Sunday, September 12, 2010

Afghan trade team to import Pak-made diesel engine

A high level private sector trade delegation from Afghanistan will visit the provincial metropolis after Eidul Fitr to import Pakistan made diesel engines for agricultural purpose.

Chief executive officer KAM Engineering, Khalid Saeed Khan told APP here Friday that the Pakistan made KAM diesel engines have become very popular in Afghanistan, compared to all brands of those made in India, and are being successfully used for agricultural purposes.

He said the Afghan team would visit the state of the art plant and see the engine assembly process, using indigenous technical know-how and expertise, which has helped to control the price of the product with minimum overhead expenses.

In their war-torn country, the Afghans are now inclined to bring maximum area under cultivation to meet the ever increasing need of foodgrains.

For this purpose, they need quality agri inputs and implements, and Pakistan made products offer the guarantee to compete in terms of quality and price, said the firm’s Director Marketing, Muhammad Amin.

Pregnant women at high risk after floods

Sughra Ramzan knew something was wrong when strange pains began ripping through her stomach for the second time. The pregnant mother feared her baby was in trouble — but there was nothing she could do.

It was dark, and she was stranded with no way to reach a doctor from her village, still floating in thigh-high murky water from last month's massive floods. She desperately needed a boat to ferry her through even deeper water to reach the road, but nothing was available until morning.

All she could do was wait and pray.

''I felt there was something very wrong,'' she said softly. ''I was scared about what would happen.''

Like Ramzan, tens of thousands of expectant moms were marooned by floods that have swallowed an area of Pakistan larger than Florida. Some 18 million people have been affected, 70 per cent of them women and children, in the country's worst natural disaster.

The World Health Organisation estimates a half million Pakistani women hit by the floods will give birth over the next six months, and about 32,000 of them will experience complications. Many were malnourished and anaemic before the disaster due to a lack of protein and iron in their diets. Now, with so many going hungry and facing diseases ranging from severe diarrhoea to malaria, they and their newborns are among the most vulnerable.

''It is getting worse day by day. They are suffering extremely, extremely miserable conditions,'' said Zahifa Khan, who runs the 14-person Pakistan Human Development Foundation, an organisation in the central city of Multan that's helping pregnant women and babies left homeless by the floods. ''They have no camps, and they are sitting under open sky.''

Even before the floods, giving birth in Pakistan was risky and difficult. About 80 per cent of women deliver at home, often in filthy conditions on the dirt floors of their traditional mud houses. And six out of 10 expectant mothers do not have a skilled birth attendant.

Complications mean death rates in childbirth are high, at 276 per 100,000. And that number was already double in Pakistan's poorest rural areas, where flooding has washed away what little people had and cut off access to roads. One in 20 Pakistani babies do not make it through their first month, and doctors fear rates among those affected by the floods will soar much higher.

Some women are getting food and medical care in camps run by aid groups or the government. But many pregnant women, such as those living along the road on the outskirts of hard-hit Multan, are forced to sleep on burlap rice sacks spread across gritty sand under tents propped up by bamboo poles.

The sun and 100-degree (38-Celsius) temperatures turn the flimsy canvas shelters into pressure cookers that attract snakes and scorpions. Thousands of flies swarm the sweat-soaked women, most of whom have not bathed in a month because there is no water, toilet or privacy to escape men's eyes in this conservative Muslim country.

They are surviving on a daily handful of boiled rice and grains.

If they are lucky, a mobile health unit will provide checkups and transport to the hospital when it's time for their babies to come. But some have been forced to deliver in tents on their own, using dirty water without even a towel or blanket to clean and wrap their newborns.

For others, it's even worse.

''I'm sleeping on a bed on the roadside,'' said Shama Mai, 18, who's due to deliver any day, with a stomach so swollen it's stretching her dirty threadbare shirt into a tight-fitting tunic. She has six young daughters at her side and not even a sheet to shield them from the elements. They were forced to flee the surging water at night with only the clothes they were wearing and still cannot return to their flood-ravaged village.

''There is no safe place that I can go. We are dying of hunger,'' she cried. ''There is no water, no food. We are waiting for help from God or the government.''

Like many poor women from Pakistan's agricultural heartland, Ramzan learned early about birthing babies. At 25, she had successfully delivered six children. She was eight months pregnant with her seventh when the Indus River exploded, as it thundered down the country following extreme monsoon rains in late July, killing more than 1,700 people.

It was night when the announcement was broadcast through speakers that the water had almost reached her village. She and her husband scurried to save their family by holing up on the second floor of their house. Water gushed and rose downstairs, but they remained dry and, unlike many other neighbours’' foundations that were swept away, their house stood firm.

