UN lifts sanctions on five former Taliban officials

KABUL: Five former Taliban officials have been removed from the UN sanctions list ahead of Thursday’s key international conference in London that is expected to focus on a government plan to persuade militants to switch sides.

President Hamid Karzai has been pressing for the removal of certain Taliban figures from the list, which imposes punitive measures such as a travel ban and an assets freeze, as part of reconciliation efforts.

The United Nations said Tuesday that the sanctions committee approved the removal of Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former foreign minister and confidant of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and four others.

The UN did not mention the reconciliation plan but said the decision was made Monday after a review of the list. Sanctions had been imposed on the five men in 2001.

Karzai has said Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups ”are welcome to come back to their country, lay down arms and resume life.”

He plans to seek international support for a new government reintegration plan at the London conference.

The other four removed from the list were the Taliban’s deputy commerce minister, Faizl Mohammed Faizan; Abdul Hakim Monib, the deputy minister of frontier affairs who later renounced the Taliban and became a provincial governor; Mohammad Musa Hottak, the deputy planning minister who was later elected to parliament; and a former press officer, Shams-ul Safa Aminzai.

The effort to remove some Taliban figures from the list is one of the incentives being discussed as part of the plan, along with jobs and vocational training. Officials hope the multimillion-dollar initiative will succeed where past programs have failed.

Skeptics, though, wonder whether significant numbers of militants will stop fighting when they believe they’re winning.

Wahid Muzhda, a Kabul-based security analyst, said the removal of the men from the list was not likely to persuade other Taliban militants to leave the fight. He said all five were relatively low-level or already had turned on the militant group.

”These people are not fighters now and they weren’t powerful commanders then,” he said. ”This won’t have any effect on peace or stability. It won’t give confidence to the Taliban.”


Tripartite commission for local solution to Afghan conflict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran agreed Saturday that there can be no foreign solution to the Afghan conflict.

A tripartite commission of the three countries said it will present a common agenda at the upcoming conference on Afghanistan in London.

The commission’s meeting was held at the Foreign Office in Islamabad and foreign ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran participated in the meeting.

The commission reiterated its commitment to a regional rather than a foreign solution of the crisis.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stressed that regional stability, peace and development were the common objectives of the three countries, for which regional integration was essential.

Qureshi also raised the issue of the US troop surge in Afghanistan and its expected spill over effect on Pakistan.

Qureshi said Pakistan wanted a stable Afghanistan.

“Pakistan intends to make the tripartite commission a strength to help further development in the region,” he added.

Meanwhile, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki agreed to abolish all terrorist elements from their countries. They also emphasised on expediting the process of dialogue with Taliban factions. — DawnNews

Kashmir,Indian border,cross-border firing,Jammu

KABUL: Three US soldiers were killed on Monday while fighting insurgents in volatile southern Afghanistan, Nato said.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force gave few details, saying only: “Three Isaf service members from the United States were killed this afternoon in an engagement with enemy forces in southern Afghanistan.”

Southern Afghanistan is at the heart of a Taliban-led insurgency now in its ninth year.

The latest deaths take to 12 the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the independent website icasualties.org.

Last year was the deadliest since the insurgency began, with 520 foreign soldiers dying in Afghanistan, compared to 295 in 2008.

Of the 2009 casualties, 317 were US nationals while the rest were from more than 40 other nations in the coalition fighting the Taliban under US and Nato command.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to capture Al-Qaeda leaders whom Washington said were responsible for the 9-11 attacks on US cities, and Taliban commanders who sheltered the militant network.

The insurgency, launched by remnants of the Taliban regime months after their ouster, has gained pace, and the United States and Nato are set to deploy another 40,000 troops during this year, on top of the current 113,000.

The insurgency is largely concentrated in southern and eastern Afghanistan but is expanding to the previously calm north and west of the country.

Acting Afghan governor injured in Khost blast

KHOST: A blast in his office wounded the acting governor of a southeastern Afghan province on Thursday, a sign of deteriorating security in an area on the Pakistani border where seven CIA employees were killed last week.

