Friday, April 25, 2014

Battle for Afghanistan a fight for young minds

By Colin Freeze- They came in the dark of night to sabotage the empty building with land mines. The explosion roared through the village at 10:30 p.m., and everyone soon knew the outcome: Another school destroyed.

“Now all the students are in their homes … and I hear that the Taliban may want to attack again,” said Faiz Mohammad, a regional director of education, north of Kandahar City. He says he fears for his life.

Since the school was blown up last week, nearly 450 boys and their teachers stay home. Mr. Mohammad says officials are struggling to figure out where else to safely assemble for final exams. “The school is a link between the common people and the government,” he said. “The Taliban want to break the link.”

As insurgents destroy schools in and around Kandahar, Western powers are struggling to build them. One of the “signature” aid projects Ottawa launched last year is a plan to construct, repair or expand 50 Kandahar-area schools before the end of 2011. Five of the projects have been completed so far.

A stalemate of sorts seems to be occurring as both officials and terrorists lock onto schools as extensions of the central government. Arson and rocket attacks against schools became increasingly common in the years after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban, but millions of children returned to class over all.

These days, however, fear is mounting as attacks pile up. Two years ago, the Taliban beheaded a headmaster in front of his children. Last fall, insurgents squirted acid onto the faces of 15 Kandahar schoolgirls and teachers. This spring, there has been a spate of complaints by female students that they have been sickened by gas leaks at schools – possibly deliberate attacks.

Canadian officials remain cautiously optimistic they’ll meet their 50-school target. But they acknowledge the plans face a host of obstacles, not just the Taliban. Kandahar’s literacy rate is said to be below 20 per cent – and below 5 per cent for women.

Not only are there few qualified teachers, there are fewer instructors who can teach teachers, which makes it difficult for Canada to meet another of its pledges: to train 3,000 new teachers by 2011. The program is only expected to be rolled out this fall, with officials saying they had to first await a “precursor” program meant to get teachers who are already working up to speed.

Canadian officials have lately spoken of refocusing aid efforts in Kandahar City and in villages where they can do the most good. Afghan officials, who help build schools under the rubric of a “national-solidarity” program, seem to be making similar calculations.

“They don’t want to make schools [in rural areas] because security has become worse,” says Abdul Latif Ashna, an engineer who works in Kandahar’s rural-rehabilitation department.

He said he had helped build 10 schools, but says there are no new projects. “Our department works only in rural areas. The Taliban is only in rural areas,” he said. “No one can enter them. No one can study there.”

Some Kandaharis say the Taliban – self-styled religious scholars who initially derived their name from the word for “student” – are intent on ripping apart the fabric of society and replacing it with nothing.

“They only want to destroy, destroy and destroy,” said Mr. Mohammad, the official struggling to deal with the school that was blown up last week.

Based in the Arghandab, a region north of Kandahar that’s lately become an insurgent hotbed, Mr. Mohammad says he basically inherited his current job from his late cousin, who was assassinated last year by gunmen.

The father of three said that, as an education director, he has no car, his salary is a pittance, and that he’d been marked for death if he ever returned to the village he came from. “If Canadians want to build schools,” Mr. Mohammad said, “we need security in the area.”

Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan agree to eliminate terrorism, extremism

TEHRAN- Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan on Sunday reaffirmed their deep commitment to make every effort to eliminate extremism, militancy and terrorism from the region, stated a joint communique issued at the conclusion of one‑day trilateral summit. The communique was signed by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

It was agreed at the summit, which Tehran hosted, to address the root causes of terrorism and extremism, which are in stark contrast with the spirit of Islam and rich cultural traditions and customs of the region.

According to the joint communique, the three neighbours agreed to establish a mechanism for holding regular and periodical trilateral consultations on special issues.

These consultations will be attended by senior officials, foreign ministers and the heads of the state, or government of the three countries.

It was agreed to encourage cultural interactions, including exchange of parliamentary delegations, intellectuals, academicians etc. as well as promotion of people to people contacts.

The three countries agreed to strengthen trilateral cooperation to counter production and smuggling of narcotics and psychotropic substances and their illicit trafficking.

It was agreed to promote trilateral cooperation among the relevant institutions of the three countries to counter organised crimes such as illegal human trafficking, money laundering and arms smuggling.

Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan agreed to exchange experiences, information as well as embark on concerted efforts towards socio‑economic development in the region.

It was agreed to plan and implement trilateral economic projects in different areas including energy, transportation, industries, mining, agriculture, cattle‑breeding and environment.

Urgent steps will be taken for development of the infrastructure connectivity between the three countries which include construction of roads, railways and improving the existing ones.

The three countries will also collaborate closely in establishing and developing energy corridors in the region, including oil and gas pipelines and electricity networks.

Trilateral economic, industrial, planning commission and chambers of commerce will also be established.

The involvement of private sectors of the three countries will be encouraged in regional development programmes.

It was agreed to encourage ECO member states for the establishment of a free trade area in the region by 2015 as a priority task, which has been agreed in the 10th ECO Summit in Tehran this year.

The three countries agreed to coordinate and to pursue projects for trans‑regional cooperation especially with the framework of ECO and OIC.

