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AFGHANISTAN

The Problems of Creating a New Afghan army -
and the critical dangers of failure!
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The essential companion to follow the complex events in Afghanistan - as they unfold - includes reports on the main warlords and a map of the territory held by them, as well as other key descriptive material.

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AFGHANISTAN


  
   

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai
 

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Background:
Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979, in the attempt to rescue and consolidate the pro-Soviet regime in place. It took 10 years before the USSR could withdraw its forces, having been delayed by the fierce resistance of anti-communist mujahidin forces, supplied and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others. The pro-soviet regime survived for two years and a half, contrary to the expectations of many, and then fell in April 1992, having outlived its own mentor, the USSR. Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions, but the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement had been able to seize most of the country. In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines.

Internal politics
During the first half of 2002, the interim administration led by Hamid Karzai was mostly busy preparing the ground for re-establishing a government structure and getting reconstruction help from the international community. Perceived as an honest and well-intentioned man, but at the same time as a weak ruler, Karzai faced the resistance of the warlords who rule the various regions of the country, but also the difficulty of keeping his own coalition together. The interim government was an alliance between Pashtun monarchists of secularist tendencies and the various factions of the United Front, mostly composed of moderate Islamists from the ethnic minorities, who favour an Islamic republic. The coexistence between these radically different approaches would have been difficult in any case, but the situation was made worse by the fact that one of those factions, the so-called Panjsheris, quickly monopolised the real power by getting not just three of the most important ministries (defence, interior and foreign affairs), but also most top positions in the bureaucracy and in the army. The resentment caused by the attitude of the Panjsheris led to rising political tensions within the interim government, while the return of the former king Zaher Shah in April emboldened the monarchists to become more assertive. Other political factions, apart from the monarchists and the moderate Islamists, mostly opted to keep a low profile during 2002, siding with either faction depending on their own interests, but might become more active in the future.
The watermark in the consolidation of the regime in Afghanistan was expected to be the Loya Jirgah (June), which was to select a new transitional administration and a parliament. However, in many regards the Loya Jirgah turned out to be disappointing, although it did elect Karzai as President. The government was not subjected to approval by the Jirgah and no parliament was selected. A significant opposition emerged from the ranks of the Loya Jirgah, showing how the monarchists were increasingly divided between moderates favourable to Karzai and more assertive elements, who resented the relatively marginal role played by the Pashtuns in the new regime. As a result, Hamid Karzai, had to slightly increase the weight of the Pashtuns within the new government, succeeding in enlisting the cooperation of some groups previously opposed to him. 
Starting from August, there were also signs that he was trying to reduce the power of the Tajik Panjsheri faction within army and the state administration, causing a deterioration of his relationship with them. Nonetheless, opposition to his government continued to rise in the following months, especially among Pashtun monarchists, who felt that remnants of the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups might gain from the inability of the monarchists to defend the interests of the Pashtuns.
The "Jihadi" alliance of mostly moderate fundamentalists, led by former president B. Rabbani, emerged on the other hand as an important force and ended up supporting to some extent the pro-Karzai coalition, being then rewarded with some ministerial positions and a vice-presidency, but at the same time continuing to work for Karzai's replacement. Meanwhile, the central government tried to increase the pressure on the regional warlords, to force them to come to terms with it, but only achieved moderate success. In November Karzai took his boldest step yet, dismissing about 20 officials across the country on charges ranging from negligence to corruption, extortion and drug trafficking. The move was widely welcomed, especially in Kabul, although many were quick to point out how the 20 officials were just the tip of an iceberg of wrongdoing. Karzai also tried to weaken the total control exercised by the warlords over whole regions, confining them to specific institutional roles. However, the credibility of the central government's campaign against the abuses of governors and local officials suffered a severe blow in mid-November, when Kabul's policemen repressed with extreme violence a student demonstration in favour of better living conditions in their dormitories, leaving as many as seven dead. By the year's end the discussion about the legal system began to heat up, with tensions arising between those who want the Sharia (Islamic law) confirmed as a basis for the legal system and those who want a more secular approach. A similar split was emerging within the commission working on the new constitution of Afghanistan, with the debate focusing on issues such as equality between men and women and the separation of religion and the state.

