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Good news from Afghanistan, 11 July 2005

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Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. As always, many thanks to James Taranto, Joe Katzman and all of you for your continuing support. Please also note that as this segment would have normally appeared last Monday but for the Independence Day weekend, it contains stories from the past five, and not the usual four, weeks.

In the early days of this series, I noted a story of three Afghan exchange students coming to Florida to learn about life in America. Now, year later, they are going back to their homeland:

Abdulahad Barak, Abdulahad Fazil and Khushal Rasoli joined Floridians and other Americans in a year punctuated by hurricanes, holidays and a presidential election focused largely on a U.S. war against a Muslim country. They watched as American media covered Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Afghanistan. They jumped on rides at Universal Studios, Disney World and Busch Gardens, and volunteered to help victims of nature's wrath. Barak even got a chance to meet the president.

And they taught as much as they learned, helping Americans of other religions, or no religion, understand a little more about what it's like to be a Sunni Muslim so far from home.

"I thought Christians here would be mostly against Muslim people," said Barak, 16, who attended Coral Glades High School in Coral Springs. "But they have too much respect for Muslim people."

He didn't mean it quite that way. Barak knew very little English when he arrived last August as part of the Youth Exchange and Studies Program, coordinated by the State Department and World Link, an Iowa-based nonprofit group. He sometimes says "too much" when what he really means is "a lot." But his English has improved dramatically, thanks to spending time with a South Florida family, in a South Florida school with American friends.

"There's too much freedom here, about everything," he said. "How they dress, where they go, wherever they want. They can't do these things in other countries."

Back home, the three want to pursue careers where they can help their fellow countrymen and women: doctor, pediatrician, and politician. "The three said they were most amazed by the U.S. presidential election, watching George W. Bush defending his record in televised debates against challenger John Kerry. The thought that it was even possible for a world leader to be deposed without violence was new to them."

It's just one of many things they will take home with them. Says Barak: "It was the first time we have ever seen an election... It was good to see people choosing their own leader." And Rasoli adds: "I know when I go back that people are going to say bad things about America, about Jews and Christians... I am going to tell them no. They are wrong. It is not like that."

Perhaps we need more exchanges to build in longer-term real understanding of our two cultures and societies. In the meantime, however, since we can't all swap places with a family in Kabul for a month or two, it would be good to have comprehensive and balanced media reporting to build a clear picture of realities, challenges, and successes, and not just disjointed series of glimpses when something goes wrong. Below are the last five weeks' worth of stories from Afghanistan that you might have missed.

SOCIETY:

  • Partial results of a new study of public opinion in Afghanistan, "Voices of a New Afghanistan," compiled the Washington non-partisan think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, paint a picture of a country where people no longer think that terrorism is a threat, don't consider drugs a high priority, and are impatient about corruption, crime, and international assistance being slow to materialize. Overall, though, the Afghans are optimistic about their future and offer "resounding support" for the Karzai government. The full report should be available in mid-July.

  • A new voter registration drive is off to a good start for the October election:

    Voter registration for September elections in Afghanistan has been overwhelming despite security worries including an attack on a registration site at the weekend, organisers say.

    No one was hurt in the attack in the southeastern province of Paktika on Saturday, but police battled gunmen for hours, delaying the site's opening, Bronwyn Curran, a spokeswoman for the Afghan-UN election body, said on Monday.

    She said security and other problems, such as sandstorms and flooding, had prevented registration at 59 of 1052 stations nationwide, but 73,000 people had registered in the first two days of the month-long process that began on Saturday.

    More than 10.6 million people registered for October's presidential polls won by Western-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai.

    Parliamentary elections are set for 18 September and organisers aim to register up to two million people who were either too young for the October vote, did not previously register, lost their registration cards, or have moved.

  • Meanwhile, the candidates' list is being finalized:

    On June 4, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) issued the Preliminary Candidate List, and from June 4 to June 9 individuals had the opportunity to file a challenge against any prospective candidate with the Electoral Complaints Commission.

    The ECC received over 1138 challenges against 556 candidates.

    Citizens from across Afghanistan exercised their right to participate in this process and the broad public response was an encouraging sign of the Afghan people’s desire to hold a fair election.

    After reviewing the challenges, the ECC has advised the JEMB of 233 candidates who must be provisionally disqualified from standing for office due to their failure to meet the requirements for candidacy.
  • The Coalition forces will be providing increased security for the election: the Netherlands are sending a marine battalion, Spain 400 soldiers, France 300 troops and some airplanes, Romania is sending 400 extra troops, and Austria additional 100. Overall, 2000 more NATO peacekeepers will be deployed throughout the country at the election time.

  • Under an agreement signed with the UN Development Programme, the European Union has committed itself to contributing another 11.5 million euros ($13.7 million) towards the parliamentary election, bringing its total contribution so far to that purpose to 34 million euros ($40 million). Finland will be donating 2 million euros ($2.4 million) for that purpose, and Sweden is sending election observers.

  • In order to provide more information about the election to the voters, the Afghan government has launched this new initiative:

    Afghan voters with questions on the 2005 Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Council elections may now call a toll-free phone number from anywhere in Afghanistan, and have their questions answered personally.

    By dialling 1 8 0 from any mobile or landline phone, callers will be connected to a Voter Information Centre staffed by operators ready to answer their questions in Dari, Pashto or English from 7am to 7pm every Saturday to Thursday. The number will not be available if called after hours.

    The Voter Information Centre was launched this week and has already handled more than 150 public telephone enquiries.

    As JEMBS staff, Voter Information Centre operators have been trained to answer any question relating to any aspect of the 2005 electoral process.

  • USAID is also supporting the growth public awareness of the poll:

    To prepare Afghans for the September parliamentary elections, USAID launched four new civic education programs. Two of the projects aim to better familiarize women on the election process: the funding of election content in eight consecutive editions of the popular women’s magazine “Mursal” and the broadcasting of radio shows on elections and the democratic process produced by an Afghan women’s mobile radio station. USAID is also funding the development and broadcast of nine radio quiz shows, testing listeners on the elections, the Constitution and Afghan history. Also, 12 radio dramas were produced and broadcast on 27 radio stations. Lastly, a theatre campaign is working to ensure that Afghan citizens receive the information they need to complete registration and participate fully in the elections process. Theatre inaugurations were recently held in Kabul and Herat. Approximately 150 people attended the highly successful show in Herat, including senior members from the provincial government and Kabul University. The Kabul inauguration was attended by 50 people, including members of the press. Inaugurations are scheduled this week in Kandahar, Mazar, Jalalabad and Khost.
  • USAID is also providing media training for Afghan political parties: "The second advanced political party media training concluded on June 8, with an additional six parties receiving certificates. Program highlights included the second of four press conferences, in which party representatives organize and participate in weekly discussions of a different issue. Also, as part of the training, participants visit Internews and Pajhwok news agencies to gain experience in writing, editing, and producing various media messages. This provides a much-needed understanding of the best ways to present brief and clear messages to the media. The third of four groups commenced training on June 13."

  • There's also assistance from France: "In the build-up to the September polls, a five-week technical training course for 120 newly-appointed administrative officers of the Parliament Secretariat began here on Saturday [11 June]. About 120 employees, recruited from amongst 780 applicants, started undergoing the training being imparted by French experts and interim secretariat officers at Istiqlal High School." Also, 60 staffers of the Afghan Statistics Center of the Ministry of Economics will be trained by their Iranian counterparts.

  • The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development is helping to nurture Afghan civil society through its work at creating Community Development Councils throughout the country. Other international agencies, meanwhile, are assisting the development of Afghan judicial system. Building on the recently enacted reformist Juvenile Code, "a new partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Justice, UNICEF and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will help to strengthen the juvenile justice sector in Afghanistan.

    The partnership, which will be officially launched on Saturday 18 June, will see UNICEF and UNODC providing a range of training and technical support to up to 250 legal professionals, juvenile judges, juvenile prosecutors, social workers and juvenile police on issues including the new Afghan Juvenile Code, children's rights and international legal standards. UNICEF and UNODC are currently working in close cooperation also to support the Ministry of Justice, together with UNDP, for the Priority Reform and Restructure (PRR) initiative with the Juvenile Justice Department.

  • Afghan prisons are also getting a new legal framework:

    A newly-ratified law is expected to bring significant changes to Afghanistan's crumbling prisons and ensure the basic rights of thousands of inmates in the country's jails, law experts said in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday.

    The 54-article law has been designed to bring the nation's prisons and detention centres up to minimum international standards.

    "The new law says the prison system has to achieve the goal of rehabilitation of prisoners and to deliver a person back in to society as a law abiding individual," Giuseppe di Gennaro, a senior legal reform advisor of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) said.

    The law was ratified on 31 May after two years of work by national and international experts. It was drafted by the government of Afghanistan, with support from the UNODC and the government of Italy, which is the lead nation working on the reform of the Afghan justice system.

  • And USAID continues to work on renovating Afghan legal infrastructure:

    On June 20, a ceremony was held to celebrate USAID’s completion of the rehabilitation of Jabal us-Saraj Tower in Parwan province. The tower serves as part of the district’s courthouse, and has significant historical value not only to the people of Jabul us-Saraj, but to all of Afghanistan. The tower was used as a headquarters during the anti-Soviet struggle by the Northern Alliance. To date in FY05, USAID has constructed/rehabilitated 20 judicial facilities. An additional 9 facilities are on target to be completed by the end of July.
  • In women's affairs, President Karzai has creation of a new Inter-Ministerial Task Force to eliminate violence against women. "The Task Force's members... would include high ranking representatives from Supreme Court, Attorney General's office, Women Affairs Ministry, Justice Ministry, Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Health and Human Rights Commission."

  • On the non-government level, CARE USA is helping to provide education for girls and women who missed out in the past:

    Meet Farzana. She’s the principal of Sha Shaheed School, a school for girls who missed years of their education during the five years of the Taliban’s rule. The school is one of nine supported by CARE’s Out of School Girls Project that provides fast-track education for girls by teaching two years in one.

    During the Taliban years, Farzana and her family fled to Pakistan, and she was able to work. However, after September 11th, her family moved back to Kabul and Farzana was able to keep working. She’s 28 years old and single, which is unusual for a woman her age in Afghanistan, and lives with her father. While her brothers and sisters are all married, she tells us that her father is open minded and encourages her to pursue her career.

    The Sha Shaheed School teaches 360 girls who come in six days a week, either for the morning or afternoon, for their classes. Most of the girls are between 10-14 years old and were in school before Taliban, but had to stop going to school for five years when the Taliban didn’t allow girls to be educated.

    These girls are now much older that the kids in their grade and CARE aims to provide a fast-track education so they can rejoin the school system at the appropriate age.
  • Participants in other similar programs are already starting to graduate: "After a lapse of more than a decade, the first batch of 23 girls Tuesday completed their high school education in the southern Kandahar province, a former stronghold of Taliban who had banned female literacy in Afghanistan. Kandahar Education Department chief Hayatullah Rafiqi told Pajhwok Afghan News after the passage of 11 long years, the girls graduated from the Zarghona Ana High School in Kandahar City."

