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Kabul blooms as war recedes

Afghanistan's stricken capital has burst back into life and its streets are now filled with signs of
returning prosperity

Afghanistan - Observer special

Jason Burke
Sunday May 5, 2002
The Observer

Resplendent in white gloves and peaked cap, the traffic policeman watched helplessly. All around cars sat
bumper to bumper, pumping out black exhaust. It was time for Kabul's new spectacle: rush hour.

Every morning the tailbacks stretch from Ariana Square, past the smart, internationally trained soldiers
outside the Foreign Ministry, past the packed prison, the police station with its newly donated radio
system, the ranks of white Land Cruisers outside the United Nations and the recently refurbished
embassies of a dozen foreign powers.

Opposite Kabul's central park a row of restaurants, just opened, are doing a brisk trade. Men crowd
around stalls selling snacks, balloons and fruit. Next to the Herat restaurant - virtually the only place to
eat four months ago - a computer shop is selling laptops and accessories. The bazaars are packed. You
can even, occasionally, see a woman without a burqa.

This is the new Kabul. For anyone who remembers the days under the Taliban the change is astonishing.
It is not just the absence of the repressive religious police that is impressive or the end to the executions
in the football stadium; it is the fantastic activity, the hustling, the sheer number of people selling,
building, earning.

There is a downside, of course. The new prosperity has brought crime. Theft, according to senior officers
from the ISAF peacekeeping force, is endemic. Without the European military patrolling in their box-like
armoured cars, 'anything not nailed down would go', they say. Murders and assaults are more common
than under the Taliban.

Rents are so high even relatively prosperous refugees are returning to find they cannot afford
accommodation in their own city. On the black market Johnny Walker sells for $100 a bottle, Manchester
United shirts are $50 and, if you know who to ask in the bazaar, you will be offered hardcore
pornography.

But for Kabulis the change is little short of miraculous. 'I feel like I have been given my city back,' said
Mirwais Shah, 42, a businessman who fled to Pakistan when the mujahideen started wrecking the city in
1992.

He is running a dozen stalls selling young saplings on the roads into the city. It is a sign of his confidence
that Afghanistan has turned a corner. 'A tree is a pretty long-term investment - it's a statement,' he told
The Observer. 'You don't buy one if you think you are going to have to leave home soon.'

But there are many places in Afghanistan where no one is buying any saplings yet.

She was making tea for her husband and her daughter at nine o'clock in the morning when, four miles
away, an 81mm mortar fired once. The shell arced through the clear blue sky before smashing through
the roof of her modest mud-and-wood home on the outskirts of the eastern city of Gardez. When the dust
cleared, Shirin Gul and her five-year-old daughter were dead.

'We don't know why they shoot civilians,' said her husband, Haji Shah Mohammed. 'So many bad things
have happened to us already. It is God's will, but I am still asking why my family were taken from me.'
Gardez is a small, dusty town not far from where 1,000 Royal Marines deployed last week to hunt down
the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. There is no sense here that the war in Afghanistan is over.

Yet it was not men loyal to Osama bin Laden who killed Shirin Gul. Pacha Khan Zadran, a local warlord
left out of the post-Taliban political set-up, is killing civilians in a brutal bid for a share of power.

Simultaneously, in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, men loyal to General Abdul Rasheed Dostum, the
Deputy Defence Minister, and General Mohamed Atta, his long-term rival, were killing each other.

And violence is far from the only problem. The rains that have ended the three-year drought have
triggered severe flooding. There have been two earthquakes and a plague of locusts. 'They really have
been visited by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,' said Yusuf Hassan, a UN spokesman.

He added that more than 500,000 refugees - including many valued professionals - have returned to
Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. But, despite international efforts, more than a million are
still 'displaced' within the country and an estimated five million remain abroad.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees' aid programme has only enough money for another month.
Some refugees are in huge camps - such as that at Maslakh near Herat in the west, or Spin Boldak in the
south-east - but mostly they are invisible. Packed into two-room homes in the cities, or cold and wet in
derelict bombed-out shells of buildings, they scrape an existence on bread and tea and hand-outs.

In Gardez, 10 families had crowded into an old bombed-out school. Fifteen families - around 100 people -
were camping in a deserted barracks near by. Both buildings were without windows and had gaping holes
in their roofs. Their homes had been destroyed by Allied bombing and they had nowhere else to go.

'We are very hungry,' said Gul Ahmed, 40. 'Five of us have died here so far. Two were children. No one
supports us except God.'

Everyone is very aware of the problems persisting in Afghanistan. 'We need to bring security to most of
the country, money for its reconstruction and jump-start a political process that will lead to a degree of
stability,' one Western diplomat said. 'You can't have one without the other.'

On the other hand, everyone - expatriates and locals- know this is the best opportunity the country has
had for 30 or more years.

The complexities are understood in Washington, London and elsewhere. Allied military planners have
repeatedly made it clear that their operation is only part of a wider strategy to bring security and allow
economic and political development. George W Bush has recently spoken of a new Marshall-style plan for
Afghanistan.

The money will probably flow in eventually: $4.5 billion has been pledged in aid and, though only a
fraction has arrived, most analysts believe there is sufficient political will in the West to ensure that the
funds do arrive - especially for key projects such as training the army and eradicating drugs.

Much depends on Afghanistan's neighbours. At present there are no regional powers trying to destabilise
the country for their own ends - the cause of much of the past decade's strife. Pakistan appears to have
accepted that having less influence over a stable Afghanistan is better than trying to run the state
through proxies and ending up with a den of extremists, drug smugglers and warlords on its doorstep.
The Iranians, though unpredictable, seem happy with their economic and political influence over the
West.

And, for the moment, the quasi-democratic political process set in place to help Afghanistan recreate
itself as a nation appears - just about - to be working.

The men sat under the ash trees in the meadow. Swollen with meltwater from the mountains, a stream
rushed between reedy banks. Small groups - each from a different village - were talking intently. The men
of Shibar district in the remote central highlands of Bamiyan were deciding who will run Afghanistan.
Next month a loya jirga (grand assembly) will be convened in Kabul. The delegates, elected in meetings
like those in Shibar, will try to reach a consensus on who should govern for the next 18 months. Then a
general election is planned - an almost unheard-of innovation.

'It is pretty basic, but at least it's an authentic local form of democracy,' said one Western diplomat.
'After all, this isn't Sweden.'

The former king, who arrived back in Afghanistan 17 days ago, will preside over the loya jirga. For the
first time, 60 of the 1,501 places are guaranteed for women. Though there was no sign of any women at
meetings I attended, a spokesman for the loya jirga organisers said many had asked to be delegates.

In the meadow in Shibar district, the men said they were pleased more women would be going. 'I would
even be happy if my wife went,' said Haji Nawaz Ali Safiar. 'She is very wise and clever ... but there are
very few educated women in our country.'

The absence of women candidates is just one of the difficulties faced by loya jirga organisers. At the
lowest level there are no secret ballots. Safiar had twice the belly and twice the land of anyone else in his
village and few doubted that he would be their delegate. Then there is the obvious difficulty of
convincing all the ethnic, tribal and religious groups that everyone will be fairly represented and that
they should support the loya jirga's decisions.

Despite it all, there is a sense of optimism. The men of Shibar district are all from the Hazara ethnic
minority, whose Asiatic features and Shia Muslim faith have resulted in brutal oppression by the Pashtun
majority. Even they said they would be happy if Pashtuns dominated.

'It is simple,' Safiar said. 'There are more of them. The most important thing now is peace. We must all be
Afghan brothers together.'

In the run-up to independence celebrations last week, Afghans of all ethnic and religious minorities took
to the streets under the new red, green and black flag that now flutters everywhere. Everywhere there
was talk of nationhood.

In the evenings in Kabul, locals gathered on the playing fields outside the football stadium for picnics and
impromptu displays of traditional dancing. In the darkness around them, the ruined streets of west Kabul
were still in darkness, but the stadium, where three years ago I watched executions and amputations,
was decked with strings of multicoloured bulbs.

Each evening the inevitable traffic jam blocked the road out from the main city. A row of stalls has sprung
up to serve the drivers. Lit by a makeshift lamp, one stall in particular is doing good business. It is selling
trees.
The path to destruction
In his latest online Afghanistan dispatch, Jason Burke returns to Buddha-less Bamiyan and reflects
on how the Taliban's act of cultural destruction marked a turning-point for the regime.

Jason Burke in Afghanistan
Sunday May 5, 2002

It is an astonishingly beautiful place. Overhead a keen, high altitude wind hauls thin streaks of cirrus
across the bright, clear blue sky. To the south there are high mountains, covered in thick spring snow.
Beneath them there are the rocky brown slopes of the rolling hills sliced by steep, narrow valleys that
finally broaden into one plain ten miles wide and full of fields and low mud houses and slender ash trees
that are painfully graceful. At dawn their leaves catch the light before anything else.

Except of course the great cliff where the Buddhas once stood. Its sandstone runs through a dozen
shades of blue and pink and orange before settling on a washed out yellow. Bamiyan, the high mountain
province in the centre of Afghanistan, has been famous for 1,700 years for the two statues of the Lord
Buddha carved into the bluffs that dominate the valley. Last spring the Taliban dynamited both of them.
It was only when standing beneath the empty cavities, the largest more than 200ft high, that you can
appreciate the crime.

To those of us who had been watching the Taliban for years the destruction of the Buddhas showed that
they were changing. In a sense the hardline Islamic militia's eventual demise became inevitable from
that moment. I thought it was always too easy to accept the caricature of the Taliban as evil, violent
misogynists who ruled by terror alone. Partly, I felt sorry for men whose lives had so obviously been
ruined by war and who were trying to recreate some romantic, albeit twisted, vision of what their
childhoods and lives should have been like; partly through irritation at the kneejerk Western reaction to
the Taliban, who had, after all, been welcomed by many of their countrymen; and partly because I had
been in Kandahar, the southern Afghan city that was their spritual and political headqaurters, when in
1998 President Clinton had sent cruise missiles to strike bin Laden's bases in the east of the country.
Then the Taliban protected me from angry mobs out to avenge themselves on Westerners. I suppose I
felt I owed it to them to try and understand before I condemned.

