Suicide blast kills child, four Afghan policemen

9 04 2009
Source: AFP

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber killed a child and four anti-drugs policemen in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, police said, as the US military reported killing 10 militants in overnight raids.

The blast occurred in the town of Lashkar Gah, capital of the turbulent southern province of Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan’s opium production — a lucrative trade that helps bankroll a Taliban-led insurgency.

A man walked up to a four-vehicle police convoy and detonated explosives strapped to his body, deputy provincial police chief Kamaludin Khan told AFP.

Four counter-narcotics policemen and a nine-year-old child were killed, while seven policemen and two civilians were wounded, Khan said.

The policemen were heading out to eradicate opium fields south of the town, he said.

Khan blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan”, a term often used to refer to Taliban militants who are waging a bloody insurgency that profits from the huge opium and heroin industry.

Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, most of it coming from Helmand, where some of it is also manufactured into heroin in drugs labs.

The 1996-2001 Taliban government was able to radically cut back Afghanistan’s opium production but the insurgents now earn millions of dollars a year from the trade, officials say.

They take a “tax” from opium farmers and also earn money from protecting trafficking routes and fields, using the cash to buy weapons for their insurgency, according to Afghan and Western officials.

Part of an international effort to stabilise Afghanistan and rid it of extremists linked to Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Pakistan is a costly effort to tackle the drugs trade, which also feeds government corruption.

The Taliban swept to power in 1996 and were removed five years later in a US-led invasion after they did not hand over their Al-Qaeda allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The militants rose from Kandahar province, which is still one of their strongholds.

The US military said that Afghan and international troops raided a Taliban cell in the province’s Maiwand district overnight and killed six militants.

The cell was involved in attacks against Afghan soldiers and their international counterparts, it said.

A separate US military statement said four militants, one of them a woman carrying weapons, were killed in the eastern province of Khost in another overnight operation.

The raid targeted the Haqqani network and a separate outfit called the Islamic Jihad Union, it said.

The Haqqani group falls under well-known Soviet resistance commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is believed to be close to the fugitive Tailban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Al-Qaeda.

Haqqani’s sons are said to have taken over militant activities from their now elderly father. The Islamic Jihad Union is also linked to Al-Qaeda.

There was no independent confirmation that the dead were all militants.

Last year was the deadliest of the Taliban-led insurgency, associated with extremist violence also picking up across the border in Pakistan.

US President Barack Obama has launched a new sweeping strategy to combat the mounting threat from extremists and turn around the insurgency in Afghanistan, including a focus on eliminating Al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan.

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Bombs kill six in Afghanistan: officials

6 04 2009
Bombs kill six in Afghanistan: officials

KABUL (AFP) — Bomb blasts in eastern Afghanistan on Monday killed two members of the Afghan security forces and four insurgents, officials said, in new incidents linked to a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

The bloodshed came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited German troops based in the north and the top US military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, wound up a visit to assess efforts to reverse the flagging war.

One of the blasts struck a joint Afghan police and army operation aimed at “halting terrorist activities” in the eastern province of Khost on the border with Pakistan, the interior ministry said in a statement.

“One soldier and a border policeman were martyred while another policeman was wounded during the operation when their vehicle was blown up,” it said. Six suspects were arrested.

Elsewhere in the same province, four militants were killed in an explosion in a house.

“It seems that they were making a bomb that exploded,” Sabari district chief Dawlat Khan Qayomi told AFP.

Pakistan’s semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal area across the border from Khost is a stronghold for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, whom Afghan and US officials say mount cross-border attacks against troops in Afghanistan.

There are 42 nations contributing to a NATO-led force, dominated by the United States, that is helping Afghanistan fight the rebels.





Chronology of blasts in Pakistan

26 03 2009
Pak police officers carry an injured person after a bomb explosion at an hotel in Islamabad. Photo Courtesy: AP.

Pak police officers carry an injured person after a bomb explosion at an hotel in Islamabad. Photo Courtesy: AP.

Chronology of blasts in Pakistan in 2008

Sat-Sep 20, 2008

Islamabad / Press Trust of India

Major attacks that rocked Pakistan since January 2008:

January 10: Twenty people killed in suicide bomb attack outside Lahore High Court.

January 14: Bomb kills 10 people at a market in Karachi.