  • Read also this story of an Afghan woman who combines business with social statement:

    Sara Rahmani never bought her own burqa during the Taliban regime, which forced women to wear the all-encompassing garment.

    But now the Taliban regime is gone, and Rahmani is burqa-happy. She buys burqas by the dozen. Rahmani, a clothing designer who has started her own company, then has her tailors cut up and resew the burqas. The result: the burqa shirt.

    "I thought to myself, the Taliban period is finished," Rahmani said. "What should we do with all these burqas?"

    Rahmani and her clothing line say much about the possibilities in the new Afghanistan--in Kabul, at least. She is a woman running her own company, something impossible only a few years ago and still unusual enough that she was picked to meet First Lady Laura Bush when she visited in March. Rahmani also was featured in Afghan Women and Business magazine. She is 34 and still single--a rarity in Afghanistan.

    Rahmani, who favors a classic, conservative look of a gauzy head scarf, a gray pantsuit and black heels, is also challenging convention. She is taking an item like the burqa--still worn by women in most of the countryside and the city--and changing it.
  • Rahmani employs 11 people, including 10 widows and orphans, and while making it in business is tough, she's actively pursuing opportunities overseas.

  • Global refugee numbers have reached the lowest levels since 1980. The last four years have seen continuing consecutive falls in numbers, with another 4% fall in 2004. Overall in that period, some 5 million refugees were able to find their way home, with 3.5 million of them going back home to Afghanistan. The internally displaced are also now slowly making their way home:

    For three years, Zhare Dasht camp, located on a sun-baked plain in southern Afghanistan, has sheltered nearly 500,000 internally displaced people. Many have now decided it is time to return home.

    The camp was built by the UN refugee agency, with the support of donors and partner agencies, in early 2002 to house Afghans who had been forced to leave their homes elsewhere in the country. Many were Pashtuns from the north who feared persecution following the defeat of the unpopular – and largely Pashtun – Taliban.

    Zhare Dasht also became home to thousands of farmers left destitute by years of drought; a drought which also left many of Afghanistan's nomadic Kuchis unable to continue their traditional way of life.

    Within the camp, UNHCR, with the Afghan government, provides residents with access to water, sanitation, school and medical facilities.

    But the pull of home is still strong. Already, more families have returned home this summer than in all of 2004.

  • And the local authorities are trying to help some of the returnees:

    The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation Affairs started distribution of plots to returning refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kabul and Parwan provinces.

    Hafeez Nadeem, an official at the ministry, told Pajhwok Afghan News 1,500 plots would be distributed among refugees and IDPs in Kabul's Kalakan district and 10,000 in Bagram district of the Parwan province.

    Engineer Sami, an advisor to the ministry, said 50,000 plots of lands would go to refugees and IDPs in 19 provinces of the country by the end of March next as part of a programme for settlement of the down-and-out families.

  • USAID continues to provide major assistance to the Afghan health system: "In FY2005, USAID will support the construction of 277 health facilities. To date, 32 clinics have been completed and 204 are under construction." And in the combined United Nations and NGO effort:

    A project, co-sponsored by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), got under way in Afghanistan today with the arrival in Kabul of donated production machinery for the country's first-ever generic medicine factory, which will eventually produce 300 million to 400 million tablets of safe, urgently needed analgesics and antibiotics for local use.

    The machinery will equip a newly-constructed factory named Baz International Pharmaceutical Company Limited. The locally produced generic medicines will significantly improve the availability of safe, effective and affordable medication in the country, UNDP said.

    The plant will be fully Afghan-owned and will be managed by Dr. Karim Baz, an experienced local doctor. Approximately 40 local employees will be taught relevant operating skills and production technology.

  • Afghanistan is winning another war against disease:

    Gada Mohammad is a resolute foot soldier in Afghanistan's battle against polio, tramping up remote mountains to search out children and give them their pink vaccine drops.

    He might be about to win the war.

    Afghanistan looks to be on the verge of eradicating polio, just as a flare-up in another remote corner of the world has led to the crippling children's disease leaping between continents...

    Afghanistan has been doing its bit. It had 27 polio cases in 2000, four last year and only one so far this year.
  • And a new campiagn aims to cover 100 per cent of the targetted population by 2009: "The Public Health Ministry said on Monday it would vaccinate babies and mothers as part of a national campaign to control mortality rate among them. Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi said they would immunize kids under nine months and mothers (15-45) against whooping cough, measles, tetanus (DPT) throughout the country."

  • Pakistani authorities have delivered another 10 of the promised 45 fully-equipped ambulances, bringing the number so far to 33. Spain, meanwhile, will "equip 24 health centers in the southern Badghis province with drugs, medical equipment and other necessities" and upgrade the Badghis hospital from 30 to 70 beds.

  • USAID is also active supporting the growth of Afghan education system:

    As the number of children attending school increases, USAID is responding by building or rehabilitating additional schools. In FY2005, USAID has constructed 136 new schools, with an additional 150 schools under construction. In addition to facility construction, USAID supports the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education and the Academic Council on Education to improve policy formulation, strategic planning and program development, and monitoring and evaluation. In addition, USAID has trained over 7,500 teachers in formal classroom settings, and 65,000 teachers in remote areas through the Radio Teacher Training Program.

  • USAID will soon be busy with a major construction project:

    The United States of America will reconstruct Ghazi High school with international standards. The USA will invest $6 million through USAID for reconstruction and furnishing of the school.

    Dr Zalmai Khalilzad the US ambassador in Afghanistan told Bakhtar News Agency that, the engineering design of this school is drawn by Afghan engineers and the new school will have 4 blocks for classes and administration offices, football, volleyball and basket ball grounds, gymnasium, car parking, an entertainment park, auditorium and laboratories.

    The construction work of this school will start at the end of this year and will be finished in two years.

    He added that the new school will have 78 classrooms and can accommodate 6200 students at a time.
  • Two new schools, each able to take in 1,500 pupils, have opened in Bagram district and Sinjit Dara of the central Parwan province. The schools were a joint project of the local Provincial Reconstruction Team and UNESCO.

  • In higher education news, "the American University of Afghanistan's new female dormitory, which has been established with assistance of the Afghan Wireless Communication System, AWCC, was opened [recently]... The foundation of the three-storey building of new American University of Afghanistan was laid in the southwest of Kabul earlier this year. The initial academic programmes will include majors in information technology, business management and public administration."

  • Denmark has also been active in the area of education: "The Danish support to the Ministry of Education has already resulted in a new curriculum for 22 courses, better training of teachers, publication of 3.6 million schoolbooks and the construction of new schools." Overall, The Danish contribution is worth DKK 670 million ($108 million) and will extend at least until 2009. Meanwhile, the Afghan-Turkish School in Kabul has organised the first science fair in country's recent history.

  • University of Massachusetts is helping with education of Afghan women:

    When word spread in one Afghanistan village that literacy courses were available for women, the response was immediate. The small classroom quickly filled and those left outside crowded around windows to peer in.

    "It was hard to keep the women out," said Frank McNerney, a doctoral candidate at the UMass Center for International Education.

    The windows remained open because no woman would be shut out, McNerney recalled.

    In a country where women crave education after decades of repression at the hands of the Taliban and others, a teacher is a like a beacon, a light through a window.

    "People are really hopeful right now. They see education as their ticket to a better life," McNerney said.

    Afghanistan is the latest outreach project for the UMass center, said David Evans, the center's director for more than 30 years. It creates and implements educational systems in developing countries. The programs range from graduate policy planning in Malawi to the very basic - teaching reading to the illiterate in rural Afghanistan.

    The center recently won a $4.3 million subcontract to work with the Boston-based Management Sciences for Health to help rural women understand community health issues and ultimately train others. Evans said the UMass center was brought on board when the Boston agency realized it couldn't recruit enough women who had the basic education level necessary to even reach the training courses.

  • Speaking of educating Afghan girls read this inspirational story of one family which is trying to make a difference in remote area of the country:

    A jumble of small plastic sandals covers the landing in front of the narrow mud-walled room. The boisterous sound of schoolchildren fills the space as they shout out the letters their teacher points to on the blackboard.

    Inside this nondescript house at the foot of the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan, an ordinary event is taking place in extraordinary circumstances. In an area where the nearest school is several kilometres away and is only open to boys, girls between the ages of six and 18 are learning to read and write in the home of a family who, until last year, were refugees in Iran.

    Mohammed Sadiq and his wife fled their native Parwan province following the invasion of the Soviet army. For 19 years they lived in neighbouring Iran, raising four daughters and two sons and waiting for a time when they could return to Afghanistan. Last year after contacting UNHCR, they decided to make the journey.

    "We left because of war. We returned because of peace," says 18-year-old Parween. A confident and well-spoken young woman, she, like all of Mohammed's children, spent her entire life in Iran before returning to the isolated hilltop village of Khan Baihi.

    "I am an educated man," says Mohammed. "And it was my strong desire to educate my children." Though he struggled at times to meet the cost of schooling, Mohammed ensured his daughters always attended classes. When he returned to his home, he found that the education he had worked so hard to provide for his children was denied the girls of the village. He decided to provide an alternative.

    "A few months after we returned, I went to the mosque when I knew all the men would be there praying. I said to them, 'My daughters are educated and they can also provide your children with an education.' We created a classroom in our house and that was how it began."

  • USAID continues to support the development of the Afghan media:

    Sayara, a USAID-supported media NGO held its second national university journalism student convention in late May. Almost 100 students from various universities participated in the 3-day event. During the convention, the students considered such issues as Afghans taking control of Afghanistan’s future, the role of the media in Afghan democracy, and goals for Afghanistan to achieve by 2005.

    Pajhwok, a USAID-supported national news agency, recently secured a two year subscription contract from the Combined Forces Command. This is in addition to other newly signed contracts with Azadi newspaper, World Bank, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Canadian Embassy. To date, the news agency has received $5300, has unpaid contracts worth $36,803, and has signed agreements for a monthly income of $8983.

    In addition, in late May the Afghan National Television switched over to a new digital system. The conversion from analog to a digital system took two years and was finalized with financial assistance of $7.4 million from the Government of Japan. Additionally, according to the state-owned newspaper Anis, the Italian government just inaugurated an Internet centre for Radio and Television worth US $1.4 million.
  • In the latest development, Radio Voice of Paktika, the first independent radio station in the Paktika province has been officially opened. "Established by Internews Network with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Transition Initiatives, the station began broadcasting April 4. Radio Voice of Paktika has a potential audience of almost 200,000 with a 45 meter mast, one of the tallest of any FM station in Afghanistan. The station broadcasts nine hours a day with both in-house programming and material from the daily news and entertainment program." You can also read this report about how "Music soothes extremism along troubled Afghan border."

  • Iranian government is helping the development of local culture. Among the projects: establishing an Afghan-Iranian research center in Kabul, providing books for university libraries in Kabul, Balkh, Bamian, Herat, and Jalalabad, and founding a printing house at the Kabul university.

