Category Archives: Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Helmand IDPs tired of leaving their homes time and again

Thousands of families in Helmand have been forced to abandon their homes due to the ongoing conflict and war in the area.

These internally displaced people (IDPs) have since been living in abject conditions as a result of leaving behind their homes, livestock, farms and belongings.

Most of these families move to Lashkargah, the capital, to live in temporary camps. Some stay with relatives, others search for shelter in neighbouring districts, while some continue their painful journey to Kandahar or move as far as Kabul.

Gul Mohammad, who has been forced to abandon his home and village in Helmand’s Nadali district for the fifth time in less than a year, told UNAMA that life hasn’t changed for his family even after several clean-up operations. He regrets that each time the government promises to bring security, it fails to do so.

“The government and NATO forces started fresh offensives in Nadali and Marja. We are forced to leave our homes to safeguard our families. More than 200 families left Nadali and are currently living in Lashkargah. Some are staying with their relatives and some others have rented houses which they can’t afford for too long. They don’t have food, tents and heating material. Neither the government nor aid agencies have provided any assistance to us as yet,” he said.

1. “We are sick of operations in our area every day. We leave our homes. Our children have no future and those who can’t move are stranded due to IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and blocked roads. People are trying to move to safer areas in order to protect themselves. We appeal to the government and NATO forces to… provide us (with) security and better living conditions,” said Ahmad Wali, an IDP from Marja district, who currently lives in a rented house in Lashkargah.

The head of the government’s refugees and returnees department for Helmand, Ghulam Farooq Noorzai, admits a large number of families are coming to Lashkargah from the districts of Marja and Nadali.

“We are in contact with UN agencies and have shared our concerns with them,” said Mr Noorzai. “The UN has promised to release assistance to the new IDPs from Nadali and Marja,” he added.

According to him, the United Nations has provided assistance to over 8,000 IDP families in Helmand province in the last six months.

Lucio Milardo, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kandahar, says the UN is helping the IDPs to build food capacity.

“First, the United Nations is providing humanitarian assistance to the IDPs based on their needs. Second, the humanitarian assistance from the UN agencies should not be aligned with military. Our aim is only to assist people in need and has nothing to do with the military,” he said.

“We are glad that UN agencies are helping the IDPs who have been forced to leave their homes and villages due to military operations. We have a good coordination mechanism in place with all UN agencies, including UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, UNAMA and others and we really appreciate their assistance”, said Mr Noorzai.

Mr Noorzai expects a fresh influx of IDPs from Nadali district, after the recent announcement by the military to launch fresh offensives. He, however, said they are prepared to meet the requirements of up to 15,000 IDPs with the assistance of UN agencies.

The United Nations is up to the task and as part of the UN’s Interagency Contingency Plan for natural and man-made disasters, the UN has pre-positioned sufficient food and non-food items at the provincial level.

United Nations agencies in the regions have always played a vital role in providing assistance to IDPs in Helmand and other provinces.

In 2009 alone, UN agencies assisted more than 30,000 families in the south with humanitarian aid – almost double when compared to 2008 – as displacement continued from areas most affected by the conflict.

By Mujeeb Rahman, UNAMA

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Twin Afghan quakes kill up to 22


SHERZAD, Afghanistan, April 17, 2009 (AFP) – Two earthquakes killed up to 22 people in eastern Afghanistan, damaging villages and destroying scores of homes in a remote area near the border with Pakistan, local authorities said Friday.

The quakes hit overnight in Khogyani and Sherzad districts in Nangarhar province, where police searched for bodies and the injured under the rubble of flattened homes, while the grim process of burying the dead got underway.

“Twenty-two people have been killed and 30 injured. More than 200 homes have been destroyed,” Khogyani district chief Haji Said Rahman told AFP.

The 5.5- and 5.1-magnitude tremors, which struck two hours apart at shallow depths, had caused simple mud-brick homes to collapse with ease, said an AFP correspondent.

