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August 1, 2013 

Karzai backers seek delay in Afghan vote
The Washington Post By Kevin Sieff August 1, 2013
Kandahar, Afghanistan - With a major election just eight months away, power brokers across southern Afghanistan are pressing President Hamid Karzai not to leave office on schedule in 2014, a decision that could complicate the U.S. withdrawal.

Afghanistan-USA close to finalize bilateral security agreement
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 5:35 am Khaama Press
According to reports, Afghan and U.S. officials have almost reached to an agreement to finalize the bilateral security agreement which spells out the presence of American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Afghanistan-ISAF reach agreement to waive customs fines, penalties
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 2:12 pm Khaama Press
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Thursday announced that the government of Afghanistan has agreed to waive penalties charged by customs department.

US, Pakistan Pledge Deeper Dialogue
Sharon Behn VOA News August 1, 2013
ISLAMABAD — The United States and Pakistan are pledging to resume a high-level strategic dialogue on security issues. The pledge came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad to discuss a range of security, regional and bilateral issues.

Selection Process For ECC Membership to Begin After Eid
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Soadat 31 July 2013
After the selection process for the IEC membership ended, the Selection Committee (SC) and head of Commission on Monitoring and Implementation of the Constitution (CMIC) on Wednesday said that they will recommend the names of qualified and honest candidates to President Karzai for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) membership after Eid-ul-Fitr.

Manawi's Term as IEC Chief Ends, New Members Take Charge
TOLOnews.com By Karim Amini 31 July 2013
Fazil Ahmad Manawi's term as the Chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) came to an end on Wednesday. He served as the IEC chief for six years. Before leaving the office Mr. Manawi urged the newly appointed Commissioners to maintain the independency of the IEC at all times and reminded them of conducting the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Council of Sikhs Demand Reservation of Seats in the Afghan Parliament
TOLOnews.com By Rafi Sediqi 31 July 2013
The Central Council of Sikhs of Afghanistan (CCSA) and a number of civil society institutions on Wednesday raised their voice against the Afghan government and Parliament and accused them of violating the Constitution by ignoring the legal rights and legitimate demands of the Sikh minority.

Despite West’s Efforts, Afghan Youths Cling to Traditional Ways
The New York Times By Azam Ahmed and Habib Zahori July 31, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - Walk through the streets of Kabul and evidence of the West’s decade-long war literally clings to the Afghan youth: the American labels emblazoned on their shirts and jeans, the stylish sunglasses they wear, the cellphones they clutch to update their lives on Twitter and Facebook. To those who like to think that the foreign

4 Afghan policemen killed in friendly fire in east province
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Four Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel were killed when the country's air force conducted an attack in eastern province of Nangarhar overnight.

Coalition admits its left unexploded munitions behind as it closed Afghan bases
McClatchy By Jay Price July 31, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has agreed to do a better job of cleaning up deadly unexploded munitions from its bases and firing ranges as it closes them down after the U.N. accused them of leaving dangerous explosives behind, a coalition spokesman wrote Wednesday in an emailed statement.

4 killed in checkpoint attack in Western Afghanistan
QALA-E-NAW, Afghanistan, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- One policeman and three militants were killed early Thursday morning when Taliban militants launched an attack on a police checkpoint in western Afghan province of Badghis, police said.

Afghan Province Upset At Being Left Out Of Touted Rail Network
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
KABUL -- Residents of a remote northeastern Afghan region are adamant that they won't let go of their chance of becoming a future economic hub.

Afghanistan’s next conflict: India vs. Pakistan
Analysis: As the Obama administration flubs peace talks, the risk is rising of proxy war between South Asia’s two nuclear rivals
Global Post By Jason Overdorf July 31, 2013
NEW DELHI, India - As 2014 approaches, the Obama administration is busy trying to keep its promise of extracting most US troops from Afghanistan.

Afghan Mullah Arrested Over Fatwa To Kill Woman For Adultery
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
KABUL -- Afghan police say they have arrested a village mullah after a woman was publicly executed in accordance to a fatwa issued by the religious authority in northwestern Badghis Province.

Afghan Radio Station Dedicated To Women Shut Down
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
SAR-E POL, Afghanistan -- The owner of an Afghan radio network dedicated solely to women says one of its regional stations has been shut down after he refused to pay bribes to officials.

40 Afghan, Iranian asylum-seekers sent to Papua New Guinea
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 11:24 am Khaama Press
The immigration department of Australia on Thursday announced that around 40 asylum-seekers, mainly Iranian and Afghan men, were flown from Australia’s Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island Wednesday night to Papua New Guinea.

Hindus, Sikhs of Afghanistan angered by Afghan parliament decision
By GHANIZADA - Wed Jul 31, 7:10 pm Khaama Press
The Central Council of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan along with members of civil society organization urged to allocate a seat for Sikh and Hindu minority in Afghan parliament.


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Karzai backers seek delay in Afghan vote
The Washington Post By Kevin Sieff August 1, 2013
Kandahar, Afghanistan - With a major election just eight months away, power brokers across southern Afghanistan are pressing President Hamid Karzai not to leave office on schedule in 2014, a decision that could complicate the U.S. withdrawal.

In tribal gatherings, protests and private conversations, Afghan leaders from the south have voiced support for an extension of Karzai’s presidency. Some want the April election delayed for several years, arguing that security is so poor that it would limit voter turnout in southern provinces. Others say Karzai is simply the best man for the job and should be allowed to run for a third term — even though the constitution limits him to two.

