Sunday, June 20, 2010

Firm tied to Blackwater gets Afghan contract

A firm affiliated with the former Blackwater security company has been awarded a contract to provide protection to U.S. consulates and diplomats in the Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, a U.S. State Department official confirmed on Saturday. The official said U.S. Training Center got the contract on Friday. It is part of Xe, the new name of Blackwater Worldwide. Blackwater became the target of widespread outrage in Iraq after its contractors were involved in the September 2007 shooting at Baghdad's Nisoor Square that left 17 civilians dead and 24 wounded, straining relations between Iraq and the United States. The deal is a one-year contract with an option to extend up to 18 months. If the contract is fulfilled for that entire period, it would be more than $120 million. The State Department official, insisting on anonymity, said past history with Blackwater did not prevent U.S. Training Center from bidding on contracts and that in this case the company was the best qualified for the work in Afghanistan. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said on Saturday she was "extremely disappointed" over the deal and that the former Blackwater shouldn't be receiving more U.S. contracts. "This is a company whose cowboy-like behavior has not only resulted in civilian deaths; it has also jeopardized our mission and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel worldwide. Instead of punishing Blackwater for its extensive history of serious abuses the State Department is rewarding the company with up to $120 million in taxpayer funds," she said in a statement. The congresswoman has introduced legislation that would phase out the use of private security contractors. "Though the name Blackwater has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses, the bigger problem is our dangerous reliance on such companies for the business of waging war." As for the Nisoor Square violence, the U.S. Justice Department is pushing forward efforts to put five Blackwater guards on trial in connection with that incident.


Afghan refugees in Pakistan want to go home

In the premises of an refugee camp constructed with around seventy mud houses, idle adults and children playing, swinging and flying kites, were unaware of any refugee day, but they did hope to return to their homes back in Afghanistan. "I want to go back to Afghanistan but there is a war going on so I can not. I have been there once and I miss my country," 25- year-old Abdul Qadir told Xinhua after showing around the camp in the southwest outskirts of Pakistani capital Islamabad. Qadir, who came to Pakistan 18 years ago from the northern Afghan city of Mazar Sharif, now lives with some twenty family members, including his nephews and niece, in five mud rooms in the refugee camp. As his father is too old to work, Qadir and his elder brothers have to journeywork in nearby grocery market for about 150 rupees a day (1 U.S. dollar equals 84 Pakistani rupees). The camp rarely has electricity supply and a tent school where the children study in hot weather has no fans or even no seats to sit at all. Elders of the camp consider it is a waste of time for these children because in such hot weather and with this substandard education these children can not compete the life style out of this camp. The women in the camp have to fetch water from a tube well which is about six kilometers away from the refugee camp or they have to wait for long hours for their turn as a thousand refugees depend on the only working hand water pump. Some other several pumps have long gone broken. Hawaldar, a 44-year-old Afghan refugee, showed Xinhua his bedroom without bed and kitchen without cooking ware in a small court yard. "I have eight children, we are not happy here, we miss our country. The living condition is not good here but we don't have peace in Afghanistan," said Hawaldar, who came to Pakistan 30 years ago from the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. His parents have been buried in a neighboring graveyard. "None of the Pakistani or Afghan officials visited the camp since they left us after allocating the site to build the refugee camp," Hawaldar told Xinhua. "I want my children to enjoy life in Afghanistan during my life time as my parents had the dream once and I know that day will come soon," Hawaldar hoped. According to a UN report, there are about two million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, a country hosting the largest number of refugees in Asia, as itself already plagued by the millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to years of military offensives against the Taliban. The United Nations is marking the World Refugee Day on Sunday with the theme of "Home" by reminding the world of the 15 million refugees who are unable to return to their homes. "On this observance of World Refugee Day, we must note a troubling trend: the decline in the number of refugees who are able to go home," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message on Saturday. In 2005, more than a million people returned to their own country on a voluntary basis. Last year, only 250,000 did so -- the lowest number in two decades. In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to decide that from 2001, June 20 would be celebrated as the World Refugee Day.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan want to go home