At one house, only a wall with a prayer mat hanging on it was left standing and several dead cows and sheep lay motionless in the rubble.

“Some people came out of their houses after the first tremor,” said resident Yar Mohammad, 30, adding they went back inside to help other people get out.

“But there came another strong tremor and the houses fell down on the people,” Mohammad added, as helicopters surveying the damage roared overhead.

Funerals for three women and six children began Friday afternoon in keeping with Muslim and local tradition that bodies be buried as quickly as possible.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai conveyed his condolences to local officials and tribal elders in the region, and ordered authorities to provide emergency aid as quickly as possible to the victims.

Twenty people were killed and around 50 wounded, the presidency said in a statement.

“The work is going on and the rubble is being removed to try to find more dead bodies or injured people,” interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashari told AFP.

A US military provincial reconstruction team (PRT) based in Jalalabad, the provincial capital, also provided emergency assistance.

Ahmad Shekib Hamraz, an official with the disaster management directorate, said hundreds of animals had also been killed.

“Nineteen people have been martyred and 25 wounded. A hundred houses were destroyed. Some 350 to 400 animals were also killed,” he said.

The US Geological Survey said two moderate earthquakes rattled the Hindu Kush border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A 5.5-magnitude quake struck at 1:57 am Afghan time (2127 GMT Thursday), 85 kilometres (55 miles) southeast of Kabul, according to the US agency.

The quake was at a shallow depth of eight kilometres.

It was followed just over two hours later by a 5.1-magnitude aftershock at a depth of just three kilometres.

Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in northwest Pakistan and Kashmir in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Agence France Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 04/17/2009 10:11:35 ©AFP: The information provided in this product is for personal use only. None of it may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the express permission of Agence France-Presse.

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Millions facing food shortages, possible starvation in forgotten emergency

Source: Action by Churches Together International (ACT)

Date: 24 Mar 2009

GENEVA — The most severe drought in a decade is fueling a grave food crisis in Afghanistan that now threatens millions of people with food shortages and possible starvation, reports ACT International. Church World Service (CWS) and Christian Aid, members of ACT International with long-established programmes in Afghanistan, have developed plans to assist the most vulnerable in four challenged provinces.

“Funding for this emergency remains a significant challenge,” reports ACT director, John Nduna. “What are we saying when only high profile emergencies receive our support?” The US$1.26 million ACT appeal for the drought in Afghanistan is severely underfunded, receiving less than three percent of the requested support. Mr Nduna stresses that dramatic funding is needed for the ACT alliance to do its part to address this crisis and support Afghan communities.

“Life continues to be difficult for all Afghans, but the tens of thousands of displaced Afghans and returnees from Pakistan and Iran are particularly at risk,” says CWS Asia and Pacific regional coordinator Marvin Parvez.

Competing agendas “In Afghanistan, the heroin trade, suicide bombings and the ‘war on terror’ has put the humanitarian agenda on the sidelines,” says Mr Parvez. “The international community has promised the Afghans so many times that we will not abandon them. Yet what we don’t abandon is our own agendas and then hunger, poverty and human rights are always the last issues to be addressed.” Poverty and conflict dominate the recent history of Afghanistan.

The majority of poor Afghans have seen limited change in their villages since 2001 with consecutive years of drought leading to a significant impoverishment of the poorest families. Over time families have had to sell their assets just to survive. “Inequality in communities and in households remains firmly ingrained in the Afghan society, while fragile political balances often stand in the way of policies to promote equity,” says Serena Di Matteo, the country director in Afghanistan for Christian Aid.

“With the already desperate humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the attacks on aid convoys have made it even more difficult to get supplies to reach the most vulnerable people,” adds Ms Di Matteo. “Armed groups don’t distinguish between convoys carrying food supplies for affected communities and convoys transporting supplies for foreign military troops.”