“The withdrawal of international forces is not the right time for new leadership,” said Kandahar Gov. Toryalai Wesa, suggesting that the election be postponed for about two years. “Karzai should stay in office.”

Karzai has publicly denied that he will remain in power beyond the end of his term, but many international observers are skeptical. Even top Afghan officials, including several in his cabinet, believe that Karzai is planning to delay the election.

U.S. officials say long-term support for Afghanistan, including billions of dollars in aid, could be withheld if the vote is postponed. That message, they say, has been conveyed to Karzai in private meetings.

“I can’t imagine us having an effective transition in 2015 without the single most important thing that has happened in the campaign, which is the elections of 2014,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview last month.

U.S. officials contend that a smooth transfer of power after next year’s election is critical to Afghanistan’s stability. And if Karzai prolonged his presidency, he might raise questions among American officials about whether U.S. troops should remain in support of a government that openly violated a U.S.-backed constitution.

But the recent pleas from Afghanistan’s southern heartland — Karzai’s ancestral home and the source of his power — reveal the pressure the president will have to resist if he is to step aside on schedule.

In June, about 800 tribal elders, religious leaders and government officials attended a meeting at a stadium in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, during which many warned that the Taliban would keep thousands of people in the area from voting if elections were held in April.

“If we have an election next year, only 20 percent of people will vote,” Mawlavi Mehr Dil, an elder who attended the meeting, said in an interview afterward.

In Kandahar province, a similar meeting at a farm in the Arghandab Valley drew about a thousand men. Another gathering in the province, focused on the same topic, was attended exclusively by influential elders.

Karzai’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the recent gatherings.

The south is important in part because it is the birthplace of the Taliban. So if the government cannot keep a grip on it, the insurgency could retake ground. But some southerners have more personal reasons for supporting an extension of Karzai’s rule.

“There’s no other candidate we trust,” said Ahmad Shah Sahil, the head of the Young Movement Association, which helped organize the Arghandab meeting. “We want [Karzai] to change the constitution so he can run again.”

Sahil spends his days working on a laptop plastered with a large photo of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, who was killed in 2011. Sahil lives just a few houses down from another Karzai brother, Shah Wali, in a multimillion-dollar residential neighborhood developed by several members of the Karzai family.

Much of Kandahar bears the imprint of the family’s influence — a source of prosperity and power that many fear could be lost after next year’s election.

Sahil worries that southern Afghanistan’s Pashtuns would lose their power if a northern-born Tajik wins in April. The two ethnic groups have had a historical rivalry.

Resisting the pressure from the south could cost Karzai his tribal bona fides — the source of his family’s standing. Many of the leaders demanding an extension of his presidency played a critical role in keeping him in power over the past decade.

“If the conditions are like this, there might be an election in the cities, but there could not be transparent or clear elections elsewhere,” said Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, a former governor of Helmand and one of the country’s most influential tribal leaders. “I believe it would be appropriate to delay the election for two or three years until there is a proper situation.”

In 2009, Taliban violence and intimidation kept many Afghans away from the polls. The Pashtuns in the south say they were disproportionately affected because of the insurgency’s power in Kandahar and Helmand. Four years later, they say, the situation remains unchanged.

“If elections are held, the Taliban will silence the Pashtun vote. We must delay,” said Haji Agha Lai, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council.

But others say that security has improved and that such a justification for an election delay is merely a cover for Pashtun political interests. U.S. officials say security is good enough to allow for fair elections.

Joshua Partlow and Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.
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Afghanistan-USA close to finalize bilateral security agreement
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 5:35 am Khaama Press
According to reports, Afghan and U.S. officials have almost reached to an agreement to finalize the bilateral security agreement which spells out the presence of American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The two sides have “resolved most issues” and that the agreement will allow for “a limited U.S. counterterrorism force and military advisers,” USA Today reported.

A senior State Department official familiar with the negotiations said, “We’re at the point now where we concluded the text.”

The official speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “We’re in a period of endgame.”

The USA Today has reported that the Afghan leaders have now agreed to allow the U.S. to “maintain legal jurisdiction over its troops in Afghanistan,” a sticking point Washington previously said is non-negotiable.

Assisting the Afghan security forces and building a counterterrorism force to fight al Qaeda and related groups have also been stated in the agreement. However, it is yet not clear if the final agreement receive approval from Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

U.S. officials quoted in USA Today report said that State Department could not make such guarantees in the present agreement, but has been working with Afghan officials to quell any possible objections.

Reports over bilateral security agreement development comes after Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff visited Kabul earlier this month and urged to finalize the agreement by October this month.

Gen. told reporters that he believed Karzai and the U.S. would be able to come to an agreement before October 2013.

Dempsey following his meeting with Karzai said, “I can tell you with great candor and integrity that the conversation today with the president was very positive, and I left convinced that he is as committed as we are to moving ahead with this bilateral security agreement as soon as possible.”

Washington has not announced yet announced how many troops it plans to keep in the country.
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Afghanistan-ISAF reach agreement to waive customs fines, penalties
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 2:12 pm Khaama Press
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Thursday announced that the government of Afghanistan has agreed to waive penalties charged by customs department.

ISAF following a statement said, “The International Security Assistance Force announced today that it has reached an agreement with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regarding issues surrounding the Military Technical Agreement.”

The statement further added, “The Cabinet of Ministers for the Government of Afghanistan has approved the Ministry of Finance’s recommendation to waive penalties and fines associated with customs transit documentation. Through the Joint Coordinating Body of the MTA, ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan will continue to cooperate on this key issue to ensure that both parties’ concerns are addressed.”