February 9:
Suicide bomber kills 25 people at an opposition election rally in the northwestern town of Charsadda.

February 11: Nine killed in suicide bombing at an election meeting of an independent candidate in North Waziristan.

February 16:
Suicide car bomber strikes a rally of Pakistan People’s Party in the northwestern town of Parachinar, killing 37.

February 22: Roadside bomb hits wedding party in Swat, killing at least 14.

February 25: Suicide bomber kills army surgeon Lieutenant General Mushtaq Baig and seven others in Rawalpindi.

February 29: Forty-four killed in a suicide blast in Mingora in northwest Swat valley during the funeral of three policemen killed by a roadside bomb earlier in the day.

March 2: Suicide bomber kills 43 at tribal elders convention in the northwestern district of Darra Adam Khel.

March 4:
Two suicide bombers attack Pakistan Naval War College in Lahore, killing five people.

March 10: Suicide truck bombings target Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore; 26 killed.

March 15:
Bomb blast at a restaurant in Islamabad kills a woman and wounds 10 others, including four FBI men.

July 2: Suicide car bomb outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad kills eight.

July 6:
Fifteen killed in suicide attack on policemen during a rally to mark the anniversary of Lal Masjid raid.

August 12: Roadside bomb attack targets Pakistan Air Force bus in Peshawar, killing 13.

August 19: Twenty-three killed in suicide attack on a hospital in northwestern Dera Ismail Khan town.

August 21: At least 78 killed in twin suicide attacks outside Pakistan’s main ordnance factory in Wah.

August 28: Nine persons, mostly policemen, killed in roadside bombing in North West Frontier Province.

September 6:
Thirty people were killed and 70 injured in suicide bombing near a police check post in Peshawar.

CHRONOLOGY-At least 350 dead in three months of Pakistan blasts

Thu Oct 18, 2007
Oct 19 – A suspected suicide bomber killed at least 123 people on Friday in an attack on former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she was driven through Karachi to greet supporters on her return from eight years in exile.

Here is a chronology showing the worst suicide bombings and attacks in recent months:

— JULY: More than 140 people are killed in about 13 suicide attacks after the siege and storming by security forces of Islamabad’s of Red Mosque. The worse attacks include:

* July 14: Suicide car-bomber kills 24 paramilitary soldiers and wounds 29 in North Waziristan; two security officials are wounded in another blast in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

* July 15: Sixteen people, most of them paramilitary soldiers, are killed in suicide-bomb ambush on patrol in Swat valley in NWFP. Separately, suicide bomber targets police recruiting centre in Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, killing 29.

* July 17: Suicide bomber kills 16 people outside court in Islamabad where country’s suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was due to speak. Separately, suicide bomber kills four, including three soldiers, in North Waziristan.

* July 19: Three suicide attacks kill at least 52 people. At least 30 are killed in southern town of Hub. In northwest city of Hangu a car bomber kills seven people. And at least 15 worshippers are killed at a mosque at army training centre in northwest Kohat.

* July 27: Suicide bomb attack in restaurant near Islamabad’s Red Mosque kills 13 people, most of them policemen.

— AUGUST: At least 13 killed in three suicide attacks:

* Aug. 20: Three paramilitary soldiers are killed and eight wounded when bomber rams checkpost in northwestern town of Thal.

* Aug. 24: Suicide bomber kills five soldiers and wounds 30 in attack on convoy in Waziristan. Hours later another suicide bomber kills another soldier in region.

* Aug. 26: Four policemen are killed and two wounded in suicide bomb attack in Swat valley.

— SEPTEMBER: At least 61 people killed in four suicide attacks.

* Sept. 1: Suicide bomber kills three paramilitary soldiers and two civilians in northwest Bajaur.

* Sept 4: Two suicide bombers kill 25 and wound 70 in Rawalpindi.

* Sept. 11: Suicide bomber kills 16 people in northwest Dera Ismail Khan.

* Sept 13: At least 15 soldiers killed in suicide bombing in an army canteen near Islamabad.

— OCTOBER:

* Oct 3: Landmine blast kills 14 bus passengers in North Waziristan.

* 19: At least 123 people killed by a suspected suicide bomb attack on former Benazir Bhutto as she is driven through Karachi after eight years in exile. The attack is one of the deadliest in Pakistan’s history.