International politics 
The row between the US and Iran, which is being accused of meddling in Afghanistan, with the aim of destabilising the interim administration of Hamid Karzai, faded away from the centre stage over the summer and autumn, after having attracted much attention during the first half of the year. Russia remained relatively indifferent to the internal politics of Afghanistan, but clearly wanted to ensure the presence of a government compatible with its geopolitical aims. Its strongest links were with Jamiat-i Islami, a party mostly composed of Tajiks, which it supported during the war against the Taliban. The former Soviet republic of Tajikistan is a Russian 'de-facto' protectorate, a fact that also favoured Russia's alignment with Afghanistan's Tajiks.
While Pakistan and Uzbekistan kept a low profile, the role of the US in affecting events in Afghanistan was undoubtedly dominant. The debate was mostly centred on the scope of military operations and the extent of US involvement in the consolidation of the new regime in Kabul. The relationship of the US armed forces with private militias remained controversial and one of their allied warlords even ended up fighting against government militias. During autumn 2002, the scale of American military operations was cut down, although this might well be more due to lack of suitable targets than to political considerations. 
By the end of 2002, the international politics of Afghanistan was characterised by renewed efforts to secure its freedom from the interference of neighbouring states, in the wake of the forthcoming war in Iraq. The fear was that the presence of Americans and ISAF forces in Afghanistan might weaken after the start of a war in the Middle East. On 22 December China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan pledged not to interfere again in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. However, such agreements took place amid reports that Iran continued to support Ismail Khan, the warlord who rules over most of Western Afghanistan, that Russia continued to provide arms for the Panjsheri faction of Jamiat-i Islami and the Pakistani intelligence service was helping the radical Pashtun groups in the East of the country.