“We appreciate the government’s adherence to the Military Technical Agreement. This agreement provides our forces with the freedom of movement necessary to effectively support our Afghan counterparts as they secure the Afghan people. We particularly appreciate the leadership and direct engagement of President Karzai and Minster Zakhilwal in resolving this issue.” said General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander, ISAF.

A dispute escalated between Afghan government officials and United States over customs procedures issues earlier this month, which has resulted in the suspension of US military equipment transportation from Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported.

The customs department of Afghanistan was demanding $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country and that does not have a corresponding , validated customs form.
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US, Pakistan Pledge Deeper Dialogue
Sharon Behn VOA News August 1, 2013
ISLAMABAD — The United States and Pakistan are pledging to resume a high-level strategic dialogue on security issues. The pledge came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad to discuss a range of security, regional and bilateral issues.

Kerry said his visit this week aims to resume high level negotiations on key issues and work with Pakistan’s new leadership on counter terrorism, regional stability, and trade and investment.

He also invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the United States for talks with President Barack Obama.

“In the last few years, we've experienced a few differences," Kerry noted. "I think we came here today, both the Prime Minister and myself, with the commitment that we cannot allow events that might divide us in a small way to distract from the common values and the common interests that unite us in big ways. As we discussed this morning, the common interests far exceed and far outweigh any differences.”

Kerry said meetings this week with Pakistan’s newly-elected civilian leadership were marked by a determination from both countries to resolve issues that have been irritants over the past years.

In recent years, relations have deteriorated over U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal northwest, the mistaken killing of Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border in 2011, and the U.S. raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Washington has been frustrated by Pakistan’s apparent inability or unwillingness to eradicate terrorist safe havens, some of which are allegedly used to launch cross-border attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

With the U.S. troop drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan expected in 2014, Kerry said addressing the threat of cross-border militancy is key. Washington has often pointed to Islamabad's ambiguous stance on terrorist Islamist groups on its soil.

"The choice for Pakistanis is clear: will the forces of violent extremism be allowed to grow more dominant, eventually overpowering the moderate majority? And I ask anybody in Pakistan to ask themselves, how many bridges have those terrorists offered to build? How many schools have they opened? How many economic programs have they laid out for the people? How many energy plants have they tried to build? I think the choice is clear," Kerry said.

Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, said Pakistan's new government had discussed with Kerry its plans on how to tackle internal terrorism,

"On the safe havens, of course we had a very detailed discussion, with our plans, on our overall counterterrorism strategy," Aziz explained, " the All Parties Conference that we are planning to hold, and how the follow up will take place and as it unfolds you will all come to know how we propose to deal with it."

Aziz made clear his government’s rejection of U.S. drone strikes, which many Pakistanis believe are a violation of national sovereignty. But Aziz welcomed the resumption of the strategic dialogue with the U.S.

"Let me state it clearly that we are committed to work together in all these areas in a very pragmatic and positive manner on the basis of respect for each other's interests and concerns," Aziz said.

Pakistani officials also reiterated its pledge to act as a facilitator in talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, aimed at bringing a peaceful resolution to the conflict in that country. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to visit Islamabad later this year.

Kerry has visited Pakistan before as a U.S. senator. This was his first visit as Secretary of State.
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Selection Process For ECC Membership to Begin After Eid
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Soadat 31 July 2013
After the selection process for the IEC membership ended, the Selection Committee (SC) and head of Commission on Monitoring and Implementation of the Constitution (CMIC) on Wednesday said that they will recommend the names of qualified and honest candidates to President Karzai for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) membership after Eid-ul-Fitr.

Meanwhile, the SC and Office of Administrative Affairs and Council of Ministers Secretariat (OAACMS) have asked the civil society institutions to submit the name of one of its members for the ECC membership.

Efforts are being made by the SC to accelerate the selection process and appoint the members to the ECC as quickly as possible.

A member of the SC and OAACMS Chairman said that according to the Law on Authorities and Job Descriptions of the IEC, 15 names would be sent to the President for approval. From among the 15 candidates, five of them would be appointed as members of the ECC for a six years term.

"The SC will start the selection process after Eid-ul-Fitr. Meanwhile, we urge the eligible candidates to send in their applications. We recommend the names of honest, sincere and patriotic individuals to the President," said Gul Rahman Qazikhail, member of the SC and Chairman of the OAACMS.

Additionally, the OAACMS has strongly rejected the allegations made by the civil society institutions with regard to deselecting of one of its members by the SC, and called it "baseless."

"The OAACMS rejects all the allegations made by the civil society institutions and calls them 'baseless.' We have made the selections in a free and fair manner," said Rafee Firdows, spokesman of the OAACMS.

The civil society activists have warned the OAACMS to stop interfering in their matter and let them freely select their choice of candidate.
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Manawi's Term as IEC Chief Ends, New Members Take Charge
TOLOnews.com By Karim Amini 31 July 2013
Fazil Ahmad Manawi's term as the Chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) came to an end on Wednesday. He served as the IEC chief for six years. Before leaving the office Mr. Manawi urged the newly appointed Commissioners to maintain the independency of the IEC at all times and reminded them of conducting the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Before leaving Mr. Manawi accepted that during his chairmanship he had committed some mistakes but did nothing against the nation's interest.

