Afghanistan in the News
Feature: In Kabul, orphaned children are forced to support their families
By Abdul Haleem
KABUL, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- It may not be true in urban cities in other parts of the world for children to work in order to support their families, but in this capital city, it is not unusual.
Shapoor, 9, is one of these poor Afghan children who are forced to toil the whole day in the streets of Kabul to earn bread for their families.
"I have no choice but to work, sometimes from dawn to dust to earn and support my family," Shapoor, who like many Afghans has only one name, told Xinhua.
Street children like Shapoor are doing odd jobs, from selling shopping bags and toilet paper to polishing shoes and washing car. These Afghan children are forced to work when they are supposed to be in school or at play.
"In addition to washing cars, selling shopping bags and polishing shows, sometimes I scavenge from garbage bins to find usable goods to sell," Shapoor said.
"Since the death of my father in a bomb blast two years ago the responsibility of feeding my family rested on me and that is why I have to work hard," Shapoor said.
Shapoor said that his father, along with several others, was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul two years ago. Since then, he has been doing jobs fit for older people just so he can support his mother and four siblings.
Shapoor remembered that his father wanted him to become a doctor but this is no longer possible.
"Usually I earn around 350 Afghanis (1 U.S. dollar equals 57 Afghanis) daily to support my mother, three sisters, my younger brother and myself," the 9-year-old boy said.
Nonetheless, Shapoor has continued his schooling in a government school where he is in grade three though sometimes he has to skip classes to work in the streets.
Several other Afghan children also work in Kabul streets, some of them in the markets and malls, carrying bags of shoppers or running errands for customers.
The unabated fighting in Afghanistan, perpetrated by militant groups such as the Taliban, has resulted in thousands of deaths and forced children like Shapoor to work to earn a living.
It is young Afghans like Shapoor who are suffering the most in a senseless war that they could never understand why it is happening.
Afghanistan's mineral wealth is closely tied to its future prospects
By Frud Bezhan
October 02, 2013
If managed well, the theory goes, the mining sector could be the backbone of a sustainable economy, fund national security, and stabilize the government.
But the country's natural resources could just as easily undercut Kabul's efforts to stand on its own by exacerbating corruption, forcing a sell-off of prized assets to foreign investors, and becoming yet another source of violent conflict.
Based on its handling of the mining sector, observers say, it looks like Afghanistan is on course to join the raft of countries afflicted by the "resource curse."
The Mines and Petroleum Ministry estimates that Afghanistan boasts oil, gas, iron ore, copper, and gold deposits worth about $1 trillion. Kabul hopes to generate about $4 billion a year in mining and energy revenue over the next decade. Yet in 2012, the two sectors brought in less than $150 million combined.
Stephen Carter, the Afghanistan campaign leader at Global Witness, a London-based nongovernmental organization that investigates links between natural resources, conflict, and corruption, says the government has lacked control over its resource wealth.
"The sector, as a whole, is operating in a very uncontrolled way. There's no oversight," Carter says. "We fear that there is this sense that 'we must exploit, we must get this going as quickly as possible.' That's understandable, but if that comes at the expense of taking shortcuts in the control of the sector, I think it will be seen as a very poor decision in the future."
The Afghan government has made the development of its commercial mining sector a top priority. Kabul is counting on the extraction of natural resources to bring in cash and create jobs as the bulk of foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014 and international assistance winds down.
But there are already worrying signs that the competition over natural resources could spill over into very real fighting between rival ethnic and political groups.
In the northern province of Badakhshan, disputes have been reported between local leaders over control of the gold and precious-stones trade. In Bamiyan Province, locals have clashed with security commanders over ownership rights to mines. In Paktia Province, local militias have fought over the control of coal mines.
Fights have also erupted between the central government and provincial and tribal leaders in resource-rich areas.
Last month, a landmark oil project in the Amu Darya basin was halted less than a year after production began after engineers working for the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which along with an Afghan entity has the right to extract oil from the site, came under attack from a local militia.
The government alleged that the militia was associated with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord who serves as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the Afghan National Army. Kabul has accused Dostum of putting pressure on the CNPC to make illegal payoffs.
Dostum has, in turn, rejected the allegations, accusing President Hamid Karzai of protecting the interests of the Watan Group, the Afghan company affiliated with his family that shares the drilling rights with the CNPC.