  • Meanwhile, two Afghan artists have recently received international recognition:

    Two artists from Afghanistan were chosen by a panel of five Taiwan judges from among the contestants in the Venice Bienniale International Art Exhibition as winners of the first Taiwan Award over the weekend.

    Linda Abdul and Rahim Walizada were each awarded a trophy made out of a brick produced in Taiwan 200 years ago and a cash prize of US$20,000 by Tchen Yu-chiou, secretary-general of Taiwan's National Cultural Association.

    Abdul, who is an Afghan refugee, had to choke back tears when she accepted the prize from Tchen.

    She told the 50-odd audience at the award ceremony that she loves her country's culture, which was seriously damaged during the civil war, and would like to draw the world's attention through her art to the disaster facing the Afghan people and their culture.

RECONSTRUCTION:

  • Good news for the financial stability and governance of the country: "The Ministry of Finance met a significant milestone by exceeding the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) total domestic revenue generation target of $256 million for Afghan FY1383 (March 21, 2004 – March 20, 2005). As of May 16, approximately $260.6 million has been collected for FY1383 and this figure could increase upon final reconciliation at the end of May. Total domestic revenue increased 20% from FY 1382. Customs revenue figures were also impressive – $150.3 million was collected for FY1383, an increase of 38.9% from FY 1382. Customs revenue served as 58% of the total domestic revenue collected, helping to sustain the funding of Government of Afghanistan (GOA) programs and services. USAID is helping the GAO achieve this goal by strengthening human capital at a ministerial level, streamlining the GOA’s payment systems and establishing a modern tax system by implementing appropriate laws and regulations."

  • In foreign assistance to Afghanistan, Denmark is contributing another 90 million euros ($110 million) for projects in the areas of "human rights, reconstruction of the public sector, humanitarian work and education."

  • And the British government has earmarked another 35 million pounds ($61 million) to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) in 2005-06. "The ARTF is a multi-donor trust fund set up by the World Bank in 2002 to coordinate donor funding to the Government of Afghanistan's recurrent costs and selected reconstruction activities. It supports Afghanistan's budget and applies strict fiduciary monitoring to these expenditures."

  • Japan also continues to contribute: "The Japanese embassy in Afghanistan has signed contracts with 14 local and international non-governmental organisations, NGOs, to carry out 18 projects worth a total of 44 million US dollars. The projects granted by the Japanese government include construction of schools, roads and bridges, digging of wells and establishment of handicraft education centres. They will be carried out in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Khost provinces." As part of that assistance:

    The government of Japan has agreed to provide $1,870,449 in grant for launching different welfare projects in three provinces. The projects included reconstruction, health and vocational training, which will be started in Kabul, Kandahar and Faryab provinces... [and] establishment of educational and cultural centres and imparting training in carpet weaving and health.
  • There is also financial assistance from the World Bank: "World Bank (WB) has agreed to release a grant of $265 million for uplift projects in Afghanistan during the current year... Aziz Shams, press officer for the Finance Ministry, said highways construction, health and education sectors and capacity-building were the main areas where the governmental intended to utilise the amount."

  • One of the first trade fairs have taken place in the capital:

    Food items, construction material and industrial and technical products from 19 countries would go on display at an exhibition here from today, officials said Monday.

    Bacu Company, a member of the six-firm Gohar Group, will organise the international trade event, which will conclude on June 13. The group is currently operating in Dubai and the United Kingdom.

    Siywash Abbasi, an official of the Gohar Group in Tehran, told Pajhwok Afghan News 75 companies would display their products including cake and cookies, motorcycles, computers, construction cables, etc.

    The US, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Japan and other southern countries will be taking part in the trade fair.

  • American business organization is helping Afghan women to enter into the world of business:

    It's dubbed the "Style Road Trip." In late May, some two dozen Afghani businesswomen arrived in New York to participate in an intensive three-week program designed to promote and develop entrepreneurship among Afghanistan's women. For most of them, the program, sponsored by the Business Council for Peace (Bpeace), was their first trip outside their war-torn nation. The participants are mostly engaged in apparel, accessories, and home décor manufacturing businesses. The program includes visits to top American designers such as Eileen Fisher and celebrity favorite Behnaz Sarafpour, seminars at the Fashion Institute of Technology and side trips to the beach for a Memorial Day barbecue and sightseeing.

  • This is a story of one of the women on the trip:

    After living as a refugee in Pakistan for 13 years, Laila returned to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2003... "I heard that the Karzai government would bring peace and the Taliban had left," she says.

    Having spent those refugee years working variously as a teacher, carpet designer, in marketing and sales, and as an administrator for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and later Medecins Sans Frontieres on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Laila, 36, decided that she wanted start her own jewelry business.

    Although she had put together $4,000 from her savings and pension from UNICEF, she still faced a series of economic and social hurdles. For one, some of her in-laws insisted that a woman should stay at home. But she persevered, with the support of her husband, taking English and computer classes. Eventually she opened a small jewelry store and importing business. "I saw that there was a good market in Kabul," she says.

  • You can also read the interview with Bpeace's Toni Maloney as well as learn more from BPeace itself about their work in Afghanistan. There is also a nice photo essay about one visit on the trip. And here's another story about the work of the Business Council for Peace:

    Conflict in the Middle East didn't keep Rangina Hamidi from returning to her Afghanistan homeland.

    She was born in Kandahar, but her family moved to Virginia after Hamidi was threatened by war-related forces for going to school in Pakistan.

    After Hamidi graduated from the University of Virginia five years ago, she moved back to Kandahar, where the Taliban had been ousted by U.S. military action.

    There, she founded an embroidery business that employs about 300 women who work at home.

    Now, a Roanoke business and an international peace organization are helping Hamidi build economic vitality for her employees in Kandahar.

  • Speaking of women in business, "a federation of the Afghan businesswomen will be established in a month with a start-up fund from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)...

    Chairman of Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce Hamid Qaderi said the USAID had promised to donate six million dollars for funding the project. He hoped the creation of the businesswomen federation would boost business concerns belonging to women besides enabling them to play a more active role in the country's reconstruction and economic development.

  • Work by USAID to construct three industrial parks in major Afghan cities continues:

    In Kabul, major design work, including survey processes and the design of all infrastructure, is completed. Contracts for the related sectors have been awarded. Construction activities are estimated to be 75% complete, with land preparation work, sewage system, interior water system and communication construction work nearly 100% complete.

    In Kandahar, design work is approximately 80% complete. The designs of the land preparation, roads, sidewalks and sewage system are complete, and the design for electricity is underway and expected to be completed soon. Sixty percent of contracts have been awarded to date. Site preparation and securing the area is well underway. A monitoring team visited the project site last week and found that the surface runoff channel and ditch which were started in late March are about 90% complete. Site leveling and preparation are in progress.

    In Mazar-i Sharif, design work is 40% complete and contracts have been awarded for 20% of the work. According to the site monitoring reports, excavation and concrete foundation are completed, and stone masonry work is underway.

  • India is helping Afghanistan to receive more electricity:

    In a major move to help war- ravaged Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure, India today agreed to construct a 220 KV double circuit transmission line to start power supply from Uzbekistan to Kabul and a power sub-station in the Afghan capital... The transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul would be implemented within a period of 42 months, he said, adding that the entire expenditure would be in the nature of assistance or grant to Afghanistan.

  • A major new link is being developed between Afghanistan and Tajikistan:

    Efforts to boost the economies of both Tajikistan and Afghanistan moved one step further on Saturday, when Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and Afghan President Hamid Karzai laid the foundation stone for a US-funded bridge across the Pyanzh River.

    "The Nizhiniy Pyanzh bridge will unlock the economic vitality of the two countries through expanded trade opportunities, advance Tajik-Afghan efforts to combat international terrorism and weapons and drug trafficking, and improve international cooperation in the region," US Ambassador to Tajikistan, Richard Hoagland, told IRIN from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

    Once completed in 2007, more than 1,000 cars and trucks are expected to cross daily to take goods between the two countries.

    "At the moment, only one bridge, between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, links the goods of South Asia to Central Asia," Hoagland explained, noting the economic potential to the region, reminiscent of the Great Silk Road and trade network that connected East Asia with Europe and beyond.

    The bridge is 672 metres long by 11.5 metres wide and built to international seismic standards. It will link the border crossing town of Nizhniy Pyanj, Tajikistan, with the town of Shir Khan in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province.
  • To help improve the transport in the country, Afghan authorities took the delivery of 42 buses donated by Pakistan. "Pakistan has already donated 200 trucks, 23 ambulances and 25 passenger vehicles to Afghanistan as a token of friendship. Islamabad had earlier pledged to Kabul a phased delivery of 100 Japanese Hino buses, of which 35 were handed over in the first week of May." Another 23 buses will be donated shortly.

  • In Kabul, work has started on widening of the road leading to the Kabul airport. Speaking of airports, a local one in the north is getting an upgrade to enable it to receive international flights:

    Transport and Aviation Minister Enayatullah Qasemi Saturday [24 June] inaugurated expansion and up-gradation work of the Mazar-i-Sharif airport.

    Speaking on the occasion, Qasemi said the project would be completed during the next three years. He said a new terminal would be erected besides installation of new machinery and equipments and improving the electricity system to bring it at par with international airports.

    The project will cost $20 million. The area of the airport will be expanded to create space for more flights. The airport is so far used for local flights.
  • In related developments, "the government of Afghanistan has established a separate airline to serve tourists in Afghanistan. Uqab (Eagle) airline will take tourists to historical places in Afghanistan. Syed Makhdoom Raheen, minister of information, culture and tourism, told reporters on Saturday that the first flight of this newly formed airline took place yesterday, having taken tourists from Kabul to central Bamiyan province. This airline is currently operating with five helicopters."

  • In communications news, Bamyan gets connected: "The first-ever internet café was opened here... by the National NGOs Coordination (NNC)... The $20,000 project was funded by a US charity based in Memphis, Tennessee State, as well as the Korean International Cooperation Agency working in Afghanistan. Abdul Qayyum, head of the NNC, said people could surf the 12 computer sets connected to the internet as a mode of local and international communications." Meanwhile, "work on laying Internet cable in all districts of Jalalabad will kick off in the next two months. The facility will be provided by the Afghan Cable in all districts of Jalalabad... So far the Afghan Cable has provided connections to over 7,000 houses in Jalalabad."

  • USAID is helping to make the capital cleaner:

    USAID is assisting the municipal government of Kabul to improve the availability and quality of services provided to citizens. In April, the program focused on garbage collection, sanitary drainage system, street maintenance and parks and roadside beautification projects.

    As a result of the garbage collection effort, eleven major dumpsites have been cleaned-up and approximately 250 cubic meters of garbage was disposed. In addition, a door-to-door garbage collection process was enacted in the target district, collecting garbage from 2100 – 2500 houses per week. The project employs ten municipal workers using two dump trucks.