"I hope the institution (IEC) with its power moves forward. The IEC members should always work toward keeping the Commission's autonomy intact," said Mr. Manawi. Meanwhile, the newly appointed Commissioners of the IEC have started working officially Wednesday onward.

The newly appointed IEC members assured that they will conduct the upcoming elections in a transparent and lawful manner.

"We promise that like in the past the Commission did good things, we will do our duties sincerely and honestly," said Sharifa Zurmati, one of the newly appointed members of the IEC.

From among the newly appointed IEC commissioners, one will be elected as the Chairman, one as the Deputy Chairman and another as the Secretary of the IEC. These posts would be filled by means of a voting process.
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Council of Sikhs Demand Reservation of Seats in the Afghan Parliament
TOLOnews.com By Rafi Sediqi 31 July 2013
The Central Council of Sikhs of Afghanistan (CCSA) and a number of civil society institutions on Wednesday raised their voice against the Afghan government and Parliament and accused them of violating the Constitution by ignoring the legal rights and legitimate demands of the Sikh minority.

They claimed that according to the draft Election Law, one seat was reserved for the Hindu minority and Sikhs of Afghanistan in the House of Representatives, however, the Parliament by not including it in the final Law obliterated the article and violated the Constitution.

Meanwhile, Ravi Singh, deputy head of the CCSA, mentioned that the Council had recommended a candidate for IEC membership but the President disregarded their nomination and went ahead selecting others.

The CCSA complained that their rights have always been ignored by the Afghan government and Parliament.

The CCSA also said that in the Article 22 of the Constitution, it has been clearly stated that there should be no discrimination between nationals of the country, but, the government does not want to abide by it. The CCSA is unhappy with the decision as no seat has been reserved for the Hindu minority either in the Parliament or in the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC).

"Reservation of one seat for the Hindu minority in the Parliament is mentioned in the Constitution of Afghanistan, but this article has been deleted from the Law by the Parliament. President Karzai also ignored the nomination of one Hindu candidate for the IEC membership," said Mr. Singh.

"Hindus of Afghanistan are not Indian or Pakistani refugees, they are citizens of Afghanistan, and they have played a constructive role in the preservation of democracy. Why their demands have not been considered?" questions Ahmad Shah Estanakzai, Chairman of the Afghanistan Peace Village.

Meanwhile, a number of civil society institutions have supported the demands of the CCSA and stressed on ensuring the protection of basic rights of Hindu minority in the country.

"According to the laws, Hindus are allowed to fight for their rights, but the government has violated the Constitution of Afghanistan and has failed to honor the demands of the Hindu minority group," said Ajmal Balochzada, a civil society activist.

"Rights of the Hindu and Sikh minorities have always been ignored by the government, none of their demands are ever accepted by the government, we, the civil society institutions firmly support their demands," said Zahra Sepehr, civil society activist.

The CCSA has said that in the past, thousands of Sikhs and Hindu families were living in the country and their humanitarian and legal rights were saved. Now, since their numbers have dwindled and reached seven hundred families, the government is taking advantage of the situation and not granting them their legal rights.
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Despite West’s Efforts, Afghan Youths Cling to Traditional Ways
The New York Times By Azam Ahmed and Habib Zahori July 31, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - Walk through the streets of Kabul and evidence of the West’s decade-long war literally clings to the Afghan youth: the American labels emblazoned on their shirts and jeans, the stylish sunglasses they wear, the cellphones they clutch to update their lives on Twitter and Facebook. To those who like to think that the foreign presence here has left more than spent shells and hollowed-out buildings, what the young people of Kabul wear and value can itself offer a sense of comfort. These trappings of the West, the hope goes, belong to a generation ready to embrace women’s rights, democracy and other ideals that America and its allies have spent billions of dollars trying to instill.

But interviews with dozens of Afghan youth paint a picture of a new generation bound to their society’s conservative ways, especially when it comes to women’s rights, one of the West’s single most important efforts here. Attempts to alter women’s roles in society remain controversial among the younger generation, perhaps the starkest example of the West’s limited influence as coalition forces prepare to withdraw next year.

“If someone thinks that youngsters have changed, they should think twice,” said Amina Mustaqim Jawid, the director of the Afghan Women’s Coalition Against Corruption. “These young men grew up in a war environment. They don’t know about their own rights; how can we expect them to know about their sisters’ rights, their mothers’ rights or their wives’ rights? If they wear jeans and have Western haircuts, that doesn’t mean they are progressive.”

Even in Kabul, one of the most liberal cities in Afghanistan, many young men and women express beliefs that fly in the face of the messages coming from American Embassy outreach efforts. Censorship, particularly when it comes to religious offenses, summons little ire. Many consider democracy a tool of the West. And the vast majority of Afghans still rely on tribal justice, viewing the courts as little more than venues of extortion.

On a recent afternoon, young women gathered on the third floor of a wedding hall, enduring the stifling heat in black niqabs to protest a recently proposed law aimed at protecting the rights of Afghan women. The men remained outside, forming a barricade along the busy street to prevent strangers from entering the hall.

One poster read, “I am a Self-Aware Woman, I Will Not Be Deceived by the Empty Slogans of the West.”

“This law is not only against Islamic values; it is also against all other ethical values,” one protester, Saida Hafiz, said to a crowd of about 200 young women and children assembled in the room. “If we remain silent today, soon our society will be morally corrupted like that of the West.”