Carter says Afghanistan's natural resources are also being used by armed groups to fund conflict, much like the situation during the Soviet occupation and civil war, when various mujahedin factions smuggled precious stones, marble, and other minerals to Pakistan to raise funds.
"There's funding for insurgent groups through the smuggling of timber in eastern Afghanistan," Carter says. "There's also funding for insurgents, but also local militias, from the smuggling of chromite. We also shouldn't underestimate the potential for a large mining operation to create internal rivalries within communities that could spill over to violence."
The three largest operations in the country -- the Mes Aynak copper mine in eastern Logar Province, the Hajigak iron ore mine in Bamiyan Province, and the Amu Darya oil project in the country's north -- are all situated in relatively peaceful areas.
But these areas have witnessed growing instability because militants, seeking to disrupt sources of government revenue and discourage foreign involvement in key industries, have targeted the projects.
Even within the government itself, the internal battle for control over Afghanistan's mining and energy sectors has slowed efforts to put them under Kabul's authority.
Attempts to pass a new mining law that would regulate the industry and lure investors has been stuck in parliament for more than a year because of disputes between ministries vying to oversee the sector.
Javed Noorani of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an Afghan nongovernmental organization, says greater transparency could help put an end to the graft that is behind many of the disputes.
"There are so many levels of corruption," Noorani says. "When the government is shortlisting companies for a contract there's room for corruption. Even when you implement a contract there is corruption. There are maybe 100 points at which there's space for corruption."
Noorani suggests that the government publicly reveal details of mining agreements, payments made by foreign mining companies to the government, and how revenues from the mineral wealth are used.
Only by taking such steps toward transparency, he says, can Afghanistan find a way to use its natural resources as a catalyst and not a curse.
An eye-opening New York Times article on the actual status of education in Afghanistan today
By Rod Norland
Published: July 20, 2013
SALANG, Afghanistan - There is not an ounce of fat on the wiry frame of Abdul Wahid, and no wonder.
After he finishes his morning work shift, he walks 10 miles down mountain trails in northern Afghanistan to the first road, where he catches a bus for the last couple of miles to the teacher training institute in Salang. He walks back up the mountain another 10 miles to get home, arriving well after dark, just in time to rest up for his day job
In his determination to formally qualify as a teacher, Mr. Wahid, 33, exemplifies many of the gains for Afghan education in recent years. "It's worth it, because this is my future," he said
But he also personifies how far the efforts here have yet to go. Mr. Wahid's day job is being the principal of the high school in his village, Unamak. Though he has only a high school diploma, he is the best educated teacher that his 800 students have.
It is widely accepted that demand among Afghans for better schooling - and the actual opportunity to attend, particularly for girls - is at its highest point in decades. For Western officials seeking to show a positive legacy from a dozen years of war and heavy investment in Afghanistan, improvements in education have provided welcome news.
But for those who are working to make it happen - local Afghan officials, aid workers, teachers and students - there are concerns that much of the promise of improvement is going unfulfilled, and major problems are going unsolved.
In interviews, they pointed out an abysmal dropout rate, widespread closings of schools in some areas of conflict and a very low level of education for those who do manage to find a seat in a class. Overcrowding is so bad that nearly all schools operate on split shifts, so students get a half-day, and many of them are on three shifts a day, meaning that those students get only three hours of instruction daily. And many children are not in school. Unicef estimated in 2012 that one in two school-age children did not attend at all.
Further, while there has demonstrably been positive and rapid growth in the public school system, there have also been daunting challenges, particularly a lack of capacity to find or train qualified teachers, print enough textbooks or build enough safe schools.
According to statistics compiled by Unicef, only 24 percent of Afghanistan's teachers are qualified under Afghan law, meaning they completed a two-year training course after high school. In many rural places, there are sometimes teachers with 10th-grade educations teaching 11th and 12th graders.
Forty-five percent of the country's 13,000 schools operate without usable buildings, under tents or canvas lean-tos, or even just under the branches of a tree; in a country of harsh extremes of climate both in winter and in summer, that means many missed school days.
The Afghan public school system has expanded immensely in recent years, buoyed by extensive international aid - the United States Agency for International Development alone has given $934 million to education programs over the past 12 years, according to the government agency. The education minister, Farouk Wardak, insists that 10.5 million students are enrolled this year, 40 percent of them girls, a huge increase from an estimate of 900,000 enrolled students, almost none of them girls, under Taliban rule in 2001.
Those numbers are widely quoted by Afghan and Western officials as a marker of success, but the claims are seen as unsupportable by many here.
