Afghanistan summary here and here.
Four staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were released today after being seized by an armed group in Wardak Province, south-west of Kabul on 26 September.
The ICRC had contacted all parties concerned over the past three days, to ensure the swift release of its personnel. Two of the staff members involved are from Afghanistan, one is from Myanmar and the other from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Article
Is it even a remote possibility that an Iraq-obsessed (and Iran-obsessed) G. Walker administation would let something such as this to proceed under the radar? Magic 8-ball says: ‘don’t hold your breath.’
Too, the brutish Hekmatyar has been officially branded by even the ‘we pardon ourselves’ Afghan legislature, so Karzai is (likely) either making empty gestures or trying to place himself in a martyr’s circle by operating as a one-man band.
In his most dramatic peace overture yet, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday offered to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and give militants a position in government. Karzai’s offer came hours after a suicide bomber in army disguise attacked a military bus in Kabul, killing 30 people.
Strengthening a call for negotiations he has made with increasing frequency in recent weeks, Karzai said he was willing to meet the reclusive Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and factional warlord leader.
“If I find their address, there is no need for them to come to me, I’ll personally go there and get in touch with them,” Karzai said. “Esteemed Mullah, sir, and esteemed Hekmatyar, sir, why are you destroying the country?”
“If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, ‘President, we want a department in this or in that ministry or we want a position as deputy minister … and we don’t want to fight anymore … . If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it because I want conflicts and fighting to end in Afghanistan,” Karzai said.
“I wish there would be a demand as easy as this. I wish that they would want a position in the government. I will give them a position,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has said it does not support negotiations with Taliban fighters, labelling them as terrorists, though the United Nations and NATO have said an increasing number of Taliban are interested in laying down their arms. NATO’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Daan Everts, said this month that NATO would look into the possibility of talks.
A State Department duty officer said he couldn’t immediately comment on Karzai’s offer to meet Omar, noting that most policy makers were still in New York. Article
Let’s review. It is nominated for (and there is solid industry buzz about) an Oscar. Lengthy reviews have appeared in all the major media. Earlier this month it was screened at the White House.
Not saying there is a diect cause and effect of that last to the petty and mean-spirited denial of visas. But am certainly suggesting there is a connection.
“Not famous enough” is both a fatuous and a nonsensical excuse (as well as one which no administration and no White House has any rational business making in the first place).
It is already being billed as an Oscar contender – with good reason.
The Kite Runner, the tale of two Afghan boys united in war-torn Kabul by their love of kites, is based on the international bestseller by Khaled Hosseini.
It is produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Marc Forster….
All three men are expected to attend the premiere of the £10million film at a theatre in west Hollywood next month, along with members of the cast and crew and a host of stars.
Yet on the night there will be two noticeable absentees. Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, the young Afghan stars of the film, will not be there.
Despite American protestations that they have brought liberty and normality to the streets of Kabul, the US government has turned down the boys’ visa applications on the grounds that the film ‘is not famous enough’. Article
The Canadian Forces are using a controversial private security firm to train some of its troops sent to Afghanistan.
Select Canadian soldiers have been sent to Blackwater U.S.A. in North Carolina for specialized training in bodyguard and shooting skills. Other soldiers have taken counterterrorism evasive-driving courses with the private military company now at the centre of an investigation into the killings of Iraqi civilians and mounting concerns about the aggressive tactics of its workers in the field.
Critics of Blackwater label the firm as a mercenary organization and question why a professional military such as the Canadian Forces can’t do its own training in specialized areas.
Canadian military police trained by Blackwater operated in Kandahar last year in support of coalition special forces. Members of the Strategic Advisory Team, which operates in Kabul, also underwent counterterrorism driving training, according to a military official.
The Ottawa-based counterterrorism unit, Joint Task Force 2, has also maintained ongoing training links to the company.
Military officials did not have further details on why Blackwater would be hired, but promised to provide those. Later, however, they did not comment on the matter.
Canadian Forces spokesman Lt.-Col. Jamie Robertson said the military does not discuss its special forces training. But he noted that Blackwater and other firms have been contracted to provide services for other units.
“The Canadian Forces has occasionally contracted companies to provide specialized training to our personnel in those cases when specialized training is not available within the Canadian Forces due to a range of factors, including the unavailability of training resources, expertise or specialized facilities and equipment,” said Robertson.
He said the training is adapted to Canadian Forces requirements and procedures.
Still, Dawn Black, the NDP’s defence critic, questioned the need for Blackwater to be involved in training Canadian troops.
“My understanding is we have some of the best-trained forces in the world, and great trainers, so why do we need our armed forces personnel to be trained by a mercenary organization?”
A total dollar figure on what has been spent on Blackwater training was not available by press time, since training is contracted out individually on a unit-by-unit basis, said Robertson. Article
Recall that when the ‘trained’ police didn’t quite pan out, Karzai set up “auxiliary police.’ The courts don’t function, so now proposals to create auxiliary courts?
A nod to (and incorporation of) traditional forms and systems is one thing; a quasi-official set-up of multiple (and far from identically constituted or inclined) fiefdoms dispensing rulings and ‘justice’ on a non-statutory basis, essentially independent of centrality, is something extremely different.
Afghanistan’s latest National Human Development Report has called for a new and hybrid justice system that will bring together modern formal justice systems and the local traditional shuras and jirgas that have functioned as dispute-resolution mechanisms.
