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Afghanistan Report: June 8, 2007

EU Prepares Afghan Police-Training Mission

By Ahto Lobjakas

Afghan police officers in Herat Province (file photo)

May 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is preparing to launch a police-assistance mission to train and advise police officers in Afghanistan.

Officials unveiled plans for the program, EUPOL Afghanistan, in Brussels on May 29.

But the contingent's size -- it will be just 1/10th the size of a similar group being assembled for the tiny UN-administered province of Kosovo -- fell far short of what the EU envoy to Afghanistan would like to have seen.

The EU police mission in Afghanistan represents the first time the bloc has assumed a collective role in aiding the country's law-enforcement sector.

Ambassadors from all 27 EU member states are gathered today in Brussels to formally launch EUPOL Afghanistan.

The mission will begin work on the ground after a flag-hoisting ceremony in Kabul on June 17.

The appointment of German Brigadier General Friedrich Eichele to command this mission reflects Berlin's long-standing role training Afghan police officers, which the EU mission hopes to expand.

Eichele told journalists on May 29 that this EU mission's eventual aim is to bring the Afghan police force up to international standards.

"The mission will support the reform process towards [a] trusted and efficient police service which works in accordance with international standards within a framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights," Eichele said.

Kabul And Beyond

EUPOL Afghanistan will comprise 160-170 men by the end of 2007. They will be deployed among the NATO-led provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) across the country, including in the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Sixteen EU states are contributing advisers, and seven non-EU states have offered them, including Ukraine and Turkey.

Eichele said about one-third of the EU's advisers will work in Kabul, and the remaining 100 outside of Kabul. He described their role as an advisory one -- and said the mission will monitor, mentor, advise, and train Afghan police officers.

EU officials say the mission will operate "under Afghan ownership" but the bloc will retain political control and "strategic direction."

The EU mission will join a larger U.S. police-training exercise that currently fields 500 instructors.

EU officials said EUPOL Afghanistan is likely to focus on more senior police officers. They also stressed that while the U.S. instructors are recruited from private security firms, EU advisers will be currently serving police officers.

'An Honorable Role'

But speaking next to commander Eichele, EU special representative to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell said he would have liked to see a far larger EUPOL Afghanistan mission. Vendrell said its planned size of 160-170 advisers is the bare minimum for the job.

"As the [EU special representative] for Afghanistan, I would have liked it to be as large as the one going to Kosovo," Vendrell said of the roughly 1,600-member delegation to that former Yugoslav province. "But that, of course, was unrealistic and unachievable. I think [that] when I last spoke to you, or at least to some of the journalists [at the news conference on May 29], I said the mission should not be established unless it had 160 police. We have reached that number -- in fact, probably surpassed it. So I think we can play a very honorable role, together with the U.S. police mission."

Vendrell praised NATO's recent progress in the southern Helmand Province, where the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) has cleared what he described as "a couple of the most difficult districts" in Garmsir and the Sangin Valley.

But Vendrell warned that the long-standing perception of Afghanistan as having a dangerous south and relative safety elsewhere is losing its relevance.

Vendrell said that while Taliban fighters were responsible for some of the recent attacks on NATO and allied troops, local warlords and the roughly 300 undisbanded militias have committed others. He noted that warlords undermine central government efforts to stabilize the country.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Addresses Border Trouble

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri (file photo)

June 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri spoke recently with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Rezwan Murad about tensions between Kabul and Islamabad along their common border. RFE/RL also asked about plans to bring together ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from both sides of the border.

RFE/RL: What is Pakistan's position on the proposed cross-border meetings, or jirgas, between ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders from both Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Khurshid Kasuri: We have great hope that [the] jirga will bring about a degree of understanding between peoples of the two countries -- that this would not be used as a propaganda platform to attack each other's leaders or policies. When you talk in that positive spirit, then I think some good can come out of it. And I have great expectations. So much effort has been made that both countries have a big stake in making it a success. But I do sincerely hope that those who've been entrusted with the jirgas on both sides will be very careful and attend to minute details -- because there will be some people who have their own agenda, and they may try to queer the pitch so that Pakistan-Afghan relations do not advance in the direction that the two governments want. So we have to be mindful and very careful of those people, and that is a challenge for [Pakistani delegation head and Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan] Sherpao and [Afghan delegation leader Sayyed Ahmad] Gailani.

RFE/RL: Are you concerned that the cross-border clashes seen in May between Afghan and Pakistani government troops could escalate into a wider conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Kasuri: There was that fear; I will not hide that. I was disappointed myself. But I think I had a good meeting with [the Afghan] foreign minister (Rangin Dadfar Spanta) prior to the G-8 meeting in Potsdam. We met and we agreed on some things. One of those is that, considering the nature of our relationship and also certain areas where there might be misunderstanding, they should not start shooting but that the two foreign ministers should talk. Or we should have a mechanism, and we should have the security personnel -- the Defense Ministry -- on board. Because, you see, when you start shooting, it has a very negative impact all around. So we must try and minimize that. And if there are problems of this nature in the future, there should not be [an] automatic resort to firing.