But looking at the ruins of the Bamiyan buddhas - the rubble is covered by a faded blue tarpaulin that
flaps in the breeze - it was impossible to feel much sympathy for the men in the black turbans.

We now know that the influence of al'Qaeda on the Taliban leadership was critical in the decision to blow
up the buddhas. Letters found in houses in Kabul show that bin Laden and other senior figures in
al'Qaeda leant heavily on Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive one-eyed cleric who led the Talibs, to
destroy the statues despite, or rather because of, the international outrage at their plans. Ostensibly the
buddhas were blown up because Islam permits no graven images. Actually it was a giant V-sign flicked at
the world.

The Taliban seized Kabul and effective power in September 1996. Then they were pretty much
unconcerned by the rest of the world. Afghanistan was not just the limit of their ambitions but the limit of
their worldview. In long conversations with senior Talibs, even as late as 1998, it was clear that they
knew where Pakistan and Iran were, had a fair idea where to find the Gulf but were very sketchy on the
exact whereabouts of pretty much anywhere else.

But, by last autumn, Mullah Omar was making specific statements about Iraq and Palestine. The change
was due to al'Qaeda and bin Laden.

We are now learning much more about how that happened. It had been old mujahideen commanders
who had invited bin Laden back into Afghanistan and the Saudi had to launch a concerted campaign to
build a relationship with the Taliban when they came to power. He did it well, but not without some
difficulty.

I think the crunch point came the end of 1999 when Mullah Omar gave in to the moderates within the
Taliban and successfully eradicated the opium crop - at considerable political and financial cost. Instead
of the international recognition and aid that the moderates had assured him the Taliban would recieve
they got sanctions and opprobrium instead. The question of bin Laden's presence in the country -
described to me as a 'liability' by senior Taliban ideologues at the time - was the subject of desultory
negotiations with the US and Saudi but that was all.

The moderates had the rug - no doubt it was a beautiful antique Afghan jaldar bokhar 6ft x 4ft - pulled
from under them. And the hardliners decided that bin Laden and his associates were right. It was them
against the world.

It took me a day to drive the winding valley that leads from Bamiyan down to the broad Shomali plains
where the British and American forces have their main base. After dumping my bags on a free cot in Tent
Five of Viper City and picking up an MRE ration pack I went for a run. Overhead Chinooks swung low
overhead blasting the dust with their rotor blades. I ran past the British marines encampment, festooned
with Union jacks and games of football, past the artillery park and on to the old Soviet-built strip. At the
A-10 Tankbuster jets I turned round.

Bearded American special forces soldiers were sprint training along the scarred concrete, each holding a
handgun. It was early evening. The light in Afghanistan has a hard-edged metallic quality that I have
never seen anywhere else. The men and their machines stood out very sharply against the distant plain
and the far off hills. To the north lay the Hindu Kush, to the west was Hazarajat and Bamiyan. I wondered
if there was a point when the war could have been averted. Maybe at the time of the Taliban's opium
ban. And if so, what other decisions are being taken now in Washington and London and elsewhere. And
where will that mean I will be running between the jets and the howitzers in three years time.
Chaos lurks in an abandoned land
Al-Qaeda and the roots of terror: The West vowed to end poverty, but little has changed for
Afghanistan's people - and this great failing could breed fresh trouble

Jason Burke
Sunday September 8, 2002
The Observer

They were living in a bombed-out school. It had no roof and no windows. They had no food and no
blankets. There were three families: nine adults and 16 children. Or at least there were when I first spoke
to them. Two days later there were eight adults and 14 children.

The school was on the outskirts of Gardez, a town high on a plateau in eastern Afghanistan. It was
November and, although the days were warm, the nights were cold enough to freeze puddles in the dirt
streets, cold enough to make the town's packs of stray dogs howl, and cold enough to kill Mohamed
Rahmatullah's mother and five-year-old daughter one night and his four-year-old son the next.

Rahmatullah and his family had left their homes on the Shomali plains, 150 miles to the north, six weeks
earlier, when the US bombardment began. Their money got them to Gardez, but not to safety in Pakistan
as they had hoped, and they did not have the cash to buy food or a roof over their heads. Overhead the
vapour trails of American jets streaked across the washed-out winter sky.

Six months later Rahmatullah was gone. Other families were living in the wreck of Gardez's primary
school. The sky was still full of vapour trails. The day before a local warlord had mortared the town, killing
25. Even as I write this there are refugees in the school. A year on, little has changed for the innocents in
the way of the bombs. And that is a failing that threatens to derail the war on terror.

To start with, the US-led campaign achieved most of its immediate aims with remarkable ease. The
Taliban collapsed, al-Qaeda's camps were destroyed and the group itself was dispersed. Most of its
leaders, notably Osama bin Laden, have yet to be captured, but are, for the moment, out of action.

Why, then, is there a growing sense that the war on terror is in fact far from won? Partly because we now
know far more about the nature of al-Qaeda. And partly because, after a week in which Hamid Karzai, the
Afghan President, narrowly escaped assassination and a bomb killed at least 30 in Kabul, we are realising
that a stable Afghanistan, where refugees don't die of hypothermia in derelict schools, is still a long way
off.

Just north of Gardez is a wide, open plain studded with small villages. In May I stepped out of an RAF
Chinook with a troop of Royal Marines who were in search of 'AQT', as the British military call 'al-Qaeda
and former Taliban' elements, watched by the locals. 'We are pleased to see them here,' one village
headman told me. 'Now maybe things will be good for Afghanistan.'

After the fall of the Taliban there was joy. In Kabul, coffee shops were thronged with returning refugees
discussing the past, the future and the rapidly rising prices. In Herat, people like Mairy Easa were able to
teach female students in public. Her husband, Abdul, who fought the Soviet forces and had seen six of
his brothers killed by the Afghan communist secret police, remembers dancing in the streets.

In April in Bamiyan, where the Taliban had destroyed two 1,700-year-old Buddha statues a year before,
people spoke to me of democracy and justice. Now they speak of their fears, not their hopes.

So what is going wrong? Afghan government officials, aid workers and development economists all say
that the problem is money.

Last November the leaders of the developed nations promised that, unlike after the Soviet withdrawal,
the Afghans would not be abandoned. Tony Blair pledged support 'for the long haul'. In April, President
Bush himself promised a 'Marshall Plan'.
But out of £1.1bn pledged for 2001, only a fraction has arrived, and there is little prospect of more in the
near future. The situation is so bad that even the UNHCR - which dealt with 1.5 million returnees - has
run out of cash. Now, as winter nears again, seven million people are at risk of famine.

The whole reconstruction project is threatened. Traditionally, Afghan leaders owe their authority to their
skill in battle, their wisdom in settling disputes and the resources they can access for their followers. In a
country this poor, the latter is critical. Any leader who fails to bring benefits swiftly to his followers will
find them defecting to someone who can.

Karzai is now in an unenviable position. His bravery and judgment are not in doubt, but he must deliver
practical benefits soon. If he is killed, few doubt that chaos would follow.

In late 1999 Mohamed Atta, the man who would lead the strike on 11 September, left Hamburg for
Afghanistan. With him were three other key men in the hijack plot.

Details of the trip emerged 10 days ago in pre-trial hearings for Mounir al-Motassadeq, a Moroccan
alleged to have been a key 'cog' in Atta's scheme.

According to the prosecution, the four men were travelling to Kandahar, the al-Qaeda centre, 'to get
backing for their plan'. That detail is crucial. It indicates that Atta and his co-conspirators thought up the
11 September attacks, not the al-Qaeda leadership. Atta went to Afghanistan to seek bin Laden's
approval and logistical help.

He would have joined a long queue. It is increasingly clear that bin Laden and his aides instigated only a
fraction of the attacks for which they have been blamed.

Hundreds of activists from all over the world beat a path to bin Laden's door to present him with their
dreams of destruction. The Saudi, with his funds, his reserves of experienced experts and his training
camps, could turn those dreams into reality.

Early last year, for example, two Islamist groups from Iraqi Kurdistan arrived to request aid and training
by bin Laden's group. After training, the men returned home and launched a series of suicide attacks.

Even where al-Qaeda has been more pro-active, it has looked to 'plug into' pre-existing groups in Algeria,
South-East Asia and elsewhere. Their offers of help have not always been accepted.

A close reading of court testimony and interviews with al-Qaeda-associates shows that many activists
overcame huge obstacles to make their way to Afghanistan. Men like Rasheed Daoud al'Owhali, who
drove a truck bomb into the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, gave up a comfortable life in Saudi Arabia.

Ahmed Ressam, a penniless thief who tried to blow up Los Angeles airport in 1999, made his way across
half the world to find bin Laden's camps.

Letters I found last November in the deserted Khaldan camp in Afghanistan, where the hijackers are
suspected of having trained, showed again that the hundreds of men who passed through were angry,
motivated and full of ideas for waging a violent 'jihad' against the West.

This is crucial. Bin Laden built a 'terrorist university' unlike any previously seen. He was able to do it
because of a historically unique set of factors: chaos in Afghanistan, the weakness of its neighbours,
especially Pakistan, the emergence of a new, violent ideology with powerful backers in the Middle East -
all compounded by a profound lack of interest in the region on the part of Western powers.

He - or someone similar - will only be able to do it again if a similar set of circumstances occur. This
shows the importance of reconstructing Afghanistan and preventing any situation developing elsewhere
that is as much 'counterterrorism' as the sexier, special forces operations.

But the fact that bin Laden was a facilitator, not a Bond-style villain orchestrating a global network,
stresses another key point. Destroying the 'terrorist university' does not eliminate its students' reasons
for wanting to attend. Nor does it stop them acting.
In conversations in Gaza, Algiers, Karachi, Damascus and Amman and in hundreds of kebab stalls and in
taxi ranks and hotel lobbies throughout the Middle East and Asia in the last two years, the same
fundamental themes resurface.