Economy
The return of the old King Zahir Shah at the end of April was interpreted by many Afghans as a further sign that peace might really be at hand, a feeling that was already prompting hundreds of thousands of Afghans to come back to their native country from Pakistan or Iran. By mid-November, 1,870,000 had already done so. However, this development, while welcome in itself, added a further strain to an already difficult economic situation. By the autumn there were clear signs that scratching a living was a major challenge for most Kabulis, while in the countryside the population was often still at risk of starvation.
The economic situation was compounded by the slow start of the reconstruction. International donors pledged US$4.5bn in March and another US$600 million before that, of which a total of US$2.3 billion was for the current year. However, only US$1.7 billion has been confirmed in the form of actual commitments and by the end of August just about US$1.2 billion had been received. Of this amount, the largest part ($840 million) went to humanitarian relief, while US$160 million were spent on staff salaries and the armed forces, with just US$200 million going to actual reconstruction and development. Between the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn, however, there started to be signs of a growing willingness of donors, including the US, to make more funds available. On the other hand, the interim government was unable to raise funds on its own until the end of the summer, when some of the provincial warlords started paying in at least some of the income deriving from taxes and customs. The government itself expected to be able to raise just US$83 million in 2002. 
Apart from merely trying to start to reconstruct the country, the government had to keep international donors happy. For example, the international organisations decided that the Afghan government would be in charge of the reconstruction process, but demanded a properly scrutinised process of allocation of resources. They also expected the interim government to act towards the eradication of the poppy fields in several regions of the country, but during 2002 the Karzai administration has had only a very limited success in this regard. The UN estimated the 2002 harvest at 3,400 tons of opium this year, short of the peak of 4,600 tonnes reached in 1999, but still much more than 74 tons of 2001 under the Taleban, and higher than previous estimates. Even discounting the many allegations of fraud that have been surrounding the operation, it appeared obvious that a great deal more has to be done in order to reduce the impact of the Afghan opium on the European markets. Many of the warlords and military leaders of both Northern and Southern Afghanistan were reportedly involved at least indirectly in the trade, which made the eradication of the crop all the more difficult.
The focus of the reconstruction effort during 2002 was on investment on transport infrastructure, which is in extremely bad shape. Iran was at the forefront of such efforts in 2002, in part also due to its willingness to exercise some influence on its Eastern neighbour. During the autumn, a number of other projects, funded by a variety of donor countries and the Asian Development Bank, also kicked off, but the rebuilding of the highway network is not expected to be completed before two years. Longer-term projects were discussed at length during 2002, mostly the plan for a 850 km pipeline crossing Afghanistan, which could provide the Afghan government with as much as US$205m in transit fees every year. By the end of the year the plan was slowly progressing towards a detailed feasibility study, funded by the Asian Development Bank, but it still looked likely to struggle to find suitable funding, despite the support of the Turkmen, Pakistani, Afghan and US governments, and of the Asian Development Bank. Many international financiers would regard it as the highest of high risk investments.
During the whole of 2002, the government struggled to bring the money supply under control yet and as a consequence the local currency (Afghani) fluctuated wildly. This negatively affected whatever economic life was left in the country, with traders and state employees being hit especially badly. A first serious currency crisis took place in April, when the Afghani hit a new low of 45,000 to a dollar, the Afghan central bank for a while succeeded in stabilising the Afghani at around 36,000 to a dollar. However, the currency continued a slow decline during the following months, until a new crisis developed in November, when the Afghani slipped to a new low of 58,000 to a dollar in November. The introduction of a new currency starting from 7 October, which was key to the stabilisation plans of the government, proceeded too slowly to appease a population which, wary of being left with worthless notes, rushed to the money changers to convert their savings. However, when the transition to the new currency was completed in January, its value stabilised at 43 for a dollar. 
Despite the slow start, in Kabul and other main cities, by the autumn there were already clear signs of a new economic vitality, as small trades were re-opening or being created ex-novo, although most of the rural areas had seen little improvement yet. After some initial enthusiasm, the various communities of Afghans in exile, who were expected to play a key role in the economic recovery, are now showing signs of losing faith. Many who returned from exile in the West are already reported to have left the country again. More than the slow pace of reconstruction, these potential investors were scared off by the high level of corruption and red tape in the Afghan state administration. 