Source: Reuters





US claims Gulf donors fund Taliban fighters

26 03 2009

By James Blitz in London and Daniel Dombey in Washington
source Financial Times

The US has told its Nato partners that funds from individuals in Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia now rival drug money as a source of financing for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The US launched a high-profile push to reduce Gulf funding for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant groups operating out of Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. As a result, in recent years insurgent links to Afghanistan’s burgeoning heroin trade have become the principal focus.
But Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expressed fresh concerns to Nato ambassadors during a briefing this week on the US’s strategic review of Afghan-Pakistan policy, which is expected to be announced on Friday.

“He said that the prime source of funding for the Taliban is not from narcotics but from private individuals in the Gulf region,” said a western diplomat, without giving further details.

Another official attending the meeting said Mr Holbrooke had suggested that much of the funding from poppy production appeared to go to individuals linked in some way to the Afghan government.

“There is real concern about funding for extremists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region coming from the Gulf, which we understand rivals or exceeds the money they are getting from drugs,” said another diplomat, quoting estimates of $150m-$300m for insurgents’ drugs cash.

Diplomats made clear that the money did not appear to come from Gulf governments but from groups and private individuals.

The US has for some time been pushing Saudi Arabia to ensure that funds raised for charities do not ultimately finance Islamist militants.

The drive has been headed by Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary in the administration of George W. Bush, who was this week formally retained in his post by Barack Obama, Mr Bush’s successor as president. Mr Levey has pushed for years for Saudi Arabia to oversee effectively the international activities of Saudi-based organisations through a charities commission.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment late on Wednesday.

Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury official now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a US think-tank, said the Saudis had made improvements since the September 11 attacks.

But he said: “The Saudis are generally reluctant to concede either that there is Saudi-based financial support for terrorism or that Saudi counter-terrorism efforts are inadequate.”

The Afghanistan-Pakistan review will be one of the centrepieces of attention at next week’s Nato summit, with the US still looking for more aid from its European allies to boost Afghanistan’s security forces.

Some diplomats complain it is more difficult to secure consensus for such aid when the US review has not been released barely more than a week before the summit. Some Europeans worry that if the summit is seen as little more than a rubber-stamp for barely digested US conclusions on Afghanistan, it will be hard to win support for more resources for the conflict.





‘Pashtunistan’ holds key to Obama mission

15 02 2009

Source: Gaurdian

The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the ‘Af-Pak’ question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam?
?

Relaxing one evening last week at the Cuckoo’s Cafe, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed on the point of causing a major incident.

As ever in the region, there had been no warning. The weather was just right, a warm late winter evening. The view was even better – unmarred by the security subtly positioned on surrounding buildings. From his table, Richard Holbrooke, 67, the diplomat charged with calming what fellow members of the administration call the most dangerous place in the world, looked out over the giant Badshahi mosque and the imposing Lahore Fort, both more than 300 years old. Carefully invited politicians, writers, human rights activists and journalists from Lahore’s liberal elite chatted at tables around him.

It was not that Holbrooke did not enjoy the barbecued spicy kebabs, Lahore’s speciality, it was just he had one special request. He wanted daal, the plain lentil curry that is the humblest dish in South Asia. For such a distinguished guest, none had been prepared. “The bulldozer”, credited with negotiating an end to the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, usually gets his way and this time was no exception. Daal was soon on its way.

Tonight Holbrooke will land at the Palam air force base, adjacent to the main civilian airport in New Delhi. It will be the last stop on a journey that has led the diplomat across the broad swathe of territory stretching from central Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Indus river. Call it the central front of the global “war on terror”, the fulcrum of the “arc of crisis”, Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, “AfPak”, no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama’s new team.

“The situation there grows more perilous every day,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: “It’s tougher than Iraq.”

First, there is the local situation. Since launching an offensive in 2006 the shifting alliance of insurgents which make up the Taliban in Afghanistan have established control – or at least denied government authority – over a large part of southern and eastern Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband last week spoke of a “stalemate” – something senior generals and security officials have known for some time.

Local Afghan forces are still far from able to take on the insurgents without assistance from the 73,000 Nato troops now in country. The government is corrupt and ineffective. Opium production has exploded. Across the border in Pakistan, despite continuing military operations, authorities seem unable to push the Islamic militants on to the defensive. And somewhere in the mess is al-Qaida, though few can say exactly where.