Jennifer Rowell of CARE International, who has been conducting a study of education in Afghanistan, cautions that enrollment numbers are not actual attendance numbers.
And she said that when CARE tried to contact the headmasters of schools around the country, using contact lists kept by the Education Ministry, "half to three-quarters of phone numbers of school masters were missing, or the man we call has not been in the job for years."
That makes it difficult for the Education Ministry to do any meaningful monitoring of actual school attendance around the country. Beyond initial enrollments, attendance tends to drop off quickly, often within just a few weeks. Only about 10 percent of students make it through to graduation, according to U.S.A.I.D. figures.
Those numbers are even lower for girls, most of whom drop out between sixth and ninth grades, after puberty makes them marriageable in many areas. Female teachers are acutely scarce, and families worry about the safety of sending their daughters to school given continuing threats from the Taliban and resistance from some local elders.
The schools themselves have an incentive to inflate their figures, since their financing, which comes from Kabul, is based on enrollment.
In the eastern province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, Education Ministry documents from Kabul officially list 252,000 students enrolled last year. But in Khost Province's education department, Kamar Khan Kamran, who works as a recruiter of teachers, said those numbers were wildly inflated. "I think we would hardly be able to enroll 20,000 to 25,000 students this year in the province, though the demand for education is booming rapidly."
The shortage of teachers is so acute that in many districts the schools are hiring teachers who graduated only from sixth, seventh or eighth grade, Mr. Kamran said, "even though it's not legal."
For all of that, even those who warn that establishing quality education in the country is a mission far from accomplished will acknowledge that improvement has been marked over the past decade.
One United Nations official, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to anger Afghan officials, noted that while there still was not enough attention paid to the quality of education being provided, "enrollment has been tremendous, very encouraging, particularly for girls."
S. Ken Yamashita, the head of U.S.A.I.D. in Afghanistan, said that even though reliable statistics are hard to come by in Afghanistan, "what's absolutely clear is the number of kids in school has gone up, the participation of girls has gone up, and it's such a huge differential."
He added, "Education is very much a success in Afghanistan."
A good example of that success is the Sardar Kabuli High School for Girls, in the capital. It was built for $27 million from the United States - and is still not the most expensive American-financed school. The Ghazi Boys High School in Kabul cost $57 million.
Last year Sardar Kabuli High graduated 290 girls, more than a third of the number of this year's first-grade enrollments, and half of them passed university entrance exams.
"This school is an example to the whole country," said the headmistress, Nasrin Sultani. Two years ago, it consisted of 38 tents and students attending in three shifts.
Now its 6,600 students, in two shifts, all have their own desks and no more than two students share one textbook.
In Zamina Stanikzai's 12th-grade math class, when she asked for a show of hands of girls who want to go to college, all but one of the 40 students' hands shot up. The one was a younger girl, waiting for her sister to finish classes to take her home.
When the girls were asked how many thought their families would allow them to go to college, however, half of the hands went down.
A girl in the back stood up and asked to speak, which she did in halting but good English. "Many of our families still believe in the old ways," she said.
Mr. Wardak, the education minister, expressed pride when he talked about what has been accomplished despite the challenges, and particularly in remote areas, like Ghor Province. "For the first time in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan, for instance, Ghor has 800 schools, 173 of them high schools," he said in an interview.
He becomes defensive, however, about the quality issue. "I have $70 per student per year to spend," he said. "In the U.S. you spend $20,000, in Pakistan $130. You don't expect to do much for $70 a year."
Outside Kabul's public school system, the difference in quality can be drastic. At Mir Ali Ahmad Girls School in Char-i-Kor, in Parwan Province, the girls share their building with boys - two shifts for boys, one for girls. Only the boys have sports fields and playgrounds. One set of textbooks is shared by three or four girls. Two girls share a seat at each desk.
And even in the capital, most public schools are not the showpiece that Sardar Kabuli High is.
At Sayid Ismail Balkh School, 8,000 students are enrolled in three shifts, three hours each. They have buildings, but one set of them has no roofs or windows - it was a World Bank project, but the contractor took the money and ran - and another set was a Japanese-financed project that also was never finished, so only the first of two stories were built. Canvas tarps are slung over the walls to provide shelter.
"When it rains, we take the day off," said Barat Ali Sadaqi, the headmaster.
Toilet facilities and running water systems have not been finished, and the odor of sewage permeates the small compound. Electricity is intermittent, and there are six computers for the whole student body.