In addition, Christian Aid reports that a combination of food price hikes, a downturn in the global economy, the effects of climate change, weak governance and the intensification of the armed conflict, threaten to push even more Afghans into the ranks of the desperately poor. “Unless the international community responds to the issue of hunger in Afghanistan, we will not be able to fulfill any other promises we are making to the Afghan people,” notes Mr Parvez.

“The humanitarian agenda should be the top agenda.” Severe lack of funding CWS and Christian Aid are prepared to respond in the provinces of Nangarhar, Takhar, Laghman and Herat, where recent droughts have severely affected the residents’ food security and the inflow of Afghan returnees from neighboring countries has increased the demand for food.

The ACT members plan to work alongside communities to increase sustainable food production, improve irrigation systems, provide clean water and strengthen livelihoods. However, all plans depend on the availability of external funding. Based on UN estimates, some 2.2 million tons of cereals need to be imported into the Afghanistan this year just to meet basic needs.

Commercial imports were expected to supply 1.5 million tons. But, in the current situation — marked by high prices and the smallest wheat harvest in years — any meaningful commercial imports of food and agricultural inputs are unlikely. The bulk of the nearly one million-ton shortfall will need to be met by the international donor community. Speaking on the resilience of affected communities, Mr Parvez said, “The Afghans never fail… It is us who fail them.”

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Suspected US missile kills 20 in Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A suspected U.S. missile strike by a drone aircraft flattened a militant hide-out in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing 20 local and foreign insurgents, intelligence officials said.

At least 15 militants were also wounded in the attack in the restive South Waziristan tribal region, where Pakistan has launched several military operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and their local supporters in recent years.

The Taliban surrounded the targeted house and transported the dead and wounded out, said three intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media

No government or military spokesmen were available for comment.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its fight against terrorism, but it has opposed missile strikes in the country’s tribal regions where Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents are believed to be operating.

The U.S. has launched more than 30 missile attacks in recent months.

Saturday’s attack came days after Pakistani leaders told Richard Holbrooke, an American envoy dispatched by President Barack Obama to the region, that the U.S. attacks should be stopped as they were counterproductive and fueling anti-America sentiment in this Islamic nation.

It also came a day after a militant group holding an American employee of the United Nations warned it would kill him within 72 hours and issued a grainy video of the blindfolded captive saying he was “sick and in trouble.”

SHAHRUL PESHAWAR – Continuous attack on Pakistani land by American Forces will only spark the anger of the people and may jeopardize any effort or attempt to release John Solecki.  Personally, I feel that US is not serious in releasing Solecki.

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Gunmen kidnap American U.N. official in Pakistan

Dear Kidnappers

John Solecki is a non-combatant person.  He is not the one that you are looking for.  He was doing humanitarian job and he is helping the refugees and the IDP’s.  Do not harm him, kindly released him.  You have not set your priority right – you should not kidnap personnel of humanitarian agency – they are the soft target and easy prey.  This is not Islamic at all and I demand for John’s unconditional release.

Shahrul Peshawar, Alor Setar, Malaysia

Source: Reuters Foundation

Date: 02 Feb 2009

By Gul Yousafzai

QUETTA, Pakistan, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Gunmen abducted an American official of the U.N. refugee agency in Pakistan on Monday after shooting dead his driver, the lastest in a string of attacks on foreigners in the country.

John Solecki, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the southwestern city of Quetta, was on his way to his office when gunmen intercepted his vehicle and opened fire, killing his driver.

“We strongly condemn this attack on humanitarian workers in Pakistan who have been doing their utmost to deliver their humanitarian mission,” the United Nations said in a statement.

There had been no claim of responsibility, said Quetta police official Wazir Khan Nasir.

Solecki’s vehicle crashed into a wall after the gunman opened fire from a car.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the agency was doing all it could to secure Solecki’s release, and expressed sympathy to the family of the driver, Syed Hashim, who had worked for UNHCR for 18 years and leaves a wife and four children.

“The targeting of those who help the world’s most vulnerable people leaves all of us deeply shocked and saddened,” Guterres said in a statement from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned what it called a “dastardly terrorist act” and said all measures were being taken for Solecki’s safe and early recovery.