Then, there is the regional situation. There is little love lost between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The two former countries have been at loggerheads since splitting in the aftermath of independence from Britain. Kabul’s relationships with New Delhi are warm, a cause and consequence of their mutual animosity towards Islamabad.

“Both India and Pakistan would justify their involvement [in Afghanistan] as a deterrent against the other,” said Chietigj Bajpaee, South Asia analyst for the Control Risks group.

Finally, there is the global situation. “AfPak”, or more specifically the area dominated by the Pashtun tribes around the border mountains, has become the “grand central station” of global Islamic militancy, intelligence sources told the Observer. Young westerners head up to the tribal areas, the semi-autonomous zones which line the Pakistani side of the porous frontier, to visit makeshift al-Qaida training camps to learn how to blow up trains or planes back home. British intelligence track about 30 individuals of high risk through Pakistan each year. Others are known to be fighting with the Taliban against Nato troops.

It is this hideous puzzle that Holbrooke has been sent to sort out. If he can. “It is not too late. If they get the approach right and make an effort to really understand the problems, they can still do it,” said Hekmat Karzai of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, Kabul.

Holbrooke will not do it alone, however. Obama has assembled a powerful team of new and old faces entirely to revamp the American “AfPak” strategy. On a global level, Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, will take charge. Holbrooke will work on the region and the political track. On the military side, David Petraeus, the general credited with turning Iraq around, is now tasked with winning Afghanistan too. He has been clear that engaging with the largely Pashtun tribes, who bear the brunt of the fighting and provide most of the support for the insurgents, is an essential part of his strategy. As those tribes stretch across the border into Pakistan – a frontier which they cross more or less at will – Petraeus has focused on Afghanistan’s neighbour too.

The complexity of the problems is forcing what UK diplomats call a “recalibration” of objectives. The Americans are more blunt. Defence secretary Robert Gates said the aim is not to build a “central Asian Valhalla”. Creating a liberal, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan has been, at the very least, postponed.

“We have certainly pulled back from the aims of a nice, happy, Scandinavian-style democracy,’ said Steve Cohen, at the Brookings Institution policy research centre, Washington.

The priority now is stabilisation. “There is a recognition that before… nation building, you have to clear the ground,” said Seth Jones, of the US-based Rand Corporation thinktank. For Waliullah Rahmani, of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Kabul, “until Afghanistan is stabilised, you can’t have good governance, development or democracy.”

First stop on Holbrooke’s “listen and learn tour” was Pakistan. As he travelled, the militants sowed death. In Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier city, last Wednesday a member of the provincial parliament was killed by a roadside bomb, the first elected politician to die in the current violence. The same day, Afghan Taliban launched an attack on government buildings in Kabul which involved eight suicide bombers and killed 28. The Afghan government blamed it on Islamabad’s spies.

In Pakistan, those Holbrooke met were impressed by the envoy’s apparent desire to hear what Pakistanis had to say. In Lahore, Jugnu Mohsin, a newspaper publisher, described how when told how Lahore was once known as a tolerant city where all religions thrived, Holbrooke, who backpacked through the region as a young man, wanted to know if it had become more conservative.

“He wanted to know about the Badshahi (mosque), who built it. He was interested in the culture and history of the place,” said Mohsin. “He was basically there to learn, to inform himself, not to tell us what was what.”

Others agreed, though pointed out that Holbrooke’s open mind might have revealed a lack of detailed knowledge. “He is candid… and not given to the pro-India fixation of the Bush administration,” said Ikram Sehgal, an analyst who briefed Holbrooke on the security concerns of Pakistani businessmen. “We’ve turned a real corner.”

Washington has poured an estimated $1bn a year in military aid into Pakistan since 2001 and is worried that it is not getting value for money. There are also persistent question marks over the Pakistan security establishment’s possible support of some Taliban elements.

Indians make frequent accusations. “We have no illusions in India that Pakistan is a major player in Afghanistan,” says MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat. “Pakistan estimates that at some point the US will withdraw … [so] it can’t let the Taliban go out of its hands.”

Islamabad denies this, accusing New Delhi of joining with Kabul to foment violence amid separatists in Pakistan’s south-west province of Balochistan and of spying from two consulates they have established along the border. “The Pakistanis have real concerns about Indian activities such as road construction or building the national parliament,” said Jones of the Rand Corporation.