A 20-year-old university student in any of these places is confronted with an invidious choice. He can
either aspire to the perceived glamour of the West and accept, as he looks at the squalor around him, the
lack of jobs and fundamental freedoms, that his will always be a second-rate, ersatz version of Western
life as shown on MTV. Or he can embrace the empowering certainties of extremist Islam. Hardest of all,
he can try to reconcile the two.

On Friday, on a hill above Kabul, a father helped bury his 21-year-old son who had died of wounds
sustained in the market place bombing. 'I had two sons before, now I only have one,' Shah Mohamed
said, weeping quietly.

The tragedy for Shah Mohamed, for Rahmatullah and for all the Afghans is that, as the world attempts to
work out solutions to these pressing problems, whether through military force or other means, someone
is always going to get caught in the crossfire.

· Additional research by Tom Barton
Afghan anarchy hinders aid
Descent into lawlessness damages effort to feed remote villages and returning refugees

Jason Burke, chief reporter
Sunday September 1, 2002
The Observer

A surge in banditry, crime and random violence is threatening to plunge Afghanistan into anarchy as
millions face starvation this winter.

Attacks by bandits, often demobilised soldiers from the many militias that fought in Afghanistan until the
war of last autumn, are making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to get to vulnerable, remote
villages.

Last week the United Nations released a 'hunger assessment' which revealed that 6 million Afghans were
at risk - more than were endangered a year ago.

Analysts in Washington and Europe fear the deteriorating situation threatens the new government in
Kabul. For the first time last week the Americans said they would favour extending the UN peacekeeping
operation into the provinces.

But aid workers fear that even heavily armed peacekeeping forces would be unable to patrol the most
remote regions where the banditry is worst and people most at risk of hunger.

Last week Dominic Nutt, of the British-based Christian Aid, told The Observer about how he had been
stopped on a mountain pass in central Ghor province by bandits. They had told him: 'Either you give us
your car or we will take the next one that comes.' The men, who were heavily armed, had already seized
a truck.

Only after the intervention of a former provincial governor did the armed men allow the aid workers to
go.

'We were very lucky,' said Nutt, who was travelling in the vehicle. 'The gang leader was a known killer.'

Such attacks are turning parts of Afghanistan into virtual no-go areas for relief workers and government
officials. Nutt and his colleagues had been warned by the UN that bandits were operating there but
needed to visit a remote village to check on conditions. 'We needed to know if they were OK,' Nutt said.
'If they weren't we needed to get them help.'

UN sources report dozens of robberies over the past few weeks, particularly in the centre, the north and
south-west. Since January the UN has documented more than 70 'serious incidents'. Some offices have
had to be evacuated. Aid workers have been caught in crossfire between warring groups of militia or
bandits. According to Lakhdar Brahimi, the most senior UN official dealing with Afghanistan, security has
'deteriorated seriously'.

There are fears that bandits could become terrorists.

'What are we meant to do with these people?' asked Hanif Atmar, the new Minister for Rural
Development and Rehabilitation, in Kabul. 'You have a population of professional warriors who are poor
and will do anything for money. These people will find their way back into global terrorism. If the West
turns its back on Afghanistan it will be writing its own suicide note. How many 11 Septembers do you
want to happen?'

Last week an unseemly row broke out between the Western powers who pledged to fund the
reconstruction of Afghanistan. An American official, Gene Dewey, the State Department's senior official
for refugee affairs, accused European countries of not providing their share of food aid to Afghanistan.
The European Union said the allegations were unfair. Then Pentagon sources revealed that Washington
had decided to support extending the mandate of the UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan to allow them out
of Kabul and into the provinces where the instability has been worse.

Previously the US had opposed such a move. Western aid workers said the change was simply because
the Americans wanted to free up their own troops for use in Iraq. British diplomats called the plan
impracticable. 'There is no nation ready to supply the troops or the funds. It's very unlikely to happen,'
one said.

One problem has been the unexpected return of 1.5 million refugees. Much of the aid that has reached
Afghanistan in the past year has been spent on coping with the new influx. There are fears that winter
could trigger a new crisis, with refugees moving within Afghanistan. Last year, even with a late start
because of the US-led bombing campaign against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda
organisation, the UN's World Food Programme succeeded in averting disaster. It delivered food to an
estimated 7.5 million people, many in remote areas such as Bamiyan province. Now, however, the WFP
says it needs another 250,000 tonnes of grain to keep famine away. It has been pledged by donors but
not delivered, the UN agency say.

According to Atmar only a third of the £1.2 billion in aid pledged by developed countries this year has
been spent.

'Most of that has been on emergency or short-term projects,' he said. 'We need to look at long term
redevelopment.'

Nutt is back in Britain and has recovered from his ordeal with the bandits in Ghor. The lessons of the
incident are clear, he said. 'If Afghanistan's isn't rebuilt then we'll be back to square one. The war on
terrorism has to be a war on poverty too.'
Can the Afghan peace hold?
The Royal Marines are coming home from Afghanistan and there is a new President in Kabul. Is the
war really over, asks Dan Plesch, in the latest of his monthly Observer Worldview commentaries.

Afghanistan - Observer special

Sunday June 23, 2002

The success of the Loya Jirga has infused more democracy into Afghanistan than it has seen in decades,
and far more than exists amongst its Central Asian neighbours. But will the peace hold? Aid and the
prospect of aid may persuade war lords that there best interests will not be served by renewed fighting.
But their influence may be threatened by the return of a million refugees which will have a large impact
on the political economy of Kabul and other cities.

How will the warlords react to attempts to stamp out the opium trade. So far the US focus has been to
cut off the supply routs and not much attempt has been made to stop the latest crop. But the US and
other Western publics may start asking why they are still suffering from Afghan heroin when we have an
army on the ground there.

But it would be a great mistake to think that because British soldiers are on their way home the war is
over. The General commanding the US 18th Airborne Corps which is running operation Enduring Freedom
has stated that US troops will remain for at least another year.

There is a rosy scenario in which political cohesion in the country is gradually established. In this
scenario the East of the country is kept quite as pressure from Pakistan on side of the border and from US
forces on the other prevents any serious renewal of fighting. A low and politically acceptable level of
violence continues.

The new interim government continues to be heavily influenced by the Northern Alliance at the expence
of the Pashtun. This will only be reinforced by Turkey's new role commanding the stabilisation force in
Kabul. Turkey has sought an increasing role in Central Asia since the collapse of communism. No one in
the region will see its role as that of a referee.

While the rest of the international community picks up the task of civilian nation builidng, the US's
continuing role will be to support a new Afghan Army. This training and equipment programme is
beginning already. This force is also likely to be drawn from troops of the Northern Alliance and to not be
acceptable to the Pashtun.

With these uncertainties in mind we be aware that there are almost daily reports of rocket attacks and
firefights in Eastern Afghanistan. The US base at Khost comes under frequent, if so far ineffective, rocket
attack. US troops returning from a futile mission to track down the rocketeers described the experience
as 'just like Vietnam.'

In recent weeks there have also been a number of reports of allied or civilian Afghans being killed by US
forces. Again, in the long run this may amount to nothing much. On the other hand a strongly Northern
government in Kabul and the heavy presence of the US in the South East may lay the ground for a
renewed civil war where the Pashtun again fight of foreign invaders. The Al Qaeda and remaining
Taleban, with time on their side, may be waiting to play a role in any such war.

It would be rash to assume either that Al Qaeda and the Taliban feel they have been defeated or that
they do not still relish the chance to fight the Americans. The view from the terrorists side of the
mountain may be far more optimistic than we are led to believe by our governments. Outside
Afghanistan there seems to be a successful bomb attack almost every week, whether of French defence
workers, a US consulate or a synagogue in Tunis.

Within Afghanistan itself Al Qaeda may well be relishing a victory over US and allied special forces in the
battle of Sha I Kot near Gardez. This was the US operation Anaconda that filled our TV screens in early
March. It was promoted as an assault that would surround and crush Al Qaeda in the mountains. The US
acknowledged that they had underestimated the enemy strength. By the end of the battle most press
reports concluded that Al Qaeda fighters mostly escaped US attacks and that they suffered dozens rather
than than hundreds of casualties. The operation was not the 'unqualified success' claimed by General
Franks.

The reality of Anaconda was far worse than has been portrayed so far. Al Qaeda may well consider it a
victory. The US attempted to defeat them in high mountains using a combination of locally recruited
Afghans and US helicopter borne troops. One Pentagon official was quoted afterwards as saying; "they
knew we were coming."

As they scrambled from their helicopters in companies of a hundred, the US and allied forces came under
intense fire and were pinned down for several days at numerous locations up and down the Sha I Kot
valley.

Most US attack helicopters were badly damaged, eight men were killed and over sixty injured. For two
days the airspace was so dangerous the US could not send in more helicopters to rescue their troops.

The failure at Anaconda led the US to call in the British marines, but since then there have been no large
assaults. US troops are however continuing to carry out large sweeps across the mountains of the Hindu
Kush, but whether these are effective in locating an enemy who for now may just be biding him time is
most uncertain.

Like the Soviets before them, the US may find that its first year in Afghanistan will be its best. A key issue
will be whether the Pashtun factions remain relatively content or whether a new war between them and
the government in Kabul erupts. In this event the US may find that that the small scale rocket attacks
they have experienced so far were merely intended to probe and expose US defensive tactics for a more
serious assault in the future.

· Dan Plesch is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and author of Sheriff and
Outlaws in the Global Village.
Afghan drug lords set up heroin labs
'The West kills us with bombs - we will respond with this'

Jason Burke, chief reporter
Sunday August 11, 2002
The Observer

Hundreds of kilos of heroin are being manufactured each week by factories recently set up in eastern
Afghanistan, prompting fears of a new influx of high-quality, easily transportable drugs into Europe.