Security had been stepped up at the main crossing point into Afghanistan at Chaman, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Quetta, and at other points along the border to stop the kidnappers taking their hostage into Afghanistan, another police official said.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Both Taliban and separatist Baluch militants operate in the province where the UNHCR is helping Afghan refugees.

Incidents of kidnapping have increased in Pakistan over the past year, especially in the northwest in areas on the border with Afghanistan, where Islamist militants have abducted several foreigners.

Pakistani Taliban militants were believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a Chinese engineer, a Polish engineer and two Afghan diplomats. All four were kidnapped in the northwest months ago and are still being held.

Gunmen shot dead an American aid official outside his home in the northwestern city of Peshawar in November. The man’s driver was also killed.

In August, a U.S. diplomat escaped unhurt when gunmen ambushed her vehicle in Peshawar.

The United Nations ordered the children of foreign staff to leave Pakistan in October after a suicide truck-bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killed 56 people, including six foreigners.

The violence poses a problem for aid groups which want to increase help to the impoverished northwest but are unable to send staff, in particular foreigners, into the area to implement and monitor projects because of security fears.

(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in ISLAMABAD and Jonathan Lynn in GENEVA; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Petugas Global Peace Malaysia ke Wilayah bergolak – Gaza

Assalamualaikum

SAYA terpanggil untuk berkongsi Misi Global Peace Malaysia ke GAZA 2009.  Ini bukanlah catatan rasmi bagi GPM, sekadar coretan seorang petugas bantuan kemanusiaan yang pernah terlibat dalam aktiviti pelarian di Pakistan,  Afghanistan, Kashmir dan Iran serta pernah bertugas di zon perang.

Misi GPM kali ini ialah untuk menyediakan prasarana pergudangan bagi memudahkan NGO-NGO kecil serata dunia menyalurkan bantuan mereka secara tersusun, sistematik dan berkesan.   Pengalaman ketika membantu di Kosovo, Afghanistan dan Acheh menjadi asas kepada perancangan ini.

Setiap NGO mempunyai ruang lingkup dan kemahiran masing-masing yang perlu dikisar (blend) bersama bagi menjadikan kerja bantuan kemanusiaan semakin meriah dan tidak photocopy (fotokopi) kerana ianya akan merugikan sumber, masa dan wang ringgit.

Setakat ini, saya belum boleh memberikan sebarang gambaran tentang operasi gudang ini, bagaimana strukturnya, bagaimana jadual pergerakkanya, keluasan, faedah nilai tambah yang ada, kemampuan penggendaliannya dan sebagainya sehinggalah saya mendapat maklumat yang lengkap dan tepat.  Apapun saya akan cuba mendapatkannya dalam masa yang terdekat.

Petugas yang terlibat dalam misi GPM kali ini ialah Dr. Hyzan, Mej. (B) Azlan dan Sdr. Khairil Anuar Khalid. 

Dr. Hyzan saya kenali sejak misi GPM di Afghanistan dan kami pernah ke Kashmir dan Lebanon bersama.  Dr. Hyzan seorang pakar Ortopedik memang dikenali ramai dan sering menjadi pakar rujuk didalam bidangnya.  Ketika di Afghanistan, kenderaan yang dinaiki beliau pernah ditembak tetapi mujurlah tidak ada sebarang kejadian buruk yang berlaku.  Malah ketika dalam perjalanan pulang, sewaktu menunggu penerbagan di Karachi, beliau berpengalaman merasai susulan gerakan (aftershock) yang menyebabkan orang bertempiaran lari menyelamatkan diri.  Kami pernah sama-sama tercampak dari katil dalam misi bantuan ke Balakot, Kashmir dalam bulan Ramadhan 1426 yang lepas kerana gegaran aftershock yang kuat.