RFE/RL: How do you respond to widespread allegations that "elements within Pakistan" support cross-border militancy -- or at least turn a blind eye to Islamic militants who regularly cross from Pakistan's tribal region into Afghanistan to carry out terrorist attacks?

Kasuri: I'm not going to deny that some people do go from Pakistan -- after all, it's the same ethnic group from both sides [of the border] and they have deep connections going over centuries. And particularly since the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, that area has become more radicalized as a result of what took place in Afghanistan. We don't agree with them. The same people, if they are resorting to violent action in Afghanistan, they're [also] killing our own (Pakistani) people. They've killed our soldiers -- in one single bomb attack, they killed 30 to 40 Pakistani soldiers in Dargai. They've been launching attacks in Quetta, in Peshawar, also near Islamabad. Some people do find refuge here, and they were largely finding refuge in refugee camps, Afghan refugee camps. Because in the Afghan refugee camps, it was very easy to "get lost". And you know the cultural and religious traditions -- you can't just barge into a house, where there are women inside. So both the Afghan and Pakistan governments have decided that certain refugee camps will be closed down.

EU Envoy Says Tribal Unrest Hampers Fight Against Taliban

Afghan soldiers at the Tokhim border crossing on the Afghan-Pakistani border (file photo)

May 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Francesc Vendrell, the European Union's special representative for Afghanistan, says unrest in Pakistan's tribal areas makes it much more difficult to stop Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan. The unrest, he says, undermines deals Pakistan made last year with its tribal authorities obliging them to prevent the Taliban from crossing the border between the two countries. Vendrell spoke with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.

RFE/RL: As EU envoy for Afghanistan, are you worried by the recent unrest in Pakistan's tribal, Pashtun-populated areas and what is seen by many as an encroaching "Talibanization" of the country?

Francesc Vendrell: Well, it's obviously a matter of concern. It's been a matter of concern for quite some time. The media now cover it more than they did before. There is reason to worry that the traditional authorities in the tribal areas, namely the maliks [tribal leaders] and political agents [representatives of the Pakistani government] have become very ineffective, and indeed the maliks -- the tribal chiefs -- many of them have had to flee the tribal areas for their own security. And several, quite a number in fact -- scores of them, in fact -- have been killed. Now, I know that the Pakistani government wants to restore the traditional authority of the maliks and the political agents, but I think this is going to take a long time -- and in the meantime one has to tackle the problem of extremism, which is affecting both sides of the Durand Line [the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan].

RFE/RL: What does this mean for efforts to seal off Afghanistan from Pakistan?

Vendrell: I don't think that one can be realistic in terms of sealing Afghanistan from Pakistan. This is a 2,600 or 2,400 [kilometer] border, and you're not going to be able to seal it. What we want and what we're asking Pakistan, and what Pakistan has said that they would, and [what] they are doing, is to ensure that there is as little infiltration as possible, and that there are no meetings of Taliban leaders in places like Quetta, where apparently they have been able to meet in the past.

RFE/RL: But how can Pakistan prevent infiltration when it has no political authority in the tribal areas?

Vendrell: This is the problem. It is going to take a long time for them to restore their authority. So, there will be some infiltration -- of course there are ways of coping with it, like air surveillance -- but, inevitably, it is going to take time [to stop the infiltration].

U.S. Defense Secretary Assesses Afghan Security

U.S. Defense Secretary Gates (left) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on June 4

June 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met in Kabul today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to assess the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Gates, who said his visit is aimed at ensuring that Afghanistan's security situation improves, also met with Afghan military leaders during a tour of a military training center on the outskirts of Kabul.

Gates said that despite a rise in insurgent violence in Afghanistan during the spring, he remains convinced that U.S. and NATO forces are making steady progress against the Taliban.

Speaking at a Kabul press conference after talks with Karzai, Gates also corroborated reports that the U.S. military has been discovering Iranian-made weapons in western and southwestern Afghanistan.

When asked about alleged shipments of Iranian weapons destined for the Taliban, Karzai said he is uncertain about the source of such deliveries. But he said the governments in Kabul and Tehran have good relations and that trade between the two countries is good.

'Steep Obstacles'

Karzai said Iran has contributed millions of dollars to the Afghan economy through aid and trade.

That is the kind of help that Gates has been asking Afghanistan's neighbors to make. Speaking on June 3 at a security conference in Singapore, Gates called on Asian states to provide extra support for Afghanistan.

"I would urge others to step forward with assistance to Afghanistan in the areas of governance, reconstruction, and counternarcotics," Gates said. "It is clear that Afghanistan and its newly independent neighbors in central Asia face steep obstacles as they strive to make the transition into prosperous, secure, and fully sovereign nations."