Tahir Khan Sabri, acting governor of Khost province, was hurt along with seven other people, including police and senior provincial officials, said Mohammad Nawab, a senior Afghan army general in the province.

The wounds were not life threatening, but the blast inside the heavily-guarded governor’s compound appeared to be a sign of militants’ ability to penetrate deeper into areas considered secure by Afghan authorities and their Western backers.

Khost, which borders on the remote mountainous Pakistani region of North Waziristan, has been a central front between US forces and militants, especially a Taliban-allied faction led by former anti-Soviet guerrilla chief Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Last week in the province a suicide bomber reported to be an al Qaeda-linked Jordanian double agent killed seven CIA employees in the deadliest attack against the US intelligence agency in decades.

The CIA attack raised concern Haqqani’s Pakistan-based Afghan militants could be working more closely with foreign al Qaeda operatives to hit Western and Afghan targets.

There was no immediate report of a claim of responsibility for Thursday’s blast, but Haqqani’s followers and their Taliban allies have carried out numerous attacks in the past in the province with a growing degree of sophistication.

Separately, the Afghan National Department of Security in Kabul said on Thursday its members killed five militants in an encounter outside the town of Khost, the provincial capital.

The deaths included two would-be suicide bombers and three militants involved in organising such attacks.

In another development, four members of a family were wounded when one of the three rockets fired by the militants hit a residential area to the south of Kabul city overnight, a senior police officer in the Afghan capital said.

More than eight years since their ouster by US-backed Afghan troops, the Taliban have made a comeback in recent years, making last year the bloodiest of the war.

The worsening violence comes despite the increasing number of foreign troops, now standing at more than 110,000. To turn the tide, President Barack Obama has begun sending 30,000 more US troops, while saying they will start to pull out in mid-2011.

The UN special envoy to the country on Wednesday warned the United States and other Western powers not to let the planned troop surge divert attention from civilian and political goals.

Kai Eide spoke to the Security Council about his concern over flagging support in Western public opinion, impatience among Afghans at the slow pace of reconstruction and the persistence of the insurgency.

“If these negative trends are not soon reversed, then there is a risk that they will become unmanageable,” said Eide, a Norwegian diplomat expected to leave his post in March.

Drone attacks not helping war on terror, says Zardari

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday told a US congressional delegation that drone attacks by the US were undermining the national consensus on the war against terror.

Talking to a four member US congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain which called on him, President Zardari urged the American lawmakers to persuade the US policy makers to give the drone technology to Pakistan, so that Pakistani security forces could carry out such attacks.

The president said that the economic cost of the war against terror amounting to $35 billion for the last eight years had almost paralyzed Pakistan’s economy.

President Zardari asked the delegation for the timely reimbursement of over $1 billion on account of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).

Referring to President Obama’s new Afghan strategy, the president said that Pakistan had legitimate interests in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, adding that US actions should remain on the Afghan side of the border.

The congressional delegation appreciated Pakistan’s role in the war against extremism and militancy and assured full US support in taking this war to its logical end.—DawnNews

Taliban stronger than ever: Hakimullah’s spokesman

MIR ALI, Pakistan: Pakistan’s Taliban movement is stronger than ever despite the killing of its top commander and will stage more suicide attacks if the army launches another offensive against it, a top militant told The Associated Press.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, known for training Taliban suicide bombers, met with an AP reporter Thursday at a secret location in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, just hours before a US missile strike hit the tribal region and killed 12 people. He has been appointed the latest spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban’s new chief, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The US has launched dozens of missiles to take out top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s northwest over the past year. Although Pakistan routinely protests the strikes, it is widely believed to secretly cooperate with them.

One such missile strike in August killed the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, and Qari Hussain Mehsud’s comments appeared to be the latest attempt by militants to end speculation of a rift among insurgent commanders following the killing.

‘Our movement has gained more strength after the martyrdom of Baitullah Mehsud,’ he said. ‘We are united.’

The militant commander, who looked to be in his 40s and had a curly black beard and mustache, was surrounded by dozens of other militants and local residents. At one point, he assured those gathered that Islam allowed suicide bombings.

The AP was given the interview on condition that it would not reveal the meeting’s exact location and wait a day before publishing the remarks.

