Friday, August 22, 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.

3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan

Statement by His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

At the
3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference
on Afghanistan

Islamabad, Pakistan
13 May 2009
Please Check Against Delivery
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Honorable Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani
Excellencies heads of delegations
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me and the Afghan delegation to see many friends and partners of Afghanistan gathered in the beautiful city of Islamabad. On behalf of Afghanistan, I welcome our neighbours, countries of the region, member countries of the G8 and the various international organizations for attending today’s conference. It was almost four years ago in Kabul that we first came together to discuss the opportunity that Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a stable country presented for economic cooperation and integration in our region. We met again Delhi in November 2006 to reaffirm our commitment to regional economic cooperation and to discuss specific measures to that end.
I am grateful to my honourable brother, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for pushing this initiative ahead by hosting this Conference in Islamabad today.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Economic integration in our region, where each and all of our nations would have a part to play, is an achievable vision. The next step is to take careful stock of where we are, and to move to a higher level by focusing on practical objectives.

To achieve our goal of greater regional economic cooperation, we have eagerly participated in multilateral trade negotiations. We are also engaged with many of our neighbors through bilateral and multilateral trade and economic agreements. Afghanistan is an active member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and SAARC. We have taken serious steps to gain membership in the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.
Afghanistan is also a member of the Contact Group of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moreover, through active membership in Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Central Asia and South Asian Transportation and Trade Forum (CSATTF), and UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Afghanistan is focusing on various projects and activities that promote enhanced regional cooperation within our region. Key among these projects are CASA-1000 which will transit 1000 MW energy from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline which will transit natural gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. In line with our goal of promoting regional cooperation and to include regional actors in our economy, we concluded a major contract with a Chinese consortium to undertake exploration, smelting and sale of the Aynak copper deposit. As part of this contract the consortium will build a railway line which will connect Central Asia to South Asia and expedite the transport of people and goods within the region and beyond

Within our country, we have taken serious steps to encourage and facilitate the establishment of new businesses, to widen trade opportunities, to promote foreign and domestic investment, to build roads and improve transportation, and to provide efficient communication networks for businesses and for the society at large.

Moreover, we have overhauled our laws, including our corporate and commercial laws; we have revised and simplified our customs procedures and reduced tariffs, we have passed new laws promoting direct foreign investment and portfolio investment; we have established a dependable banking system; we have provided for a stable exchange rate and stable money; and we have expanded and improved our educational system to create a pool of employable, skilled labor force. Above all, we have institutionalized and consolidated our nascent democracy, permitting our people to become true stakeholders in our country’s political and economic destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today there are a host of factors – from the fragility of security, to inadequate physical infrastructure, to inconsistent policies – which play to the detriment of regional economic cooperation. Many of us are plagued by poverty and environmental degradation; for some of us, trafficking in illegal drugs, corruption and red-tape are among significant obstacles to development and upholding the rule of law.

Perhaps by far the most menacing challenge to the region’s prosperity today is extremism and terrorism which threaten our people’s lives and livelihoods. It is with tremendous trepidation, ladies and gentlemen, that we have been watching the wildfire of terrorism spreading across the region. The increasing number of suicide attacks and other forms of violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are grim reminders of the terrorists’ growing reach.

In addition to suicide attacks against innocent civilians and security personnel, attacks have been launched against hundreds of vehicles transporting Afghan merchandize or NATO supplies on the road from Karachi to Kabul. Trucks have been burned, drivers have been killed, and merchandize have been looted and set on fire. Such terrorist atrocities have had a serious affect on trade and commerce.

There is more to this: terrorists and extremists are extending their reach in whole areas of our habitat and hindering our progress towards peace and prosperity. Today, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fallen victim to the atrocities of the militants and terrorists, forcing hundred of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes and become refugees in their own countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
The current situation has become intolerable for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is time to combine our energies and make sure that the forces of mayhem and death are defeated once and for all. It is time to take back our valleys and villages from terrorists; it is time to get serious about keeping our roads open to trade; it is time to open our schools and send our sons and daughters back to classes; it is time to secure the lives of our women and children.

It is for the sake of our common security, ladies and gentlemen, and for the future of our children that we must counter the spread of terrorism, urgently and decisively. We must open our hearts and our minds to the prospects of a new, better and more prosperous future. It is time we focused, together, on fighting extremism and terrorism, as the enemies that work against that future and as enemies that we have in common. It is time we all realized that a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for our children will only be attained by espousing the progressive ideals of regional cooperation and interdependence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
While we marshal our joint efforts to fight terrorists and remove their sanctuaries, we must also offer protection for the civilian population and prove that our efforts provide for a better future, a promise of life and opportunity for them and their children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are here in Islamabad to recommit ourselves to a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous region, built on the principles of the rule of law and friendly co-existence with the outside world; and to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that would be an important contributor to the economic integration and prosperity of the region. We must commit ourselves to dispense with the stereotypical and narrow-minded politics of the past and start afresh in building a peaceful and prosperous region. With this commitment in mind, today’s conference is a landmark event both for Afghanistan and the peoples of this region who share our vision of security, progress and prosperity. Therefore, for the sake of the legitimate aspirations of our peoples, let us resolve to make our common vision a reality.

Thank you