Taleban attack NATO supply, US base in Afghanistan

Updated 15 September 2013
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Taleban attack NATO supply, US base in Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Taleban suicide bombers and gunmen dressed as Afghan police attacked a US base near the Pakistani border on Monday and set dozens of parked NATO supply vehicles ablaze, officials said.
All three attackers were shot dead by helicopter gunships during the assault on the base in Nangarhar province, but no member of the US-led NATO mission was killed.
“Our investigation shows some 41 vehicles — supply trucks and vehicles belonging to US forces — were destroyed in the attack,” Nangarhar provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said after the attack near the Torkham border crossing.
“Magnetic bombs were attached to some vehicles and detonated,” he told a press conference.
“Three armed insurgents were killed by US helicopter gunships. Weapons, suicide vests and hand grenades were found afterwards.” A senior Afghan border police official also told AFP that 30 to 50 vehicles had been burnt.
Torkham is next to Pakistan’s Khyber Pass and straddles a key NATO overland supply route into landlocked Afghanistan from the nearest sea port of Karachi.
“There were a series of explosions that occurred in the vicinity of a forward operating base in Nangarhar province,” said a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The military later described it as an “attempted but unsuccessful coordinated attack by enemy forces.”
“There were three enemy forces killed during the attack. We can confirm that no ISAF personnel were killed as a result of this incident,” it said in a statement.
An AFP photographer saw the bodies of three dead attackers wearing Afghan police uniforms.
NATO combat troops are gradually withdrawing from Afghanistan and are due to finish their mission by the end of 2014, after presidential elections next April.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taleban, which is leading a 12-year insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the media.
The Taleban have launched a spate of attacks across the country in recent days, with scores killed in suicide bombings, ambushes and rocket attacks. They also killed five aid workers in the west.
On Sunday the bullet-riddled bodies of seven civilians kidnapped one week earlier by the Taleban were found in Ghazni province just south of the capital.
Also on Sunday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and potential candidate for next year’s presidential election, Omar Daudzai, was appointed acting interior minister.
President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion removed the Taleban from power, is barred from standing for a third term.
Interior minister Mujtaba Patang was voted out by parliament in July over accusations that he had failed to thwart the threat from Taleban rebels.
Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in attacks as the NATO mission winds down, with police and army casualties said to have increased by 15-20 percent since 2011.
The election to succeed Karzai is seen as the key test of whether 12 years of massive international military and aid intervention has been worthwhile.
Karzai recently named controversial former warlord Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, 2009 runner-up Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as possible candidates.
Other potential runners include foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, Qayum Karzai, the president’s brother, and former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.
Karzai has pledged to ensure a smooth election, but international donors have expressed concern about whether the vote will produce a credible result after the 2009 poll was marred by massive fraud.

Chinese president’s visit

The Chinese president visits Central Asia this week amid concerns that a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could mean a destabilizing exodus of foreign radical fighters from the war zone to homelands closer to China’s borders.
With the pullout deadline just 16 months away, China’s leaders share widespread concerns that Kabul’s own forces won’t be able to maintain security or that foreign fighters who were focused on fighting US troops will now head elsewhere, including other fragile Central Asian nations or even northwestern China.
Xi Jinping’s trip, starting Tuesday, also is seen as an attempt to shore up China’s trade and relationships with governments in the region, extending Beijing’s influence in an area traditionally dominated by Russia.
“It’s vitally important for China’s development to have prosperity, peace and stability in Central Asia,” said Li Xin, a Russia and Central Asia specialist at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Studies. “The worry is the withdrawal of US troops will have a spillover effect.” Xi’s visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are his first to the region since taking office as president in March. He’ll end the trip in Kyrgyzstan where he will attend the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Russian- and Chinese-dominated grouping that Beijing hopes will boost its diplomatic influence in the region to better match its already considerable economic clout.
China surged past the EU as Central Asia’s biggest trading partner in 2010, and did $40 billion in commerce with the five-nation bloc in 2011. Much of that comes in the form of oil and gas, with two pipelines carrying supplies to China from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.


Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

  • Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows
  • Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan

KABUL: The burden of life has made Masooma look twice her age. Her life story in many ways is similar to those of several hundred thousand other Afghan women who have become widows since the latest conflict began here more than 40 years ago.
She lost her husband in a rocket attack 17 years ago in Kabul and since then has been feeding and raising her five children, doing jobs such as cleaning and laundry.

Looking frail and exhausted, Masooma is now part of the army of Kabul’s municipality and cleans roads in the city where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, thanks to the flow of foreign aid that has largely ended up in the pockets of commanders and those with links either to the government or foreign troops, as Masooma laments.

“I hate to beg and am proud of my job. I'm happy to earn a livelihood in a legitimate way,” Masooma told Arab News, sweeping a road and wearing an orange gown and a tight headscarf.

Like the rest of her female colleagues, she cleans the streets by braving the attacks, the rising heat in summer and extreme cold in winter.

Her eldest child is a young man now and he is a bus conductor, helping her to pay the rent for the house and sharing other responsibilities. 

But her life has been a long struggle in a male-dominated society where women are perceived largely as owned by their father before becoming their husband’s property and widows are often rejected or regarded as burdens.

“You cannot imagine the hardships I have gone through. It is not easy to raise five children without a father, without money and a house,” Masooma said.

Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan. They suffer violence, expulsion, ostracism and sometimes forced remarriage, often with a brother-in-law, as reported by the UN Mission in Afghanistan in a study in 2014.

Ferooza, another widow, lost her husband 20 years ago during a clash with the Taliban in northern Baghlan province. She moved to Kabul along with her daughter, Habiba. They have similar jobs to Masooma, with no health or life insurance in a country in the middle of war that relies on foreign aid.

“Life is very tough for widows. It is not easy for women to clean the streets day after day, for months and years, but we do not have an alternative. We are content and feel happy that we are working rather than being a burden on others,” Habiba told Arab News with a mild smile.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, there are more than 500,000 widows in Afghanistan, most of them war widows. Of these, 70,000 are breadwinners for their families, the ministry said in recent statistics given to the media last week.

Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows. The first women settled on this stony-slope location outside Kabul in the 1990s, hoping to escape the stigma they are forced to endure.

Today it is known as Afghanistan’s "hill of widows," home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns them.

Ninety percent of them are illiterate, some even taking care of as many as eight children, Hashratullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the ministry, told Arab News.

“We are in a state of war. The number of women who become widows is increasing. Those who fight on the government side and those on the side of the Taliban and the miltants have wives and mothers too. People on both sides suffer and women on all sides are affected more than anyone in this war,” Ahmadzai said. 

War widows who are registered by the government receive some meagre annual help from the ministry, but that does not meet the need of the victims, he said.

Gul Ghotai, head of the statistics department at the Ministry of Women Affairs, said the government lacks any strategy on creating vocational or short-term jobs for the widows.

“The ministry of women has done nothing on this. The government as a whole has failed to address the widows’ problems because it does not have the capacity. It has not even come up with a plan as to how to tackle the problem,” she told Arab News.