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Dirty Tricks In Afghanistan

Afghan warlords, whose violent reputations left them banned from a key grand council to decide the next government, are using dirty tricks and intimidation to ensure their men take part, according to some complaints.

It is unclear what proportion of the 1,501 seats in the Loya Jirga traditional council, due to meet from June 10, are subject to challenges as the selection process moves into its second and final round.

But Afghans who feel they have been cheated of a free and fair vote by intimidation say they have lost faith in the council that is supposed to pick a government to unite the fractious country and usher in peace and stability.

"I'm a defenseless woman and they showed me their guns," said one Afghan, commenting on the condition that her name be kept out of this story.

Fear did not vanish along with the fundamentalist Taliban, kicked from power last year after a prolonged U.S. air campaign and advances by opposition fighters.

"Weapons still dominate here," said the woman who alleged that armed men offered her a simple choice - accept 14,000 Pakistani rupees (about $215) to pull out of the election in a Kabul district or take a bullet in her heart.

Another complainant who had trudged from central Parwan province to the Loya Jirga Commission offices in Kabul told a similar story.

The man, who also refused to be identified because he fears for his life, said two Loya Jirga delegates chosen to represent his community were known associates of local militia commanders and had no popular support because of the death and destruction they had wrecked on Afghanistan.

"Many of my people have come here (to Kabul) but no one listens to them," he said as he prepared to give the complaints procedure another go.

The emergency Loya Jirga, agreed to by opposition parties at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Bonn held in December as the Taliban crumbled in their last southern strongholds, will pick a government for the next two years, when general elections will be held.

It was designed to balance the voices of Afghanistan's tribes and ethnic groups, with proportionate representation for the majority Pashtuns of the south, who formed the core of Taliban support, and for the ethnic Tajik and Uzbek minorities that dominate the Northern Alliance.

Seats are reserved for women, denied all rights under the Taliban, and for intellectuals, traders, religious leaders, Afghanistan's four million refugees and Kuchi nomads who criss-cross the mountainous country with their camel trains.

Militia leaders responsible for killing civilians during 23 years of war were deliberately excluded.

In the two-stage selection process, districts first pick representatives through traditional methods of debate. Then those representatives elect the actual Loya Jirga delegates through secret ballots.

The United Nations, which is overseeing the elections, says they have by and large been trouble-free, although there have been cases of influence peddling and intimidation.

In other war-related developments:

  • Six Canadian soldiers had a close call when an explosive device - possibly a landmine or unexploded ordinance - blew up and damaged an armored vehicle on a reconnaissance mission near Kandahar. The troops in the vehicle did not appear to be injured but were taken to a hospital regardless, as a precaution.
  • The U.N. Security Council votes Thursday on whether to keep international peacekeeping troops in Kabul for another six months. The council won't, however, consider the idea of stationing peacekeepers in Afghan locations other than Kabul. The 19-nation peacekeeping force is not under U.N. control or management; but the Security Council has to authorize it so the troops, mainly from NATO countries, have international legitimacy.
  • A study commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development says drought and a lack of adequate food have led to an economic and social disaster in Afghanistan, with girls as young as 7 being sold into marriage so that their families can afford to eat. Study author Sue Lautze says selling daughters has become so routine that "families who didn't have a young girl to put into marriage were lamenting it."
  • Australia - where some 10,000 Afghanis are seeking political asylum - is offering an equivalent of over a thousand U.S. dollars to Afghanis who return to their homeland. An estimated 3.7 million Afghanis fled Afghanistan to a number of other countries during the past 23 years of Afghan turmoil. Of that number, about 651,000 have returned home in the past three months.
  • With Congress poised to deliver on President Bush's $20 billion pledge to New York, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton says the city could need an additional $20 billion to fully recover. She says a large portion of that money might be needed to rebuild the city's devastated transit system.
  • The former head of the F.B.I.'s New York office is downplaying recent warnings for the city to brace for more terror attacks. James Kallstrom, who heads up New York State's Homeland Security efforts, told a national conference of emergency management officials that he doesn't see "any new threat that didn't exist already."

    Hitting a similar note, Rudolph Giuliani says the world is no more dangerous now than it was before September eleventh. According to the former New York mayor: "The world was just as dangerous before, only we didn't know it."

  • National lab scientists are developing a plan to help cities track nearly invisible enemies such as anthrax and other chemical and biological agents. The program links cities to the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center. In case of accident or attack, cities would get help predicting the movement of the plumes.
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