Ramzan thought the worst was over. She could keep living in her home and there was still food for her family. God had spared her.

But about two weeks ago, something felt wrong. Pain started pulsing through her womb. She knew it wasn't yet time for the baby to come, so she slogged through snake-infested waters on foot and by boat to eventually reach a doctor. She was given an ultrasound, some medicine and advice to come back in five days.

She felt better after returning to her village. So she stayed at home instead of again trying to make the 40-kilometre journey on foot, boat and bus for the check-up.

Then the pains came again. This time worse and at night.


One of the biggest problems with births throughout Pakistan is a delayed call for help. Women and girls often as young as 12 try to deliver at home and only seek a doctor once they realise the situation is life-threatening.

The floods destroyed roads and bridges, forcing people into areas with strangers and unfamiliar transport routes. Many have no mobile phones or cash to arrange an emergency trip to the hospital, leaving pregnant women on their own.

"We've doubled our number of C-sections, we've doubled our number of complicated deliveries. Women are coming having started delivery essentially in the open," said Hilary Bower, medical coordinator for the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which provides emergency care to pregnant women in rugged flood-hit Balochistan province. "Often we can save the mother and the baby, but sometimes we can't. These are the ones that are making it to us."

Newborns, a quarter of whom were born with low birth weight prior to the floods, also are at great risk of infection. Many are being given milk formula instead of breast milk because women have no privacy to nurse or they simply feel too weak. Some moms believe they are too unclean to breast-feed, instead giving babies milk substitutes mixed with contaminated water that causes diarrhoea, the number two killer of children worldwide.

"I don't think there will be enough care for them," said Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, head of maternal and child health at the WHO in Pakistan. "This is a grave situation, and those affected are the poorest people and those who are also living in remote areas which are not accessible."


When morning finally came, Ramzan was weak and exhausted, but she hoped there was still time.

Her husband, brother and sister-in-law all feared she would not survive the long journey. They took turns helping to lead and carry her through four kilometres of muddy water littered with decaying animal carcasses. She then boarded a boat and took six buses before finally reaching the hospital.

By the time the doctor arrived, Ramzan already knew the outcome.

"I came too late. It should have been a C-section. The baby died three days ago," she said, still cradling her watermelon belly as the tears came. "It was a very long trip. If the flood had not come, the baby would be OK."

Still in pain, she laid back on the bed and stared at the ceiling — waiting for the doctor to return and remove the latest flood victim lost inside her.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hopeful of foreign help

Despite having reservations over channelling of relief goods and resources from the centre, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government claims the donors’ conference it held in Islamabad last month has started bearing fruit.

“Many donors have told us that they will increase their support for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the federal government,” provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said on Friday.

Representatives of 26 countries’ diplomatic missions participating in the doors’ conference hosted by the provincial government on Aug 20 were informed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would need $2.5 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas hit by the floods.

None of the donors, however, made any pledge on the occasion.

The minister said the purpose of the meeting was not to secure pledges but to inform the participants about the losses in the province and their consequences for the war against terror if the international community did not respond effectively.

“We told them that extremists could benefit from the situation if the world community did not act swiftly to help the people of the province.”

Provincial Disaster Management Authority’s chief Shakeel Qadir Khan said: “It is only after our interaction that many donors have enhanced their support.” He said the cooperation from different friendly states in terms of relief goods and technical assistance in the affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had increased.

He said the response of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Germany had improved and other countries were likely to follow suit.

US Consul General in Peshawar Elizabeth Rood said her country had participated in the conference and benefited significantly from the information presented.

“While no donors made specific funding pledges at the conference, the participants agreed that Pakistan requires more international support to meet the needs of flood-affected communities.

“The US is awaiting completion of a multi-sector damage and needs assessment that will be conducted over the next few months to guide its longer term planning.

“Once the assessment is complete, the US will coordinate its assistance with other donors based on the areas of greatest need identified by the assessment and the government of Pakistan.” However, the provincial authorities have serious reservations over the way the federal government is distributing aid coming from abroad.

“We are not satisfied with the way the federal government is handling the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There is great disparity in the response towards provinces,” the information minister said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited Nowshera and Dera Ismail Khan on Aug 14 and 18 and handed over a cheque for Rs50 million to Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti.

“The Rs50 million cheque handed over in Nowshera wasn’t meant for the provincial government. The money had already been released to the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) for providing food items,” Mian Iftikhar said.

He said the USC did not have goods in stock and it would take time to deliver them to the provincial government for distribution among the affected people.

“We want to know how much aid is coming from abroad and how it is being distributed among the provinces.”