Forecast for 2003
If the consolidation of a central state in Afghanistan succeeds, in the longer term those countries will be rewarded which invested in befriending the Kabul government rather than regional factions. In this regard, a potentially very important development was in early January the signing of an agreement for the routing through Iran of Indian goods aimed for Afghanistan and Central Asia, with the concession of preferential treatment and tariff reductions. At about the same time, Afghanistan and Iran signed an agreement which allowed Afghanistan to trade with the rest of the world through the Iranian port of Chabahar, where it would enjoy a 90% customs discount. Taken together, the two agreements represented a massive blow for Pakistan's aspirations in Afghanistan and a resounding victory for both India and most of all Iran. Most commentators agreed that Pakistan courted disaster in recent months, by exercising pressure on the Afghan government through raising the costs of Afghan imports and exports though the Pakistan territory and increasing the restrictions on Afghan goods. The choosing of Iran as a leading trade partner for Afghanistan might even have contributed to President Bush's decision to grant Afghanistan preferential trading status in mid-January. 
Assuming that the international community will maintain a strong presence in Afghanistan in 2003, the transitional government appears likely to survive without major crises for another year, continuing slowly to push the reconstruction of Afghanistan forward. The institutional debate is likely to contribute to gradually shaping the political landscape of the country. While the Taleban and their allies will probably cling on to some bases of support in remote areas of Central and Eastern Afghanistan, carrying out a low-level guerrilla warfare against the government and international troops, they will find extremely difficult to mount any major military offensive. Given the very limited presence of international troops and government structures on the ground, this guerrilla strategy will not be able to inflict major casualties. However, the growing signs that the Pakistani intelligence is supporting the guerrilla mean that it has the potential to develop into something rather more serious. Among the political forces which support the transitional government, the increasingly heated debate about secularism and religion will begin to challenge the ethnic divide as a major factor in deciding political alliances. A large part of Afghan popular opinion appears opposed to the fundamentalists desire to maintain a strict code of behaviour in the country, but the conservatives are well entrenched in the judiciary and within the government and state administration. Anti-fundamentalist groups tried to organise a National Democratic Front in March 2003, but were immediately targeted by the security services with threats and arrests. President Karzai will continue in his weak efforts to improve the ethnic and political balance within the state administration, as shown in January by the appointment of a new and younger interior minister, Ahmad Ali Jalali. In February, then, Defence Minister Fahim appeared to give way to pressures and announced a spate of new appointments to his ministry, which were supposed to break the virtual monopoly of Tajiks belonging to the Panjsheri faction. It is unclear, however, whether these changes will be enough to appease the critics. Federalism will also be a matter of a heated debate. Key efforts like poppy eradication and the disarmament of the private militias will continue to see the government struggling. In International politics, tensions are being caused within the government by the situation in the Middle East and especially the war in Iraq, with the Islamist elements within the government opposing US policies and the moderate monarchists being more inclined to approve them. There are also contrasts with regard to how to deal with Pakistan, especially since its intelligence service is widely believed to be helping insurgent groups along the border shared by the two countries. Again, the moderate monarchists headed by Karzai favour a rapprochement with Pakistan, which is however opposed by the Islamists of Jamiat.
During 2003 Afghanistan will continue to be kept afloat mainly by international help. Towards the end of 2002, the Oslo meeting of the donors to Afghanistan indicated that the level of international support will be maintained in 2003 at roughly the same levels of 2002, that is US$1.7bn. The government appears considerably less optimistic and stated that it would be happy to receive half that amount, perhaps trying to prevent the negative impact that a drop in the levels of help actually received might have among the population. The mid-March Brussels conference of donor countries ended with the promise of another US$2 billion of help to Afghanistan, an outcome judged a "success" by Finance Minister Ghani. 
The growing presence of foreign personnel, both military and civilian, will stimulate the economy, but any recovery that will take place will be limited to the services. The bad state of the roads will contribute to feed inflation and the government's efforts to contain it will not be very effective, as shown in January, when it tried to introduce price controls and cut prices of consumer goods by an average of 20%. Even the agriculture will need to wait for much reconstruction work to be done before starting to climb out of its present depressed condition. 
In other terms, 2003 will still be a year of transition in Afghanistan. At the end of it, the country will still not be able to function on its own, even if all the current plans are accomplished. No viable independent army is expected to be deployed before 2004, that is about the same time when the highway network should be completed. Even the repatriation of Afghan refugees should be mostly complete only by 2004. The United Nations expect another 1.2 million refugees to return to Afghanistan in 2003. 
During 2003, however, the first elements of a banking system should be re-established in Afghanistan, contributing to create a somewhat more favourable business climate. The government will likely continue to be short of cash, much to the chagrin of officials, soldiers and policemen, who will continue to be underpaid (if at all). The central Bank will continue to struggle to stabilise the currency. Attempts to reform what is left of the Afghan economic system will intensify. In January, a privatisation commission was launched, with the purpose of handing over to private businessmen what is left of Afghanistan's state industries. Only about 74 state-run business are still in existence and those active in the transport, construction and agricultural sectors will be targeted for privatisation, while the energy and water sectors are expected to remain under state control. In some regards the government efforts to maintain the economy under control appear clumsy. The attempts to impose price and to increase its control over the NGOs that operate in the country are unlikely to deliver any good, given the inability of the country's bureaucracy to work with any degree of efficacy. Social tensions might mount as some elements of the middle class, involved in trade or working for the international community, will increasingly lift themselves above the mass of the population, who will by contrast continue to scratch for a living. Despite a much better harvest than in previous years, many areas of the countryside, on the other hand, far from recovering are still at risk of starvation. International aid agencies estimated in December that between 2 and 4 million Afghans will be at risk during the 2002-2003 winter.  