Qari Mehsud acknowledged that he was leading a group of suicide bombers known as the ‘Fidayeen-e-Islam,’ and said the attackers were ready to give their lives if Pakistan proceeds with offensives in the tribal areas.

‘We have enough suicide bombers, and they are asking me to let them sacrifice their lives in the name of Islam, but we will send suicide bombers only if the government acts against us,’ he said.

Pakistan’s northwest region bordering Afghanistan has provided Islamic militants with safe havens from which to plan attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In particular, the mountainous, lawless tribal regions – where the government wields little control – are favored breeding grounds for insurgents, who have also attacked Pakistani government workers and security forces.

Pakistan has launched multiple offensives in its tribal regions and other parts of the northwest to root out the militants.

It was supposed to launch an offensive in South Waziristan aimed at taking out Baitullah Mehsud earlier this year. But now the army appears content to keep its operations in that region limited since the US missile strike that felled the Pakistani Taliban chief.

Qari Hussain Mehsud also praised al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Afghan Taliban head Mullah Omar as heroes of Islam. Bin Laden is rumored to be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt, while Omar is believed to be in Quetta, a city in southwest Balochistan province.

The latest missile strike took place late Thursday in the village of Dande Darpa Khel in North Waziristan, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters on the record.

Twelve people died, though it was unclear who they were. The village is a reputed stronghold of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an insurgent commander blamed for many of the most deadly attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. –AP

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia to act against drugs, terror

TRIESTE: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia agreed on Friday to improve cooperation on fighting terrorism, combating illegal drug production and trafficking and promoting good-neighbourly relations, regional stability and sustainable development.

The agreement was reached in a meeting held here by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi with his Afghan and Russian counterparts, R.D. Spanta and S. Lavrov.

According to a joint statement issued after the meeting, the foreign ministers discussed prospects of cooperation among the three countries.

They decided to explore the potential of cooperation in the areas of border control, exchange of information on terrorist activities and organisations, training of anti-terrorist and anti-drug police personnel, as well as promoting tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue and tripartite cultural and humanitarian exchanges.

They recognised that the terrorist threat could not be countered solely by enforcement measures, which, they said, must be accompanied by efforts to promote socio-economic rehabilitation and development of the region.

The ministers emphasised that terrorist activities were largely financed by the proceeds from illegal drug trafficking.

They expressed their conviction that the fight against drugs must be intensified and focussed on all elements of the chain: cultivation, production, trafficking, consumption and supply.

They called upon the international community to take additional steps in cooperation with the Kabul government to combat the drug threat.—APP

Pak, Afghanistan, Turkey to intensify cooperation against terrorism

ANKARA: The presidents of Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan met to discuss greater cooperation on security and intelligence sharing in a trilateral meeting here on Wednesday.

In the meeting held at Presidential Palace, President Asif Ali Zardari, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed various issues of importance including ways to address the menace of terrorism by adopting a regional approach. The military and intelligence chiefs of the three countries also attended the trilateral meeting.

Addressing a joint press conference with President Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karazai, Turkish President Gul said the security services of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan would step up cooperation against terrorism and his country would also arrange special counter-terrorism courses for the two countries.

Earlier, President Zardari had a meeting with President Abdullah Gul, which was followed by his talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish President and Prime Minister also held separate meetings with President Hamid Karzai. The meeting is aimed at discussing the ways to improve regional situation and making joint efforts for ensuring peace.

Turkey had brought the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan together at tripartite summits held in 2007 and 2008, where the talks aimed at reducing tensions over militant attacks along the Pak-Afghan border and to build trust between the two neighbors.

India sends commandos for Indian Embassy officials in Pak

NEW DELHI: The Indian government has sent a special unit of trained commandos to Pakistan to protect top diplomats of the Indian Embassy there, Indian official news reported Tuesday.

It said the batch of 16 personnel, trained in commando skills and unarmed combat, from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was sent to the neighbouring country last month.

“They will perform VIP security duties after assessing the situation there,” CISF Director General N R Das told reporters here on the sidelines of the force’s 40th raising day.

The team includes few drivers who are trained in VIP security drills.

