Nov 10: News Updates from Afghanistan
UN rights aide asks Washington to end food drops
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 6 (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights investigator asked the United States on Tuesday to stop using warplanes to drop food to hungry civilians inside Afghanistan, saying a military campaign and aid could not be mixed.
For the U.S. forces engaged in military raids against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban since Oct. 7, "it's a case of bomb, bread, bomb, bread," said Swiss professor Jean Ziegler, a special investigator on the "right to food" for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
"It's got to stop," he said. "I can understand the American logic behind it. It is not to criticize the campaign against terrorism. It's to protect the future of humanitarian aid workers."
Ziegler, appointed to his U.N. post a year ago, said he believed it was a long-established principle that humanitarian aid could come only from neutral sources such as private relief agencies.
Using war planes endangered private aid workers around the world because armed groups could in the future mistake such workers for their enemy and attack them, Ziegler told a news conference.
He also criticized the U.S. practice of dropping meal packets from aircraft, saying there should be someone on the ground to hand out the food.
In heavily mined Afghanistan, there also was a danger that women and children could lose a limb while gathering the packets, he said. He insisted this had already occurred in Afghanistan, though he offered no specifics.
Ziegler said he would deliver the same message next week to the 189-nation U.N. General Assembly during its annual general debate beginning on Saturday.
The U.S. military campaign aims to punish the Taliban for shielding Osama bin Laden, blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 suicide airliner attacks on the United States.
Even before the U.S. raids, more than a quarter of Afghanistan's 25 million people were in danger of starvation after decades of internal conflict and three years of severe drought.
Instead, the United States and Britain may not battle Russia, an ally of Iraq, on the issue immediately but consider new, still undefined, ways to pressure Baghdad into accepting U.N. arms inspectors, who have not been allowed into the country since December 1998.
The United States and Britain have to make a decision on the sanctions before Nov. 30, when the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program expires.
Their draft resolution, part of that plan, would ease the import of civilian goods to Iraq and attempt to end the smuggling of oil as well as supplies reaching Baghdad through porous borders.
Russia threatened last summer to veto the "smart" sanctions proposals and Iraq halted oil flows in June for about a month until it was certain the measure was going nowhere.
Several key envoys in the 15-member U.N. Security Council said in interviews they believed the oil-for-food program, which regulates Baghdad's oil revenues and goods imported, will be extended without major changes.
The duration could be anywhere from two to six months for the program, aimed at easing the impact of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. But diplomats stress no decision has been made yet.
Iraq opposes all embargoes but dislikes the "smart sanctions" even more, apparently preferring to circumvent restrictions as much as possible until they are lifted.
"We are very conscious of the need to move forward on Iraq but the context has changed and the way in which we do that has to be very carefully considered," said British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who helped to draft the resolution.
"Iraq's possession of an expertise in weapons of mass destruction remains a highly important concern as well as the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people," he told Reuters.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the sanctions controversy arose in talks this week between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Another State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "At the moment that's an issue that is still pretty difficult to see where we're going on that. Frankly, we don't expect to get anywhere on the issue at the moment."
Clear, however, is that unless Russia, which has never engaged in detailed negotiations on the U.S.-British proposals, shows signs of compromise, Washington and London will not mount an intense campaign, only to lose again.
Russia, however, has long advocated changes in a key December 1999 resolution, that sets out a course toward easing sanctions if arms inspectors were allowed to return.
Moscow wants the process spelled out more clearly and the embargoes suspended as soon as the inspectors return, a position the United States and Britain reject.
"Our proposal is still on the table but we have been given to understand that they don't like it," said Russia's U.N. ambassador, Sergei Lavrov.
But some council diplomats believe many sections of the resolution were deliberately left vague because of lack of agreement and could be expanded without undermining it. "There's wiggle room there," said one council source.
Meanwhile, Russia and the United States are discussing more pressing issues: the missile shield plane, insurgencies in Chechnya and the Caucuses and the former Soviet republics used as bases by Washington for the bombing of Afghanistan.
And with the anthrax scare in the United States, Iraq's potential weapons of mass destruction are getting a higher profile.
Experts have said that three countries -- the United States, the former Soviet Union and Iraq -- were known to make the dangerous, high-grade anthrax powder that floats easily in the air and lodges in the lungs. But others say that techniques used in those programs were common enough that a well-trained scientist could have produced similar results.
Still, some U.S. officials have mulled military action against Baghdad, with Britain opposing it strongly without further proof.
"The context has changed for the Iraqi sanctions. The options have widened and no one is sure if the traditional approach in the U.N. Security Council can be pursued in the same way," one senior council source said.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall)
SARGODHA, Pakistan (Nov. 9) - Pakistani police opened fire on pro-Taliban protesters Friday, killing four, in a crackdown on a strike called by Islamic parties against government support for the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan.