Afghan Army Woes

Despite Gates' upbeat assessment about the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, he was told by the head of the Afghan National Army today that Kabul is not getting enough cooperation from neighboring Pakistan.

Afghan Army Chief of Staff General Bismullah Khan made the remarks to Gates as the two toured Camp Morehead, a military facility center on the outskirts of Kabul where the Afghan National Army's first battalion of commandos is being trained.

Officials in Afghanistan displayed what they said were Iranian-made land mines during Gates' visit (RFE/RL)

Bismullah Khan said Kabul's relationship with Pakistan is "under the coordination of the United States." He also said Islamabad and Kabul need a better exchange of information and more joint training exercises.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are allies of the United States in its declared "war on terror."

But relations between the uneasy neighbors have deteriorated in recent months. The worst violence in years erupted in early May in a disputed border area in Afghanistan's southern Paktia Province.

Officials in Kabul say Pakistani government troops invaded Afghanistan's territory and killed 13 Afghans. Pakistan said Afghan troops started unprovoked firing on Pakistani border posts.

The two sides also blame each other for the resurgence of the Taliban.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that Gates is scheduled to leave Afghanistan tonight for a trip to Kyrgyzstan, where will meet on June 5 with President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The United States maintains a base in Kyrgyzstan to support its continuing operations in Afghanistan.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan Kabul bureau contributed to this report.)

Latest Female Journalist's Slaying Highlights Plight

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Zakia Zaki's family grieving over her body in Jabbul Saraj today

June 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Afghan radio journalist has been shot dead in Afghanistan in the second fatal attack on a newswoman in less than a week.

Zakia Zaki, who ran the private broadcaster Peace Radio, was killed by multiple gunmen in her home north of Kabul, in the central province of Parwan, late on June 5. The gunmen reportedly shot her in front of her young son before fleeing the scene.

Neither the identities of the killers nor their motive is clear at this point.

Zakia was a former headmistress and a representative to Afghanistan's Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003-04. But she had received threats in the past in connection with her work at Peace Radio, which she had managed since 2001.

The head of Afghanistan's Independent Journalists Association, Rahimullah Samander, says that Zaki had contacted his group over those threats.

"She has been threatened because of some of her programs, and [the people who issued the threats] said that some [Peace Radio] reports were [critical of] one of the region's [prominent] figures; they said the programs were a plot against that person," Samander says. "Regional commanders are influential in the province and they have created problems for her several times in the past. She had come to me and told several other colleagues about it."

No Isolated Case

Zaki's slaying comes less than a week after the murder of a popular 22-year-old television presenter, Shakiba Sanga Amaj, who was also shot dead in her family home in the capital.

A suspect has been arrested in the Sanga Amaj case, and some reports suggest that her murder was an act of revenge for spurning a proposal of marriage.

Reporters Without Borders has suggested that even if a family feud is behind the "cowardly" killing of Shakiba, Afghan authorities should not overlook her professional activities as their investigation proceeds.

Two years ago, in May 2005, a presenter on the private Tolo Television, was shot dead in her Kabul home in a case that remains unsolved. Shaima Rezaee had been criticized for what some regarded as her Western style and appearance.

Samander says these recent murders have increased fear among journalists.

"A large group of journalists are going from Kabul to [Zaki's hometown of] Jabalussaraj right view the body of Zakia Zaki," he says. "All [journalists] are concerned. In less than two weeks, there have been four incidents -- two murders and the plunder of equipment at a radio station and the closure of a newspaper in Konduz, which happened two or three days ago."

Young Sector

Afghanistan's independent media sector is in its infancy. The media sector has grown rapidly since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. But intolerance remains, and journalists and media workers are regularly subjected to threats and harassment from former warlords and conservatives.

Women were essentially banished from media positions under fundamentalist Taliban rule, but they are slowly returning to the sector (AFP file photo)

Women are a particularly vulnerable minority in a country where culture and other forms of orthodoxy frequently conspire against female professionals. The number of women working as journalists, reporters, or presenters has increased, but women still remain a clear minority in the country's media sector. The intimidation and threats of violence are sometimes accompanied by pressure from male-dominated families.

Shukria Barekzai is a member of Afghanistan's parliament and a former editor of a women's magazine. She tells RFE/RL she's distressed over the broader signals of the murders of Zaki and Amaj.

"I seriously condemn [these killings], and I'm also concerned about the murder of women who are unlawfully killed merely because they work for media organizations -- they're journalists, they're intellectual women, and they fight for women's rights in Afghanistan. We are deeply worried about this," Barekzai says.

She says the Afghan government should take measures to guarantee security for journalists, media workers, and human rights activists.

The journalists association's Samander is worried that threats and violence against journalists could seriously undermine advances in freedom of expression and media freedoms.

Reporters Without Borders describes press freedom as one of the few achievements of the past five years in Afghanistan. But the group warns that the sector remains fragile and that journalists feel the effects of deteriorating security, threats from warlords and conservative religious leaders, and a government that is feeling pressure from many sides.