    The sanitary drainage system, or ditch cleaning, also employs ten municipal workers. Through ditch cleaning and the building of a culvert, water is flowing properly and the flooding hazard has been eliminated.

    The renovation of Park Shahr-e Nan is currently underway, with plans being developed for the new design. USAID staff and citizens recently participated in a community service park clean up project.

  • World Bank is also assisting with grass-roots reconstruction projects:

    The World Bank today approved a US$28 million grant to continue supporting the Afghanistan National Solidarity Program (NSP), which provides resources for reconstruction and development activities at the community level, and for strengthened local governance...

    The NSP provides thousands of rural villages with access to drinking water, small irrigation schemes for agriculture, rural roads, micro hydro-electrical plants and generators for domestic and rural productive activities, training and livelihood projects, schools, sanitation, and clinics among others...

    A critical aspect of this project is the process of decision making surrounding the use of the grants. Building the foundation for solid local governance, consultation, and the legitimacy of local leadership, Community Development Councils are elected through secret ballot. These councils then lead a participatory process in the community to decide how the funds will be used. By May 2005, implementation of the project was ongoing in 8,268 villages, of which 7,348 had elected Community Development Councils, and 9,247 had submitted subproject proposals.

  • The program has been a big success so far:

    The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) will complete thousands of small reconstruction projects across the country under the National Solidarity Programme.

    Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Mohammad Hanif Atmar told journalists here on Thursday that as many as 8,300 projects costing $100 million and being executed in 33 different provinces would be completed soon.

    He added the National Solidarity Programme largely focused on potable water schemes, irrigation plans, building schools, upgrading the power system and road construction.

  • USAID land-titling efforts also continue:

    USAID’s Land Titling Team provided legal assistance on property rights issues to residents of District 7 in Kabul. Residents have requested and received legal assistance on issues including property partition among heirs, mortgage and the legal procedure for obtaining formal deed. Using aerial photography, the Titling Team has completed delineation of 254 parcels of land, including footpaths, mosques, schools, and boundaries of 244 residential houses in District 7. The delineation process involved the full participation of community members. In addition to its usefulness for planning purposes, delineating boundaries with the consent and agreement of concerned residents addresses both actual and potential disagreements relating to property boundaries, which is the main cause of dispute in the pilot neighborhoods.

  • One program will seek to help both the people and the environment:

    The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will help conserve biodiversity in selected protected areas of Afghanistan while addressing the basic needs of communities in the buffer zones, through a technical assistance (TA) grant package approved for US$1.785 million.

    The TA is structured in two interlinked components: a protected area component and a buffer zone component.

    The protected area component, financed with $975,000 from the Global Environment Facility, will help conserve global significant biodiversity in selected key protected areas. It will develop management plans and conduct biodiversity assessments; promote capacity building in protected area management; provide basic park infrastructure and field equipment for monitoring and surveying; develop ecotourism by emphasizing links between conservation and benefit for local stakeholders; and support key policy and institutional reforms.

    The buffer zone component, financed with $810,000 from the Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund from the Government of UK, will link development interventions to conservation goals through conservation stewardship agreements.

    It will conduct participatory assessments of target communities to identify their needs and priorities for action and a strategy to reduce poverty while protecting natural resources. It will also provide skills training and promote the empowerment of women by providing alternative livelihoods.

  • Agriculture still plays an extremely important role in Afghan economy and society, and USAID is there to assist:

    The economic growth of Afghanistan is reliant on the success of the agricultural sector. Recent estimates are that agriculture’s contribution to the country’s GDP is about 51%, employing 85% of the total labor force. With modern technologies and rehabilitated infrastructure, Afghan farmers can meet food sufficiency requirements as well as increased income and foreign exchange earnings.

    USAID is improving Afghanistan’s irrigation infrastructure as a means of increasing agricultural productivity. Projects include dams, spillway and diversion channels, intakes, and distribution systems.

    The Sar-e Haus Dam is the largest dam in Northwest Afghanistan, providing irrigation for an estimated 600,000 people. USAID is reinforcing the left dam abutment, which supports the weight of the dam. The project is 85% complete, with a target completion date of mid-June. In addition, the old center spillway reinforcement construction is scheduled to begin in August 2005.

    Sar-e Haus irrigation infrastructure projects completed to date include the Mohammed Agha and Moghul Khil Intakes, Zana Khan Dam, Sardeh Irrigation System, Shah Rawan Intake Rehabilitation, Sar-e Haus Dam emergency rehabilitation, and the Sar-e Haus Spillway and Diversion Channel.
  • Meanwhile, Afghanistan is one of the developing countries where 15 international agricultural research institutes under the Alliance of the Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) are helping to rehabilitate local agriculture: "A Consortium of CGIAR centers, led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), has refurbished Afghanistan's agricultural research stations, established seed testing facilities and trained over 1,000 researchers and farmers. The consortium is helping small farmers grow high-value horticultural and medicinal crops, as well as chickpea, faba bean, potato and peanut."


  • The US Department of Agriculture
    is also collaborating with the military Provincial Reconstruction Teams on a series of projects, including distribution of stock, rebuilding farms, construction of veterinary clinics, and many others.

  • A Pasadena men is helping to diversify Afghan diet and ensure better nutritional and health outcomes:

    Steven Kwon believes soybeans can save the people of Afghanistan -- and he's doing something about it.

    A senior nutrition scientist for Nestle USA, Kwon also runs Nutrition Education International, a nonprofit organization he started in 2003 to help reduce mortality rates in Afghanistan.

    One in five Afghan kids die before age 5, Kwon said, and one in six women die during childbirth.

    His solution is offering a better diet through soybeans, which would supplement a traditional diet of naan bread and chai tea. Soybeans are high in protein and soy fiber staves off hunger.

    "Seeing poor people, suffering people, you are compelled to do something from a humanitarian point of view," said Kwon, a Korean man with a soft smile and a gentle demeanor.

    Since starting the relief effort, Kwon has spent his own money and burned up vacation time from his day job on trips to Afghanistan to teach nutrition, consult with agriculture experts and secure the country's endorsements. He's also solicited donations from friends and businesses.

    His efforts have taken root.

    Last year, Nutrition Education International cultivated soybeans on five acres in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan's main northern city. The crop also was planted in a dozen other provinces in April.

    Kwon said that if the harvest is bountiful in October, Afghan leaders would test the plants in all 32 provinces.

    Afghan officials are hopeful. They speculate soybeans could improve health, provide jobs and perhaps supplement the country's opium-producing poppy.
  • More on soybeen cultivation in Afghanistan here.

  • An American non-government group is also assisting:

    The US Department of Agriculture would donate 500 metric tonnes of corn oil and 1,500 metric tonnes of soybean oil, for use in Afghanistan, to Mercy Corps, a private voluntary organisation. Mercy Corps will sell the corn and soybean oil in Afghanistan and use the proceeds over a 12-month period to finance rural development activities such as rehabilitating irrigation systems and developing small scale commercial tree crops. Other activities include supporting animal health services, agricultural research and testing agricultural vocational education, as well as strengthening local government capacity through agricultural exchange training.

HUMANITARIAN AID:

  • Here are the efforts of two American women trying to help those in Afghanistan:

    While women's rights advocates are focusing on the plight of the world's widows today, two local women who lost their husbands on Sept. 11 make it their everyday mission to help Afghan women coping with tragedy...

    Beyond the 11th, a Wellesley nonprofit that raises money for widows affected by terrorism and war in Afghanistan, is also trying to highlight the needs of women who lack money, social supports and legal rights.

    Patti Quigley of Wellesley and Susan Retik of Needham were both pregnant when their husbands, Patrick Quigley and David Retik, were killed aboard two of the planes that crashed on Sept. 11.

    In 2003, they formed Beyond the 11th because they saw that women in Afghanistan also lost a great deal in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the war that followed.

  • American charity is helping the Afghan health system:

    CURE International, a Christian nonprofit medical organization based in Harrisburg, was asked by the Afghanistan Ministry of Health to assume management of two hospitals -- one in Kandahar and one in Kabul.

    In Kandahar, more than 10,000 patients are being treated each month. In addition, the CURE Tuberculosis Center treats on average more than 800 patients a month who are suffering from the contagious disease. Unfortunately the number of people with TB is anticipated to rise as some 3 million Afghan refugees return from Pakistan where the disease is rampant...

    American soldiers from Camp Phoenix, near Kabul, allotted funds from a discretionary charity budget to provide a generator for the hospital as well as three water tanks to nourish the patients. Computers were also donated and after they were installed, doctors were immediately punching in data in order to receive vital information to help Afghans in their care.

  • Meanwhile, the Afghan Red Crescent Society is planning to make its operations accessible to people from remote areas:

    The Afghan Red Crescent Society has planned to move its healthcare centers from urban stations to remote areas in order to reach out to the more needy people.

    Dr Yasmin Yousufzai, heading the ARCS health department, revealed they would shift 10 clinics currently based in Kabul city to its districts in the first phase. She gave no specific timeframe for the shifting.

    Yousufzai pointed out the ARCS ran nearly 50 health centers (clinics) across Afghanistan, most of them based in provincial capital cities.

  • There's help for Afghanistan's many orphans:

    It is LIFE for Relief and Development's mission to take these children off the streets and into the classroom. In the past, LIFE has supported nearly 1,000-orphaned boys in schools in Laghman and Jalalabad.

    In September, LIFE plans on opening its first school and orphanage for girls and the only school for girls in the Eastern Zone of Afghanistan. The facility has already registered 100-orphaned girls and will support them by providing shelter, clothing and education. This effort will afford the 1st through 5th graders the opportunity to personally combat illiteracy and finally see a bright future.

    In September, LIFE plans on opening its first school and orphanage for girls and the only school for girls in the Eastern Zone of Afghanistan. The facility has already registered 100-orphaned girls and will support them by providing shelter, clothing and education. This effort will afford the 1st through 5th graders the opportunity to personally combat illiteracy and finally see a bright future.

  • A British and a French charity combine their efforts to help revive the economic base of one small Afghan community:

    Oxfam America and its partner, ACTED, are helping 30 Afghan potters improve the quality of their ceramics, as well as increase their income.

    The village of Kulalin has a rich tradition of pottery making dating back more than 300 years. Like many villages in Istalif, Kulalin found itself on the front line during the fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces in the mid 1990's, forcing the ceramics trade in Kulalin to shut down completely. Houses, schools, and community buildings were destroyed, as well as the workshops and kilns of potters...

    Last year, ACTED, a French organization that helped in rebuilding the village's kilns and workshops, asked Oxfam to support a training program to develop the skills of the potters. Oxfam hired a Pakistani ceramics teacher, Argi Karimi, to evaluate the skills and techniques of Kulalin's potters and make recommendations for improvements. Some of the potters were at first resistant to changing their techniques, especially in consideration of the fact that Argi is both an outsider and a woman. However, they soon recognized and appreciated Argi's expertise.