On a given day, only 5,400 students attend out of the 8,000 enrolled. Still, they are crammed in: three to a desk, 40 to a class, 10 textbooks per class.
"This is development after 10 years in Kabul," Mr. Sadaqi said.
Young Afghans Flock to Higher Education, but Jobs Remain Scarce
TIME.com By Mujib Mashal June 28, 2013
Kabul - By the time the gates opened at 10 a.m., the crowd had grown almost unmanageable. As if at a rock concert, young men and women thronged Kabul's historic Babur Garden, jostling their way to the front. But this was no music festival. It was a job fair, and the headline acts the crowd had come to see were representatives of dozens of companies brought together by the organizers, local recruitment firm Capital Jobs, with funding from the U.S. government. Filling the support slots were consultants, offering training in interview skills or tips on writing résumés. Most of the crowd got to see neither, but simply reached over the heads of those in front of them to drop their résumés into a large pile, hoping that somebody would eventually see them.
One of those résumés belonged to a third-year student of business administration at the private Dunya Institute, Ahmad Jawed, in his early 20s. As well as attending classes, Jawed holds down a full-time job as a foreman on road-construction projects. "I come home exhausted at night, with no energy to study," he says. Still, he fears that with the looming withdrawal of foreign forces, construction projects will dwindle - so he's banking everything on a private education, which he hopes will land him a steady office job.
Many young Afghans are hoping the same thing. The dramatic rise of private higher education in Afghanistan over the past several years has provided unprecedented opportunities in one of the world's youngest and least educated nations. Nearly 60,000 students are enrolled at 76 private universities, most of which have opened over the past two or three years. But nobody seems to know what kind of graduates the country needs most, and having graduated many find themselves in a job market mired in economic uncertainty as a result of the foreign withdrawal.
Afghanistan is a young nation, with an estimated 60% of its population under the age of 20. According to the Ministry of Education, 320,000 students will graduate from high school in 2013. But most of them will not find a seat at government universities, where the capacity seems to have peaked at 40,000 new enrollments. Last year, the government universities could only admit 25% of the 170,000 graduates who participated in the entrance exam.
Until just a few years ago, the unlucky applicants had three options: they could re-sit the exam the following year, seek education opportunities abroad or simply give up. Sensing a golden opportunity, private-education companies sprung up. The pioneer was Kardan, which established a center for short-term foreign-language and business courses in 2002, with an initial investment of just $300. In 2007, Kardan became the first licensed private higher-education institute in Afghanistan. Today, the institute, divided between two campuses, is a multimillion-dollar business, with 6,000 students studying toward degrees in fields such as business administration, political science and economics. Most of the instructors have master's degrees from abroad, having taken advantage of the scholarship opportunities provided by the international community over the past decade. The students pay fees of around $130 a month, and among them are MPs, deputy ministers and other politicians, attending evening classes to complete educations disrupted by war or to simply better prepare themselves for a postwithdrawal economy. As the end of class nears, the campus is a sea of waiting bodyguards and SUVs.
Those who can afford it opt for private institutes because the standards at government universities are low. "Our universities are a disaster - they don't even meet the standards of 1960s," a senior government official recently admitted to TIME. Ilham Gharji, chancellor of the private Gawharshad University, accuses the state-run establishments of using "lecture notes that their professors inherited from their own professors years back, some as old as 30 years." Located in the west of Kabul, Gawharshad will graduate its founding class next year. It charges its students about $300 per five-month semester, with a 20% discount for female students. (Among its students are several female members of the Afghan Special Forces).
On the other hand, the quality of the new institutions is mixed. A recent government assessment found that none of the universities assessed met the stipulated criteria for "excellent." Only 14 were considered "good," 42 "satisfactory" with 14 found to be "weak" and put on a two-month probation. The identikit courses offered by private universities are also thought to be a problem. The job market is flooded with large numbers of graduates in law or economics, with seemingly little thought for the actual needs of the Afghan economy.
"What is offered is not in accordance with our market needs," says Massoud Trishtwal, the director general of private higher-education institutes at the Ministry of Higher Education, who points out that none of the 76 private establishments offer courses in agriculture. "We don't need agricultural experts in this country?" he asks, sardonically. "It's one of our most urgent needs."
Mahmoud Dastagir, the deputy chancellor of Kardan, believes the institutes will be forced to improve. "The whole experience of our private sector in higher education is just five to six years," he says. "Market competition will naturally better the quality."