The provincial cabinet was informed on Monday that 32 per cent of the affected people needed food, 50 per cent drinking water, 18 per cent tents, 89 per cent hygiene kits, 85 per cent anti-cholera vaccination and 81 per cent medical coverage.

The provincial government is facing a financial crunch caused by growing expenditures in the wake of the floods. The fiscal space created by higher fiscal transfers under the National Finance Commission award has been eaten up by the relief work, an official said.

He said the provincial government had diverted over Rs17 billion from the development sector to relief operation because of lack of additional funding from external resources.

He said some donors had approached the provincial government and were finalising their priorities. He said any financial assistance meant for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would come through the federal government.

Journalists killed through August

VIENNA – The International Press Institute says 52 journalists lost their lives in the first eight months of the year because of their jobs — four fewer than during the same period in 2009.

Alison Bethel McKenzie, interim director of the Vienna-based watchdog, says Mexico led the so-called Death Watch with 10 fatalities through the end of August, followed by Honduras with nine and Pakistan with six.

Last year, a total of 110 journalists perished because of their profession.

Bethel McKenzie spoke Sunday at the opening of an IPI meeting that has drawn more than 300 media staff from around the globe.

As Time Passes, the Goals in Afghanistan Shrink

New York Times

NINE years ago, after an American-led invasion of Afghanistan had dispatched the Taliban from Kabul within weeks, the idea of remaking a tangled mess like Afghanistan didn’t seem, to some, so far-fetched.

Nine months ago, when President Obama addressed a group of cadets at West Point, little of that early optimism about what was achievable in Afghanistan remained. And yet there was fresh hope that a new strategy and 30,000 additional troops might help wrest momentum away from the Taliban and bolster support for President Hamid Karzai’s fragile government.

Now, it seems that American goals are becoming narrower still, with time dwindling before a military withdrawal is to begin next year, and frustration mounting at the war’s costs and at rampant corruption in the Karzai government.

At the center of debate in Washington is a simple question: At this point, what can the United States really hope to achieve in Afghanistan?

The question will shape every decision the administration makes about Afghanistan, from the pace of the military drawdown to whether anticorruption efforts are either embraced as essential or dismissed as “mission creep.”

The testing ground informing these decisions right now is the critical city of Kandahar; there, American hopes rest on a long-delayed push into Afghanistan’s second city and the birthplace of the Taliban. Some liken that offensive to a “Hail Mary” pass, with the Taliban still entrenched throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan and a program to persuade Talib soldiers to lay down arms and be “reintegrated” into Afghan society having achieved little so far.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, has said the strategy relies on fighting Talib forces while building up local and tribal institutions that can be strengthened once enemy fighters are cleared from the city.

Legitimate local government is impossible, his argument goes, without security. And legitimacy is essential for maintaining long-term security. Or, as the military’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual puts it: “Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate.”

But carrying out the plan in Kandahar, where President Karzai’s half-brother is a powerful official, involves an unholy bargain: working with some of the same power brokers in the south whose predatory corruption, American officials say, has turned Afghans away from the Karzai government and toward the Taliban.

If counterinsurgency doctrine dictates that wars are won and lost by building credible government, is any level of corruption tolerable? Is General Petraeus, counterinsurgency theory’s high priest, committing blasphemy by letting his forces act as if some corruption is permissible?

Some defense officials and experts on counterinsurgency reply that the practitioners of the military doctrine are simply, if belatedly, recognizing the realities of the Afghan war.

Without the luxury of time, they argue, there is a better chance of success in working with imperfect figures who are available, rather than searching at this late date for more honest leaders for the local and national governments.

“We’ve sort of backed ourselves into a corner by putting effective governance at the forefront,” said Andrew Exum, a retired Army officer, now at the Center for a New American Security, who was a civilian adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander in Afghanistan. “Unless you are prepared to stay in Afghanistan with high troop levels for at least a decade, then an overt campaign to tackle corruption is a big mistake.”

Others argue that the administration, because of limited time and patience, has effectively abandoned the core concept of counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan but won’t admit it.

Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says recent anticorruption efforts, like the arrests of top officials in Kabul by the Afghan government’s Major Crimes Task Force and Sensitive Investigative Unit, are, in effect, a sideshow. He says a more important goal for Americans, if they want a lasting peace after their troops leave, is to build credible government institutions in and around Kandahar. “If we don’t really make an effort in Kandahar, where we’ve put all of our bets,” he said, “what are we doing trying to put some Karzai adviser in jail in Kabul?”

On Friday, at a news conference, even President Obama seemed to be wrestling with the legitimacy issue. He cited the risks for America’s reputation when some of its officials berate Afghans for corruption even as the United States bankrolls some officials suspected of corruption.