The proposal for a collaborative model is a radical departure from the current efforts to expand the reach of the modern formal justice system, an effort that has met with limited success so far. The differences in the two justice systems, both in law and in principle, are also likely to stir up some controversy, especially among purists.
Proposing the launch of a pilot project of the hybrid model in five provinces by mid-2008, the report, released on Wednesday, argues that the current formal justice system does not reach the majority of Afghans, with more than 80% of the cases throughout Afghanistan settled through traditional decision-making assemblies. By acting in isolation, state and non-state institutions of justice are missing an opportunity to improve the delivery of justice significantly, the report states.
The justice sector is an area that is commonly accepted to have lagged far behind others in the efforts at reconstruction of the country. Despite sporadic efforts at reform, the changes have not been far-reaching. Severe constraints in capacity, including basic training and education of judicial staff, have severely hampered uniform delivery of justice through the formal court systems, and public perception of corruption of the courts is also high.
The report notes this, saying the judiciary suffers from severe deficiencies: “Most judges cannot access legal textbooks, procedures and practices.” Only a little more than half of the judges (in a random survey) were holders of university degrees in law or sharia. “Allegations of corruption within the formal justice system have tarnished its legitimacy and made the informal justice sector more appealing in the eyes of the many citizens.”
The formal court system, however, does represent Afghanistan’s attempts to evolve a secular interpretation of law, based on international law and Western jurisprudence, elements that are missing in some aspects of the traditional justice system.
The traditional mechanism relies on customary law, or orf, that is delivered through the shuras or jirgas to settle disputes. The customary law varies according to region and ethnic group. While the main principle of customary law is to restore balance and order in a community, this order can sometimes be achieved by means that are considered to be brutal or violative of internationally recognized principles of humanitarian and human rights laws.
“Although the restorative aspect is a positive concept in itself, the way crimes and disputes are settled has an extremely harmful impact on the lives of women,” a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states.
While arguing that the proposed collaborative system would make justice more widely accessible, efficient, cost-effective and humane, the report recognizes the challenge of reconciling inherent tensions between the formal and informal justice system while nurturing the respective strengths of these sometimes competing and conflicting approaches to the rule of law.
Though the proposal of the hybrid model is likely to evoke some controversy, what is undisputed is the urgent need for justice-sector reform and justice delivery systems. The judicial system is a first line of defense to many social ills in any democracy, especially in war-ravaged societies. The report’s data on human development indices paint a dismal picture, showing that Afghanistan’s human-development indicators are actually lower than earlier assessments. Article
Monitoring the pre-’election’ pressure cooker.
More than three dozen people were injured Saturday when police clashed with hundreds of protesters in the Pakistani capital Islamabad as the Election Commission approved President Pervez Musharraf’s re-election bid.
Riot units baton-charged a column of more than 300 lawyers, who tried to reach the commission’s office when Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and several other ministers arrived to respond to the objections against Musharraf’s candidacy.
‘Our 35 to 40 colleagues were injured and ten of them severely,’ the head of Supreme Court Bar Association Munir Malik told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
They were brutally manhandled and this was fascism in its purest form, he said, adding that the protests would continue and the lawyers would come back on Monday with new petition against Musharraf’s re-election plan.
The police also beat up the journalists, leaving four of them severely injured.
Aziz and Minister for Information Mohammed Ali Durrani quietly watched the scene from the commission’s building, where they remained besieged for more than four hours.
Durrani left the building hiding in an ambulance, while his deputy Tariq Azim was chased and beaten up by angry crowds.
The government also blocked TV transmission of several news channels, particularly in Islamabad, to prevent them from airing live coverage of the demonstrations. Article
Pakistani police fired tear gas at lawyers and journalists and beat them with batons as the election commission Saturday approved Pervez Musharraf’s nomination for an October 6 presidential vote.
At least two lawyers and a journalist were seen with blood coming from head wounds, one of them after being hit by a stone thrown by the police. Several ambulances rushed to the scene.
Police fired tear gas at another 500 lawyers who rallied in Lahore to protest the beatings of their colleagues in Islamabad. Eight were arrested, officials said. Article
Eight journalists were injured after police baton-charged them outside the ECP office. The journalists were covering the lawyers’ protest against President General Pervez Musharraf’s bid to get himself re-elected. Witnesses said DSP Habibullah and Inspector Arshad ordered the policemen to target the journalists.… Article
Authorities in Pakistan on Saturday temporarily suspended transmission of independent news TV channels to stop coverage of opposition rallies against President’s bid for re-elections, private TV channels and subscribers said.
Police fired tear gas shells and beat protesting lawyers and political activists who staged demonstrations in Islamabad to protest against President Musharraf.
Protest rallies were planned outside the office of the Chief Election Commissioner, who held scrutiny of the nomination papers of President Musharraf and his rival candidates.
Major private TV channels were showing live pictures of injured lawyers with blood on their heads and faces.
Police severely beating and arresting senior lawyers and opposition activists and firing tear gas shells were also aired live on TV channels.
Only those people could watch TV channels who had facility of satellite dish receiver.
Three major TV channels Geo, ARY and Aaj TV said their transmissions went off the air in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and most parts of the country.
The state-run Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMA) had warned all TV channels not to air programs, talk shows and interviews in which comments are offered on courts matters. Article