Such impressions can be heard throughout the city: in the shared street taxis that cart Kabulis across town, in the bustling cafes of the city’s sparkling Shar-e Naw neighborhood, even on the campuses of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Group taxi rides, which serve as Kabul’s de facto bus system, offer an unfiltered view of the local perspective. On board, men of all ages speak openly about everything from politics to traffic — often in the presence of women.

On a recent evening, a crowd idled downtown along Enhesarat Street, waiting for cars and minivans amid a cacophony of horns and engines. A few men piled into a dusty minivan headed for Taimani 2, an area in West Kabul. As the minivan lurched along the pockmarked roads, they chatted about a recent shoe-throwing fight between two female parliamentarians.

“Who let these women into Parliament?” said an old man with red hair and blue eyes, his knees pressed against his chest. “Women were meant to stay at home.”

A young man seated beside him, holding books on his lap and dressed in a blue T-shirt and gray pants, nodded in agreement.

On another trip, from the neighborhood of Kolola Pushta back downtown, a similar scene unfolded. A young student from the Afghan-Korea Vocational Institute, dressed in a blazer and slacks, brought up a recent Western public art project, where young men and women doled out pink balloons to passers-by.

“Did you see what those girls were wearing?” he asked another passenger, citing the women’s short sleeves and fitted pants. “If my sister dressed like that, I would kill her.”

Protests proliferated in the days after the bill concerning women’s rights was introduced. Though lawmakers almost immediately blocked it, given the outcry from religious leaders, supporters promised to reintroduce the legislation, setting off a wave of debate. The measure would essentially cement rights that have ostensibly been in place through presidential decree for several years — including protections against child marriage, polygamy and violence against women.

About 200 male students flooded the gates of Kabul University, the nation’s most prestigious public university, calling for an end to the bill and the presidential decree.

Gathered with a small group of friends after the protest, which he did not attend, Mohammad Taib, 19, said the draft was in conflict with Islam. “T

hose who are pushing for the approval of the law, they are doing it to make Westerners happy,” Mr. Taib said. “Those with independent ideas are strictly against it.”

His friend

Mohammad Haroun, added: “I believe in women’s rights, but in strict accordance with Islam.”

In reality, a lot of what is thought to be Shariah law in Afghanistan is actually tribal tradition. Some of the most severe cultural practices, like the selling of young girls to pay off debt, are elements of Pashtun code that would be unacceptable in most other Islamic countries.

“That’s a huge problem,” said Din Mohammad Gran, the dean of Kabul University’s Shariah law school, who does not support the women’s rights bill. “Some people have a misinterpretation of Islam that they learned from the wrong sources.”

While conservative voices are easy enough to find in and around the capital, Kabul is not without its progressive pockets. Groups like Afghanistan 1400, a collection of young Afghan leaders committed to social and political change, are often cited as the vanguard of civic activism.

Corporate workplaces have also become surprising petri dishes for quiet activism. At Tolonews, one of the country’s largest television news organizations, men find themselves working for women as economic realities scuttle normal social dynamics.

This, in part, reflects what some observers say is the chasm between the public and private behavior of many Afghans, who are not as conservative as they seem.

“Our traditions and conventions are telling us one thing, and the realities on the ground are telling us something else,” said Saad Mohseni, the founder of Tolonews. “People are actually acting in a very different way from how they are talking.”

Some young Afghan women have taken the issue head-on, opting to speak out publicly for their rights. While they know their struggle lies along the outer edge of the accepted social protests for women, activists like Noor Jahan Akbar have adopted the long view.

“After 30 years of war, what do you expect?” asked Ms. Akbar, a young blogger who helped organize a recent demonstration supporting the bill. “A mind-set built over 100 years takes longer than 10 years to change.”

Ms. Akbar and about 100 other women and a handful of men began their protest one morning near the entrance to the Afghan Parliament, shouting slogans from a megaphone and carting banners.

As the day wore on, whispers circulated that the Shariah law students were coming to violently upend the protest. Police officers massed along the periphery, their battering rods and plastic shields raised.

Suddenly, hundreds of men emerged from behind the police, shouting chants and carrying banners. The crowd easily eclipsed Ms. Akbar’s protesters, snarling traffic along the road.

But these demonstrators were not focused on women’s rights. They were riled up in support of a Kabul University dean accused of mistreating minority students.

Even as the women spoke out, these masses marched past, largely oblivious to their words.
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4 Afghan policemen killed in friendly fire in east province
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- Four Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel were killed when the country's air force conducted an attack in eastern province of Nangarhar overnight.

"The insurgents attacked ANP checkpoints along Kabul-Torkham highway in Bati Kot district at around 10:00 p.m. local time Wednesday. The police called in airpower. The Afghan Special Force helicopters arrived at the scene. It fired missiles killing several militants," the provincial government said in a statement.

It said the choppers mistakenly targeted a nearby ANP checkpoint as a result four cops were killed and two others wounded.

An investigation kicked off into the incident, it said, adding details will be released to media afterwards.

The Taliban insurgent group has intensified attacks since late April when they launched rebel offensive against Afghan troops and about 98,000 NATO-led forces stationed in the country.

More than 2,000 ANP personnel have been killed in Taliban-led attacks over the past four months across the country, Afghan officials said.
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Coalition admits its left unexploded munitions behind as it closed Afghan bases
McClatchy By Jay Price July 31, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has agreed to do a better job of cleaning up deadly unexploded munitions from its bases and firing ranges as it closes them down after the U.N. accused them of leaving dangerous explosives behind, a coalition spokesman wrote Wednesday in an emailed statement.