“If we are saying publicly” that cracking down on corruption is important, the president said, “then our actions have to match up across the board. But it is a challenging environment in which to do that.”

As the White House plans a comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy in December, administration officials are now struggling to find numerical measures of progress — what the Pentagon calls “metrics” — to help guide the anticipated American drawdown.

Some of the president’s advisers warn that trying to measure success in the anticorruption campaign could resemble judging progress in Vietnam by enemy body counts. Will victory in Afghanistan be closer with each aide to President Karzai who is hauled off to jail?

Others, perhaps wishfully, see recent events in Iraq as reason for hope in Afghanistan. They point out that violence in Iraq has stayed low even as Iraqi officials squabble for months, unable to form a government — evidence, they say, that insurgencies don’t necessarily gain strength amid political chaos.

The night that President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, he likened his current strategy in Afghanistan to President Bush’s Iraq “surge.” He stressed that the extra forces are there to “break the Taliban’s momentum” and “provide space” for Afghans to build up government institutions.

For now, his administration is banking on the “Hail Mary” in Kandahar to knock the Taliban back on their heels and build momentum toward “reintegration.” That goal may seem modest, but Washington seems to have little appetite now for trying to re-engineer life in Afghanistan.

And, as much as some in Washington would like to, is there any point in fantasizing about life without Hamid Karzai? Earlier this year, the administration dropped a tough-love approach in favor of praising him (at least publicly), a posture that makes it easier to move toward unwinding American involvement in Afghanistan.

After all, President Karzai is slated to be in power for another four years.

At least right now, that’s farther into the future than officials in Washington care to look.

China Warns Japan to Make ‘Wise’ Decision in Boat Dispute

China’s top foreign affairs official has warned Japan to make what he called “a wise political resolution” to release a fishing trawler and its detained crew seized last week.

Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa in the early hours of Sunday to deliver the message. It was the fourth time Niwa had ben called to explain the seizure.

A statement on China’s Foreign Ministry website said Dai “solemnly expressed the Chinese government’s grave concerns and its serious and just position.”

Japanese authorities detained the captain and the fishing boat’s 14 crew members after a collision with two coast guard vessels Tuesday near a group of islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

The dispute escalated Saturday when China postponed talks with Japan after a Japanese court ordered the detention of the Chinese captain to be extended for 10 days.

The countries had been scheduled to hold talks in mid-September on issues relating to the East China Sea, where the collision occurred.

Japanese prosecutors will decide whether to charge the captain with a crime. Japanese officials say they warned the fishermen that their boat had unlawfully entered Japanese territorial waters.

The disputed islands are not inhabited, but they are rich fishing territory and are near an area thought to have undersea oil reserves. Located between Japan’s Okinawa Island and Taiwan, China calls them the Diaoyu Islands, while Japan uses the name Senkaku.

Taiwan also claims the islands.

Pakistani villagers say landowners breached levees to save their own property

Los Angeles Times

Several canal walls were breached during last month's floods, and accusations are mounting that the ruptures were deliberate. But an irrigation chief says the surging Indus alone is to blame.Ghulam Qadir was getting ready for sleep one night early last month when a loud thud startled him. Within minutes, torrents of water were rushing through his village's dirt lanes and brick huts.

Qadir and 200 other people in the village of Ghauspur grabbed shovels and raced to the nearest dike, where, he said, an explosion had carved out a 20-foot-wide breach in the 15-foot-high earthen wall, allowing floodwater to speed toward their homes and farmland.At the breach, armed guards working for a wealthy landowner in another village pointed Kalashnikov rifles at the villagers and ordered them to halt.

"They warned us not to go near it," Qadir recalled during a recent interview at a relief camp in the southern city of Sukkur. "We are poor people and we couldn't do anything, so we just retreated."

Qadir says the landowner had ordered his men to breach the dike so floodwater that had been wreaking havoc across the northern part of Pakistan's Sindh province would be diverted away from his fields and villages and, as a result, channeled toward Ghauspur.

The claim is one of many being made against wealthy landowners and politicians, who stand accused of breaching canal walls, dikes and embankments to safeguard their own property at the expense of those around them.

The accusations suggest that, amid the devastation that nature has meted out on millions of flood-ravaged Pakistanis since late July, an every-man-for-himself mentality has made matters worse, particularly in places where land ownership and power continue to be framed by a feudal system of politically connected land barons.

Feudal societies dominate Sindh province, an expanse of desert and scrub bisected by a ribbon of verdant, fertile land on either side of the meandering Indus River. Peonage keeps tenant farmers in perpetual debt to wealthy landlords across Sindh.