The renewed production of heroin, which had ceased following edicts by the Taliban regime and last
autumn's US-led military action, is a blow to the British-led, multimillion-pound effort to stop drugs
production in the country. Tony Blair has given the campaign his personal backing, committing more than
£20 million of British taxpayers' money to the project. That backing convinced a reluctant Afghan
government to announce a ban on the growth of opium six months ago.

But the return of the refining laboratories, each capable of producing £400,000 worth of heroin a week,
has revealed the failure of the programme to make a significant impact.

The production of the high-value drug could further destabilise Afghanistan. In recent weeks there have
been several bomb attacks and assassination attempts. Some have been blamed on elements close to
al-Qaeda or former Taliban fighters, but others, such as the murder of Abdul Qadir, a Vice-President and
Minister, in Kabul in July, have been blamed on drug-related feuds. The bomb that exploded in a
warehouse in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Friday, killing at least 26 people, has also been linked to
narcotics, although officials yesterday said it was probably an accident caused by badly stored
construction explosives.

The Observer has learnt of three heroin laboratories in the lawless hills south-east of Jalalabad, close to
the border with Pakistan. There are believed to be several more. Two factories have been established in
the Acheen district and one in the Adal Khel district of Nangarhar province.

One local resident, Naeem Shinwari, said the factories were working in broad daylight, producing
between 70 and 100 kilos (154lb-220lb) of refined heroin a day, with the capacity to increase production
if the supply of raw poppy remains constant. Afghanistan has supplied more than two-thirds of the
world's opium for nearly a decade.

So far the British-led eradication programme has led to the destruction of 16,500 hectares (41,000 acres)
of poppy field, out of an estimated total of 80,000. Farmers were offered $1,750 for each hectare that
was destroyed. However the programme has been marred by allegations of corruption. Huge stockpiles
of opium, used as a form of credit in rural Afghanistan, have meant that the supply of raw materials for
the drug has not been affected.

In the early 1990s Afghanistan produced more than 90 per cent of heroin reaching the UK. The Taliban
erad icated opium production in a bid to gain recognition from the international community in 2000.
Heroin is far easier to smuggle than bulky opium. Previously, 10 or more kilos of opium had to be
smuggled through Iran or Central Asia to laboratories in Turkey to be turned into heroin. Refining the
drug in Afghanistan makes it easier to smuggle high-value consignments.

Abdul Wakeel, of Ghani Khel district, told The Observer that heroin and heroin-refining chemicals were
being openly traded in local markets. He said the prices of heroin varied from £500 for a kilo of poor
quality 'brown' heroin for smoking to more than £1,500 for pure, highly refined heroin which could be
injected. Heroin for intravenous use would fetch £50,000 per kilo in Britain.

Haji Daulat Mohammad, a shopkeeper, said that prices were low because opium stocks remained high
and heroin production was expected to rise sharply in coming months.

'Even if there is no cultivation of poppy next year, the existing stock is sufficient for 12 months at least,'
he said. 'It may be haram (forbidden by Islam), but there is drought, unemployment and no other way to
make my living. 'The West say making heroin is wrong and damages human beings, but they drop bombs
on innocent civilians. We have no other way except to destroy the USA through narcotics. They shall drop
bombs on us, and we shall send them this gift.'
Business as usual for Afghan drugs
Afghanistan is likely to retain a central role in the global drugs trade, argues Mark Galeotti in this
World Today essay. But even a miracle of western statecraft would only lead to Afghanistan's
impoverished neighbours seizing a greater share of this lucrative trade.

Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

Afghanistan's central role in the global narcotics trade will outlast bin Laden and the Taliban. A powerful
and flexible network of traffickers, traders, producers and processors operates across factional, ethnic
and national borders with virtual impunity, and will play a key role in shaping the post-intervention order.
But the impact on the streets of Europe and the global drugs market is likely to be minimal.

Afghanistan provides three-quarters of the world's opiates - the basis for heroin. Production doubled
through the 1990s thanks to a malign combination of poverty and lawlessness, suitable local climate, a
central location and, above all, local figures and factions that eagerly embraced its economic
opportunities.

Opium is grown freely in the countryside and gathered by farmers who sell it to factories employed by, or
paying off, the local warlord. It passes or is sold on through anything up to a dozen different pairs of
hands, as stocks are consolidated into large shipments, which are then moved either northwards through
Central Asia or westwards via Iran. In the past two to three years Afghanistan became not only a source
of opium base but also a centre for processing it into heroin. This refined form is much more profitable,
and more compact and thus easier to smuggle.

The Taliban made much of a campaign against opium production and trafficking at the end of last year
and indeed managed to eliminate the majority of production in the areas under their control before lifting
prohibitions to raise funds when military action began. While the restrictions drove up opium and heroin
prices, there were no shortages in the global market. Afghanistan's neighbours reported that the flow of
opiates out of the country only grew.

Partly this reflected the loose control of any Afghan government as many semi-autonomous local groups
who owed the Taliban notional allegiance simply continued as before. But it also reflected a switch from
fresh to stockpiled opium. The UN has estimated that as much as sixty percent of production may have
been stockpiled each year since 1996, both as insurance and also to keep prices high.

Active Alliance

The Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban factions - especially ethnic Pashtun groups in the east of the
country - are whole-heartedly involved in the trade. Indeed, if anything the Northern Alliance has been
more closely associated with narcotics than the Taliban.

The Taliban regime largely confined itself to taking a ten to twenty percent levy on opium harvests,
heroin production, and drug shipments, earning it a minimum of $40-45 million annually. By contrast, the
Northern Alliance - or at least key figures in it - have actively engaged in the production, sale and
trafficking of opium for factional and personal gain. Unofficial estimates from the Tajik authorities
suggested that supplies this year have been fairly evenly split between the Northern Alliance and the
Taliban, even though the Taliban controlled four times as much land before November.

The situation is unlikely to change dramatically. Indeed, if anything it may worsen. The post-Taliban
government will presumably be pressured by the west to combat the trade, but again it will have to hold
together a coalition of local warlords unwilling to renounce the profits it provides. Any effective campaign
would require a massive and sustained infusion of foreign aid, coupled with strong and equally sustained
political will on the part of the new regime. There is little reason to expect either.
Regional competition

But even a successful clampdown in Afghanistan would not end the region's role in the global drug
business. This is a huge economic opportunity: the farm gate price alone for Afghan opium is almost
$300 million; the total value of the national crop to warlords and traffickers is in excess of a billion
dollars. The majority of opium stockpiles in Afghanistan have been shifted into northern Pakistan and,
especially, the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan. Not only are they
substantial, but it would be relatively straightforward to expand production in regions of neighbouring
countries in which state control is minimal and where drugs are already produced. Northern Pakistan is
perhaps the least congenial new host, as although state control here is often weak, there are a tacit
series of understandings between the central government and local authority figures, which any major
expansion of drug production would break. The Pakistan government does have formidable powers and
an extensive and relatively effective security apparatus to deploy if necessary.

Much the same is true of eastern Iran, an area increasingly favoured for stockpiling drugs bound
eventually for Europe, but in which major cultivation is not feasible. There are even suggestions that
opium is being grown in China's unruly eastern province of Xinjiang, some reports blaming corrupt army
commanders, others Muslim radicals. However, the isolation of the region and Beijing's determination to
maintain control over it will prevent any major expansion of drug production.

Migrating North

It is therefore far more likely that major drug production would migrate northwards, into Central Asia.
These are countries with high levels of corruption at both central and local level, while state authority is
relatively ineffective. Economic and climatic conditions are suitable, with large impoverished rural
populations happy to adapt to crops bringing better returns. The UN estimates that eighty percent of the
population of Tajikistan lives below the poverty line, for example, with monthly incomes of less than $10.

In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the production of marijuana, opium and ephedra - the
precursor chemical for amphetamines - is already widespread in such regions as Syrhandarya (southern
Uzbekistan), the Chu Valley (Kazakstan) and Gorny Badakhshan (Tajikistan). Besides which, the area has
already become an increasingly important transit point for Afghan opiates, accounting for perhaps half
the total outflow. Thus, not only are the trafficking routes already in place, but so too are the local
structures to handle operations, from corrupt politicians, police and customs officers to gangs controlling
transport firms and railway stations.

The Central Asian states have not yet become major centres for producing or processing drugs for
export, but this is essentially a product of market forces, as Afghanistan was already a cheap, secure
source. The military campaign and political settlement are very unlikely to have more than a minor
impact on this. However, even if, by some miracle of statecraft and consensus-building, the western
allies do manage to create or support a regime able and willing to wean Afghanistan away from the drugs
business, the states of post-Soviet Central Asia appear admirably placed to be its successors.

· Dr Mark Galeotti is Director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unit at Keele
University. Email: wt@riia.org.

A longer version of this article will appear in the December issue of The World Today, published by the
Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. The World Today provides expert analysis on
current international issues. For more information and an online sample issue of The World Today, please
go to www.theworldtoday.org. Please contact Sarah Crozier at scrozier@riia.org if you would like more
information
Alliance agree to UN authority
War in Afghanistan: Observer special

Chris Stephen and Agencies
Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

The Northern Alliance said yesterday that it was ready to transfer power to a UN-backed transitional
council and that Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani would not be the head of that body.

The Alliance's Foreign Minister, Dr Abdullah, also said his group was prepared to 'be flexible' on the issue
of international peacekeepers in Afghanistan, but that they would require a United Nations mandate and
that their stay in the country should be limited.

'We are ready to transfer power to a transitional authority and the head of the transitional authority will
not be the head of the Islamic State of Afghanistan,' Abdullah said, referring to Rabbani.

Abdullah's comments came as talks in the German city of Bonn on Afghanistan's political future moved
into a decisive phase after the Northern Alliance proposed its candidates for an interim administration, a
move the UN said could lead to an agreement.

After prodding by UN mediators and American diplomats, Northern Alliance leaders in Kabul submitted a
reply to the UN's request for its long-delayed list of people for an interim post-Taliban administration, UN
spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Participants said the emerging deal may be limited to the smaller executive body - excluding a larger
supreme council similar to a legislature for the time being.