The International Security Assistance Force also will re-examine bases that already have been demolished to make certain unexploded ordnance hasn’t been left behind, the spokesman said.

So-called “explosive remnants of war” have emerged in the past few months as an increasing danger to civilians, in particular children. In the first half of the year, nearly 150 people were killed or injured when such munitions detonated, according to a report issued Wednesday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA. That’s a jump of 53 percent from the same period in 2012. Nearly 80 percent of the victims were children.

United Nations demining officials told McClatchy in July that they believed the increase was mainly related to the closing of the hundreds of small ISAF bases as the coalition prepares to end its combat mission by the end of next year.

Locals flock to such bases after they’re demolished, looking for anything they can use or sell.

In the report, the U.N. mission makes several recommendations for ISAF, including that it conduct a comprehensive review of every base and firing range closed or handed over to Afghan security forces, including informal ranges.

Lt. Col. William Griffin, an ISAF spokesman, wrote in an emailed statement that ISAF was taking the issue seriously and had the same goals regarding the protection of civilians as the U.N. mission.

“We acknowledge the recommendations that UNAMA makes and will work to incorporate those recommendations into our plans and procedures,” Griffin wrote. “Both UNAMA and ISAF are mandated by the U.N. Security Council and maintain the same goal: to mitigate and end civilian casualties as thoroughly as possible.”

U.N. officials said last month that ISAF commanders had been evasive about how well the bases and ranges had been cleared of dangerous material, and that they believed little had been done.

In two cases this year that were so dire that U.N. officials treated them as emergencies, the mission funded cleanup operations on firing ranges at closed bases, including one where an accident hurt eight civilians. The emergency cleanups turned up hundreds of pieces of ordnance including grenades and mortar shells.

Griffin wrote that ISAF would thoroughly review its cleanup efforts at firing ranges.

“We have identified potential gaps in procedures, reporting and tracking of firing ranges on current or former ISAF bases and leaders have been directed to increase their oversight in regard to this matter,” he wrote.

ISAF also was taking steps to work with the U.N. mission and other agencies to develop a coordinated and consolidated system for tracking firing ranges, he wrote.

That’s not as simple as it might sound. In late 2011 there were about 800 coalition facilities across Afghanistan, according to ISAF figures.

More than 600 of them, mostly small bases used by a few dozen troops or less, already had been shut down or handed over to the Afghan government by the beginning of 2013, when the focus began shifting to closure of larger bases.

Some of those that were shut down had well-defined formal firing ranges with built-up berms; others had informal areas used for practice and sighting in weapons that might be hard to pinpoint now.

Troops on bases, large and small, use firing ranges to brush up their skills and test weapons.
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4 killed in checkpoint attack in Western Afghanistan
QALA-E-NAW, Afghanistan, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- One policeman and three militants were killed early Thursday morning when Taliban militants launched an attack on a police checkpoint in western Afghan province of Badghis, police said.

"Several militants raided a police checkpoint along Badghis- Herat highway, triggering a gun battle lasting for hours at early Thursday morning. As a result one policeman and three militants were killed," the provincial police chief Sharafuddin Sharaf told Xinhua.

He said two militants and two policemen were also wounded in the attack in the province 555 km northwest of national capital Kabul.

The Taliban-led insurgency has been rampant since the militant group launched annual rebel offensive in April against Afghan government forces and about 98,000 NATO-led troops stationed in the country.

The Taliban urged civilians to stay away from official gatherings, military convoys and centers regarded as the legitimate targets by militants.

On Wednesday evening, one civilian was killed and eight civilians were wounded in a suicide bombing in eastern Paktika province, 155 km south of Kabul.
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Afghan Province Upset At Being Left Out Of Touted Rail Network
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
KABUL -- Residents of a remote northeastern Afghan region are adamant that they won't let go of their chance of becoming a future economic hub.

For the past week dozens of officials and tribal leaders of the northeastern Konduz Province have been in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

They have one plea for the central government: not to modify the planned route of a long-awaited railroad meant to link northern Afghan provinces with Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Construction on the railway was inaugurated in June by the presidents of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

At the time, the 400-kilometer Afghan portion of the route envisioned the railroad heading east through the city of Mazar-e Sharif toward Konduz Province. There, it would bend gently northeast, joining Tajikistan via the Afghan river port of Shir Khan Bandar.

But a new, shorter route, given tentative approval this month by the Afghan Ministry of Public Works, would bypass Konduz by linking the neighboring Afghan province of Balkh to Tajikistan at a point further west along the two countries' common border.

Konduz Governor Muhammad Anwar Jagdalak told RFE/RL that the bypass will undermine the status of his province's Amu Darya River port, Shir Khan Bandar, as a hub for linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan and, beyond that, China and South Asia.

"This new proposed link will prove disastrous for Shir Khan Bandar," he said. "We are petitioning our president to plead that the move violates the principle of balanced regional development [across the country]."

Konduz's demands are backed by officials and notables from the neighboring northeastern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, and Baghlan.

'A Temporary Solution'

Senior Afghan officials in Kabul, however, say the government is not planning to fundamentally alter the proposed project.

Minister of Public Works Najibullah Ojan maintains that the cost and time needed for completing the momentous project have forced authorities to consider building a temporary rail link along the shorter route.

He told RFE/RL that this temporary link will be dismantled once the longer section via Konduz is completed in around four years' time.