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Update No: 17 - (25/04/03)

Return of the Taliban?
As many had expected, the remnants of the Taliban, who had been mostly in hiding since the end of 2001, seized the opportunity offered by the war in Iraq to re-emerge into Afghan politics, trying to exploit the predominantly negative feelings about the war among the Afghan population. Despite its modest military importance, the start of a new campaign of guerrilla attacks and assassinations is bound to have significant political implications. Although there is little indication as yet of a significant influx of new recruits in the Taliban ranks, most observers agree that the mood in much of the Southern and South-eastern Pashtun belt is different from what it was a year ago. While Pashtun resentment against the monopolisation of power in Kabul by a single Tajik faction remains an issue, the main cause of dissatisfaction and even anger is the failure of the new government to provide security. Crime is on the rise and the situation resembles that of before the arrival of the Taliban. Worse still, the government does not seem to have a policy to reverse the situation. Karzai could not do much else than threaten in April to fire local officials shy of actively fighting the Taliban and ask the international community to provide the resources to pay the militiamen (now incorporated in the Afghan army), who are the main responsible for the crime wave which is hitting the country. Many doubt that even if the troops were paid they would give up their criminal activities, since these are much more profitable than the salaries that they would receive. At the same time, pro-government militias continue to clash among themselves, especially in the North of the country, a problem which is prompting the British government to consider stationing a small military contingent there. The wave of violence, political or not, is pushing many NGOs to abandon their activities in parts of the country, a development which will make the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country more difficult. 
Within the Afghan elite, the debate is focused instead on the new constitution, whose draft has recently been completed and is now supposed to be subjected to a public debate, although the draft has not been made available yet. For what is known, the new constitution will for the first time grant equal status to Shi'a jurisprudence, while it seems that it will include a strong presidency with executive powers and a prime minister appointed by the president. The most contentious issue, that is what role of Islamic law will play within it, is unclear yet.

A difficult relationship with Pakistan
Despite the war in Iraq, the main concern in terms of international politics remained in April the relationship with Pakistan. Within the Pakistani state, some elements are particularly annoyed by the continuing dominance of the Afghan government by anti-Pakistani factions. The Pakistanis have tried to bring pressure to bear on Afghanistan in a variety of ways, not just by making the transit of Afghan imports and exports more difficult, but also by supporting the insurgency along the border. In April, the radical elements within the two governments benefited from an escalation of the tension into border clashes in the South-east of Afghanistan. At the same time, more moderate elements kept working to reach an accommodation, even if President Karzai had to postpone his visit to Pakistan, originally planned for 21 March. While the two countries exchange fire on the border, Pakistan has committed itself to contribute US$100 million to the reconstruction of its neighbour and is cutting the list of transit goods for Afghanistan banned from crossing its territory. 

Still slow moves on the economic front
Political contrasts notwithstanding, the trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan is rapidly increasing and it is expected that this year Afghan imports from Pakistan will reach US$225 million, up from US$161 last year, while Afghanistan is expected to export to Pakistan goods for US$30 million. Pakistani firms are bidding for reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan and have so far won contracts for a total of US$55 million. Pakistan's main concern is to limit the role played by India in Afghanistan, which has been strengthening steadily since the fall of the Taliban. Unsurprisingly, one point of contention in the trade negotiations between the two countries has been Pakistan's stubborn unwillingness to allow Indian goods reach Afghanistan through its territory. 
Trade statistics point towards an economy which is far from being completely stagnant and reconstruction and rehabilitation projects are slowly getting started. In April, the National Solidarity Program was launched, a US$95 million program to provide village leaders with cash to spend locally in improvements and rebuilding activities. However, the Karzai administration continues to struggle in the attempt to re-establish viable state structures. In April, it announced plans to cut the state bureaucracy staff by 20%. While the productivity of Afghanistan civil service is notoriously very low, it is doubtful that simply cutting employment levels will do much to improve the situation. At the end of March it appeared clear that the Afghani currency has not stabilised yet, as the fear that the flow of dollars to Afghanistan would drop in the event of a war in Iraq pushed the currency from 45 down to 52 to a dollar.