    Potters in Kulalin traditionally produced large quantities of bowls in each kiln firing, resulting in diminished quality and ultimately a lower price on the local market. The completed pieces, produced in mass quantities, sell for around 6 Afghanis or 12 cents US in the local bazaar or to wholesalers from Kabul.

    Argi is working with 30 potters in the village to improve the quality and marketability of their bowls, from simple improvements such as not stacking their bowls in the kiln during firing to more advanced techniques such as diversifying their designs. In addition to the original bowls, decorated with a simple clear glaze, the artisans are now producing more elaborate pieces-one of many changes that are adding precious value to their craftsmanship.

  • A UN body and a charity, meanwhile are trying to improve the economic plight of young people:

    The UNICEF and Ashiana will jointly impart vocational skill development training to Afghan children.

    Agreement to this effect was signed between representatives of the UNICEF and Ashiana here on Thursday. Under the accord, 1,000 working children will be educated and trained for developing skills.

    Ashiana is already imparting training to orphan and poor children in carpet-weaving, carpentry, plumbing, computer, mine detection, electronics, drawings and calligraphy. The training will be given at Ashiana centres at Kart-e-Char and Salang Wat.

  • Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees is also assisting rural communities:

    DACAAR is launching a new microfinance programme under the name DCMS - DACAAR Community Microfinance Services. The objective is to ensure sustainable livelihoods for low-income Afghan households by enabling them to improve their economic status through access to financial services. Both men and women in rural communities in Afghanistan have substantial economic skills which can be productively employed. However, the lack of financial resources limits such opportunities. Over the next five years, activities are planned to cover the six provinces of Ghazni, Laghman, Herat, Paktia, Badghis and Wardak.

    Initially activities will focus on rural villages and surrounding markets, and gradually, operations are intended to expand to semi urban markets. An additional one-year pilot project will be launched in Ghazni city to define a future urban city strategy.

    The six provinces targeted have a total of 7,320 villages with an average of 76 households per village, so in total, DCMS is targeting 50,000 potential clients as receivers of financial services.

  • The US Department of Agriculture is providing substantial food aid to Afghanistan:

    USDA plans to provide Afghanistan with food assistance valued at nearly $48 million in 2005. Our two countries recently signed a $15-million agreement under the Food for Progress program. The agreement calls for the Afghan government to sell 23,000 tons of U.S. soybean oil. Proceeds from the sale will support development through higher education, rural extension services and institutional capacity building. The Food for Progress program provides for donations of agricultural commodities to needy countries to encourage economic or agricultural reforms that foster free enterprise.

    In 2005, USDA will provide the International Fertilizer Development Corporation and Mercy Corps, Inc., with agricultural commodities valued at $10 million and $2.6 million, respectively, under the Food for Progress Program. Proceeds from the sale of these commodities will be used to support agricultural development programs in Afghanistan.

    Now in its third year, USDA is supporting a project in northern Afghanistan run by the Aga Khan Foundation. The project will use up to $10 million in U.S. nonfat dry milk to conduct school-feeding activities. The donations will consist of surplus commodities under the Section 416(b) program.

    USDA will also donate $10 million to World Vision under the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program to continue the school feeding program in western Afghanistan begun in 2003.

    This assistance will be in addition to the $59 million in U.S. food aid already provided in 2003 and 2004.

  • San Francisco students
    are also helping: "Several North Bay high school bands have joined together to host the McNear's Beach Music Festival, a benefit for schools and youth programs in Afghanistan. The idea for the event came from a group of folk guitar students from Redwood High who wanted to support Afghans4Tomorrow, a nonprofit whose mission is the support of education, health and agriculture projects in Afghanistan."

  • A Connecticut student is helping here father help the Afghan people:

    A Fairfield University senior came up with a unique Father's Day gift for her dad - water and clothing for villagers in Afghanistan.

    Mikaela Conley's father, Army Lt. Col. Christopher Conley, is involved in the U.S. military's efforts to build hospitals, schools and wells in Afghanistan.

    Mikaela Conley and her friend, Aamina Awan, a Fairfield University junior, raised $3,000 for construction of a well in Aloudine village and collected 30 boxes of clothing for the village's 200 families.
  • More here.

  • This girl from Kabul is receiving a gift of life:

    Growing up in the slums of Kabul and suffering from a life-threatening heart defect, 11-year-old Vasila Hossaini feared that she may only have a few more years to live.

    That was last year. Today, she's a beaming 12-year-old, with dazzling bright eyes, full of energy and soaking up the atmosphere of New York after charitable donations brought her here and helped pay for life-saving heart surgery at the New York University Medical Center.

    "I got a new life. I am not going to die," the young girl said Wednesday as she met to thank some of her benefactors at a New York apartment. Vasila said she's thrilled that she can now walk, dance and play with other children without the pain and fatigue that once made her feel doomed.

    The hopelessness began to fade when Vasila was discovered in Kabul by two independent filmmakers from the United States, Stacia Teele and Ed Robbins, who had traveled to Afghanistan to make a documentary about the war-ravaged country.

  • And this Afghan boy has also benefitted from medical treatment:

    Zia Urrahman’s father was surprised and filled with joy when the boy showed how his right arm can move up to his head, a doctor said after surgery Thursday.

    “Everything went real well. Zia is in the recovery area, off the breathing machine,” Dr. John Mancoll, a plastic surgeon with St. Joseph Hospital, said after three hours of surgery.

    Scars from the burns were deeper in Zia’s back and armpit area, which made the surgery that was initially expected to last up to two-and-a-half hours take a little longer, Mancoll said.

    The 5-year-old Afghan boy was burned in a propane explosion at his home near Kabul. Members of the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Brigade, stationed at Camp Phoenix near Kabul, helped arrange treatment at the St. Joseph Regional Burn Center. The Northeast Indiana Burn Council raised money to bring Zia to Fort Wayne, and the hospital donated the cost of the surgeries and treatments.

  • In response to recent rains which killed at least 50 people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes in several villages in the Badakhshan province, aid organisations are springing into action:

    The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that both food and non-food emergency supplies, including tents and blankets, had been dispatched to Faizabad the provincial capital of Badakhshan over the past two days.

    The [Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development] has also airlifted 1,000 tents and 4,000 blankets for further distribution, officials said on Monday. Furthermore, a total of 88 mt of World Food Programme (WFP) assistance including wheat, oil, salt and pulses sufficient for nearly 9,000 people is on its way to reach 1,450 households in flood-affected areas.

    The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has also sent aid packages out, including 1,100 family kits and other non-food items to the disaster area.
  • The United Nations' World Food Program also continues to assist those most in need. For example, in one week 16 - 22 June 2005, the WFP's help has reached 305,400 people.

  • Lastly, this valuable work to assist Afghan sportspeople:

    The Afghan Sports Federation (ASF) is a non-profit organization based in Fairfax, Va. of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. It is run by volunteer individuals, for the benefit of sports among the Afghan youths and Adults both men and women at every level of excellence in the region, the United States and the world.

    Afghan Sports Federation was formally chartered in 1998 by a group of Afghan Soccer (Football) players and Soccer (Football) enthusiasts in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area who have managed soccer teams since 1979.

    The aim of ASF is to create a center of guidance or counseling for Afghan athletes (men and women) who want to be active in amateur sports or pursue professional career in any athletic field of his/her choice. ASF serves as administrative umbrella to individual and team sports. ASF currently oversees Afghan Soccer League, Afghan Basketball League, Afghan Volleyball League and Afghan Bowling League.

    Over the past four years, ASF as the only official governing body for athletes and athletics in the region has made tremendous contribution towards the rebuilding of sport organizations and sport arenas inside Afghanistan. In 2002, ASF with the support of its affiliates and the Afghanistan Assistance Coordination Authority were able to purchase uniforms and equipments to donate to the Afghan Olympic Committee. In 2003, Afghan Sports Federation with the help from Afghan Olympic Committee, FIFA, Asia Soccer Federation and the Kabul Municipality was able to secure land for Afghanistan Soccer Federation's first ever Soccer Stadium. In 2004, ASF was able to provide assistance to the Afghan National Olympic Committee by facilitating Afghan Athletes participation in Olympic 2004, in Athens.

    Over the next five years, ASF's goal is to assist in building of sports organization and sports infrastructures in major cities of Afghanistan and promote sports among the local population and bring the level of athletic competition to world level standard inside Afghanistan and have Afghanistan athletes participate at the 2008 Olympics on their own merit.

THE COALITION TROOPS:

  • Rebuilding Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, is a daunting challenge. Every effort helps, and so the Coalition soldiers are also involved in various projects to improve life around the country, in addition to providing security.

  • The Coalition forces are filling the gaps in health services devastated by decades of conflict:

    As Afghanistan struggles to create a functioning health care system after 23 years of war, military hospitals and mobile clinics run by coalition forces are the only hope for thousands of Afghans of getting adequate medical care.
    The Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989, the civil war that followed it, and the subsequent medieval rule by Taliban militias destroyed what little health care infrastructure existed in the country before the Soviet invasion, and uprooted most doctors and nurses. According to the 2004 United Nations Human Development Report, there were only 210 health facilities with beds to hospitalize patients in the entire country last year. There are only 0.32 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared to 2.7 beds on average in other developing countries.

    There is only one doctor per 10,000 people, against an average 11 doctors per 10,000 people in other developing countries.

  • The challenges of recovering from such devastation are tremendous, and in the meantime the troops are finding themselves the health and emergency care providers of first choice in many areas of the country:

    The 249th General Hospital from Fort Gordon, Ga., is the largest and most sophisticated medical facility in eastern Afghanistan, and it attracts patients from Khost and neighboring provinces.
    Spc. Stephen Scull, a hospital clerk, said that as of March 4, the 249th General Hospital has seen more than 650 patients in the surgical ward alone. In addition, it treated more than a hundred trauma patients.

    The hospital staff also set up regular clinics just outside the camp. At one such clinic Tuesday, Army medics saw 85 patients.

    Sgt. 1st Class James Gillen, a medic with C Company, 307th Logistics Task Force, said that often American doctors are the last hope for these patients.

    "A lot of times ... they come expecting a miracle," Sgt. Gillen said.

    Patients from remote villages, who have never seen a doctor, hitchhike for days on elaborately decorated "jingle trucks" to see a doctor at the hospital. Some in critical condition can be flown in by medevac helicopters.

    It is not surprising, then, that providing health care services to the population has become one of the most effective tools in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, even in areas that were initially hostile to coalition troops, said Lt. Col. Mark McLaughlin, commander of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Asadabad, in Kunar province on the border with Pakistan.

  • As this BBC report notes, often the Coalition facilities offer the best hope for emergency treatment:

    Cradled in the arms of a US special forces soldier, a fragile young girl is levered on to a Black Hawk helicopter, an American "ambulance of the sky" bristling with machine guns and operated by gun-toting medics...

    Her name is Kamila, and she is eight years old, possibly 10. She has just stepped on a landmine and she is clinging to life.

    The flight to the American field hospital at Camp Salerno, a US base within artillery range of the Pakistan border, takes 20 minutes.