"Overall, the government's policy and plans have not changed," he said. "Our ultimate aim is to link with Tajikistan through Shir Khan Bandar. But in the meanwhile we want to generate some revenues and link with Tajikistan through a shorter railroad [from Balkh Province]. You need to understand that this proposed new link is only 50 or 60 kilometers long and the permanent railroad is longer than 300 kilometers."

That view is supported in Tajikistan. Juma Khan Zuhurov, the first deputy minister for transportation, says that a direct link between Balkh and the Tajik rail network will cut the distance by hundreds of kilometers.

But he told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that Kabul has the power to pursue one of any number of options.

"It is their soil and ultimately they can decide what they want to do," he said.

The entire railway is meant first to connect Atamyrat with Ymamnazar in Turkmenistan, before heading east to Akina-Andkhoy in the northern Afghan province of Faryab and onward to Mazar-e Sharif.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has indicated its willingness to fund the Afghan portion of the track, with construction set to begin this summer.

The project is considered a revolutionary leap for Afghanistan, which has seen little railway development since a 7-kilometer track was built in the 1920s and later dismantled.

The ADB has already provided $160 million for a 75-kilometer railway line connecting the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif to Uzbekistan. That project was completed in 2011.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan with additional reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service
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Afghanistan’s next conflict: India vs. Pakistan
Analysis: As the Obama administration flubs peace talks, the risk is rising of proxy war between South Asia’s two nuclear rivals
Global Post By Jason Overdorf July 31, 2013
NEW DELHI, India - As 2014 approaches, the Obama administration is busy trying to keep its promise of extracting most US troops from Afghanistan.

So far, the United States looks set to bungle the negotiations, ceding ground to the Taliban to facilitate a quick exit.

That could push hostilities into a new phase, in which neighboring adversaries India and Pakistan would vie for influence over the mountainous, landlocked nation.

In a worst-case scenario, experts say, if the US were to truly botch the delicate deal-making, the rivalry between the two South Asian nuclear powers could fuel ongoing violence — or even devolve into a proxy war.

From New Delhi’s perspective, the options are hardly appealing. India could increase its involvement in Afghanistan and risk getting sucked into a bloody quagmire, or watch its fragile neighbor become a vassal state of Pakistan.

India and Pakistan’s jostling in Kabul dates back to the Cold War and before.

When war broke out after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan supported rival anti-communist factions. India sided with rebels opposed to Islamic extremism; Pakistan backed the group that eventually became the Taliban.

Since the Bush administration’s 2001 invasion, however, the US has pressured India to limit its Afghanistan role, to prevent Pakistan from withdrawing support for the war and cutting vital US supply lines.

With the US now ready to bring its soldiers home, India and Pakistan are again wrangling for control. Both foresee disaster if the other were to gain the upper hand.

Islamabad fears that India would use Afghanistan to aid insurgents in Pakistan’s nearby Baluchistan province, where rebellion has simmered since the 1970s. Pakistan also regards control over Kabul as vital to its military doctrine of “strategic depth” — under which Afghanistan would serve as a refuge where its leaders could lead a counterattack in the event of an Indian invasion.

For its part, India fears that resurgent Islamic militancy in Afghanistan will stoke violence in Indian-administered Kashmir, by providing a safe haven and training ground for militants like Lashkar-e-Taiba, perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

So far, India looks to be losing the struggle.

New Delhi has earmarked nearly $2 billion for infrastructure projects and humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan since the US invasion. The most recent survey on the subject, a 2009 BBC/ABC News/ARD poll, found that 74 percent of Afghans hold favorable opinions toward India and only 8 percent feel the same about Pakistan. Yet Pakistan's proxies seem poised to take over.

Meanwhile, India is loath to bolster its economic engagement with boots on the ground.

“We have to be very cautious because we don't want to begin to bear the burden of supporting the new Afghan government against the combination of the Taliban and Pakistan by offering security support,” former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told GlobalPost. “Their needs will keep increasing.”

Consistent with that thinking, earlier this month New Delhi formally rejected Afghan President Hamid Karzai's request for weapons to help his regime fight the Taliban. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid obliquely parroted a refrain commonly spoken by US officials: “It is a fragile area, there are stakeholders, there are other people. We don't want to become part of the problem."

Or part of the solution, others contend.

“India's decision not to make weaponry available to Karzai is fundamentally foolish and cowardly,” Indiana University professor Sumit Ganguly told GlobalPost. “Instead of whining about being cut out [of planning for Afghanistan's future], the Indians should act.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan has a head start in the latent battle for Afghanistan.

Already, Pakistan’s Taliban allies control most of Afghanistan's southern countryside. President Karzai — who is perhaps more friendly toward New Delhi than he is toward Washington — faces a likely defeat in national elections next year.

The Obama administration has perhaps unwittingly helped Islamabad as well. By signaling its openness to negotiate with the Taliban in June and leaking the possibility of a complete withdrawal of US troops — the so-called “zero option” — earlier this month, America has further bolstered Pakistan's hopes of regaining control over the war-torn country.

“The Taliban are rubbing their hands with glee, as are the Pakistanis, as are the folks in Rawalpindi [Pakistan's military headquarters],” Indian University’s Ganguly argues. He adds that talk of the “zero option” encourages these forces to simply wait America out.

In June, US Secretary of State John Kerry had to do some fast talking to reassure Karzai and leaders in New Delhi after the Taliban opened an office in Qatar under the name “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" — the title it used before its ouster by US-led forces in 2001.