The strike, which shut down most bazaars but attracted only small crowds, was called by the 35-party Afghanistan Defense Council in protest against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's backing of the U.S. raids on the Taliban and their guest Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider told reporters in Karachi that police opened fire on protesters at Shadan Lund railway station, 90 miles from the central Punjab city of Multan, after they set a police vehicle ablaze.
''The police opened fire and three protesters were killed on the spot, while six persons including three policemen were injured,'' Haider said.
''Later one of the injured protesters died in hospital.''
Haider said thousands of protesters had gathered at the station, blocking the main railway track. It was the biggest protest of the day, he said.
''We will not tolerate any more disruption in public life,'' Haider said. ''Enough is enough.''
The pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) party said its members had taken four policemen hostage near Shadan Lund and would hold them until action was taken against the senior police officers responsible for the shooting.
''Yes, we have four policemen,'' Mohammad Riaz Durrani, the JUI's central secretary for information, told Reuters. He said the policemen would not be harmed. There was no immediate comment from police authorities on the report.
TEAR GAS AND WARNING SHOTS
In cities across Pakistan, a pivotal ally of the United States in its attacks on Afghanistan, police fired tear gas and warning shots to scatter demonstrators and arrested many activists of the parties backing Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.
Roads were almost deserted and shops shuttered, but because the government also declared Friday a national holiday to mark the birthday of national poet Allama Iqbal, it was difficult to gauge the extent of the general strike.
The police mounted a major show of force in cities but the feared scenes of mass violence did not materialize.
Around 100 protesters blocking a national highway near Sibi, 60 miles southeast of Quetta in Baluchistan province, were detained, police said. Police fired into the air and used tear gas and baton charges to disperse the crowd.
About 60 protesters were arrested in the Baluchistan provincial capital, Quetta, while trying to block traffic by burning old tires on the streets, police said.
Police also fired tear gas at protesters in the cities of Karachi and Rawalpindi and in the northwestern city of Peshawar, gateway to the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan.
About 100 Taliban supporters, chanting ''Osama will rule'' and ''Taliban, Taliban'' marched through the bazaars of Peshawar, shutting down shops, witnesses said.
In Rawalpindi, near the national capital Islamabad, police chased small groups of protesters into side-streets and arrested several, according to witnesses.
The Islamic parties had vowed to bring the country to a halt in a pro-Taliban show of force, despite a government crackdown against their leaders, two of whom were detained this week.
At a news conference in Islamabad, JUI Secretary-General Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri called the strike ''complete,'' barring a few cities, and said leaders of alliance parties would meet in Islamabad Saturday to discuss future action that could include a call for a campaign of civil disobedience.
Haideri said police had arrested more than 200 members of his JUI faction in pre-emptive raids over the past two days. Another major Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, said several of its members were also arrested.
Musharraf was due in the United States Friday after a visit to Europe.
Pakistani air space is the main route for U.S. bombing raids, but many Pakistanis oppose the bombing, and Musharraf said in Paris Thursday he would try to persuade President Bush in a meeting due Saturday to suspend the bombing of Afghanistan during Ramadan.
REUTERS Reut11:14 11-09-01
WASHINGTON (Nov. 9) - President Bush on Friday insisted the international coalition against terrorism has ''never been stronger'' despite signs of strains, as he conducted a round of meetings with foreign leaders.
At a joint press availability with visiting Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bush shrugged off Vajpayee's complaints outlined in a newspaper interview about the progress of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
Vajpayee told The Washington Post the military effort at times seemed to be ''slackening,'' and said ground forces would be needed.
At the same time, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who was to meet Bush later in the day, told The New York Times that Bush's failure to commit personal prestige to forge a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians ''makes a sane man go mad.''
''You know all the newspaper stories and all of that business, I will tell you our coalition has never been stronger. The coalition has never been stronger,'' Bush said.
Bush said he told Vajpayee in what he described as a candid discussion that the war would take time and that Americans are patient about it. A month into air strikes, the Afghan Taliban rulers remain defiant and Osama bin Laden is still at large.
''It's a war that matches high-technology weapons with people on horseback. It's a war in which the enemy thinks they can hide in caves and we'll forget about them. It's a war that's going to take a deliberate, systematic effort to achieve our objective,'' Bush said.
Bush, who is to address the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday and meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, made clear he would not be looking for sympathy while in New York nearly two months after the Sept. 11 attacks that killed about 4,800 people.
'NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION'
''I'll make the case tomorrow at the United Nations that the time of sympathy is over. We appreciate the condolences. Now is the time for action. Now is the time for coalition members to respond in their own way,'' Bush said.
As for the Saudi criticism, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush was interesting in ''hearing directly from the foreign minister himself.''
Saudi Arabia has complained of U.S. media reports that the oil-rich kingdom, where many of the Sept. 11 hijackers originated, has been not helpful in the U.S. investigation.