Mej. (B) Azlan pula adalah ahli kepada kumpulan ke-2, tim GPM ke Afghanistan.  Beliau lah yang membuat interaksi awal untuk Sekolah Tinggi Sooriya di Miskeenabad, Peshawar, Sekolah Ummu-E-Salamah, University Town, Peshawar, Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development Council – ARDC – untuk projek Tadahan air di Dehbala, Ningarhar, Afghanistan.  Projek ini semuannya diteruskan ketika saya menjadi Pengurus Projek di GPM Asia Selatan.  Kami turut serta dalam Misi Bantuan ke Kashmir dan Misi Bantuan Banjir di Johor.  Sdr. Azlan telah pergi ke serata tempat termasuk di Iraq, Sri Lanka dan Palestin sebelumnya.

Sdr. Khairil Anuar Khalid adalah mentor lama saya semasa kami di Tabung Bosnia Malaysia dan Malaysian Relief Agency Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  Kami kemudiannya bekerja lagi di Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir dan Iran.  Saya pernah berguru teknik membuat Effective Mircoorganisme (EM) bersama beliau di Satun, Thailand.  Sdr. Khairil terkenal dengan projek Malaysian Relief Centre-ABIM di Zagreb dan Sarajevo pada awal tahun 90an.

Saya akan mengemaskini untuk maklumat-maklumat yang terkini dari Gaza – Insya Allah.

Shahrul Peshawar, Alor Setar

Semenjak pulang dari Afghanistan dalam tahun 2004 lalu, saya tidak banyak menyertai Misi Global Peace Malaysia (GPM).  Saya sekadar membantu dari belakang dalam beberapa Misi antaranya Program Qurban Orang Asli di Ulu Yam, Kutipan Dana untuk Mangsa Tsunami Acheh, Bantuan Banjir di Batu Pahat Johor serta mengisi beberapa slot ceramah dan perkongsian pengalaman.  Selainnya saya turun membantu AMAN Malaysia dalam beberapa siri bantuan mereka di luar negara.

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Guantanamo detainee ‘was tortured’

 

A Saudi Arabian national held at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay was tortured by US military personnel over his alleged involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks, a senior US official has said.

Mohammed al-Qahtani suffered techniques including sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, Susan Crawford, told the Washington Post newspaper on Wednesday.

Crawford, the Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring detainees to trial, said the torture left al-Qahtani in a “life-threatening condition”.

“This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him,” she said.

“It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive.”

She said she could not recommend he face prosecution as he had been subjected to torture.

‘Dangerous man’

Crawford said a decision on what to do with al-Qahtani was yet to be made as he was still considered “a very dangerous man”.

“What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go’,” she told the paper. 

Both George Bush, the US president, and Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, have rejected allegations that the US tortured suspects being held at the US facility in Guantanamo, Cuba.

There has been widespread controversy over the use of the interrogation technique of “waterboarding”, which simulates drowning, and which the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) admitted in February last year had been used on three detainees at Guantanamo.

A confession made by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was reportedly obtained using the method.

‘Restrictive’ policies

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told the Post that it took any allegations of abuse “seriously” but that investigations into their detention operations on detainees, including al-Qahtani, found that the “special” techniques used on him “were lawful”.

Morell said that the Pentagon had adopted “new and more restrictive” policies for interrogation following the reviews.

“Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Qahtani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated army field manual,” he told the paper.

Qahtani, sometimes alleged to be the so-called “20th hijacker” of the September 11 attacks, was denied entry into the US in August 2001 and captured in Afghanistan in January 2002 before being transported to Guantanamo Bay, the paper said.

War crimes charges against him were dismissed in May last year by Crawford, but military prosecutors said in November that they would seek to refile charges based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ the harsher techniques, the paper said.

About 255 men are still being held in Guantanamo Bay, mostly al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects captured during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Barack Obama, the US president-elect, is expected to issue an executive order to close the facility.

The fate of the detainees remains uncertain until US officials resolve legal and logistical problems, including where those not set for trial could be sent.

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