The so-called red lines Kerry proposed for negotiating with the Taliban included renouncing violence and severing ties with Al Qaeda. But the impression left with observers in New Delhi, Kabul and Islamabad was that the US was looking for a deal to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. And when, in July, The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama was now seriously contemplating a rapid and dramatic withdrawal that would leave no US troops at all in Afghanistan after 2014, some began to wonder if Washington was willing to make that deal regardless the cost.

“It's a source of concern to us about the degree to which US would be willing to buy Pakistan support for a post-2014 structure in Afghanistan,” former Indian Foreign Secretary Sibal said.

Even if the US leaves a few thousand soldiers in Afghanistan, it will be difficult for anyone to cobble together the country's various feuding ethnicities to form a government next year. But if Washington affords Pakistani General Ashfaq Kayani a crucial role in the current peace negotiations and allows the Taliban to enter the fray, rehabilitated as a political party, Indians fear that Islamabad's influence will increase dramatically.

“In that fluid situation [if] you introduce a highly organized, externally supported body like the Taliban, what is the time span during which the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, would keep increasing their hold over Afghanistan?” Sibal said.

Worse still, that might leave Afghanistan looking a lot like it did before Sept. 11, 2001.
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Afghan Mullah Arrested Over Fatwa To Kill Woman For Adultery
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
KABUL -- Afghan police say they have arrested a village mullah after a woman was publicly executed in accordance to a fatwa issued by the religious authority in northwestern Badghis Province.

Provincial security chief Sharaffudin Sharaf told RFE/RL that Mullah Abdulghaffar was arrested on July 30 in the village of Kukchail.

Sharaf said the woman -- known only by her first name, Halima -- was shot dead by her relatives last month after Abdulghaffar issued a fatwa calling for her death.

The woman had allegedly committed adultery. Sharaf did not provide further details.

Islamic leaders enjoy vast influence in Afghanistan's deeply religious society but death-sentence fatwas are not common in the country.
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Afghan Radio Station Dedicated To Women Shut Down
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 31, 2013
SAR-E POL, Afghanistan -- The owner of an Afghan radio network dedicated solely to women says one of its regional stations has been shut down after he refused to pay bribes to officials.

The local Voice of Women station in the northern province of Sar-e Pol was closed two weeks ago.

Shafiqullah Azizi, the owner of the Kabul-based broadcaster, told RFE/RL on July 31 that officials from the provincial Information and Cultural Affairs Department demanded he pay $400 in bribes a month to continue broadcasting.

When he refused, Azizi said the department closed the station.

Local officials have refuted his claims, insisting the station was closed because it lacked the proper permits.

The network broadcasts daily 12-hour programs on women's issues in the Dari, Pashto, and Uzbek languages.
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40 Afghan, Iranian asylum-seekers sent to Papua New Guinea
By GHANIZADA - Thu Aug 01, 11:24 am Khaama Press
The immigration department of Australia on Thursday announced that around 40 asylum-seekers, mainly Iranian and Afghan men, were flown from Australia’s Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island Wednesday night to Papua New Guinea.

The immigration officials further added that the asylum-seekers were accompanied by Australian police and medical staff, and their arrival formally brought into effect a bilateral agreement reached last month that asylum-seekers arriving in Australia on unauthorised boats will be sent to PNG for processing and resettlement there.

The Australian immigration minister Tony Burke said, “Over time, every single person who arrives under these new rules will find the government is true to its word.”

“As of now there are the first 40 people in Papua New Guinea who are realising that the people-smugglers no longer have a product to sell,” Burke quoted by AFP said.

He also added that, “The promise of living and working in Australia, which is sold by people-smugglers before they push people onto the high seas, is no longer a product available.”

The transfer of asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea takes place under an agreement between Australia and PNG, which would cost around US$705 million, with Australia contributing about Aus$489 million.

The prime minister of Papua New Guinea Peter O’Neill said rebuilding of a hospital and renovation of PNG’s universities, which will be jointly funded, and the construction of a key highway between Lae and Madang and a new court building in the capital Port Moresby that Canberra will solely fund.

However, Rights groups have criticised the state of existing facilities at Manus Island, with the United Nations last week saying it was “troubled” by the decision to send asylum-seekers there.

The UNHCR highlighted “significant shortcomings” in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers.
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Hindus, Sikhs of Afghanistan angered by Afghan parliament decision
By GHANIZADA - Wed Jul 31, 7:10 pm Khaama Press
The Central Council of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan along with members of civil society organization urged to allocate a seat for Sikh and Hindu minority in Afghan parliament.

A seat waas considered for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in Afghan election law which was passed by Afghan parliament house, and was signed by president Hamid Karzai.

However the Afghan house of representatives deleted the article mentioning which designated a seat for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in election law.

Deputy chief of Hindus and Sikhs Council Rayel Singh on Wednesday said that if our demands were not met, then we will have to ask the government to exile us from Afghanistan so that we should seek asylum through United Nations in other countries.

Mr. Singh further added that the Hindus and Sikhs minority in Afghanistan faced similar issues and difficulties during the past one decade as other minorities, but the government has not considered to respond to their issues.

He said that the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan had considerable contribution in business and economy of he country, however their shops, properties and houses have been taken by force, and even their rights of citizenship is being taken from them.

Mr. Rayel Singh said that they are being humiliated during their funeral ceremony and while they are cremating their dead bodies, and even they are being attacked during the cremation ceremonies.

He defended the rights of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan for seeking a seat in the lower house of the parliament which is in accordance with the international law and Afghan constitution, and insisted that allocating a seat for Hindus and Sikhs could help them overcome their social, economic and cultural issues.
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