Bush's enlisting of Pakistan as a key partner in the Afghan campaign has caused tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear rivals at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Vajpayee, in his remarks with Bush, did not get into his criticism of the U.S. effort, saying he admired Bush's ''decisive leadership,'' and that the Sept. 11 tragedy had created the opportunity for a global repulsing of terrorism.
''I assured President Bush of India's complete support in this. At the same time, as multi-religious, pluralist democracies, we should clearly spread the message that the war against terrorism is not against any religion but against terrorists whose propaganda misuses religion,'' he said.
He said he had invited Bush to visit India and Bush said he would do so ''as soon as possible.''
Vajpayee announced the two governments had agreed to launch a joint cyber-terrorism initiative.
Taking advantage of having leaders in the country for the U.N. meeting, Bush also met Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohammed Benaissa, and was scheduled later to meet Czech Republic Prime Minister Milos Zeman.
Bush also planned to ask governors to call up more National Guard troops to help with airport security in the aftermath of the hijack attacks. At the same time he urged Congress to quickly resolve party differences over making airports safer.
''It would be nice to have had the bill done yesterday, but sometimes democracy doesn't work quite that fast,'' Bush said.
He said he had been told progress was being made on resolving the key difference over whether baggage screeners should be federal employees, which Democrats prefer. Bush prefers the screeners be hired privately and supervised by the federal government.
LONDON (AP) - In a potentially unwelcome message in advance of weekend talks with President Bush, Pakistan's president said Thursday that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were fueling perceptions of an unjust war.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf's concern, voiced amid talks with European leaders, stood in contrast to confident public assessments of the month-old military campaign delivered a day earlier in Washington by Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush and Blair predicted the American-led coalition would triumph over the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But both Bush and Blair said the campaign would take time.
After hour-long talks at 10 Downing St. with Blair on a chilly, rain-slicked evening, Musharraf said he supported a ``short and targeted'' campaign in Afghanistan.
He used precisely the same words earlier in Paris, where he met President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on Thursday - reflecting a view he has held since the airstrikes' earliest days.
Musharraf and Blair last held talks in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Oct. 5, two days before the start of the American-led air assault.
The bombardment targets bin Laden's fighters and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, but an undetermined number of civilians have been hurt or killed as well. The Pentagon says it has no casualty estimate, but insists Taliban claims are wildly exaggerated.
Whatever the true numbers, Musharraf warned that scenes of civilian suffering - images widely seen on satellite television in parts of the world - were hurting the coalition's image.
``It is being perceived, in the whole world, as if this is a war against the poor, miserable, innocent people of Afghanistan,'' he told reporters in Paris.
Continued bombardment during Ramadan, Islam's holy month, ``will have a negative fallout in the entire Muslim world,'' the general said, adding that he intended to bring up the matter with Bush at a meeting during U.N. General Assembly debate.
``The sensitivities of Ramadan have to be considered,'' Musharraf said later in London.
The allies have given no indication there will be any respite linked to the Muslim holy month, which begins around Nov. 17. The precise date is determined by the sighting of the new moon.
While expressing misgivings about a drawn-out campaign, the Pakistani leader suggested that good intelligence could accomplish more than military might.
``What is missing is accurate intelligence,'' he said. With it, ``the physical objectives ... could be done in a very short time,'' he said after meeting with Blair.
Pakistan is the only country with diplomatic ties to the Taliban, but as Musharraf embarked on this trip, his government moved to restrict the activities of the Afghan envoys.
The Taliban consulate in the Pakistani port city of Karachi was ordered closed and the Taliban ambassador, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said he was told to stop his regular press briefings at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad.
However, Musharraf said Pakistan has ``no intention'' of breaking off relations with the Taliban, saying the continued ties provide ``a useful diplomatic window.''
Thanks to its decision to side with the United States in the confrontation over bin Laden, Pakistan - once the closest Taliban ally - has won the lifting of some U.S. economic sanctions that were imposed after it carried out nuclear weapons tests.
Musharraf said he would ask Bush to implement a congressional decision to fully lift all sanctions, and he pressed French and British leaders for debt relief and other financial aid.
This was Musharraf's first foray out of the country since the Sept. 11 attacks. The general, who himself took power in a 1999 coup, said he believed his position was secure in his absence.
``There is no risk involved. I know the support I enjoy in Pakistan,'' he said in Paris.
Since allying itself with the United States, Musharraf's government has faced sometimes violent street demonstrations by Islamic groups sympathetic to the Taliban.
Blair thanked Musharraf for his ``strong, courageous'' support of the coalition, adding: ``We understand the difficulty that has posed for you.''
The Pakistani leader said only a small minority of his compatriots hold anti-coalition sentiments.
AP correspondent Elaine Ganley contributed to this report from Paris.