In many cases, the landlords have parlayed their wealth into political power and serve in the provincial or national parliament.

A latticework of dikes, canals and embankments overlays the thousands of acres of wheat, rice and cotton here in this southern province. When floodwater reached northern Sindh province, several canal walls and embankments were breached, and accusations are mounting that the ruptures were deliberately made by landowners intent on preserving their crops and belongings.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said he will ask the Sindh and Punjab provincial governments to investigate allegations of deliberate dike breaches. One of those inquiries will focus on the Tori embankment, an earthen wall built in the 1930s to protect Sindh farmland and villages on the western side of the Indus.

On Aug. 7, the wall there breached, allowing floodwater to cascade westward. Some residents allege that once the Tori embankment was breached, other rich landowners hurriedly ordered the breaching of other dikes and canal walls to safeguard their land. As a result, the residents say, Indus floodwater submerged thousands of acres of farmland and scores of villages, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents homeless.

Villages 60 miles from the Indus, in neighboring Baluchistan province, were ravaged by floodwater that spilled over the Tori embankment. Weeks later, flow from the breach still threaten to cause flooding in cities such as Dadu, 150 miles southwest of Tori.

"The floods came because of nature, but what happened at Tori was a man-made disaster," said Qadir Magsi, leader of a provincial political group called the Sindh Nationalist Progressive Alliance. "The people who did this aggravated people's misery, but no one is being held accountable."

What happened at the Tori embankment remains a mystery. Jam Saifullah Dharejo, Sindh's irrigation minister, says the immense pressure created by the bloated Indus River caused the breach at Tori, and denied that it was caused by any deliberate act.

"It was an unprecedented amount of water that caused the overtopping of the Tori levee," Dharejo said. "These allegations are either politically motivated, or made by people who have been affected by the flooding and are saying these things out of frustration."

Magsi says he has spoken with witnesses who saw heavy earth-moving equipment ripping a hole in the Tori embankment the day the levee broke. However, when asked to supply names of those witnesses, Magsi did not produce them.

After the Tori levee breach, the floodwater threatened to inundate the village of Dari, hometown of Abid Sundrani, a Sindh provincial lawmaker. Dharejo says that Sundrani ordered a dike in the area to be breached but that the move was necessary to save the lives of Dari villagers. As a result of that breach, floodwater surged toward Garhi Taighani, the hometown of Taigho Khan Taighani, another wealthy Sindh landlord.

Taighani did not respond to requests for an interview.

Qadir said that when he and other Ghauspur villagers reached Garhi Taighani, they pleaded with Taighani's guards to allow them to repair a breach there.

"But we were not allowed to do that," Qadir said. "The guards said, 'If you do that, we'll drown.' So I lost my house, my grain, and seven acres of rice fields. They're influential, powerful people, and we can't do anything to stop them."

Fears of renewed violence in run-up to Afghan elections

Violence is expected to flare up in Afghanistan in the run-up to forthcoming elections, experts have cautioned. The warning came as the Ministry of Defence announced it would today name the latest British soldier to die in Afghanistan.
The MoD said the member of the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, died in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, from injuries received when he was hit by small-arms fire in Nahr-e Saraj on 23 August. The death takes to 335 the number of British military losses since the war began in 2001, 295 of these resulting from combat injury.
His death was the first in a week, during what has been a relatively calm period after a spate of British casualties earlier this year.
The Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a rallying cry last week in which he claimed: "The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent and the driving force behind this is the belief in the help of Allah and unity among us."
Fraud and vote-rigging are expected to contaminate the elections scheduled for Saturday, according to new research released yesterday by the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN). Its report details the chaos that resulted from millions of excess voter cards during the 2009 provincial council elections, loss of control over where ballot boxes went and near secrecy over how many polling stations had opened. These, it says, provided huge opportunities for ballot-stuffing, tally fraud and manipulation of the results.
The report says a large number of polling centres were added to the final count without further review, amounting to tens of thousands of extra votes. In the three most problematic provinces, Kandahar, Ghazni and Paktika, after a massive invalidation of polling stations the number of votes went up rather than down. Martine van Bijlert, a co-director of the AAN and one of the authors of the report, said: "It is strange that you can remove and add tens of thousands of votes and still arrive at largely the same results. It seems that the extra votes were mainly added to ensure that certain candidates kept their seats. It basically consolidated the outcome, by neutralising the invalidations."
Candidates will revert to the same tactics they used in last year's election. Ms Van Bijlert said: "There is no reason to believe there will be less fraud. Many candidates have concluded that you don't really stand a chance if you don't manipulate the process. And their backers know how to do it."
She outlined her concerns as tensions escalated in Afghanistan, with widespread unrest as thousands of Afghans took part in protests. Tyres were set ablaze in the streets as crowds chanted "Death to America" even after the decision by an American pastor to call off plans to burn copies of the Koran to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Police fired warning shots to prevent protesters from storming the governor's residence in Puli Alam in Logar province, officials said.
Despite the unrest and growing concern about the toll of maintaining a British military presence in Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, warned yesterday that military failure could result in another 9/11-style terrorist atrocity.
Speaking at a conference in Geneva, he said the Taliban needed to know that "we remember the lessons of 9/11". He cautioned against "unrealistic expectations" and rejected any suggestion of withdrawal of British forces sooner than 2015, adding: "Our forces may have to be there in a mentoring and a training role for some considerable time."
A concert is planned today to raise money for the Help the Heroes charity. Around 60,000 people are expected to attend. But yesterday one of the performers struck a controversial note, criticising the Ministry of Defence. The singer and former soldier James Blunt said: "We're sending guys and girls to do specific jobs but not giving them the tools to do them properly."