Holbrooke was taken on an aerial tour of the restive Pashtun tribal areas, flying by helicopter over Waziristan, the epicentre of militancy, to see the rugged and remote terrain. Yesterday, a missile fired from an American drone destroyed a house and at least 20 Taliban fighters in areas the envoy flew over, the latest in a series of highly controversial strikes.

Holbrooke stopped in the Khyber Pass, a key supply route for troops in Afghanistan and under attack in recent months, for a briefing with local commanders. Impressed, local observers pointed out that neither Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, nor prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, have dared to do the same. Holbrooke had met both in Islamabad.

Then it was on to Lahore for meetings with former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif – who said Holbrooke had admitted that there had been “mistakes” in past US policy – and the rooftop dinner.

Then Holbrooke was on the move again to a frozen, snowy Kabul. The gritty, depressing, grey weather reflected the mood of the visit. Not only is it widely recognised that the Afghan project is in deep trouble but the Obama team believe President Hamid Karzai is at least in part responsible. Relations have deteriorated badly since the halcyon days when the Afghan tribal leader seemed the perfect man to lead his country. Obama himself is said to regard Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Hillary Clinton has called his country a “narco-state”.

Holbrooke arrived last Thursday and did not see the Afghan president until yesterday. Kabul was quiet – on account of the weather, power cuts and a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country 20 years ago.

Obama has long promised to put 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan as part of a wide-ranging review of American policy and the first soldiers are expected to arrive before late spring. John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, in Washington, believes the US commitment could eventually rise to 100,000 troops.

“The immediate problem is to stop the bleeding. The 30,000 troops is a tourniquet … [but] that is all we have,” he said. “If Obama is a two-term president then by the end of his time in office there may only be marine embassy guards in Iraq. But there will still be tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan.”

There is also the matter of Afghanistan’s coming elections, already postponed once. Some experts believe the polls might solve America’s “Karzai problem”. “Karzai will either improve his performance or he will be ex-president Karzai. That is the wonderful thing about elections,” said Nagl.

Diplomats in European capitals fret about a weakened, re-elected Karazi with no real mandate. Sultan Ahmad Bahin, an Afghan government spokesman, said that Holbrooke had reassured the Afghan government of continuing American co-operation and of the new focus that Obama will bring.

Few locals showed much interest in the visit. “He’s going to do what for us? These people just go backwards and forwards for nothing,” said Karim, 34, a shopkeeper. “The Taliban have been killing us for seven years now.”

For Bashir, a Kabul taxi driver, the Americans would leave. “The Soviets couldn’t stay in our country. How can the Americans stay?” he asked.

A preoccupation for Obama and the Europeans is domestic public support for the war in Afghanistan. White House strategists believe it will hold up much better than the conflict in Iraq. “The polling has been very supportive. Iraq was a phony war but al-Qaida really is in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Cohen.

That makes the job of persuading Americans that the war needs to be fought much easier. It is not hard to point out the genuine threats of a region where there are thousands of Islamic militants, nuclear weapons and where the 9/11 plot was hatched. “The main task will be to persuade the allies, especially the Europeans,” said Cohen.

Finally on to New Delhi, where Holbrooke will step into a diplomatic atmosphere poisoned by November’s Mumbai terrorist attacks. India holds Pakistan responsible for the three-day siege which left 179 people dead and many more injured. Relations with Islamabad are at their lowest ebb since the two nuclear-armed neighbours nearly went to war over Kashmir in 2001 and 2002.

Bajpaee, the analyst, argues that Holbrooke’s best hope is to convince India to take a step back in Afghanistan to calm Pakistani concerns. Delhi may just be happy to let the US turn the screws on Islamabad. The Indians say they intend simply to “listen” to Holbrooke. The envoy too is going to be listening. The encounter may be much quieter than “the bulldozer” likes.

Divided Pashtun Nation

Which nation with homogenous ethnic make-up, a common language, religion and values is not a nation? The answer: Pashtunistan.

The Pashtuns, of whom there are now an estimated 40 million spread from south-western Afghanistan through to central Pakistan, (plus communities in cities such as Karachi and abroad in the UK), were divided on lines drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, when he separated the British Indian Raj and the Kingdom of Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century the Pashtun tribes fought ferociously, following their honour code of revenge. In Afghanistan, they dominated the emerging state.