    Treatment in Peshawar, Pakistan, her only other realistic option, would have taken eight hours by land - a journey she would likely not have survived...

    Rushed inside the hospital, where the Stars and Stripes hangs proudly above the operating table, Kamila is sedated, offered more oxygen and given an urgent transfusion.

  • The troops are also trying to help rebuild Afghanistan's education system. Read the story of this Californian National Servicemen who for 15 months was working hard to make a difference from Bagram base:

    Here's a question that won't appear on final exams at engineering school:

    You've just built a makeshift school to house 300 Afghan girls recently liberated from Taliban laws that forbade them an education. When the school opens, 700 girls show up, many willing to stand for hours in 90 degree heat for the chance to learn.
    Jim Anderson recently finished a 15-month stint in Afghanistan where, as an engineer in the Army Reserves, he participated in the U.S. effort to rebuild the country's post-Taliban infrastructure.

    The will and funds exist to build more buildings, but construction material is scarce. Leaving the children to suffer in the hot sun is not an option. What do you do?

    Lt. Colonel Jim Anderson says he couldn't be happier to be home again after 15 months serving as an engineer with the U.S. Army Reserves in Afghanistan, but he's going to miss the excitement, the challenge and the reward of answering questions like this. (Hint: The answer involves leftovers.)

    "It was just amazing that so much was happening, and so quickly," Anderson said from his office at the Conoco-Phillips facility in Santa Maria. "And the amount of building that private enterprise was doing was exceptional ... People really want democracy and they really want free enterprise."
  • Read also this report about the Soldiers of 173rd Combat Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment constructing an 84-kilometer road to their base, which will also link 16 small towns with larger centers. Says Army 1st. Lt. Greg Couterier, Assault and Barrier Platoon leader: "The last time that road was built was 35 years ago by the Russians... [The local are] really happy to have us fixing the road."

  • The troops continue to carry out humanitarian missions throughout the country:

    U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules based in Southwest Asia delivered more than 50,000 pounds of civil assistance cargo to Afghans during four airlift missions May 18 to 30 supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Coalition aircraft airdropped more than 6,000 pounds of humanitarian aid bundles near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on May 30. These air drops were part of the larger civic assistance program Combined Joint Task Force 76 that officials initiated to run concurrent with their maneuver operations.

  • Near the Bagram airbase, the troops have adopted another village:

    About 50 Airmen recently volunteered to organize a container filled with nearly 63,000 pounds of donated supplies for an additional mission here -- the adoption of a village.

    Airman sorted the supplies into groups for males, females, adults and children.

    The Airmen then traveled to a village several miles outside Bagram to distribute the supplies. They delivered bags filled with basic school supplies to about 200 children from Haji Khan Baba, a small village within Afghanistan’s Parwan Province.

    “Each child received his or her own toy and bundle of school supplies,” said 1st Lt. David Knight, a 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron operations officer. “We also dropped off about two pickup trucks full of large bags of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing with the village elder. The toys and school supplies were donated by our troops here and their support system back home. The donated items never seem to stop coming.”
  • The troops also get called on to provide emergency assistance, such as this recent evacuation of 119 Afghans stranded by floodwater on a small island on the Indus River near Mehtar Lam in the Logman province.

  • It's not just the American troops. The French battalion medics have recently been assisting one committed and couragous woman to deliver aid:

    That day FRENCHBAT Lieutenant Colonel de Camaret (Frenchbat medical chairman) was at the head of a very special mission in the south of Kabul near Baburs' tomb.

    The purpose was to deliver medicine, drugs, and medical tools to AWOSA organisation's dispensary. "All the team was concerned and gave a hand to the project" underlines OR1 Attagnant, a fierce looking but careful medic of the French Foreign Legion.

    After a very charming lady presented the doctor the project she is setting up in the south of Kabul, it was decided to do the best to support this program. The lady's name is Mrs. Sima Tabib, and after more than 24 years of exile in Switzerland she came back to Afghanistan a year ago. She founded AWOSA, a non-governmental organization called "Afghan Woman and Orphan Supporting Association". With her own money she built a dispensary in the compound of the house she was born in (a house which has suffered much in 20 years of war). Very concerned about womens health issues, she employs a doctor, Mrs. Amina Shams, and two senior nurses Mrs. Nouria Karimi, and Soheila Ibrahimi. The medical equipment and facilities were made available with the help of a German based non-governmental organization.
  • Lithuanian forces are preparing themselves to take over one of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, leading units from Great Britain, the United States, Iceland and Denmark. "This will the most important mission in the history of Lithuania's military forces," says Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas.

  • And a New Zealand soldier is helping to build the knowledge base at an Afghan hospital:

    Urgently needed medical textbooks on subjects ranging from paediatrics and podiatry to neurology and nursing will soon be on their way to an Afghanistan hospital, courtesy of some New Zealand' medical fraternity and a Territorial Force officer, Dunedin anaesthetist Dr John Wilson.

    Dr Wilson, who, as a Territorial Force soldier belongs to the Otago South Regiment, was the medical officer for a rotation of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction team in Afghanistan last year. He is usually based at either Dunedin or Mercy hospitals.

    "In Bamyan where I was based with the NZPRT I helped train some of the nurses and doctors, and also worked as an anaesthetist. The Taliban destroyed most of their textbooks, and they were desperate for textbooks they could consult, both for on-going teaching or when they needed information during a medical procedure."

    "When I left to return to New Zealand they asked me if I could send them a anaesthetics text book. I talked to people I know in Dunedin about the work the PRT is doing, and the need for medical books, and before long I had quite a pile of them. In all about 150 have been donated, on nearly every medical subject you can think of."

  • Also, this from the New Zealand contingent: "Kiwi money and manpower is bringing some new beginnings to Afghanistan. Work has started on a maternity ward in the local hospital in Bamyan in a project funded by NZAID. Some New Zealand defence force personnel are there for the laying of the first stones."

SECURITY:

  • The authorities are optimistic about the security situation:

    Afghan security officials in the troubled south of the country say Taliban guerrillas are finished as a threat on the battlefield but they will be able to stage ambushes and bomb blasts for some time yet.

    The Taliban insurgency flared this spring after a lull over the snowbound winter months, disappointing many in the government and international community who thought the rebels had been mortally starved of resources and recruits.

    But in Kandahar, one of the provinces where the insurgents have been most active, officials said despite the recent violence, the Taliban were now a nuisance, not a military threat.

  • Afghan forces are also improving security in the Paktika province:

    After a little more than four months of being permanently based here, the Afghan National Army's 3rd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 203rd Corps, is making instability in Paktika Province look like a thing of the past.

    With ANA troops operating out of bases in Shkin, Zormat, Orgun-E, Bermel and Lwara, triumph over anti-Coalition militants in Paktika is becoming more evident…

    In some cases, bases throughout the province that were once Taliban training camps are being taken over by the ANA, said Marine Lt. Col. Tom Beckman, commander of a 17-person embedded training team, who works closely with the Kandak.

    "They're sending a message that we've taken over your base and making it ours," said Beckman. The ANA has played a significant role in bringing stability to the province, Beckman said. "The importance really was putting an ANA face in Paktika Province," Beckman said. Afghans in the province were very receptive to the ANA soldiers when they arrived to the area, Ashraf said…

    What villagers came to understand very quickly was the ANA brought not only security to the province but jobs as well, said kandak commander Col. Anbia, who like many Afghans goes by one name.

    "There are a lot of opportunities for Afghans to find jobs for themselves," Anbia said of the job growth the ANA bases bring to the communities. "Afghans were living in disaster. It was a dark era in the past. Right now, people are recreating a lot of opportunities in Afghanistan. The country is going toward the light."

  • And Afghanistan might be landlocked, but its one nautical boundary is now being surveyed to hopefully prevent future conflicts with its neighbor:

    A joint Afghan-Uzbek team comprising 40 experts has launched a survey to ascertain if the Amo River has really changed its course, leaving blurred nautical boundaries between the neighbours. Additionally, the surveyors will also determine which country islands on both sides of the river are located in. Isles have formed on either side, but there is no clarity yet which country they belong to.

    The surveyors initiated the difficult exercise after residents of riverine areas griped about frequent flooding – reportedly induced by Uzbek ships navigating there. Uzbek officials repudiate the claim, however.

    The mighty Central Asian river has been ravaging verdant farmlands and buildings in a string of northern Afghan villages. The 2500-kilometre-long Amo River flows through vast swathes of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan – sharing a 1,800-kilometer border.

    Commander Juma Gul Gildi, a member of the survey team, said that "Uzbek ships cruising toward Afghanistan make huge waves that damage areas situated close to the river on the Afghan side"...

    In order to prevent Uzbek ships from straying into Afghan waters, he continued, the delegates would thoroughly discuss and identify nautical boundaries between the two countries.

  • Meanwhile, the amnesty program continues to bear fruit:

    The highest level Taliban commander to accept the Afghan government's amnesty offer has urged other Taliban members to take up the offer. After three and a half years on the run, Abdul Waheed Baghrani, a 51-year-old tribal chieftain from the northern Helmand province, recently came down from the mountains and surrendered... In return for surrendering, the American forces have organised aid deliveries to his area and have also offered to carry out reconstruction there. Baghrani is happy for the US military to stay in his country until it is able to defend itself, but only if US troops are always accompanied by their Afghan counterparts when raiding people's homes: "They come here to help us, and they should not do anything bad against our people," he said.

  • And lower level members of the Taliban continue to integrate back into the society:

    Two ex-Taliban insurgents this week began the process of formally renouncing violence and swearing reconciliation to the duly elected government of Afghanistan. They are taking part in the government's Takhim-E Solh, or Strengthening Peace, program. Takhim-E Solh grants amnesty to mid- and low-level insurgents who agree to stop fighting and peacefully enter into civil society.
  • Read the rest of the article to learn how the program works in practice. In other recent developments: "After talks with the 'National Unity Commission' in Paktia province, 250 opposition fighters left the Taleban forces and have returned to peaceful and normal life." In addition, "eleven Taliban leaders including some key figures have joined the reconciliation process in the southern Paktia province." "Former Taliban commander Saifur Rahman Sadiq, alias Safi has surrendered on Sunday [19 June] in the southern Khost province." Mullah Osmanullah Osman, Taliban commander in the Yaqubi district of the Khost province surrendered to authorities on June 28.

  • Also recently, "eighteen opposition commanders affiliated with former prime minister and dissident warlord Gulbudin Hekmatyar have laid down their arms and joined the government" (more on that story here). In Takhar province, former mujahedin leader, Commander Piram Qul, laid down his arms in order to run for parliament. And "six former Jihadi commanders from the southern province of Helmand and the northeastern province of Faryab surrendered arms to the government on June 22." Overall, in the recent progress of the initiative,

    about 255 former jihadi commanders have so far voluntarily disarmed to join the upcoming parliamentary polls, says JEMB's spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin... The spokesman said the commanders had surrendered more than 2,000 heavy and light weapons... Meanwhile, a spokesman for the New Beginning for Afghanistan said 28 provinces had joined the DDR process, the second phase of which was started on June 2 from Nangarhar. The spokesman said 2056 different heavy and light weapons had been collected during the process.
  • Most recently, four commanders in the Badakhshan province, and another 20 local commanders have laid down their arms in the Ghor province on 30 June in order to run in the coming election.