Gawharshad's Gharji concedes that the boom in private higher education is bringing with it tremendous risks. "The rate of employment after graduation, both from public and private universities, is extremely low - hardly 10% get a job within a year after graduation," he says. "Security-wise, when the numbers grow, this will translate ultimately into social unrest. A million young, educated Afghans with no jobs will be disaster in terms of security and development." As the thousands of young students at the Kardan job fair know.
Worsening violence against children in Afghanistan
KABUL, 21 June 2013 (IRIN) - One of the victims of last month's attack on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified - a six year old boy.
The child's body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy's parents.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 - a 28 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to the UN Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.
"Afghanistan remains one of the world's most difficult and dangerous places to be a child," UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.
From 2010 to 2012, the UN report says 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.
Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 28 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.
"Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us," said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. "There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be."
Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.
Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; "explosive remnants of war" - 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.
According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.
Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict - from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.
Qayum's father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.
While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.
Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.
"They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money," Ali told IRIN.
Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013 torture report show of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces - a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.
Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.
"Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse," Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.
Bacha-bazi - the practice of "owning" a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders - rarely receives attention.
"The reality is that it is very widespread and it's very prevalent in the Afghan society. It's something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done," said one analyst who asked not to be named.
Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old "boy", whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.
Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children's access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.
As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.
"Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing," Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.
According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world's 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world's largest contributor.
Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
Conflict is the main cause, said the report.
"As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start," said Barr, "issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda".
Karzai to Leave for Turkmenistan for Inauguration of Railway Project
TOLOnews.com By Haseeb Maudoodi 02 June 2013
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will soon fly to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan railway project, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said on Sunday.
The railway project will connect Turkmenistan and Tajikistan via Afghanistan. This project is considered as a big leap towards strengthening the economic relations between the three countries.
The MoFA said that extension of economic cooperation and strengthening of commercial relations with the neighboring countries is an integral part of the Government's foreign policy to put an end to numerous security challenges and the hovering uncertainty within the region.
The 400 kilometre railway line will start from the Atamurat city of Turkmenistan, pass through the Faryab and Kunduz provinces of Afghanistan and will finally end in Tajikistan.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry added that Afghanistan's numerous transit problems will be solved once the railway line becomes operational.
"We hope to start this project soon and finish it before the deadline so that as a landlocked country, we can find a third transit way abroad via our northern countries," the MoFA Spokesman, Janan Mosazai said.
Afghanistan, as on date carries out numerous commercial works via Pakistan by roadways. But, it is said that Pakistan has always used this as a political tool to put pressure on Afghanistan.
The hopes now increase over putting an end to Pakistan's ever increasing pressure on Afghanistan.
"The establishment of the Northern transit is not against any country, but it is only for Afghanistan's good so that it can have a third way of transit. This project is also aimed at strengthening its commercial relations with the other Asian countries. It is for the benefit of all other countries of the region," Mosazai said.
The project is said to benefit Tajikistan greatly as it faces serious transit problems with Uzbekistan. Moreover, the transported goods will enjoy certain immunities via this way.
Unemployment On the Rise In Afghanistan
TOLOnews.com By Rafi Sediqi 14 May 2013
Less attention of international community to work on building of infrastructure in Afghanistan is a cause of unemployment rise in the country, officials said.
Afghan minister of labour and social affairs who was summoned to the upper house on Tuesday said that most of international community's funds hasn't been spent for priority needs of the people.
Meanwhile, a number of senators said that the ministry of labour and social affairs has not made efforts to reduce unemployment rates in the country.
Minister of labour and social affairs said that lack of sufficient budget and also inattention of international community to build infrastructures caused a rise in unemployment.
"In the past ten years, a lot of job opportunities have been created but the donated money has not been provided to us and has been spent in projects that were not necessary. The international community hasn't paid attention in this regard," Amena Afzali minister of labour and social affairs told senators.
On the other hand, a number of senators believe that unemployment is the main reason why most Afghan youths are leaving for neighbouring countries. Senators urged the ministry to adopt necessary strategies to address the problem.
"Unemployment has caused insecurity and immigration of Afghan youths to other countries, but an appropriate strategy must be adopted to reduce unemployment in the country," Bashir Ahmad Samim a senator said.
"Today most of workers are going to the neighbour countries to seek jobs due to lack of job opportunities in their own country. The ministry of labour and social affairs has not been able to reduce unemployment rate in the country," Senator Ali Akbar Jamshidi said.