But it was not all war. Pashtun culture, particularly poetry and a famous love of flowers, also flourished.

In the post-colonial era, an educated elite campaigned for a nation state but with little popular support. In the past decade, Pashtun identity has fused with more global, radical Islamic strands. Experts, however, warn against branding current violence a ‘Pashtun insurgency‘.

The Pashtun world

• The world population of Pashtuns is estimated at 42 million, and they make up the majority of the population of modern-day Afghanistan.

• Pashtun tradition asserts they are descended from Afghana, grandson of King Saul of Israel, though most scholars believe it more likely they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders.

• Pashtuns are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

• The largest population of Pashtuns is said to be in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

• Pashtun culture rests on “Pashtunwali”, a legal and moral code that determines social order and responsibilities based on values such as honour (namuz), solidarity (nang), hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge.





Troops throng Afghan capital after Taliban attacks

12 02 2009
Source: AFP

By HEIDI VOGT – 3 hours ago

KABUL (AP) — Heavily armed government troops thronged the streets of Afghanistan’s capital Thursday, stepping up security before the arrival of the new U.S. envoy to the region the day after Taliban attacks showed how easily the city’s defenses can be breached.

Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s recently appointed envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was expected later in the day for his first trip to the country. Security would have already been high for such a visit, but Holbrooke arrives following one of the Taliban’s most audacious attacks on the capital.

On Wednesday, Taliban militants killed 20 people in a coordinated assault on three government buildings. Armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests, they stormed through barricades at the Justice Ministry in the heart of Kabul and a corrections department building to the north.

One attacker was killed before he could force his way into a third building, the Education Ministry.

The Taliban claimed responsibility soon after the assault began.

The attack served as a reminder of the challenges facing Obama as he increases America’s focus — and troop levels — in Afghanistan. The new administration has promised up to 30,000 new troops. Holbrooke is helping the Obama administration chart a new strategy to beat Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under rain and snow, troops armed with heavy machine guns swarmed street intersections in Kabul on Thursday, checking drivers’ papers and searching cars.

“Security measures have been increased 100 percent, particularly at the gates of Kabul,” said Abdul Gafar Pacha, the head of the police criminal investigation unit.

All eight attackers died in Wednesday’s assaults, bringing the death toll to 28. Another 57 people were wounded, according to the Interior Ministry.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, said the attackers sent text messages to a militant leader in Pakistan before the attack.

Afghanistan has accused militants based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas or Pakistan’s spy service of being behind several major attacks in Kabul, including the bombing of the Indian Embassy last July, an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai in April and an assault on the luxury Serena Hotel in January 2008.





Radical Books Raise Fears in Indonesia of Spread of Militants’ Ideas

9 02 2009

SOLO, Indonesia — At a small, back-street bookstore here, the young employees, wearing matching green skullcaps and sporting wispy chin beards, stock books with titles like “Waiting for the Destruction of Israel” and “Principles of Jihad.”

Image

Peter Gelling for The International Herald Tribune
In Solo, a cluster of publishers have issued Islamist texts, which do not sell well but popularize radical ideology. One book was by a man involved in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

The New York Times

Solo is known as a bastion of a conservative brand of Islam.
They work quietly, listening to the voice of a firebrand Islamic preacher playing on the store’s sound system, his sermon peppered with outbursts of machine-gun fire.
Another young man, a customer, sifts through a pile of DVDs that chronicle the conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Sudan. T-shirts, stickers and pins on sale at the back of the store are emblazoned with slogans like “Support Your Local Mujahedeen” and “Taliban All-Stars.”
The jihadi books at the store, which is called Arofah, have been made available by a small but growing group of publishers in and around Solo, a commercial city known as a bastion of conservative Islam.
Many of the publishers openly support the ideological goals of Jemaah Islamiyah, a banned Southeast Asia terrorist network that has been implicated in most of the major terrorist bombings in Indonesia.
The publishers, about 12 so far, still have limited prospects for sales and influence. Radical books generally do not sell well in Indonesia, where a vast majority of the population of 240 million practice a moderate brand of Islam.
A book by one of the Bali bombers, whose attacks on nightclubs in 2002 killed 202 people, is considered a success for its genre but sold only about 10,000 copies.
Nevertheless, the publishers have caught the attention of some counterterrorism experts, who fear they are proof of how interconnected, and resilient, the Jemaah Islamiyah movement is in Indonesia.
By most accounts, the Indonesian authorities have had great success in weakening Jemaah Islamiyah’s militant arm since the Bali bombings, jailing or killing most of its top leaders. But they have been less successful in fighting the organization’s ideology, which counterterrorism experts say spreads within an informal association of groups operating in mosques, prisons and schools around the country, providing a continuing source of recruitment.