Security in Afghanistan Is Deteriorating, Aid Groups Say

KABUL, Afghanistan — Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence — even in areas where there are few Pashtuns, who previously were the Taliban’s only supporters. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in their stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of their own, greatly increasing their activities in the north and parts of the east.

The worsening security comes as the Obama administration is under increasing pressure to show results to maintain public support for the war, and raises serious concerns about whether the country can hold legitimate nationwide elections for Parliament next Saturday.

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.

An attack on a Western medical team in northern Afghanistan in early August, which killed 10 people, was the largest massacre in years of aid workers in Afghanistan.

“The humanitarian space is shrinking day by day,” said a CARE Afghanistan official, Abdul Kebar.

The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, does not routinely release detailed data on attacks around the country, and the Afghan government stopped doing so in mid-2009. United Nations officials have also stopped releasing details of attacks, though they monitor them closely. Requests for access to that information were denied.

ISAF officials dispute the notion that security is slipping from them, pointing to their successes with targeted killings and captures of Taliban field commanders and members of the Taliban shadow government.

American military officials say the increased level of violence is related to the rise in the number of its forces here. The last 2,000 of 30,000 new American troops are expected to arrive in the next week or two, military officials say. The result is more military operations, they say, and more opportunities for the insurgents to attack coalition forces.

That does not entirely explain the increased activity of the Taliban in areas where they were seldom seen before, and where the coalition presence is light, however.

Last year, American military leaders adopted a strategy of concentrating operations in what they identified as 80 “key terrain districts,” mostly in the south and east of the country, less than a fourth of Afghanistan’s districts.

The idea was to attack the Taliban where they were strongest, and concentrate forces where populations were largest.

While how many fighters the insurgents have is a matter of estimate and conjecture, the impact they have had is easy enough to judge.

Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” including small-arms fire, bombs and shelling, a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.

With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

The Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office says that by almost every metric it has, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001.

The most recent troop buildup comes in response to steady advances by the Taliban. Four years ago, the insurgents were active in only four provinces. Now they are active in 33 of 34, the organizations say.

“We do not support the perspective that this constitutes ‘things getting worse before they get better,’ ” said Nic Lee, director of the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, “but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse.”

Despite the spread of the conflict, humanitarian organizations say they are still able to serve Afghans in much of the country. They have to be much more careful, restricting their movements and pulling back from some areas altogether.

They use Afghan workers rather than international staff members. They avoid travel by road and take greater security precautions. They have also taken to operating incognito as a matter of routine. As a result, while insurgent attacks have more than doubled since last year, attacks on N.G.O.’s have actually declined by 35 percent, Mr. Lee said.

Because of the lack of security, CARE, like many humanitarian groups, no longer uses the country’s principal highway, the Grand Trunk Road connecting Kabul, the capital, to Peshawar in Pakistan. CARE has 10 offices around the country to manage its 1,000 employees, but its own international staff members can safely visit only four or five of them, according to a spokeswoman, Jennifer Rowell.

Likewise, there is no longer an Oxfam sign on display in the entire country, although the British-based aid group finances projects in scores of villages, mostly staffed by Afghans.

“Most N.G.O.’s don’t send foreigners to most places any longer,” said Ashley Jackson, head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam in Kabul, referring to nongovernmental organizations. Like many major aid groups, Oxfam now subcontracts much of its work in the provinces to partners, usually Afghan aid groups.