The three sides agreed to promote cooperation in the areas of education, health, sports, culture and art.

It was agreed to create pull factors in Afghanistan for the voluntary and dignified return of refugees with the sustained and enhanced support of the international community and UNHCR.

The three sides agreed for the voluntary return of Afghan specialists to their homeland in order to assist rapid reconstruction of the country by attracting cooperation of the relevant international organisations such as UNHCR.

Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan emphasized the importance of reconstruction process in Afghanistan in order to achieve sustainable peace and economic development in that country with the support of international community.

The three sides emphasized further effective measures for implementation of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral agreements on trade and transit of goods between and through their countries.

The three sides reiterated their commitment to establish joint training centers aimed at achieving a proficient labor force.

They welcomed the World Bank offer of assistance to develop a plan jointly with the customs authorities of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iran to share customs information electronically.

It was agreed to establish a working group in order to conduct a feasibility study for setting up a Joint Investment Fund among the three countries.

It will follow up the adopted decisions by their leaders and also financially support the trilateral projects. The cases for using the resources of this fund will be determined by the relevant authorities of the three countries.

It was agreed to establish a trilateral coordination committee at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the three countries to prepare a comprehensive action plan to monitor the progress of trilateral cooperation.

The three countries will also invite, if required and by consensus, other countries to the future Summits under the trilateral process.

Election Results Fuel Optimism For Economic Reforms in India

By Rama Lakshmi–

NEW DELHI – Two days after India’s Congress party was returned to power with a strengthened mandate, the country’s sagging stock market experienced a record surge Monday amid such euphoria that trading had to be suspended.

The joy in the market, which has barely abated since, was due not just to the surprise verdict, which defied exit-poll predictions of a period of fractious coalition-building. Business leaders and investors were also celebrating the fact that the new government would no longer have to lean on India’s communist parties for support and would be able to try again to launch far-reaching economic reforms that they had opposed.

“We now have the mandate for a renewed push for economic reforms,” said Kamal Nath, a senior leader of the Congress party who served as commerce minister in the previous government. “We have to open up more and take some hard steps to spur the economy because of the global recession.”

In 1991, after more than four decades of following a planned, socialist economic model, India began to cautiously restructure, embracing free-market reforms aimed at attracting foreign investment. That first stage, popularly known as the dismantling of the License Raj, and India’s subsequent emergence as a global technology hub generated a boom slowed only by the ongoing financial crisis.

“The new government is likely to introduce the second stage of reforms in the financial sector, retail and land and labor laws. We can take these tough measures now,” Nath said in an interview Wednesday.

For the first time since 1996, India will have a coalition government that is not fragile and unwieldy and that has a relatively strong center. The outgoing coalition government, led by the Congress party’s Manmohan Singh, 76, was sustained by a handful of communist parties that eventually withdrew support over a controversial civilian nuclear agreement concluded last year between India and the United States. Singh’s new government is scheduled to be sworn in Friday.

During Singh’s previous term as prime minister, the mild-mannered, Oxford-educated economist’s plans for further reforms were stalled by the communists’ bitter opposition to several economic measures, including proposals to privatize pension funds and encourage foreign investment in retail and insurance firms. Before the financial meltdown unfolded last year, many U.S. companies had lobbied for passage of some of those bills.

In the month-long national elections, Congress and its allies won 261 of the 543 lower house parliamentary seats. The party won 206 seats on its own, its highest tally in 18 years. The communists, however, saw their representation drop from 59 lawmakers to 24.

“Manmohan Singh will no longer be troubled by the pulls and pressures of smaller parties. The communists are out,” said Amit Mitra, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “The new government will have no excuse anymore. It has to go for the big-ticket reforms that will bring our annual economic growth back to 9 percent and bring long-term foreign money into India.”

“We urgently need this money for our large infrastructure projects,” added Mitra, who has prepared a wish list for the new government’s first 100 days. “The easy, low-hanging fruits are the banking, pension-funds and insurance-reform bills that the communists held back for years.”

Despite the weakening of the communists, Singh’s party could still find it difficult to pass the new measures. Many Indians, for example, continue to prefer government management of their savings and pension funds even if that means lower returns.

When the economic crisis surfaced last fall, almost every communist lawmaker said to Singh, “We told you so.”

“In the last government, we played a very important role in safeguarding social security measures and arresting the erosion of government regulation in the financial sector,” D. Raja, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, said in an interview Wednesday. “That saved us when the global economy came crashing down. If the government goes forward with these bills now, people will not be happy.”

Singh faces another challenge, as well. One of his new coalition allies is the All India Trinamool Congress, a party from the state of West Bengal with a reputation for being anti-business. Last year, its leaders battled on behalf of farmers against the company that manufactures the Nano, the world’s cheapest new car. The factory was forced to shut down and move out of the state.

Analysts agree, however, that India desperately needs the political will to decentralize its slothful, flabby bureaucracy and restructure some of its archaic laws.

“There is a dire need for police, judicial, tax and other administrative reforms that do not make attention-grabbing headlines,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research. “This is the right time for it, because the new government’s energy will not be distracted in managing difficult coalition partners.”

Source: Washington Post Foreign Service