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AVIATION

Afghan Airline rebuilds on a wing and a prayer 

The three-engined Ariana Afghan 727 from Islamabad touched down at Kabul International Airport with four passengers, nine crew and 145 empty seats, Reuters has reported.
If any of the four people on board were nervous, descent into Kabul would do little to ease their concerns. The shell- and bomb-shattered airport is a graveyard for dozens upon dozens of military and civil aircraft destroyed during more than two decades of warfare.
The skeletal remains of fuselages, engines and wings could be exhibits in a macabre open air museum of U.S., European and Soviet aviation in the latter part of the 20th century. The debris includes most of the former fleet of the state-run flag carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines. At least six of its aircraft were destroyed in air attacks by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001 that helped drive out the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
Ariana is slowly rebuilding, but it will be a long haul, not just to rebuild the fleet but to counter perceptions about an airline dubbed "Scariana" by detractors and aficionados alike and not famous for its timekeeping.
Speaking at his office in Kabul's bomb and bullet-scarred Ministry of Transportation, airline President Khalil Ahmad Najmyar says question marks about safety were unwarranted.
He points out that Ariana has not suffered an accident since he returned last year from 23 years exile in the United States to take control of an airline with just one remaining plane. The fleet has now been built up to seven -- three Airbus 300 B4s, three Boeing 727s and a single Soviet-built Antonov-24 turboprop. 
The aircraft may be aging - the newest are the Airbuses, donated by India and built 21 years ago, while the others are of 1977 vintage. But Najmyar says they are thoroughly maintained through contracts signed with industry-standard international firms.
Ariana now flies to six countries - Iran, Pakistan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Germany - and has signed pacts to expand its service to China and Azerbaijan. It plans routes to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Najmyar's near-term goal is a fleet of 15 aircraft, but for this, Ariana needs the generosity of friendly states and firms. "We can't afford brand new; it's either lease or second hand," he said. "We need airports to help us improve, we need aircraft, we need crew, we need maintenance, we need everything, and if people could help us that would be lovely."
Najmyar said Saudi Arabia had indicated it would respond favourably to his request for four 737s, three cargo aircraft -- preferably 757s, or Tristars or DC10s -- and the training of 65 Afghan staff. He said Ariana had also sought help from Boeing Co, while United Airlines had pledged to help obtain finance for a 767 for long-haul flights and to throw in a 727 free if this deal went through. 

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ENERGY

Pakistan will offer electricity to Afghanistan

Pakistan will shortly be sending a four-member delegation to Kabul to finalise terms and modalities for laying power transmission lines in Khost for exporting electricity to Afghanistan, sources told the Daily Times on 7th April.
"Pakistan has got an undertaking from Kabul for the export of electricity as at present Pakistan has 2000 MW of electricity not being utilised and it wants to export this surplus," sources added.
Sources said Pakistan would first start exporting electricity to Khost, a province of Afghanistan. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) wanted to supply electricity to Khost through Parachinar and Miran Shah areas, which already had transmission lines, sources added. Peshawar Electricity Supply Corporation (PESC) Director, Yar Mohammad, would lead the delegation, which would also negotiate the quantity of electricity to be exported. Pakistan has a capacity to generate 17,772 MW of electricity. At present it is generating about 13000 MW. 