The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs emphasises that paving the ground for employment in the country requires more time.
The minister said that a number of the countries have pledged to employ Afghan workers, however these commitments have not been implemented.
India builds National Institute of Mining in Afghanistan
By MEENA HASEEB - 06 May 2013, 9:00 am Khaama Press
A delegation of the Indian government officials during their meeting with the Afghan president Hamid Karzai agreed to construct a national institute of mining in Afghanistan.
The officials during their meeting with president Karzai also discussed India's cooperation in mining exploration and other related issues.
A statement released by presidential palace media office said, the construction of national institute of mining is part of India's reconstruction fund to Afghanistan.
In the meantime Indian ambassador to Afghanistan has said that the construction work of the mining institute will be launched in the near future.
The construction of national institute of mining was proposed by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh during his last visit to Afghanistan.
Afghan presidnential palace following its statemetn also added that Subramaniam Ramadorai, Chief of the TATA Transporation Company and Adviser to the Prime Minister of India in the National Council on Skill Development expressed his interest in investing in natural resources of Afghanistan.
President Karzai also vowed provide necessary facilities for the investment of India in Afghanistan.
WB provides 100 mln USD to help Afghan health sector
KABUL, May 6 (Xinhua) -- The World Bank (WB) on Monday provided a grant of 100 million U.S. dollars to the Afghan government to help improve the health sector in the war-hit country, said a statement of WB issued here.
"A 100-million-U.S.-dollar Grant, to finance the Afghanistan System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition (SEHAT) Program, was signed today between the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank," the statement said.
"The encouraging achievements in the health sector over the past decade were possible because of the (Afghan) Ministry of Public Health's commitment to improving health services and measuring service delivery performance with assistance from its partner NGOs," WB Acting Country Director Illango Patchamuthu said in the statement.
This new program will help ensure expansion of basic health and hospital services for both urban and rural areas where due to lack of such services thousands of people, particularly women and children, lose their lives every year. "We believe these packages of health services we finance play a vital role in improving the health of Afghans," he added.
"Provision of health care to its people remains one of the main priorities of the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan during the transition," said Afghan Minister of Finance Omar Zakhailwal in a statement.
"The World Bank's support has been instrumental in enabling us to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans, particularly women and children," Afghan Pulic Health Minister Suraya Dalil said, adding "Providing a basic package of health services and an essential package of hospital services has proved to produce encouraging results, particularly in remote and underserved areas. As we continue to deliver our commitment in expanding provision of health services to all Afghans across the country, we appreciate the World Bank's assistance at this crucial period of the transition process,"
The Afghan health ministry will implement SEHAT program over a period of five years, the statement said.
As U.S. Departs, Afghan Business Dries Up
Wall Street Journal By NATHAN HODGE April 3, 2013
BAGRAM, Afghanistan - The Aria Water Plant, built in 2006 north of Kabul, is a state-of-the-art facility that can produce 100,000 cases of purified drinking water per week-an unusual success story from the decadelong American enterprise in Afghanistan.
But with U.S. military involvement in the nation winding down, Aria, like other Afghan companies that sprang up to serve the foreigners, is struggling to survive an uncertain time.
"Should I stay in Afghanistan and carry on with my business, or should I sell the company and say, 'Hasta la vista, Afghanistan?' " wonders Abdul Majeed Zhian, chief of staff of AZ Corp., Aria's parent company, which invested $17 million in the plant.
Aria's troubles are coming to a head as U.S.-Afghan relations are deteriorating. Efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to assert Afghan sovereignty and curtail U.S. military operations have led to a series of confrontations with American officials, most recently when he accused the U.S. and the Taliban of colluding to perpetuate instability-a charge flatly denied by the Americans.
U.S. officials, for their part, say they are frustrated by Afghanistan's corrupt business culture, where little can be achieved, they say, without bribing officials. Mr. Karzai has blamed foreigners and their contractors for the endemic corruption.
The Aria Water Plant now finds itself in a classic Catch-22. Managers say the company might have to shut down because of what they describe as extortion demands from an Afghan general whose forces control a checkpoint on the access road and regularly block traffic to the plant, located just outside Bagram Air Field, one of the largest U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
But if Aria knuckles under and pays a bribe, it could lose the business of the U.S. government, its main customer so far. As a condition of doing business with the U.S., it cannot make illicit payments. Aria already operates under a stringent trusteeship agreement following previous management's convictions on a corruption charge brought by U.S. authorities.