The threat to government workers is just as severe. Last month, Afghan police and army officials asked the Independent Election Commission to cancel 938 of its proposed 6,835 polling centers, almost 14 percent, because it could not guarantee security for those areas. Polling places in 25 provinces were affected.

On Tuesday the election commission said it would cancel 81 other polling sites, nearly a fifth of the polling places in eastern Nangarhar Province, which was relatively safe during last year’s presidential election. The commission has warned that it may have to close still more polling centers in other provinces if the authorities cannot provide adequate security for voters.

Only 500 international observers are coming to monitor these elections, compared with more than a thousand last year, according to Jindad Spinghar of the Free and Fair Election Foundation. International observers will be able to go only to provincial capitals, not rural areas, where most of the population lives, he said. The election foundation, the leading Afghan monitoring group, has had to cut back its own observers, who will be watching only 60 percent of polling places.

“Because the control of the central government is decreasing,” Mr. Spinghar said, “power brokers and warlords will be able to use their influence at the local level, where there are no observers.” It was in just such areas in 2009 that widespread voting fraud took place, resulting in a disputed and internationally discredited presidential election.

Military officials counter that they are making headway against the Taliban. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the ISAF commander, said recently that NATO forces had killed or captured 2,974 insurgents this summer, 235 of them commanders. Last December, the military assessed Taliban strength at 25,000.

“While we do not routinely release data on total attacks around the country, we did expect the number of attacks to go up as the number of ISAF troops increased,” said Major Belinsky, the ISAF spokeswoman.

“We are pushing into areas where the Taliban have enjoyed safe haven in the past, and we are taking that away from them,” Major Belinsky said. “They are putting up a tough fight, with more tough fighting to come, but we are making progress.”

A top coalition general bristled recently when asked about views among some critics that NATO was losing the fight. “How do they know we’re losing? I can lay out rhyme and reason about where we’re making progress. We’re building, they’re destroying. I say to them, prove it.”

Saudi Arab's Diplomat Seeks Asylum In US

The Belfast Telegraph has reported that a Saudi diplomat serving in Los Angeles has sought political asylum, stating that his life would be in danger if he were to return to Saudi Arabia. The diplomat,Ali Ahmad Asseri, cited his homosexuality and his close friendship with a Jewish woman as factors which would endanger him if he were to return to Saudi Arabia. In addition to his sexual preference and choice of friends, Mr. Asseri has reportedly criticized the role of militant imams in Saudi life and society.

Asseri, who is the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, was questioned by the Department of Homeland Security after his request for asylum.

Although the Saudis might turn a blind eye to discreet transgressions, Asseri’s public airing of his violations oft Saudi morals and political taboos would make it very hard to blend in upon returning to Saudi Arabia. There has been no official comment from Saudi diplomatic circles concerning Asseri’s asylum request.

September 11 anniversary marked by noise and recrimination

The September 11 anniversary is usually a day of quiet reflection. But this year the furore over plans for a mosque near Ground Zero led to a day of noise and recrimination.New York’s commemoration of the Sept 11 2001 terror attacks moved from the sombre to the strident as thousands of duelling protestors rallied on either side of the site of a proposed Islamic center.

The mood rapidly turned from reflection to indignation in the streets around Ground Zero as anti-mosque demonstrators denounced plans for the 13-storey Islamic project on what they view as “hallowed ground”. A large crowd, including several relatives of 9/11 victims clutching photographs of their loved ones, waved American flags and chanted "no mosque here" and “USA USA”.
In a counter-protest in support of the plans for the Islamic centre, protestors slammed the project’s foes as “bigots” and “racists”.