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

First networking graduates to help Afghanistan join Internet age

Afghanistan's first computer networking class has graduated hoping to help the country take its first steps along the information superhighway, which has largely bypassed the war-ravaged nation, AFP has reported. 
"Afghanistan during the last two decades has been totally destroyed and one of the big losses which is hard to overcome is that we have stayed so far behind in technology, education and development," Telecommunications Minister Mahsoon Stanikzai said. The minister was speaking at the graduation ceremony for six women and 11 men at Kabul University. 
"Destroyed buildings will be reconstructed, roads will be asphalted very soon but what is difficult and time consuming is to reconstruct minds, humans and technology. The way that countries have progressed, in years we have to get along much faster and sooner since we are two decades behind the world of modern technology." 
Kabul University's Networking Academy was jointly launched in October by the United NationsDevelopment Programme (UNDP) and US computer networking hardware giant Cisco Systems. 
"This graduating class will mark history for Afghanistan," said UNDP country director, Ercan Murat. "They are the first highly trained computer specialists in Afghanistan who were trained here in their own country. They now have the tools to make a difference at home." Graduating students echoed his views. 
"The war has affected all sectors of Afghan life and we hope that we, the young generation, can compensate for the loss, and we hope that we can bring our country up to standard with today's technology," said Arzya, one of the women graduates. 
Following 23 years of war and the strict rule of the Taliban, who banned Internet use, Afghanistan has a long way to go, with only a small proportion of the population having access to the worldwide web. Afghanistan recently took its first step in cyberspace, gaining control of the .af domain for Afghan websites. 

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS 

PTCL to rebuild Afghanistan's phone system 

A team from Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited (PTCL) arrived in Kabul in early April to work on restoration of Afghanistan's DRS (digital radio system) telephone system, a PTCL source was reported as saying.
The four-member team will be led by Zafarullah, managing director of PTCL's sister concern, Telephone Industries of Pakistan. The rest will be technical engineers.
The restored DRS system will provide 100 connections to Kabul. The telephone traffic will come to Islamabad and then connected to rest of the world.
PTCL, which will spend up to Rs 2.5 million on the project and will also bill the calls. 
During the Taliban era, about 500 lines were working under the DRS, connecting Afghanistan to the world through Pakistan. However, the system was destroyed during the war. 
The DRS restoration is part of the memorandum of understanding signed last May between Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the MoU, telecommunication services will be started between the two countries through international exchanges. Alternative telecommunication services will be started via other countries after tripartite agreements. 
The MoU also includes a survey to assess the Afghan requirements, supply of spare parts, possible establishment of a fibre optic link between Pakistan and Afghanistan, training of the Afghan staff at the PTCL, establishment of a training Institute and supply of equipment and services through joint ventures with foreign companies. 

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TRANSPORT

Government eyes rail link with Afghanistan 

The Pakistan government is considering a proposal to establish rail links with Afghanistan through Landi Kotal-Jalalabad and Chaman-Kandahar routes, according to Railway Minister Ghaus Bakhsh Mehr Dawn (Pakistan) reported on April 16th. 
Talking to reporters after opening a new fast train, Faisal Express, between Lahore and Faisalabad, he said the Afghan government had expressed a desire to establish rail links between the two countries during a Pakistani delegation's recent visit to Kabul. Finance Minister, Shaukat Aziz, headed the delegation. 
He added that Pakistan Railways was ready to inter-link both the countries as and when the government finalized the proposal. In answer to a question, he said the railway was also ready to link Pakistan with Europe and Saudi Arabia through Iran, if Tehran would construct the Zahidan-Kirman section. 
Responding to another question, he said the institution would be made a corporation by the end of the current fiscal. 
The minister said senior railway officials were being retired as usual, and there was no obstacle to the promotion of junior officials to higher posts. He said, however, as the institution needed technical experts, some of the retired officials were being hired on a six-month contract, but without hindering any one's right to promotion. 

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