The Northern Alliance, which controls the capital, Kabul, and most of the country after the collapse of the
Taliban, is facing strong international pressure to break a deadlock in talks underway near Bonn on
Afghanistan's political future.

Alliance delegates in Germany had been stalling on providing names of people it wants to serve in an
interim administration.

During his press conference, Abdullah did not state unequivocally that the names would be provided.
Instead, he said 'there will be discussion on names' as well as other details 'in the coming days'.

'We think the results are promising,' he said of the talks. 'All those issues will be worked out in coming
days.'

Abdullah said he was 'optimistic of an early result' in the UN-sponsored talks.

On the issue of peacekeepers, Abdullah appeared to show flexibility after Rabbani this week ruled out a
large international force. Rabbani said he saw no need for more than 200 foreign peacekeepers.

But Abdullah said the Alliance was ready to accept international peacekeepers with the details of the
mandate subject to UN approval.

He said he expected all issues to be resolved within a few days. On other issues, Abdullah said the
Alliance believes Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers have moved into the hills of three southern
provinces - Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan. 'Our leaders must reach an agreement. They must put aside
their own individual interests and make a decision in the national interest,' schoolteacher Abdul Hazi
Sherzi said yesterday in Kabul. 'Otherwise, the war that was waged here for 23 years will simply go on.
There won't be peace here without agreement there in Bonn.' Kabul has known war and turmoil for
almost a quarter of a century, and there is a real fear that disagreement in the talks will lead to blood on
the streets. 'If they don't agree with each other, there will be war in this country,' said Abdul Malik, 52.
'My view on politics is simple. When they make a decision and agree we are happy. When they fail to
agree we are not happy.'

It's not only the west that suffers
Afghanistan is the source of most of the west's heroin. But the greatest devastation is within the
local region, and the damage will get worse still unless the international community acts

War in Afghanistan - Observer special

Ustina Markus
Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

There are no good guys in Afghanistan's heroin trade. There may be a popular desire to blame the
Taliban for Afghanistan's massive share of the world's heroin supply, which has helped to fuel conflict in
Afghanistan and throughout Central Asia. But the devastating social and political impact of the drugs
trade across the region will not stop with the Taliban's defeat. Without immediate international attention,
the problem may well get worse.

Many of the Talban's opponents have, at the very least, tolerated and profited from the drugs trade. UN
research has found that most of the opiates transiting Tajikistan's major smuggling routes have come
from Northern Alliance-controlled territory. The fact that seizures of heroin outnumber those of opium
demonstrares that laboratories in Alliance-controlled areas were successfully refining opium into the
more potent and compact final product. The late Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud
may have publicly opposed the drugs trade, just as Taliban leader Mullah Omar had condemned it. But
weapons and troops are paid for by individual commanders: there is no doubt that opiates have funded
all factions.

Talk of Afghan heroin mostly focuses solely on its impact on western markets and societies. 80 per cent
of western Europe's heroin supply does come from Afghanistan. But while the entire annual consumption
of heroin in western Europe amounts to around 120 tons, Afghanistan is estimated to have produced
enough opium to make 350 tons of heroin. While addiction in western markets has generally stabilised or
even fallen, these massive increases of supply have flooded regional neighbours, with devastating
effects.

Pakistan and Iran now have the highest rates of heroin addiction in the world. Almost ten per cent of
Iran's population is estimated to use drugs - and there are well over a million addicts. In Peshawar,
Pakistan, it is impossible not to notice addicts shooting up in alleyways. In Tajikistan one in 50 people are
estimated to be regular users of opiates while Russia has also seen a 400 per cent rise in heroin
addiction rates in the past decade. Europe is easily the most lucrative market for Afghan heroin, but
much of it is soaked up in Russia and central Asia, where it is sold for as little as a dollar a 'hit'.

There is no accurate estimate of the extent of heroin use and addiction in Afghanistan itself - but the
huge supply, local heroin labs and desperate misery make it reasonable to assume that a large
proportion of its population are users. Regional trends suggest that the majority of addicts will be young
men, exactly those who should be engaged in reconstruction.

An offshoot of drug abuse has been the appearance of HIV infection in the region, mostly in the
intravenous drug user community. In Russia, HIV rates went up from an official 38,000 in mid-2000 to
129,000 diagnosed cases in July 2001. Unofficially it is believed as many as 700,000 are infected. Official
statistics are lower in Central Asia, but relatively few people have been tested there. The only area where
a large sample has been taken is in the city of Termitau in Kazakhstan. The city is a major transit point
for drugs and over 1,000 have tested positive for HIV in a population of 160,000. An epidemic, strictly
speaking, is one percent - and so Termitau is almost there. Health officials believe that at least six other
cities along the drug transit routes in Kazakhstan have similar infection rates.
Ridding Afghanistan of its opium and heroin industries will not be easy. Up to 50 per cent of the
population is believed to be directly or indirectly reliant on the trade for their livelihoods, even while
Mullah Omar's ban was in place. The departure of the Taliban from many areas has already seen farmers
replanting poppy crops. Women who were prevented from any other work - and often widowed by the
war - increasingly worked as couriers. It is a brutal business.

Smugglers often take members of the courier's family hostage to ensure delivery and payment for the
merchandise. Criminality, violence and corruption also weaken institutions and regional governments and
thwart desperately needed economic reforms. Interdiction efforts have led to low-intensity conflict with
drug dealers, especially in border areas, while tighter border controls hinder trade and weaken already
fragile regional economies. Greater police powers have often led to new opportunities for corruption.
Drugs have themselves become currency - payment in kind where cash is unavailable and relatively
worthless.

So far attempts made by the international community to tackle the drug trade emanating from
Afghanistan have had little effect. The US has paid scant attention - believing that Afghan drugs pay only
a small part in its own narcotics problem. The European Union has funded interdiction programs through
the UN but has otherwise done little to work with the countries of the region. But the opium and heroin
trade must be a serious focus for reconstruction and development if stability is ever to be achieved.

A comprehensive and sophisticated strategy has to form part of the broader efforts to end decades of
conflict and economic decline. Afghanistan's neighbours, especially Pakistan and Iran, will not feel secure
as long as Afghan drugs have such a malign effect on their societies - and are unlikely to end their often
unhelpful intrusions into the country's politics. The fragile economies of Central Asia are also terribly
destabilised by opiates.

What can be done? The international community will have to devote far greater resources - not only for
policing, but also for poverty alleviation and agricultural reform. Crop substitution and improved market
access are essential in the next few years. But in the meantime farmers will need direct assistance if
they are to stop poppy cultivation now that the Taliban have gone. While interdiction will also play an
important part, it must be accompanied by anti-corruption measures and harm reduction through
education, needle exchanges and drug treatment programs. The countries of Central Asia and the region
that have cooperated with the US-led alliance against the Taliban expect and deserve aid and assistance
in return. They will get it - but it must be carefully targeted to do the most good. Simply jailing more
Afghan war widows is not the answer.
Business as usual for Afghan drugs
Afghanistan is likely to retain a central role in the global drugs trade, argues Mark Galeotti in this
World Today essay. But even a miracle of western statecraft would only lead to Afghanistan's
impoverished neighbours seizing a greater share of this lucrative trade.

Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

Afghanistan's central role in the global narcotics trade will outlast bin Laden and the Taliban. A powerful
and flexible network of traffickers, traders, producers and processors operates across factional, ethnic
and national borders with virtual impunity, and will play a key role in shaping the post-intervention order.
But the impact on the streets of Europe and the global drugs market is likely to be minimal.

Afghanistan provides three-quarters of the world's opiates - the basis for heroin. Production doubled
through the 1990s thanks to a malign combination of poverty and lawlessness, suitable local climate, a
central location and, above all, local figures and factions that eagerly embraced its economic
opportunities.

Opium is grown freely in the countryside and gathered by farmers who sell it to factories employed by, or
paying off, the local warlord. It passes or is sold on through anything up to a dozen different pairs of
hands, as stocks are consolidated into large shipments, which are then moved either northwards through
Central Asia or westwards via Iran. In the past two to three years Afghanistan became not only a source
of opium base but also a centre for processing it into heroin. This refined form is much more profitable,
and more compact and thus easier to smuggle.

The Taliban made much of a campaign against opium production and trafficking at the end of last year
and indeed managed to eliminate the majority of production in the areas under their control before lifting
prohibitions to raise funds when military action began. While the restrictions drove up opium and heroin
prices, there were no shortages in the global market. Afghanistan's neighbours reported that the flow of
opiates out of the country only grew.

Partly this reflected the loose control of any Afghan government as many semi-autonomous local groups
who owed the Taliban notional allegiance simply continued as before. But it also reflected a switch from
fresh to stockpiled opium. The UN has estimated that as much as sixty percent of production may have
been stockpiled each year since 1996, both as insurance and also to keep prices high.

Active Alliance

The Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban factions - especially ethnic Pashtun groups in the east of the
country - are whole-heartedly involved in the trade. Indeed, if anything the Northern Alliance has been
more closely associated with narcotics than the Taliban.

The Taliban regime largely confined itself to taking a ten to twenty percent levy on opium harvests,
heroin production, and drug shipments, earning it a minimum of $40-45 million annually. By contrast, the
Northern Alliance - or at least key figures in it - have actively engaged in the production, sale and
trafficking of opium for factional and personal gain. Unofficial estimates from the Tajik authorities
suggested that supplies this year have been fairly evenly split between the Northern Alliance and the
Taliban, even though the Taliban controlled four times as much land before November.

The situation is unlikely to change dramatically. Indeed, if anything it may worsen. The post-Taliban
government will presumably be pressured by the west to combat the trade, but again it will have to hold
together a coalition of local warlords unwilling to renounce the profits it provides. Any effective campaign
would require a massive and sustained infusion of foreign aid, coupled with strong and equally sustained
political will on the part of the new regime. There is little reason to expect either.