According to a recent survey on corruption trends by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Afghanistan's High Office for Oversight and Anticorruption, Afghan citizens paid about $3.9 billion in bribes in 2012-double the country's domestic tax revenue. One out of every two Afghans pay bribes when requesting a public service, the report said.
The water plant's troubles show how precarious it can be to do business in Afghanistan, and how fragile the country's post-2001 economic boom, fueled by American tax dollars, has been.
With U.S. troops slated to withdraw by the end of next year, Aria is expected to lose much of its business supplying American military bases, so it is looking for new customers. The capital city of Kabul is an hour's drive from the plant, and the company hopes it can ship water to embassies, hotels or high-end grocery stores there. But what used to be the plant's primary advantage-its location right outside the fortified perimeter of Bagram Air Field on land owned by the Afghan Ministry of Defense-has turned into a curse.
Aria must truck its supplies and products through a checkpoint manned by the U.S.-funded Afghan National Army. That puts the company at the mercy of Afghan officers, who periodically shut down the road to the factory, causing costly production stoppages and cutting off Aria's access to new business.
The company says the problems began in June 2011 when Gen. Mohammad Asif Kohi, an Afghan commander who oversees government installations, paid an unexpected visit to the plant. Ezelle Santillan, the general manager from the Philippines who supervises the facility, sent an urgent message to company management.
"The general asked for anyone from main office to talk or having a meeting with him to settle issues, issues I don't understand," she wrote, according to email correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The general then showed up at AZ Corp.'s main office in Kabul, making remarks about "building a friendship" with him, according to company officials who say they interpreted that as a request for a bribe. After Aria didn't act on the hint, these officials say, the general's forces began to shut down the access road to the factory, causing costly production stoppages. The shutdowns continued periodically through 2011 and 2012, according to company correspondence reviewed by the Journal.
"Gen. Kohi, he's actually bothering us quite a lot," said Mr. Zhian, who runs day-to-day operations. "What he's looking for is a bribe, that we should pay him some amount of money." Mr. Zhian said a weeklong stoppage at the beginning of the year had cost Aria about $1 million because it couldn't fill a purchase order to supply water to the U.S. military's primary food supplier.
In a brief telephone conversation with the Journal, Gen. Kohi denied he had sought a bribe and said the company is at fault. AZ Corp., he said, doesn't have the right to operate on government property. He declined to provide documents from the Afghan Ministry of Defense that he said would support his assertion that the company is operating illegally.
During a subsequent phone call, Gen. Kohi yelled at a Journal reporter who tried to verify his name and position: "This is your last time calling me. If you call me again, you will see what happens."
The trustee overseeing AZ Corp., Doug O'Dell, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, said a memorandum of agreement between the U.S. Army and AZ Corp. granted the company use of the ground on which the water plant sits-as a sublease of the master lease between the U.S. government and the Afghan Ministry of Defense for the use of Bagram.
Dawlat Waziri, an Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman, said he is unaware of problems at the facility. He said that if Gen. Kohi was attempting to extort from the factory, the company should have made a formal complaint against him. "This isn't the way to talk about such issues-going to the media rather than filing a complaint," Mr. Waziri said.
Mr. O'Dell said AZ Corp. hasn't submitted an official complaint to the ministry because there doesn't appear to be a formal way to address such grievances. Informal appeals to the deputy Afghan minister of defense have so far succeeded in temporarily reopening the access road whenever it was shut down by Gen. Kohi, Mr. O'Dell said.
Other companies are facing different predicaments related to the planned troop withdrawals. Ghulam Rasoul Tarshi, general manager of Kabul-based United Infrastructure Projects, saw his construction business boom during the U.S. military surge. At the height of the war, his company was managing up to $300 million worth of U.S.-funded road-building projects per year, part of a military strategy to connect Afghan communities with the central government.
Now, Mr. Tarshi's asphalt plants, gravel crushers, bulldozers and concrete mixers stand idle. "There are no projects to bid," he complained. The cash-strapped Afghan government hasn't provided new orders-and even if it had, he said, requests for bribes and an impenetrable bureaucracy would have made such work unprofitable. "Working with the Afghan government, for us, it's very difficult," he said.
The Afghan government has pledged to boost transparency as a condition of continuing to receive international assistance. Afghan officials say U.S. and coalition contractors often try to avoid legitimate taxes and fees.