Das said the security of the Indian Embassy is looked after by the Pakistan government. The actual role of the CISF commandos would be finalised after an assessment report is prepared.

Some of the members of the team will also perform technical support duties.

The CISF commandos protect diplomats at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu while the ITBP earlier guarded the Indian Embassy officials in Afghanistan.

source : jang.com.pk

2 months into 2009, US deaths spike in Afghanistan

KABUL – U.S. deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year, after thousands more troops deployed and commanders ramped up winter operations against an increasingly violent insurgency.

As troops pour into the country and violence rises, another sobering measure has also increased: More Afghan civilians are dying in U.S. and allied operations than at the hands of the Taliban, according to a count by The Associated Press. In the first two months of the year, U.S., NATO or Afghan forces have killed 100 civilians, while militants have killed 60.

President Barack Obama recently announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to bolster 38,000 already in the country, increasing the U.S. focus on Afghanistan while a drawdown begins in Iraq. The latest casualty toll among U.S. forces could portend a deadlier year in Afghanistan than the U.S. military has experienced since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

“I think that because you are going to see that additional engagement, there is a risk of greater additional casualties in the short term, just as there was in Iraq,” Obama told the Pentagon Channel on Friday from Camp Lejeune, N.C. “That is something we will have to monitor very carefully.”

Twenty-nine U.S. troops died in Afghanistan the first two months of 2009 — compared with eight Americans in the first two months of 2008.

Part of the increase is due to the influx of troops. In early 2008 there were about 27,000 forces in the country, some 10,000 fewer than today.

But U.S. troops are also operating in new, dangerous areas. A brigade of 10th Mountain Division soldiers deployed to two insurgent-heavy provinces outside Kabul in January — Wardak and Logar. And American forces are increasingly operating in Taliban heartland in the south.

“It has a lot to do with the fact that we have a presence in places and going into places and disrupting insurgents in area where they haven’t been bothered much,” Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, said Saturday. That, he said, means more battles and more attacks.

American troop deaths occurred at a much higher rate in Afghanistan than in Iraq in January and February. Thirty-one U.S. forces have died in Iraq so far this year, but there are roughly 140,000 American troops in Iraq, more than three times the number in Afghanistan.

The decreasing U.S. death toll in Iraq coincides with an overall decline in violence largely attributed to a cease-fire by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a Sunni decision to join forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.

Julian said that troops in Afghanistan have “maintained the pressure throughout the winter months” this season, though in previous years there had been a lull.

About a third of the 29 deaths this year were caused by roadside bombs, including an attack in Kandahar province on Tuesday that killed four U.S. troops. Julian said insurgents are using more IEDs and fewer direct attacks because militants die in large numbers when they fight the U.S. head on.

The number of other NATO soldiers killed so far this year has risen as well, but not at the same rate. Last year 13 soldiers from other NATO countries died in January and February, compared with 18 in the first two months of 2009. Of those 18 deaths, 12 were British.

Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country, said he thinks that Taliban militants are “resilient” but not necessarily stronger.

“I’m not with the group that says everything is in a downward spiral, that the Taliban are resurgent and stronger than they were. I think they’re very resilient, but I don’t necessarily think they’re stronger,” McKiernan told the Chicago Tribune in an interview published Friday.

“And I do see some measures of progress in this country. Now I’m not going to say everything is going to improve dramatically in 2009, but I think as a military commander, I am not going to be pessimistic about this. I’m going to be glass-is-half-full.”

Violence in all categories is up in general so far this year. Militant deaths rose from 129 in early 2008 to 308 in early 2009, according to numbers compiled by The Associated Press based on figures from U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.

Civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO operations have also spiked, despite increasingly emotional pleas from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to address the problem.

Last year the Taliban set off several large suicide bombs in crowded areas, killing around 180 Afghan civilians the first two months of the year, while U.S., NATO or Afghan forces killed fewer than 10.

But the numbers have reversed this year. In the first two months of 2009 some 100 Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S., NATO or Afghan forces, according to the AP count, many during overnight missions by Special Operations Forces. Militants have killed around 60.

source : news.yahoo.com