Regional competition
But even a successful clampdown in Afghanistan would not end the region's role in the global drug
business. This is a huge economic opportunity: the farm gate price alone for Afghan opium is almost
$300 million; the total value of the national crop to warlords and traffickers is in excess of a billion
dollars. The majority of opium stockpiles in Afghanistan have been shifted into northern Pakistan and,
especially, the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan. Not only are they
substantial, but it would be relatively straightforward to expand production in regions of neighbouring
countries in which state control is minimal and where drugs are already produced. Northern Pakistan is
perhaps the least congenial new host, as although state control here is often weak, there are a tacit
series of understandings between the central government and local authority figures, which any major
expansion of drug production would break. The Pakistan government does have formidable powers and
an extensive and relatively effective security apparatus to deploy if necessary.

Much the same is true of eastern Iran, an area increasingly favoured for stockpiling drugs bound
eventually for Europe, but in which major cultivation is not feasible. There are even suggestions that
opium is being grown in China's unruly eastern province of Xinjiang, some reports blaming corrupt army
commanders, others Muslim radicals. However, the isolation of the region and Beijing's determination to
maintain control over it will prevent any major expansion of drug production.

Migrating North

It is therefore far more likely that major drug production would migrate northwards, into Central Asia.
These are countries with high levels of corruption at both central and local level, while state authority is
relatively ineffective. Economic and climatic conditions are suitable, with large impoverished rural
populations happy to adapt to crops bringing better returns. The UN estimates that eighty percent of the
population of Tajikistan lives below the poverty line, for example, with monthly incomes of less than $10.

In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the production of marijuana, opium and ephedra - the
precursor chemical for amphetamines - is already widespread in such regions as Syrhandarya (southern
Uzbekistan), the Chu Valley (Kazakstan) and Gorny Badakhshan (Tajikistan). Besides which, the area has
already become an increasingly important transit point for Afghan opiates, accounting for perhaps half
the total outflow. Thus, not only are the trafficking routes already in place, but so too are the local
structures to handle operations, from corrupt politicians, police and customs officers to gangs controlling
transport firms and railway stations.

The Central Asian states have not yet become major centres for producing or processing drugs for
export, but this is essentially a product of market forces, as Afghanistan was already a cheap, secure
source. The military campaign and political settlement are very unlikely to have more than a minor
impact on this. However, even if, by some miracle of statecraft and consensus-building, the western
allies do manage to create or support a regime able and willing to wean Afghanistan away from the drugs
business, the states of post-Soviet Central Asia appear admirably placed to be its successors.

· Dr Mark Galeotti is Director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unit at Keele
University. Email: wt@riia.org.

A longer version of this article will appear in the December issue of The World Today, published by the
Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. The World Today provides expert analysis on
current international issues. For more information and an online sample issue of The World Today, please
go to www.theworldtoday.org. Please contact Sarah Crozier at scrozier@riia.org if you would like more
information.
Warlords bring new terrors
War in Afghanistan: Observer special

Paul Harris in Chaman
Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

It is a hidden war that the world has ignored. But the chaos, rape, murder and pillaging that have swept
southern Afghanistan are writ large on the faces of the fortunate few who escape.

Abdul Abdullah was lucky. As an ethnic Pashtun living in a village near Herat, he fled the approach of the
Tajik and Hazara forces which captured the city. He headed for the barbed-wire border with Pakistan. His
cousin, Aziz Khan, was not so lucky. He and his wife Fatma went west toward Iran but did not make it.
They and 20 other Pashtun families were stopped at a checkpoint, one of hundreds appearing across
southern Afghanistan. The men, including Khan, were herded up into the mountains and shot. The young
women were taken away.

Abdullah will not say what he thinks happened to Fatma. But the truth seems obvious. 'I know they let
most of the women go, but they kept the young and pretty ones like Fatma,' he said.

The landscape Abdullah crossed on his trek south is a land of warring anarchy. In many areas Taliban
forces are still in control, but in others local Pashtun warlords rule by rape, robbery and murder. Armed
gangs rob and kill lorry drivers who are the economic lifeblood of the region. In the skies above US
bombers seek targets to destroy.

Noor Mohamed saw the effects of one of those missions. As a wheat trader plying between the Pakistani
border town of Chaman and the Afghan city of Ghazni last week, he witnessed a terrible sight. Lying in a
burnt-out, twisted mess just north of Kandahar were the smoking remains of a 15-lorry fuel convoy.

The charred remains of the drivers and dozens of unfortunate souls who had bargained a lift from them
was a sight Mohamed will not forget. 'I saw all the dead burnt people,' he said. 'How can you be a man if
you don't feel something when you see that?'

The south is the Pashtun heartland and the core of Taliban rule. The Northern Alliance, dominated by
ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, cannot march here. Instead, the Alliance and its Western backers are trying to
persuade Pashtun tribal leaders and former mujahideen to revolt and overthrow a Taliban regime
weakened by US bombing and the presence of 1,000 US Marines on a desert airstrip in the region.

But the policy has created a vacuum of power. Into the void have flooded warlords, based over the
border in the Pakistani city of Quetta, who ruled before the Taliban came.

In the villages around Kandahar there is a name that provokes horror and fear. It is not Mullah Omar, nor
is it Osama bin Laden. It is Gul Agha, the former mujahideen governor of Kandahar, whose tribal militia is
backed and advised by the US.

Ghlume Walli fled from Agha's men near his hometown of Khalat to a makeshift tent at the border. 'Gula
Agha's men would have robbed me even of these water bottles,' he said, holding up two dirty plastic
cartons filled with brown water.

His friend Mohamed Sami agreed. He had been herding his cattle near Khalat when Agha's militia
stopped him at gunpoint and slaughtered his herd.

He draws his finger across his throat. 'They are looters. Everyone is afraid. They killed every last one of
the cattle,' he said.

Agha and several thousand fighters crossed into Afghanistan a day after Kabul fell. Police sources in
Pakistan believe he is heavily involved in the lucrative opium trade. His followers are drawn mainly from
the poor and destitute of the refugee camps. When he governed in Kandahar the city was ruled by
warlords who stripped it of everything of value. Rape and robbery were commonplace.

Pakistani intelligence officials say Agha and another Western-backed tribal leader, Hamid Kharzai, have
struck a deal to let Agha reclaim his old governorship when the Taliban finally falls.

It is the prospect of such men returning that has many in the refugee camps longing for the Taliban to
rule as long as possible. They fled along routes controlled by the Taliban. Many say they owe the religious
militia their lives.

For the Pashtuns of the south, the Taliban did not mean oppression and taking away women's rights.
They had never known anything different. However, the Taliban did bring freedom from thugs and the
rule of the gun.

'In the time of the Taliban I could walk down the street with 30,000 rupees and no one would touch me.
But the men of Gul Agha will kill you even if you have nothing,' said Walli.

Such feelings have seen the Taliban win back some ground. Khalat fell for three days to local tribal
forces. The bazaar was looted while residents cowered in their houses. Then the Taliban returned and the
residents cheered.

Takhteh Pol, a vital town on the road from Kandahar to Pakistan, was also recaptured by the Taliban last
week, according to reliable Afghan and Pakistani sources. The town had endured several days of rule by
Agha's men, when one of his commanders boasted of executing 160 Taliban prisoners.

'They were made to stand in a long line and five or six of our fighters used light machine guns to kill
them,' the commander told a French news agency, adding that US special forces attached to Agha had
tried and failed to stop the shootings. The US has denied the massacre happened, but after the slaughter
of hundreds of Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif, the Takhteh Pol killings sounded all too plausible.

The collapse of Taliban rule over much of Afghanistan has laid bare the country's ethnic bones, exposing
old hatreds. Hundreds of refugees in the crowded camps near Chaman are from Mazar-e-Sharif. They are
all Pashtuns, who have fled rather than live under the rule of the Uzbek soldiers of Northern Alliance
General Rashid Dostum.

They tell of ethnic cleansing of Pashtuns in the north and say they had no choice but to flee south to the
Pashtun - and Taliban - heartland.

Haji Khira Ghol left behind his vineyard and market stall when he fled a day before Mazar-e-Sharif fell.
'The mercy of an Uzbek is worse than the greatest cruelty of the Pashtuns,' he shouted angrily.

He said 5,000 Pashtuns from his region had fled their homes. Relatives arriving after him near Chaman
told him how his abandoned house had been destroyed by Dostum's men and his stall looted of all its
stock.

'I can never go back. Not with the Uzbeks there. There is no place for the Pashtun in the north,' he said.

Other stories recounted by Pashtun refugees from Mazar-e-Sharif are similar. Mohamed Aslan fled his
farm 10 days ago. He is terrified of the Northern Alliance and their men. He could not stay in the city of
his birth. 'They know only war. If they want to they can just kill you and go unpunished,' he said.

Just over 60 miles away from the refugee camps at Chaman, the US flag flies over the Marines' captured
airstrip. But the attention of those forces is firmly focused on hunting bin Laden. The ravages going on
around them are ignored. Among the refugees fleeing the anarchy, the US has few friends. 'If the
Americans had brought peace, that would have been a good thing. But instead they have just brought us
war and looting and the men of Gul Agha,' said Aslan. Above him in the bright blue sky the jet trail of a B-
52 headed north. Its target was Kandahar. This hidden war goes on.
Taliban who escaped the fort of death
Luke Harding discovers a bedraggled band of fighters - including one born in Louisiana - who
survived deep underground for six days of heavy bombardment at Qila-e-Janghi. Finally flushed out
by the Northern Alliance, their first request was for a cup of tea

War in Afghanistan: Observer special

Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

They had spent the night in a freezing steel container. Early yesterday morning, the commander opened
the door and beckoned me inside. Sitting in the gloom were 13 Taliban fighters who had emerged late on
Friday night from the dark underground complex where they had been hiding for six days.