  • Read also about this successful peacemaking effort:

    A conflict which has raged between neighbouring tribes in eastern Afghanistan for six decades, resulting in 60 deaths in the last year alone, has been resolved through the mediation of the United Nations mission in the country, a mission spokesman said today.

    Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that the Balkhel tribe of Paktya and the Sabari tribe of Khost last Wednesday agreed to unconditionally accept the decision of the Jirga of Greater Paktya Elders to end the conflict.

    The settlement came after two months of negotiations involving UNAMA and the three governors of Greater Paktya, who last week held a joint ceremony to announce the pact, along with the Jirga and representatives of coalition forces.

    An immediate benefit of the agreement will be an increase of construction activities in Greater Paktya, Mr. Edwards said. UNHCR has announced its interest in supporting the rebuilding of the road linking the two communities, which has been closed for the last eight years.

  • The Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme has officially officially ended on June 30:

    The DDR has processed a total of 61,417 former Afghan militia force (AMF) members of which 52,509 have been assisted with reintegration package so far.

    The DDR, which started in November 2003 with Japan as the lead nation and major donor, has so far cost the international community more than US $100 million and is considered a major step towards restoring national security.

    "After today no one will be allowed to use or move weapons other than security organisations or those licensed to do so by the ministry of interior," Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said. According to UNAMA, 34,726 light and medium weapons have been collected under the DDR process, of which 14,754 have been handed to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), with the remainder held by the Afghan National Army.

  • Here's one story from the New Beginnings Program:

    Sitting with six fellow commanders, Mohammad Daud, a 45-year-old ex-militiaman shared his impressions of a recent trip to Japan, as the former combatants gathered to receive certificates of demobilisation in the capital, Kabul.

    Daud was a leading commander in the southeastern Paktia province, fighting against both the invading Soviet army and later against the Taliban over the past two decades. He is now planning to fight against poverty and illiteracy in his hometown of Jaji, a border district in south of Paktia.

    "We are already too late. The people of Japan collectively started rehabilitation of their country right after the World War II but we are not making any progress in the last three years that war has been over," Daud said while his friends nodded in agreement, sharing Daud's concerns.

    "I think, we should work on education and agriculture for a sustainable development," he said. The ex-commander added that he was impressed with the agricultural and education systems in Japan when he visited Tokyo as part of a 10-day orientation trip organised by the UN-backed Afghanistan New Beginning Programme (ANBP), the official name of Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration of former combatants [DDR].

    ANBP has launched an initiative under the Commanders Incentive Programme (CIP) which grants ex-militia commanders financial assistance, or may send them abroad for short visits to learn from other experiences of post-conflict reconstruction.

    Daud is one of 11 former militia commanders from different military units around the country, that have been sent to Japan in two groups so far.

    He said he was impressed with Japan's forestation and industry, expressing deep concern that forests had disappeared in many parts of Afghanistan after decades of lawlessness and war.

    "Now let's fight against those who cut the trees and make their business, let's urge the local authorities and the tribal councils to encourage people to plant threes," he told other commanders who were on the same visit to Japan.
  • Now, USAID is contributing another $3.5 million towards continuation of this valuable program.

  • Demobilization also affected thousands of Afghanistan's children soldiers:

    Sitting around a tailor's table in a tiny shop, Najeebullah and his friends say they are proud to have once been child soldiers because now they are the only literate young people with jobs in Amirbai village, 35 km north of Kunduz, provincial town of the province with the same name in the north of the country. The group has been demobilised as part of a UN-backed programme after several years of life under arms...

    He's one of an estimated 8,000 child soldiers identified by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in post-war Afghanistan. Nearly 4,000 of these children have been demobilised and are actively involved in some form of rehabilitation under a UNICEF programme. The programme also addresses the needs of street children who have missed school through poverty or years of displacement.

    Najeebullah never went to school but managed to learn how to read and write in less than a year after joining an intensive literacy course which is obligatory for all demobilised child soldiers. He chose tailoring as a skill he wanted to master and now, six months later, he earns his living making clothes. He feels he has a future for the first time in his life.

    "I will soon join school as I can read and write now and will also open my own tailoring shop now that I have acquired a profession," he beamed while putting the finishing stitches in a pair of trousers he had made for a young relative.

  • Training and equiping of Afghan security forces continue. The authorities are setting up a special police unit in Kabul. Meanwhile, there is more advanced training for Afghan police:

    The Afghan National Police graduated 11 police investigators from a course in crime scene investigation June 6...

    The training included classroom instruction and hands-on, practical exercises. Investigators learned about Afghan law and criminal procedures, protection and documentation of crime scenes, proper collection and preservation of evidence, crime scene photography and other fundamentals. They also completed a written examination.

    The Ministry of the Interior officially designated District 10 as the “model” station for Afghan police reform because of its strategic location in the capital. “U.S. civilian police mentors assigned to the District 10 ‘model’ police station project work alongside their Afghan counterparts daily,” said Dave Barrington, a U.S. police mentor with DynCorp International.

  • 2,400 recruits a month are now joining the Afghan army through National Army Volunteer Centers. "There are 31 operational NAVCs, with four more under construction. One will be located in each of the country's 34 provinces, with two in the capital city of Kabul." And so, Army training continues to turn raw and enthusiastic recruits into a professional fighting force:

    As Afghanistan marches toward becoming a fully democratic nation, the Afghan National Army has marched another class of volunteer soldiers to graduation from basic training.

    Marking the 36th class to complete the training, 591 soldiers graduated from the Kabul Military Training Center on June 12.

    Several countries are involved in mentoring the Afghan basic training instructors, including the United States.

    "We are simply here to guide and give direction. We're like quality control," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Billy Rankin, mentor for the KMTC chief of staff. "It's their army -- some suggestions they like and some they don't like."

    This class was an infantry kandak (battalion). The soldiers learned basic tasks such as patrolling, conducting an attack, combat operations and marching.

    Their training is not finished, however; they still have to complete a field training exercise conducted by the Canadians and will then report to their assignments. This class will bring the ANA strength to 24,710 soldiers when they finish training.
  • The growth and increasing professionalism and effectiveness of the Afghan army is in large part due to men like Sgt. Maj. Shamsadin, the command sergeant major of the 3rd Brigade, 201st Corp, a former refugee who returned home to serve in the new army right from the beginning, and has been recently given the official title "Grandfather of the Army" by the Ministry of Defence.

  • In other recent development, "the Afghan National Army met another milestone recently when the first class of second-degree deminers graduated from a five-week advanced training course."

  • Security forces are also growing more diverse:

    Faozia Mirakai grins widely and holds her gun as if she might drop it. But if threatened, she says, she could be a killer.

    Mirakai wears a green camouflage uniform and tan boots. The young woman punches her fists into the air alongside the Afghan men training to be anti-drug officers. She walks with a slight swagger. She jumps with the men, tries to do one-armed push-ups with them and marches with them. She makes faces at the men and jokes around.

    "Don't try to hit me," Mirakai says, pointing a Czech rifle in their direction.

    In most countries, the sight of a female police officer would hardly be interesting. But this is Afghanistan, where women were banned from working for years. Many women still are forced to stay at home. Many still wear burqas, which cover everything, even a woman's eyes.
  • As the report notes, the work of female anti-drug enforcers is essential because of Afghanistan's cultural sensitivities, which prohibit male officers from searching women suspects - 20 of which have been arrested so far, smuggling drugs under their burquas.

  • Thanks to international assistance, 911 is coming to Afgahanistan:

    The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International announced its participation in a project to create Afghanistan's first emergency telephone system...

    The project is being coordinated by the Kabul City Police (KCP) Communications Center Working Group, a joint effort of the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior, the KCP, Afghan Wireless Communication Company, the Roshan Wireless, Task Force Phoenix (the 76th Infantry Brigade, Indiana National Guard, U.S. Army), the German Police Support Projektburo, and the U.S. State Department Police Assistance program.

    The KCP Communications Center project will support this effort by developing a phone system using the existing cellular phone network to provide capabilities similar to 9-1-1 in the U.S. KCP will serve as the model for this new emergency call center.

  • Construction of infrastructre for Afghan security forces also continues:

    The Military Entrance Processing Station in Kabul is the place where all new recruits will begin their journey to become Soldiers in the Afghan National Army. The MEPS, which is now under construction, is also where some Afghan workers are taking their place in the reconstruction of their country. Maj. Isaac Washington, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ resident project manager for the MEPS facility, said, “Over the next six months, we’ll construct some 12 buildings from nothing to something at a cost of approximately $9 to $10 million. When the buildings are completed at the end of this year, the Afghan National Army will be able to house and feed 2,400 recruits.”
  • The center is only one small part of a bigger picture: overall, "the Afghanistan Engineer District (AED) of the US Army Corps of Engineers has built or is currently building facilities at 11 installations to house 35,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in different provinces," according to Army spokesman James Yonts. "These facilities would be constructed in Kabul, Kandahar, Khost,Gerdez, Mazar-e-Sharif and Qalat... The projects costing over 814 million US dollars, according to the spokesman, would cover constructing 421 barracks, 73 administrative buildings, 12 dining facilities and 225 support facilities, which include morale, welfare and recreation such as gyms and community centers."

  • Also recently, "President Hamid Karzai has inaugurated a 70 million US dollar military compound in the southern city of Gardez, capital of Paktia province. The huge compound for the 203rd unit of the Afghan National Army can house as many as 4,500 soldiers. Corps commander Rahmatullah Raufi said that the project was financed with some of the 250 million dollars pledged by the United States for the Afghan army."

  • Taliban also continue to be disarmed:

  • On 4 June, an arms caches was recovered in the Dandi Patan district in the southern province of Paktia;

  • On June 11, two Taliban bombmakers have been identified by the locals in near Deh Rahwod and turned over to the authorities;

  • "Troops from the 207th Corps of the Afghan National Army seized three trucks loaded with arms and munitions in the western province of Ghor on June 28, said defence ministry spokesman Zaher Murad";

  • "Officials in the southeastern Khost province claimed recovering huge quantity of explosives and a cache of arms in Mandozai district on Monday [June 27]. The arms were dumped in a madressah, which was abandoned a year ago. On tip off, police raided the building and recovered 400 kilograms of explosives besides a number of rocket bullets, wires, bomb fuses, batteries, remote control bombs and two official number plates";

  • On June 29, "security officials in the northern Herat province claimed unearthing a dump of arms and ammunitions in Injil and Guzra districts of the province... 250 light and heavy arms including anti-tank and personnel mines had been recovered over two days".

