atmar resigned this week, which Karzai’s office said was because of lapses that led to a Taliban attack on a peace jirga last week in Kabul. But Saleh himself told Reuters in an interview that he had quit because he opposed Karzai’s orders for a review of Taliban insurgents in detention, part of moves the president has launched to reach out to the hardline Islamists in a bid to end the nine-year war. The jirga, packed with tribal elders and notables considered loyal to Karzai, endorsed his plan to seek negotiations with the insurgents who have virtually fought U.S.-led NATO forces to a bloody stalemate nine years after they were ousted So is this what a final settlement would look like in Afghanistan as the United States pulls back ? An unlikely partnership between Karzai, Pakistan and the Taliban? Quite a change from the time when Karzai and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf levelled harsh accusations against each other. The one problem though in this new game is that the Taliban don’t seem to be playing their part, despite the best entreaties from Kabul. Indeed they have unleashed a torrid spell of attacks beginning from the time the jirga opened in a big tent in the west of the capital. The Taliban weren’t invited to the peace council; not that they were going to attend even if they were invited. Instead they showed up as a three-men suicide bomber squad dressed as women in a burqa. The attack was foiled, but not before rockets landed barely 100 metres from the tent just as Karzai was speaking. Then a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people, a quarter of them children and wounded 77 in a particularly savage attack on a wedding party in southern Kandahar province. That was followed by a report about the public execution of a seven-year-old boy in neighbouring Helmand province. The child was accusing of spying for U.S. forces and hanged from a tree. And on Friday came another attack, this time a roadside bomb blowing up a minibus killing nine people, mostly women and children, again in Kandahar province. You would have to ask under what law, however orthodox, can you justify the execution of a child? Some people are also pointing to the lack of response of the Afghan people to the savage acts of the past week. Nobody took to the streets to protest the attack, for example on the wedding party, or the public hanging of the child. For the sake of the argument, imagine U.S.-led forces bombing a wedding and killing 40 people . Surely there would have been protests and they would be every bit justified. As NightWatch intelligence pointed out, the attack on the wedding party violates Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s code of conduct published last year, but there is no outrage or punishment mechanism, it seems, for rogue Taliban operations.

Pakistan ISI backs Taliban

A new report has suggested that Pakistan's intelligence agency is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, providing them with funds and training. The report released Sunday by the London School of Economics (LSE) says that support for the Taliban is the "official policy" of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and the body provides funds and sanctuary for the militant group on a larger scale than previously thought. LSE, which is deemed a leading British institution, also suggests that support for the Taliban "is approved at the highest level of Pakistan's civilian government." "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," said the report's author, Matt Waldman, after allegedly speaking to several militants in Afghanistan as well as Western and Afghan security officials. Almost all of the Taliban militants interviewed in the report believed that the ISI was represented on the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's supreme leadership council based in Pakistan. "Interviews strongly suggest that the ISI has representatives on the (Quetta) Shura, either as participants or observers, and the agency is thus involved at the highest level of the movement," the report said. The report also claimed that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, along with a senior ISI official, has allegedly visited some senior Taliban prisoners in Pakistan and promised to free them. A spokesman for Pakistan's ISI called the claims "rubbish" and part of a malicious campaign against the country.

Karzai seeks support for Kandahar operation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought support Sunday for the NATO campaign to ramp up security in the key southern city of Kandahar and increase his government's influence in a Taliban stronghold rife with violence, crime and corruption. Karzai flew to Kandahar for only his second trip in recent years to the city — the biggest in the south and spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. Karzai, who was born in the outskirts of Kandahar, is to have two meetings — one with about 50 tribal and provincial leaders and another with several hundred area residents. Many of them are skeptical of the campaign, which has already begun in the area. Insurgents have responded with a rash or attacks against those who support the government and its international partners. So far this month, at least 39 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan, including 27 Americans. Six Afghan police officers and three NATO service members died Saturday in separate roadside bomb blasts. The six police were killed near Kandahar, according to the Interior Ministry. In addition, 39 insurgents were killed Saturday in two operations — one in Kandahar province and the other in Uruzgan province, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. On the eve of his visit, Karzai met in the capital of Kabul with Afghan security officials and the top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who accompanied the president to Kandahar. Aides described the Saturday meeting as a "decision brief" where the president was briefed on all aspects of the Kandahar security campaign. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said the president was expected to announce a few development projects for Kandahar in a move to gain public support for his government. NATO and Afghan officials have taken pains to avoid describing the Kandahar operation as a military offensive, a term that has made the half million residents wary about what was to come. Omar said Karzai would call the campaign a "process of stabilization" to bring better governance, services and new development to the area. He said Karzai also would discuss results of this month's national conference, or peace jirga, which endorsed his efforts to reach out to the Taliban. Karzai was also expected to reiterate his call to the opposition to lay down their weapons, renounce violence, accept the Afghan constitution and break ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist networks. "This is Karzai's only second visit to Kandahar in the last couple of years," said Tony White, spokesman for the chief NATO civilian official. "This process of reaching out to Kandahar can only be led by the president. It can't be led by us. It's important for him to address the senior leadership — tribal and religious — and show his support for the effort." White said Kandahar was isolated and disconnected from Kabul. "Karzai can't get it back into the fold without the (the local leaders)," White said. "We anticipate that he will reassure them that there's no military offensive planned." A spokesman for McChrystal, Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, said the visit was "about Afghans taking leadership and ownership of the effort in Kandahar." "Security is an important part of it but also the crucial governance piece and also some of the major development efforts," he said. As part of the effort to accelerate a political solution to the war, the United Nations announced that a U.N. committee is reviewing whether certain people could be removed from a blacklist that freezes assets and limits travel of key Taliban and al-Qaida figures. That was a recommendation of this month's peace jirga. "De-listing was one of the clear messages coming from the peace jirga," Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. representative in Afghanistan, told reporters Saturday. "The U.N. is listening to what the peace jirga is saying. Some of the people in the list may not be alive anymore. The list may be completely outdated." A committee is expected to complete its review at the end of the month and give its recommendations to the U.N. Security Council, which will make the final decision on whether to remove any names off the list. The U.S., Britain and France, who maintain troops here, wield veto power on the council and would have to agree to changes on the list. "If we want the peace jirga to produce results, we need to keep momentum," de Mistura said. "The aim is not war, it is reconciliation. And reconciliation ... can only take place through constructive inclusion." The peace jirga also supported the release of some Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at Bagram Air Field north of the Afghan capital. As a goodwill gesture to the militants, Karzai promised to make the detainee issue a priority and de Mistura said the U.N. supported efforts to release prisoners detained without legal basis.