They were, it seemed, the only survivors of the original 400 Taliban prisoners who had launched a furious
revolt in the Qila-e-Janghi castle exactly a week ago. 'Could you ask them to bring us some tea?' one of
the fighters said in perfect English. 'We are very hungry. We have had nothing to eat.'

Twelve of the group were from Pakistan; the other man was an Afghan, the fighter explained. 'We wanted
to surrender on Thursday. But there was a group of seven Arabs who wouldn't let us,' he added.
Gradually, it became possible to make out their shapes in the container. The fighter was dressed in a
salwar kameez. To my left was a man wearing a cardboard box over his head, apparently in a feeble
attempt to keep warm. Next to him another wounded Pakistani lay shivering under a blanket. And in the
far recess was a man with no face: his nose and mouth had been blown away.

These were lost souls, who had somehow returned from the underworld. Since losing control of the fort in
Mazar-e-Sharif last Sunday, government troops had gradually exterminated the foreign fighters, who
found themselves trapped in a high-walled compound. The Americans pulverised many of the Taliban
prisoners with bombs.

Several days ago a group of foreign fighters retreated deep into a complex of underground tunnels
concealed beneath a military classroom. On Wednesday troops fired a series of massive rockets down the
drainage chutes. 'It's finished. They are all dead,' the commander Din Mohamed said genially. But it was
not all finished. Five municipal workers sent down to collect the Taliban's bodies retreated in panic on
Thursday, after two of their group were shot by somebody with a Kalashnikov. (One failed to return
completely; he emerged from the tunnel yesterday under a blanket.) It seemed that not all of the Taliban
were dead after all.

The troops then came up with a new, simpler plan to finish off their extraordinarily resilient Taliban
adversaries: they would freeze them out. They diverted a water channel directly into the Taliban's
subterranean hiding place. The plan worked. Yesterday morning a spectral procession of Taliban fighters
emerged from their waterlogged lair and shuffled into the daylight. They had finally agreed to surrender.

Three days ago the guards estimated that one or two Taliban might still be alive. Together with the
Pakistanis, who got out the previous night, there were in fact 85.

The prisoners were searched in front of a ruined avenue of pine trees, from where a group of Arab
volunteers had earlier lobbed rockets at their enemies on the high battlements above. They limped
forward one by one. The guard shouted out their nationalities in turn. 'Uzbekistan!' he cried. Then: 'Arab!
Pakistan! Yemen! Chechnya!'

But Osama bin Laden's elite foreign fighters no longer seemed the demons of American imagining -
merely sad, haunted young men who inspired only pity. We shouted questions. 'Where are you from?'
'What are you doing here?' Few of the Arabs understood English. But one gave an unexpectedly
insouciant reply. 'I was born in America,' he said. 'I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.'
It had clearly been a long journey for him from America's Deep South to the mountains of Afghanistan
and its giddy, malevolent Islamic revolution.

Many of the prisoners had dark North African features; they had come from Somalia and Sudan. Others,
from the Caucasus, had pale white skin, and could have passed for tramps in Oxford Street. Put together,
they formed an A-Z of international jihad, which perhaps explains why the two CIA agents who provoked
their uprising had wanted to talk to them.

The fighters had come from Kundoz, the northern town abandoned by the Taliban last week. 'We
originally surrendered because we were told if we gave up our weapons we would be allowed to go to
Kandahar,' Abdul Jabar, a 26-year-old Taliban volunteer from Uzbekistan, said.

'It was our commander who began the fighting in Kalai Jangi. It is better to be a martyr than to go to
prison. Prison is painful,' he said. 'Only God knows what will happen to us now. If they send us back to
Uzbekistan, that will be the end,' he added. Jabar said that the foreign fighters hid in ditches when
American warplanes repeatedly bombed their compound in the early days of the uprising. 'Later we went
into the basement. There are many dead people down there.'

'We had a bit of water to drink. The commander said we would fight to the last bit of blood. But we gave
up because we had nothing left. We had no ammunition and no weapons and they cut the water.

'The night before last they put petrol down and set it alight. There was a lot of smoke and we could not
breathe. We survived that. The explosions were very bad when they sent rockets in. We survived that
too. But when they flooded us it became very cold and nothing worked.' Jabar revealed that the Uzbek
revolutionary Juma Namangani, a close associate of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohamed Omar, had been
killed during fighting in Mazar-e-Sharif three weeks ago. 'We are not against Americans,' he said. 'I
studied at university. I studied the Koran. I believe we should live by Islam and that the only real Islamic
state is Afghanistan.' What did he think of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre and the
Pentagon? 'I think they were not right because the victims of the attacks were not military. They were
just ordinary people,' he said.

Jabar had been lucky: he had only been shot in the foot. Others had been less fortunate. Several
blackened prisoners were carried out helplessly on stretchers; they lay dying in front of us in the cold.
One man had a blown-off jaw. Another had a two-inch bullet hole in his shoulder; a third man a smashed,
gangrenous arm hidden under dirty bandages.

A medical team from the International Committee of the Red Cross moved efficiently among the
prisoners as they groaned in the dirt. The Red Cross had brought fruit. I put down my pen and started
feeding an Arab Taliban fighter a banana. He was unable to peel it: his hands were tied behind his back.
His eyes beamed with gratitude. To my left, a Pakistani teenager who had been shot in the leg started
whimpering. 'My name is Ijaz Latif. I come from the Punjab. I have been in Afghanistan for two months,'
he said in Urdu. Was he was with the Taliban? 'Yes,' he admitted. 'There were a lot of Pakistanis with me,
but most of them are now dead. I didn't see who started the fighting. We just ran away and hid in the
basement.'

'I am so cold,' he added. A massive lorry carrying a vast blue shipping container pulled up. The guards
grew impatient: they wanted to bundle the prisoners inside it as soon as possible. Afghanistan's rival
factions are inexperienced in the business of taking prisoners, because in the past they didn't bother. 'We
used a lot of force. That's why they surrendered in the end,' the commander Din Mohamed pointed out.
Several local villagers had come to watch. 'The Taliban burnt my father's house with my father in it. I
don't feel very sorry for them,' one villager, Abdul Mohamed, said.

There was no sign yesterday of the US Special Forces, whose role in the fiasco of the Kalai Jangi verges
on the culpable. After two hours all of the living had been removed. The guards took one prisoner and
propelled him down into the tunnel complex once more. He was instructed to check whether there were
any survivors left. He came back shaking his head. I walked down the bombed-out entrance to the tunnel
and peered down into the gloom. A chamber filled with two feet of water led into a network of rooms;
water streamed from the roof; an upturned body bobbed in the grime. This was not the heroic death of
war films, merely a terrifying, cold and squalid extinction. The smell of decay was everywhere; it rose
from the underground tomb into the grey, winter sky above.
Forbidden love spells death in lawless Kabul
Upsurge in 'honour killings' and porn as the police go on the run in post-Taliban Afghanistan, reports
Jason Burke

War in Afghanistan: Observer special

Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

It all started with pigeons. Khaled, a 20-year-old shoemaker, would go up on to the roof each morning at
dawn to fly his beloved birds into the clear Kabul sky. It was as they wheeled over the courtyard of a
neighbour's house that he saw Marina.

Every day she would be there sweeping the dusty compound. She was 16, beautiful and his neighbour's
eldest daughter. She had also been promised in marriage to another man.

By the time winter had turned to spring and the snow had left the hard, brown hills that ring Kabul, the
pair were no longer satisfied with snatched glances across the rooftops. They started sending notes to
each other using small boys as messengers. By summer - to the sound of artillery on the front line 20
miles north - Khaled began sneaking at night across the roofs to Marina's room.

The risk he was running was tremendous. In Afghanistan's profoundly conservative society, to enter
another man's home without permission is an outrage. To visit his betrothed daughter in secret is far
worse; Khaled knew he would be shot or bludgeoned to death if discovered.

'But,' he told The Observer yesterday, 'love makes you stupid'. On one occasion he and Marina took
pictures of each other while her family slept in the rooms around them. On another, a shopkeeper
allowed them to use his larder for trysts.

Finally Behroz, Khaled's elder brother, found out. But after three 'sound thrashings' Khaled still refused to
end the relationship. He went to Marina's father to discuss the couple's future. The father - as all had
predicted - went for his Kalashnikov.

The story is not unusual, even in relatively cosmopolitan Kabul. Each year in Afghanistan hundreds of
young men and women die at the hands of their relatives for transgressing the strict codes governing all
relations between sexes. These are known as 'honour killings'.

Murders of girls who have 'shamed' their families are prevalent in Afghanistan's Tajik community. But
they are also common in Pashtun tribal areas. In extreme cases, family members - usually brothers -
travel thousands of miles to hunt down and kill the transgressing woman.

The flight of the hardline Taliban might have been expected to ease the plight of couples like Khaled and
Marina. In fact things are getting worse.

During the five years of their rule in Kabul, the Taliban meted out rough justice in accordance with their
own harsh, bizarre fusion of extremist Islam with traditional culture. Now they are gone Afghans are
taking the law into their own hands, and there has been a sudden upsurge in 'honour crimes'.

'There are a lot of such cases,' said Ali Abdul Rahim, head of the Istakhbarat - Kabul's crime investigation
intelligence service. 'There are people who previously had to keep their heads down and behave well
who are now able to do what they want.'

While the largely Pashtun Taliban ruled Kabul, the Tajik minority kept a low profile, he said. Now, with
President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Tajik-dominated Jamiat Islami party in charge, they are full of
confidence.
Despite the anger of Marina's family, she was married to Khaled by Taliban clerics who wanted to end the
dispute. The marriage took place only a week before the Taliban were ousted from Kabul last month. Now
Marina's Tajik father has repudiated the match, disowned his daughter and vowed to kill her.

The Observer has heard of several similar cases. Freba and Shirinaga are another Tajik couple who
disobeyed their parents to be married and, as a result, were imprisoned by the Taliban. They escaped
when the city fell to the opposition. But - acting on a complaint from their families - the new government
has imprisoned them again 'for their own safety'.

