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AFGHANISTAN


  
  



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Area (sq.km)
647,500

Population
26,813,057

Capital
Kabul 

Currency
afghani (AFA)

President
Hamid Karzai

 



Update No: 053 - (28/04/06)

A cabinet reshuffle, finally
After hesitating for several months following the parliamentary elections of September 2005, President Karzai finally presented his new cabinet to the parliament in April. Most of the members of the old cabinet (14) stayed on in their job, while 4 were moved to a different ministry and 8 were replaced. The greatest anxiety was for the appointment of the new Minister of the Interior, but after much wrangling Karzai opted to confirm the interim minister, Zarar Ahmad Moqbil, who is not exactly the radical reformer that many would like to see in this badly underperforming ministry. Western media however chose to focus their attention on the fall in the number of female ministers, from three to just one (Women's Affairs). Massuda Jalal, the most popular among them, was among those who lost their jobs. The politically most significant change was in any case the removal of Foreign Minister Abdullah, the last remaining of the leaders of the Shura-i Nezar group, which was the core of the United Front and occupied Kabul in 2001. Shura-i Nezar, however, could console itself with the re-conquest of the Ministry of Interior. The new Minister, Dadfar Spanta, a former Maoist who has been a member of the German Green Party for years, had been expected to face some trouble from a parliament dominated by Islamic conservatives, but did well instead, winning 150 votes out of 249. He might have been helped by his stated plans to reform the ministry and balance the composition of its staff, at present heavily biased towards the sympathisers of Shura-i Nezar. In general the Parliament proved more cooperative than expected, failing to approve just five ministers. Among them, the only prominent figure was that of Mohammad Amin Farhang, candidate Economy Minister and member of an influential Pashtun family. Another casualty worth mentioning was that of Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoum Raheen, who had been caught in a number of contentious debates last year concerning the 'licentiousness' of some mass media.

Anti-Pakistani feelings grow
The unhappiness of the Shura-i Nezar group and of the party of which they are part, Jamiat-i Islami, over the replacement of the foreign minister is also likely to have been tempered by Karzai's recent anti-Pakistani drift. His visit to India in April went very smoothly and contrasted with the troubled March visit to Pakistan. India is now officially defined as Afghanistan's best friend, much to Pakistan's irritation. Afghanistan has renewed its demand that the import of Indian goods be allowed through Pakistan territory but the Pakistani government is only ready to allow such imports through the port of Karachi, which is a more expensive route. Apart from the objective reasons to raise his voice against Pakistan, Karzai is probably trying to consolidate his position by mobilising Afghan national sentiment. Although former allies like Prof. Rabbani, the leader of Jamiat, not least because of the recent case of Abdur Rahman, the convert to Christianity who was allowed to flee the country, now attack Karzai and accuse him of allowing foreign influence to corrupt the country, Karzai's anti-Pakistani stance seems to have succeeded in taking the thrust out of the conservatives' offensive.

Budget discussed
The draft budget has now been discussed in the Parliament. The operating budget was set at US$1.08 billion, while the development budget was set at US$1.35 billion. The parliament has asked for some changes, including a minor transfer of US$10 million from the development budget to the operating one, a reduction in the budget of the counter-narcotics ministry and an increase in the budget of the agriculture and energy ministries. The parliament is also asking for an increase in the salaries of government employees 'based on merit and rank'. The Finance Minister Ahady proposed in April new salary scales for government employees to be implemented over 5 years, with the lowest salary being increased from US$57 a month to US$75 and the highest salary rising to US$500. However, as the Minister himself admitted, foreign donors, who expect to pay for at least half of the operating budget and all of the development one, are not happy with the idea, at least not until the state administration is thoroughly reformed. 

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FOREIGN LOANS

WB grants Afghanistan US$30m for health care


The World Bank said recently that it has approved a US$30m supplemental grant to Afghanistan to extend and expand delivery of basic health services. The supplemental support to the Health Sector Emergency Reconstruction and Development Project is designed to reduce infant and child mortality, maternal mortality, child malnutrition and fertility by improving health delivery to Afghan citizens equally, the World Bank said in a statement issued in Kabul.
"This grant will help ensure expansion of health services to rural areas where hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children, die every year because no such service exists," the statement quoted Benjamin Loevinsohn, lead public health specialist for the World Bank assaying.
The grant will also train Afghan health workers to provide and manage health services, said the statement. In June 2003 the World Bank board approved a US$59.6m grant for the original health project, establishing more than 100 new health facilities ad training thousands of community health workers.
However, the health of the 25 million Afghans remains among the worst in the world, with life expectancy around 43 years.
In 2003 the infant mortality rate for those under age five was 257 per 1,000 live births, the fourth highest in the world. Thirty-nine per cent of children under five are underweight, and more than half of Afghan children suffer from chronic malnutrition, said the statement.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS

Karzai in India to boost ties

Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, visited India recently to boost ties with New Delhi that have blossomed after the fall of the Taliban regime, in a trip a nervous Pakistan will be closely watching. 
Afghanistan has received hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid from India in the past four years, but its ties with Pakistan have strained after Karzai asked Islamabad to do more to stop Taliban militants infiltrating the border. 
"Well, we are very happy in Afghanistan with India helping us in a manner that is not expected," Karzai told Indian state TV, Doordarshan. 
Karzai will hold talks with Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, on the official five-day trip. 
India, which did not recognise the radical Taliban regime, lost its foothold in the rugged country where arch rival Pakistan held diplomatic sway for years before the September 2001 attacks on the United States sparked a US-led invasion. 
India is now involved in training Afghanistan's police and diplomats, building roads, hospitals and supporting trade and services as Afghanistan tries to rebuild its war-ravaged economy, despite continuing attacks by Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents. 
"India went out of its way to provide us with great economic assistance. India's help is reaching up to US$600 million. It has helped us in all walks of life," Karzai said. 
Analysts in Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India, said Islamabad was worried over India's growing influence in Afghanistan, which borders Pakistani territory. 
"Pakistan should improve its relations with Afghanistan to check the growing Indian influence," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, Lahore-based foreign policy analyst. 
"The visit should not be a cause of concern for Pakistan because it can't stop it. But the growing influence of India in Afghanistan creates problems for Pakistan." 
New Delhi was a key backer of Afghan forces led by the Northern Alliance which, along with the US military, overthrew the Taliban, aided by Pakistan up to September 2001. 
Islamabad has not allowed overland transit for Indian goods bound for Afghanistan, further hitting Indo-Afghan trade. 
Militant attacks in Afghanistan have increased and relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have cooled after Karzai's complaints that Pakistan was not taking enough action against Taliban operating on its side of the border. 
President Pervez Musharraf responded angrily, saying members of the government in Kabul were out to malign Pakistan. 
Analysts in India said Singh and Karzai were likely to discuss the activities of Islamic militants on Pakistani soil. 
"Pakistan's territory is a hub for terrorist activities that affects both for Afghanistan and India," New Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst C. Raja Mohan said. 
"Both have a stake in Pakistan adopting a policy that is more harmonised with regional interest ... The Taliban resurgence is a huge problem for Karzai," he said.

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