“The most interesting aspect is what the publishing operations reveal about the overlapping networks binding Jemaah Islamiyah together,” said Sidney R. Jones, an analyst with the nonprofit International Crisis Group in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

“This organization is not some Arab import,” Ms. Jones said of Jemaah Islamiyah. “It’s an extraordinary social organization linked by family, schools, culture, training and now businesses.”
She notes that Solo is not only the base for the publishers, but also the site of Pesantren al-Mukmin, an Islamic boarding school that has educated some of the country’s most notorious extremists. Some of the publishers have taught at the school, and Abu Bakar Bashir, a militant Islamic cleric who helped found the school, originally conceived of the idea of opening publishing houses in Solo that could specialize in books on Islam, Ms. Jones said. Mr. Bashir served time in prison on conspiracy charges in several bombings, including those in Bali.
The International Crisis Group, an organization established to prevent or resolve deadly conflicts, says there is a chance that the growth in publishers of radical books could have an upside, possibly indicating that Jemaah Islamiyah is beginning to wage jihad through the printed page rather than violent acts.
“Some publishers may be playing a more positive than negative role, directing members into above-ground activities and enabling them to promote a jihadi message without engaging in violence,” said a report issued last year by the International Crisis Group.
But Indonesian authorities say that the message of jihad, once put into book form, often enters classrooms and Islamic study circles, ultimately helping to draw young people into Jemaah Islamiyah’s ranks. And that could allow the militants to regroup as a potent fighting force.
Most of the books celebrating radical Islamic thought are Indonesian translations of Middle Eastern works. But the publishers are also picking up the works of some local authors.
One was Imam Samudra, who was executed for his role in the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002.
The publishers are also hoping to publish the work of another Bali bomber, Ali Ghufron, better known as Mukhlas, the former operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah.
Before his execution last year, he wrote 10 books, including an autobiography that his lawyer says portrays the Bali bombings as justifiable acts of vengeance for the ill treatment of Muslims around the world.
Solo’s publishers can afford to print such jihadi books by piggybacking on a broader trend: the ballooning demand in Indonesia for mainstream Islamic texts.
Books that explore the Islamic faith — addressing issues like how to be a good Muslim woman, or Islamic beliefs about life after death — are the biggest sellers here now. One popular love story with an Islamic theme sold hundreds of thousands of copies and was recently made into a movie.
“The mainstream Islamic publishing industry is booming right now,” said Setia Darma Madjid, chairman of the Indonesian Book Publishers Association. “Writers and publishers recognize that these themes appeal to readers right now, and so they are rolling out hundreds of books on the subject.”

At least some publishers of radical texts say they, too, are just meeting market demand, not trying to spread an ideology.

One such publisher is Bambang Sukirno, who owns the Aqwam Group and its imprint Jazera, which got its start with Imam Samudra’s first book. He said he was only addressing a topical subject, just as “journalists and others around the world are doing.”

“We see that this ‘terrorism’ phenomenon, whether you like it or not, has seized space in this world,” he said.

So far, the government has taken no action against the publishers despite its crackdown on Islamists. Officials are worried about terrorist attacks but are also trying to nurture their young democracy and the freedoms that democracy guarantees.

“The publication of such material is an issue; we are not very happy about it,” said one senior counterterrorism official in the government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “However, because we are in the process of democratization, it is problematic how we would be able to control the publication of such material.”

Mr. Sukirno said he was not worried that the government would shut down his company.
“Democracy in Indonesia is thriving, and if the government ever tried to interfere in the publishing industry, well, that would be dangerous,” he said. “Interference would just give birth to waves of resistance and undermine democracy.

“Books,” he said, “are a reflection of a civilized nation.”