AZ Corp. was founded by Assad John Ramin, an Afghan immigrant who came to the U.S. as a teenager during the Soviet occupation. At first, the company trucked supplies to the U.S. military, built fortified watchtowers and converted steel shipping containers into showers and latrines at new American bases.
The water plant was its signature accomplishment. The facility is modern, and AZ Corp. took out substantial bank loans to import modern bottling equipment to meet the stringent hygiene standards of the U.S. military.
The water project enjoyed support from the highest levels of the U.S. military. The groundbreaking ceremony at Bagram was attended by the top-ranking military officers in Afghanistan at the time, including Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, then commanding general for U.S. and coalition forces.
In 2008, Mr. Ramin and his brother, Tahir Ramin, received an invitation from the U.S. government to attend a conference in Columbus, Ohio. They were told they would be recognized for their service in Afghanistan.
It was a ruse. Tahir Ramin and two other Afghan businessmen traveling to the conference were arrested when they entered the country at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. The Ramin brothers were indicted in federal court in Chicago in connection with alleged contracting fraud at Bagram.
That indictment and a separate federal indictment in Hawaii alleged that Illinois and Hawaii National Guardsmen supervising base operations while deployed to Bagram arranged to award contracts for bunkers and barriers and asphalt-paving services in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors also alleged that contracting officials at Bagram received bribes to facilitate the award of a trucking contract to AZ Corp.
The Ramin brothers pleaded guilty in 2011 to a single count of paying an unlawful $50,000 gratuity to retired Army Sgt. Charles Finch, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to bribery and conspiracy charges for his role in accepting money for the award of a trucking contract in Afghanistan. Another defendant, Sgt. Maj. Gary Canteen, pleaded guilty in 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and to defraud the U.S. According to court documents, the bribe was paid through a Honolulu T-shirt and souvenir shop owned by Sgt. Maj. Canteen.
The two brothers were incarcerated in a minimum-security prison in the U.S. The case ruined the Ramins financially and nearly drove the AZ Corp. into bankruptcy. The company was suspended from contracting with the U.S. government.
Before the 2008 indictment, AZ Corp. had annual revenue of $30 million and employed approximately 1,500 people. By early 2011, company officials say, it was on life support and the water plant was essentially dormant. Ms. Santillan, the Filipino general manager, stayed on at the plant, firing up the machinery once a week to keep everything in working order. The plant produced 10 or 15 pallets of bottled water a week.
Following the convictions, the U.S. Army threw the company a lifeline. U.S. officials involved in the suspension and debarment allowed AZ Corp. to resume contracting for the government-provided a trustee was appointed who would install new management independent of the imprisoned owners. The company would have to operate under stringent ethical guidelines.
Mr. O'Dell, who became AZ Corp.'s trustee, said the company had been successful enough to pay off all the Ramins' legal debts and a number of personal debts connected with their legal expenses.
"We've turned it around, and I've had the time of my life doing it," said Mr. O'Dell, who lives in the U.S. and travels occasionally to the region. "I'm as energized as I was as a 30-year-old company commander leading young Marines."
The turnaround, however, led to the recent troubles with Gen. Kohi.
Trying to solve its checkpoint problem, Aria has engaged a U.S. lawyer and proposed expanding the perimeter of Bagram Air Field to include the adjacent water plant. The U.S. is in negotiations with the Afghan government about a small, post-2014 presence, and Bagram is a candidate for one of the handful of bases that may remain.
"We would be willing to void the lease with the U.S. government and enter into a lease directly with the Ministry of Defense. But we can get nowhere in the labyrinth of Afghan government," Mr. O'Dell said.
At the same time, the company is trying to diversify its customer base to be less dependent on the military.
The U.S. military, focused on withdrawing troops and equipment ahead of next year's deadline, appears to be uninterested in getting involved in Aria's dispute.
"We are aware that Aria is currently in discussion with MoD and [the government of Afghanistan] about their concerns, which is the proper course of action to resolve their own issues," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, a spokesman for the coalition's Bagram-based Regional Command-East.
While the water plant abuts the Bagram base, he said, it is in a separate compound that is managed and secured by Afghan security forces, which are also responsible for securing the roads in the area. "After all, such roads are theirs," he said.
The bottling company's woes, Lt. Col. Haverstick explained, didn't pose a military problem. "Aria is one of several water-distribution companies that provide bottled water to us," he said. "Rest assured we are well hydrated." -Ziaulhaq Sultani and Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.