The rival rallies concluded a Sept 11th like none before as the controversy about the Islamic centre and a Florida pastor’s on-off threat to burn Korans dominated what has traditionally been a day of tributes and tears.
The transformation in tone prompted Archbishop Timothy Dolan, leader of New York’s Roman Catholics, to issue a statement expressing his concerns. “This day must remain a time for promoting peace and mutual respect,” he said.
The morning began with the familiar but moving ritual of reading the names of the 2,752 killed at the World Trade Centre, broken by four moments of silence – one each to mark the times when the two hijacked jets struck and then the two towers collapsed.
There were also ceremonies at the other two sites where commandeered planes claimed victims – at the Pentagon, attended by President Barack Obama, and a Pennsylvania field, attended by First Lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor Laura Bush.
But the atmosphere changed as the day progressed. To loud cheers at the anti-mosque rally, Geert Wilders, the firebrand Dutch politician and outspoken critic of Islam, declared: "We will draw a line here today on this sacred ground. We must not give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us."
In the crowd was Eileen Tallon, 67, whose son Sean, a firefighter, died when the Twin Towers collapsed. She rejected criticism that it was inappropriate to stage such a protest on the anniversary of 9/11.
"They want to build a victory mosque on our cemetery so this is the perfect day to come out to protest," she said. “Muslims killed my only son. They are free to worship anywhere else but they should not be building a mosque here. It is insensitive and insulting.”
Others turned their ire and fire on their president, who has defended the right of Muslims to build the community centre. “This is Obama's mosque," said retired prison guard John Cacciola. “He is a Muslim, he is the ant-Christ.”
A lone protestor took up the stunt abandoned by the Florida pastor when he burned a few pages of the Koran in front of press photographers.
"Americans should be free to express themselves as they see fit," he said before being bundled away by police officers. He declined to give his name, saying "my actions are more important than my name".
The rival rally was organised by left-wing, antiwar and pro-Palestinian groups. Dozens of people waved signs reading, “Christians for religious freedom in America,” and called for unity and freedom. Other placards were blunter, reading: "Your bigotry and hatred is a national security risk" or "the attack on Islam is racism".
Elizabeth Meehan, 51, took a bus from her home in Saratoga in upstate New York to show support for the centre on the principle of religious freedom.
"I'm really fearful of all of the hate that's going on in our country. People in one brand of Christianity are coming out against other faiths, and I find that so sad," she said. "Muslims are fellow Americans, they should have the right to worship in America just like anyone else."
The site of the proposed Islamic cultural centre in an abandoned coat store was closed off behind police lines. Muslim prayer services are already held there, but not this weekend as worshippers marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan were directed to another prayer room in Lower Manhattan.
By dusk, the demonstrators were leaving the scene after an unprecedented Sept 11. And as darkness fell, two powerful light beams were directed into the clear night sky to illuminate the space where the Twin Towers once dominated the New York skyline.

The West has made even more mistakes in Afghanistan than us, says Russian envoy to Kabul
Britain and America have made a string of strategic blunders which will delay any prospect of successfully withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador to Kabul has said. Andrey Avetisyan, a veteran Kabul diplomat, said talk of a handover to the Afghans was currently unrealistic because the coalition had failed to build the nation's forces or economy.

The rampant corruption riddling the administration was the West's fault for ploughing huge sums into badly-coordinated, opaque aid projects he said. Moscow's envoy spoke as his country again seeks to assert influence by reviving up to 150 Soviet-era infrastructure and business ventures.

Russia intends to reprieve factories, irrigation schemes and road projects.

An estimated 1 million Afghans were killed and millions fled abroad during the Soviet Union's decade-long occupation.

The Red Army lost some 15,000 troops fighting the Western-backed Mujahideen resistance.

Mr Avetisyan, who began his career in Kabul in the 1980s and speaks Dari and Pashtu, said the West had not learned from Soviet mistakes.

"They are repeating all of them and they are making new ones," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Barack Obama has promised a gradual military withdrawal from July 2011, but Mr Avetisyan said Nato had "wasted" nine years not building an Afghan army to replace them.

He said: "Only now have people started to realise 'Oh, we must have someone to secure the country when we leave'.

"But it is not possible to do in several months, or years. If serious training of the Afghan army is started now, it will take in my opinion at least five years." "If the international community had started this several years ago, then now it would be realistic to talk about transition timetables and withdrawal." He said when the Soviets left in 1989, their ally Mohammad Najibullah remained in power for three years because he inherited a strong army and economy.

"For the last eight years, there have been no big projects, not infrastructure projects," he went on.

"A school here, a hospital there. When it is built people start asking 'Well where are the teachers and the doctors?' because no one thought about it before." The Afghan government was crippled by a shortage of able, trained civil servants. The new army was being trained "almost on the battlefield".

He said Western diplomats "listen politely" when Russia offered advice.

Russia is worried that an unstable Afghanistan could become a launch pad for Islamist militant attacks and wants to stem the heroin which kills 30,000 Russians annually.

Despite the death toll in the occupation, Mr Avetisyan said Kabul and Moscow remained "traditional partners".

"Russia has played a low profile role in the past eight or nine years and now it is becoming more active in Afghanistan," he said.

"Other people may go, but we will be here like neighbours." Dmitry Medvedev, Russian prime minister, met Hamid Karzai in Sochi last month as Afghanistan's neighbours jockey for influence before an eventual Nato withdrawal.

Russians are hoping to rebuild the strategic Salang road tunnel across the Hindu Khush with £55 million of American money.

A fertilizer plant in Mazar-i-Sharif, an irrigation network for olive trees in Nangahar and a factory for prefabricated apartment blocks in Kabul are on a priority list of Soviet projects to be restarted.