  • In other recent security successes:

  • Killing of 10 Taliban in two days of clashes with security forces in the Zabul province in late May;

  • The capture by the Afghan army of two high-ranking Taliban commanders: "Hajji Sultan, the former Taliban military commander for the western zone of Afghanistan covering Farah and Nimruz Provinces and the Shindand region... [and] Mullah Muhammad Rahim, a former deputy frontline commander from western Afghanistan." Both are accused of orchestrating a string of terrorist attacks;

  • "Three insurgents were captured and one was killed... following an ambush of Afghan and coalition forces south of Qalat in Afghanistan's Zabul province" on May 5;

  • The arrest on June 8 of Mullah Abdul Razak, Taliban leader in Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar; "[he] was handed over to coalition forces after being caught traveling in a taxi when troops at a checkpoint recognized his face from a list of photographs of wanted suspects";

  • Seven Taliban fighters killed in an unsuccessful ambush of a joint Coalition-Afghan patrol in Paktika province on June 9;

  • Two suspected Taliban arrested during a crackdown in Kandahar province on June 9; BM-12 missiles were recovered from one of the arrested;

  • Three roadside bombs discovered and defused by the Coalition and Afghan forces around the country on June 13; another three bombs defused on the same day in Kandahar;

  • Seven Taliban killed, 13 wounded and 2 arrested following a firefight with the Afghan army in Mian Nishin district of Kandahar province on June 15;

  • "Government forces claimed Thursday [June 16] they had seized sensitive documents containing the satellite phone number of elusive Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar. The documents were recovered from five Taliban fighters including a Taliban held a day earlier in Gillan district of the southern Ghazni province. The arrests came during a hunt for combatants hiding in the area. Major Dost Mohammad told Pajhwok Afghan News Mullah Naqib, formerly a police chief in a district of the province, was captured at the end of a weeklong search operation for insurgents in the region. He added the search also yielded a truckload of weapons seized from Taliban remnants in Gillan, Maqur and Nawa districts. Earlier during the operation, the intelligence chief of Jawzjan said, Taliban Commander Hazrat Ali was also arrested from the Gillan district";

  • Two Taliban commanders, Abdul Haq and Mullah Idrees, captured by the Afghan army in south west of the country on June 17;

  • Between 15 and 20 Taliban killed in an airstrike called following an ambush on a joint American-Afghan patrol in Helmand province on June 19; eight more Taliban killed the same day by the government forces in Zabul province;

  • The arrest on June 20 of three Pakistanis planning to assassinate the US Ambassador in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad;

  • The killing of over 100 Taliban in three days of fighting in the Daychopan district of Zabul province between 21 and 23 June; another 80 killed over the following few days;

  • 60 Taleban killed and 30 captured in the Mian Shin district of the southern province of Kandahar on June 21; you can read this extensive report from the operation here;

  • Four roadside bombs neuralized throughout the country on June 24; "'Afghan and coalition forces routinely find these devices in Afghanistan,' said Army Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force 76. 'Our forces are getting better at spotting the signs of their presence. ... ( The IEDs ) often are turned in to us by Afghans who are tired of the senseless violence that they cause.' According to O'Hara, the devices usually are placed and detonated by individuals with no real animosity toward coalition forces. 'We often find that the person who places the device or attempts to detonate it is motivated by nothing more than money or fear of reprisal against his loved ones if he refuses the terrorists' demands,' he explained";

  • Two Taliban commanders arrested on June 26/27 in the Helmand province;

  • Ten suspected Taliban fighters arrested in the Farah province on June 28;

  • Five Pakistanis arrested on June 29, on the road to Kandahar, accused of planning terrorist attacks;

  • "Afghan National police, with assistance of US-led Coalition Troops, have killed five suspected Taleban militants and detained nine others in southern Zabul province since June 2".

  • Afghan authorities are making slow and steady progress in the fight against drugs:

    Afghanistan has embarked on a concerted campaign to tackle its booming narcotics trade, the counter narcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi announced, following an event that included the burning of 30 mt of refined and raw opium on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, on Sunday [25 June].

    The move marked the United Nations international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.

    Afghanistan produced 4,600 mt of opium in 2004, accounting for 86 percent of the total world supply of the highly addictive drug. According to the ministry of interior, Sunday's ritual incineration of drugs seized in recent months was the largest ever. The previous record,13.8 mt of cocaine was burned in Colombia only last month.

    Afghan officials say their 'get tough' policy is bearing fruit and that they are seizing ever-increasing amounts of drugs. Up to 50 drug traffickers are currently being tried in Afghan courts.

    Qaderi said the country was beginning to turn the tide against drugs and hoped for a 30 percent reduction in poppy cultivation this year.

  • With foreign assistance, the authorities are trying to dissuade farmers from growing opium:

    The government is mulling to invest $2 million in Ghor province to discourage poppy cultivation and provide alternative sources of income to the people.

    The amount being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will be spent under the National Emergency Employment Programme (NEEP) to provide maximum employment opportunities to the people of that province.

    A team comprising the Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Hanif Atmar, agriculture experts and provincial officials visited the target areas on Sunday [25 June].
  • Other farmers are already receiving assistance: "The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has distributed more than 45 metric tonnes of improved seeds and 232 tons of fertiliser to farmers in the southern province of Urozgan. Ministry spokesman Abdul Latif Rasouli said that 3,500 farmers had benefited from the assistance, provided by USAID, which is part of efforts to end opium poppy cultivation through improved cultivation of alternative crops."

  • In other recent successes in the war on drugs:

  • Recovery and destruction in southern Helmand and eastern Nangarhar provinces in early June of 21 tonnes of opium, 180 kilograms of heroin and a significant amount of chemicals used in processing drugs;

  • "Security officials seized 850 kilograms of hashish in the Spin Boldak district of the southern Kandahar province" in early June;

  • On June 11, "six smugglers were arrested in the southwestern Helmand province along with 1,690 kilograms of opium";

  • Two days later, again in the Helmand province, the authorities busted another ring and seized four tons of heroin;

  • On June 16, "police had seized 89 kilograms of narcotics at two different points on the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway"; also "police in the southern Zabul province arrested two alleged smugglers along with 180 kilograms of heroin";

  • More than 30 heroin labs destroyed in Jalalabad on June 19;

  • "Counter-narcotics officials claimed seizing 500 kilograms of hashish in the Niazi Kala area of the Gardez city in Paktia" on June 21;

  • On 25 June, the police in Helmand province have seized 4 tons of opium and 20 kg of heroin, seizing six people in the operation;

    334 kg of opium
    seized on June 27 in two incidents in Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces;

  • In late June, "police destroyed seven heroin manufacturing laboratories in the Argo district of the northeastern Badakhshan province. Badakhshan police chief Colonel Shah Jehan Noori said labs were wiped out in the villages of Aab Barek, Dah Dara, Hazar Mashi, Tajikha over three days. Twenty one kilogrammes of opium and four kilogrammes of heroin were also recovered during the crackdown".

So much still remains to be done, but so much has already been achieved over the past three years. Air Force Gen. Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong, has recently shared his impressions of Afghanistan's recent journey:

Two or three years ago, Foglesong said, he'd drive through the Afghan capital of Kabul and see groups of older men on street corners, but not much else. Six months later, young men began appearing, many of them opening up shops and bringing their families along. A year later, young women and children -- long hidden from view under the Taliban regime -- began walking around.

"You could feel the town come alive. It's vibrant now," the general said. "It's a refresher course for me in national enthusiasm to see what has happened in Afghanistan over the last two or three years."

Foglesong said he's convinced the Afghan people never want to return to the days of oppression when the Taliban ruled with an iron fist and terrorists operated freely.

"They have this taste of freedom now, and I don't think they'll ever go back," he said.

But they will need plenty of our support and encouragement. The worst disservice that the international media can do to Asia's newest democracy is to accentuate the negative and thus convince everyone that Afghanistan is a hopeless basketcase that's not worth our efforts. The long suffering people of Afghanistan deserve better than that.

As always, if you have any tips for future editions, please email goodnewsafghanistan “at” windsofchange “dot” net.

4 TrackBacks

Tracked: July 11, 2005 12:26 PM
Excerpt: Note: Also available from "The Opinion Journal" and Chrenkoff. As always, many thanks to James Taranto, Joe Katzman and all of you for your continuing support. Please also note that as this segment would have...
Tracked: July 11, 2005 2:28 PM
News on the WOT from Another Rovian Conspiracy - St Wendeler
Excerpt: As usual, for some reason you have to read a blog to get actual information about the WOT in Afghanistan. Unless you're interested in the latest celebrity murder or cliches such as "the cycle of violence", can someone explain to me why anyone should ...
Tracked: July 11, 2005 4:30 PM
Coming Home from Don Singleton
Excerpt: I always look forward to Chrenkoff's reports of Good News for Afganistan and Iraq. It is a shame we can't depend on the MSM to report these good news items.
Tracked: July 11, 2005 4:54 PM
Excerpt: It should be noted with much acknowledgement that the Global War on Terror has been, sadly, highly politicized since the very outset of the invasion of Afghanistan. Therefor, this is a call to all Blue State Conservatives, wherever you may...

4 Comments

Afghanistan has been adopted by the international aid community. Why? Because the Afghan government allows it. Under the Taliban, millions may have died from privation but the international community had very little access.

Running only one primitive country is almost more than the developed world can do. The need is unlimited. Multiply that need by a thousand and you see why the developed world can't take care of the primitive world. The needs are too great. Aid organizations are oriented toward getting a country back on its feet. But what if the country has no feet or legs?

As long as dysfunctional governments like the Taliban, or socialist North Korea, continue to rule the primitive world, the needs will grow greater and access will be very limited.

Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Afghanistan and now to Iraq, was an AFS exchange student to California from Afghanistan in the 1970's and later became the architech of our post-9-11 policy in that region.

Hosting or going abroad for a year is the best way ordinary people can affect the world. Its something many of us can do to build a better world. I may not be able to go to Iraq, but I know how to be a parent. My wife and I hosted a Philippino Muslim boy this year. We're looking for a family to host a girl from Egypt starting in August. See http://www.usa.afs.org/

At www.slate.com shortly after the September
11 attacks on our nation. Jacob Weisburg wrote:

“Daniel Ellsberg … once said that he doubted that anyone in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration could pass a freshman course in Vietnamese culture and politics. “It turns out that there is someone in the George W. Bush administration who could not only pass a freshman course in Afghan culture and politics, but could also easily teach one—and probably has. As it happens, the lead National Security Council official dealing with the region is one Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born scholar of both the Middle East and military affairs. ... "Zal," as his friends call him, originally visited America as an AFS student. Khalilzad left Afghanistan for good when he won a scholarship to attend the American University of Beirut in the 1970s. He subsequently did graduate work at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D. in 1979.

Just wondering if I can link to your site on mine. I just popped in and like what I see. Let me know. Very informative and good writing. Sends a message of hope that so many mainstream media outlets seem to lack these days, mainly because they choose to ignore it!
Thanks!

No permission needed to link to us in whatever way you like, Zipcard... go right ahead!

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