There have also been several reported 'suicides' of young Tajik girls who had run away. Many, says Abdul
Rahim, have been killed by their fathers or brothers and their deaths disguised.

Senior judicial officials are at pains to stress that the excesses of the Taliban will not be repeated. 'All
adults have rights as individuals and they must be respected,' said Maulana Manabi, the deputy chief
administrator of the supreme court. However, judges interviewed by The Observer still support
amputations as 'prescribed Islamic punishments'.

Meanwhile Abdul Rahim is in hiding, changing his sleeping place every night. He has worked for every
administration since that of Dr Najibullah, the former communist ruler of Afghanistan who was murdered
by the Taliban in 1996. 'Life is complicated right now,' he says wearily. 'All the people I put in prison have
joined the new government's forces and they keep trying to kill me. Since the Taliban left there has been
a dramatic upsurge in crime - especially immoral activities.'

The police recently launched a series of raids on illicit cinemas showing hardcore Western pornography,
never before seen in Afghanistan. The films drew considerable crowds despite the entrance fee of 10,000
Afghans (18p) - a small fortune in a country where a doctor is paid just £1 a week.

Some Afghans exploit the current instability to settle decades-old disputes. On the Shomali plains north
of Kabul, the families of two commanders have been pursuing a vendetta for years. Last week one
burned down the house of the other, safe in the knowledge that because his enemy had sided with the
Taliban there would be no reprisals from the government. Several women and children died in the blaze.

It is feared Khaled and Marina may share a similar fate. The girl's two brothers have now joined the
Jamiat forces and have been given guns - but Khaled faces the threat with bravado. 'I am young and
strong and I love my wife and I fear nothing,' he said yesterday.

· Some names in this article have been changed.
Airport under siege as battle rages for Kandahar
War in Afghanistan: Observer special

Jason Burke and Chris Stephen in Kabul and Peter Beaumont in London
Sunday December 2, 2001
The Observer

Fighting was raging in the south-western Afghan province of Kandahar last night amid reports that tribal
fighters had captured a sector of the airport there.

Khalid Pashtun, a spokes-man for the warlord Gul Agha, said his and Gud Fida Mohamed's militia were
fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda and Arab troops, aided by heavy US bombing.

Western intelligence experts believe Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born fugitive, and Mullah Mohamed
Omar, the leader of the Taliban, are hiding in or around the city of Kandahar. Abdullah Abdullah, the
Northern Alliance's Foreign Minister, said he believed the world's most wanted man was on the move in
the southern mountains.

A force of 1,000 American marines airlifted into an airfield 80 miles south-west of the city began setting
up positions to cut off routes out of Afghanistan that the two men might take.

The Taliban's ambassador in Pakistan told a local Afghan press agency that a US jet had been shot down.
The Pentagon denied the claim.

A coalition bombing raid in eastern Afghanistan destroyed a village and killed between 100 and 200
civilians, according to witnesses and survivors.

A provincial official believed the village had been bombed but thought the death toll was exaggerated.
He said local anti-Taliban authorities had complained to the Americans that they were bombing in the
wrong place.

Building a successful anti-Taliban alliance among the Pashtun tribes is a key plank in the US-led
coalition's strategy for destroying the Taliban and killing or capturing bin Laden.

It has been hampered by squabbling among tribal chiefs and warlords. Hamid Karzai, an Afghan
commander favoured by the West, said he had been trying to negotiate with the Taliban, rather than
defeat them militarily.

There were reports of many groups of Taliban fighters surrendering. A group of 80 brought their heavy
weapons with them.

Refugees continued to pour out of Kandahar, mostly heading for the Pakistani border. A Canadian
reporter who went missing last week was handed over at the Pakistani border yesterday.

Details also emerged yesterday of deep splits in Tony Blair's War Cabinet as Ministers for the first time
began to question the Prime Minister's leadership in the crisis.

While there is friction between Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and International Development Secretary
Clare Short and the Foreign Office over the deployment of British troops to assist in humanitarian
operations - which Hoon is resisting - Ministers are privately criticising the way in which Britain's
influence in the conduct of the US-led war has been 'overhyped' by Blair.

Ministers are concerned he appears increasingly isolated from Washington over the deployment of British
troops for humanitarian duties and America's apparent desire to extend the war to Iraq.
In the latest snub to Britain, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, coming to Europe to bolster support
for the war, will visit Turkey but not Britain, although last night he praised the contribution of British
special forces.

Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith, who shares the enthusiasm of Republican hawks for extending
the war to Iraq, was last week given a warm welcome as the first foreign opposition leader to visit
Washington since 11 September. He was accorded a 40-minute interview with President Bush.

'There is a general feeling of nausea around this,' said one senior Labour source. 'We get snubbed by
Rumsfeld and then Duncan Smith gets the red-carpet treatment.'

There is a suspicion that British and other troops are being kept out of Afghanistan because they would
'get in the way' of US efforts to liquidate Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Return to Islamabad
In the first of a new series of online dispatches, Jason Burke finds that much has changed on the
Afghan-Pakistan border. But tensions are bubbling not far from the surface

Observer Worldview

Sunday April 21, 2002

And so back to Islamabad. Flying in on an old Fokker - effectively a Bedford van with wings - I see the
city's carefully laid out grid set starkly against the dun, dessicated hills of the Potwar plateau. The
gardens around the big villas of the political, financial and diplomatic elite are a violent, almost artificial,
green. But then Islamabad, though Pakistan's capital, has always been very much apart from the rest of
the country.

It's three months since I was last here, and eight months since I, and several hundred other reporters,
arrived in the days after September 11th to report the first stage of America's war on terror. It's quieter
now of course. The roof of the Marriott hotel is empty. There are no TV networks willing to pay $500 a day
for a few square metres of concrete for their satellites and stand ups. The Taliban embassy is no longer
Taliban.

General Pervaiz Musharaf is now as firmly in charge as ever. In two weeks Pakistan will vote in a
referendum on whether he should be allowed to appoint himself president for the next five years - a
significant consitutional change. He is expected to win easily. This is largely because he is still very
popular. Although loaded questions and a complete lack of serious opposition will help too.

In January, to every normal person's delight, Musharaf launched what appeared to be a concerted
campaign to root out the hardline militants that have been the scourge of Pakistan for decades. It now
appears to be faltering. A large proportion of the 1,500 activists rounded up have been released and men
like Fazl-ur- Rehman, the leader of the Jama'at-e-ulema-e-Islami organisation, have reappeared on the
national stage. Rehman is not just a supporter of the Taliban but was a father figure to many of them.

According to some commentators, Musharaf thinks he needs the support of the Islamic right in the
referendum, though afterwards he will go on with his project of ending Pakistan's hardline Islamic
'Kalashnikov culture'. But it would be a grave shame if the president threw away the best opportunity
Pakistan has ever had to rid itself of the extremism and violence that was the legacy of the Afghan war -
the first one against the Soviets - for short-term, personal political reasons.

At least the trial of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent killed by militants in Karachi is
going ahead. In the dock is Saeed Omar Sheik, the British-born LSE educated extremist who, it is alleged,
organised the murder.

Actually the evidence against him is thin and, the police say, it is quite likely he 'just' kidnapped the
journalist and then handed him over to another group who killed him. The actual killers are unlikely to
ever be found. Nor is Pearl's mutilated body. The authorities are, perhaps oddly, rather proud of their
handling of the case.

The murder has changed things for journalists working in Pakistan. Even last October I thought nothing of
travelling, illegally and in disguise, high up into the Khyber Pass to meet a senior al-Qaeda figure in the
house of a supporter. We spoke for hours and I stayed the night, surrounded by heavily armed tribesmen,
bin Laden fans to a man. It never occurred to me that I might be taken hostage or worse. Now reporters
are being much more careful.

Or most of them anyway.

One who isn't is Ahmed Zaidan, the Islamabad correspondent for al'Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic
language TV channel that has been such a thorn in the side of both the Bush administration and the Arab
regimes in the Gulf alike. I have known Ahmed for five yearws. He has recently returned from a five day
trip through Pakistan's badlands, the autonomous areas along the Afghan border where al-Qaeda support
is strongest and where bin Laden's fighters are supposed to be regrouping with the help of the local
Pashtoon tribes. Zaidan is well enough known to al-Qaeda to be invited, just over a year ago, to the
wedding of bin Laden's eldest son in Kandahar. He is unlikely to be held hostage.

Ahmed joined me for a coffee at the dreadful Marriott. He told me that the idea there are more than a
thousand al-Qaeda fighters regrouping in and around the Pakistani town of Miram Shah in the tribal areas
just over the border, ready to take on the British Marines who have just deployed in the area, was
rubbish. A couple of hundred fighters were there at most, he said. He had also found that the Pentagon's
claims of killing several hundred al-Qaeda men during Operation Anaconda last month were also hugely
exaggerated. Around 40 fighters died, he said. Ahmed is a precise and honest reporter so there's no
reason to doubt him.

But in talking to tribesmen, the senior Taliban fugitives and the al-Qaeda people who were around Miram
Shah Ahmed did pick up one constant theme: the impact of the Israeli actions in the West Bank. The
anger coursing through the area, and the Islamic world more generally, has boosted what was flagging
support for the apparently defeated bin Laden and his extremists. It has also boosted the fugitive al-
Qaeda leadership's own resolve.

According to Ahmed, bin Laden and his key advisors are preparing to ramp up operations in coming
weeks. have always been fine judges of public mood on 'the Arab street' and have now begun a new PR
offensive - thus the video delivered direct to al'Jazeera in Qatar, the emailed statement to al'Hayat and
the new web postings. More concrete actions may well follow.

With Israel and Palestine in flames, with the British troops hunting through the hills of Afghanistan, with
bin Laden still on the run and angry and hurt, Kashmir still tense, the Arab regimes sweating hard as
events crash around them, I think we can expect a hot summer.

· Jason Burke is The Observer's Chief Reporter. This is the first in a new series of Jason's fortnightly
terrorism dispatches which will appear online in Observer Worldview.