Saturday, December 22, 2001, Chandigarh, India

M A I N   N E W S

65 die as US planes bomb convoy

Washington, December 21
US Military AC-130 gunships and Navy jet fighters attacked and destroyed a convoy in Afghanistan believed to be carrying ‘‘leadership’’ of the Taliban or Al-Qaida, Pentagon officials said today.

A report by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said US warplanes bombed a convoy of Afghan Tribal elders on their way to Kabul to attend the inauguration of the interim government, killing nearly 65 persons.

Marine Corps Gen Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the air strikes hit a convoy of 10 to 12 vehicles near the town of Khost south-west of the mountainous Tora Bora region, where special operations forces are hunting for Osama bin Laden. Reuters




Afghan Govt swearing in today

Kabul, December 21
leader-designate Hamid Karzai today returned to Kabul to take up his leadership of the war-shattered land while his ministers-in-waiting raced to finish final preparations for his inauguration.

On the outskirts of the ravaged capital, some 75 British Royal Marines prepared to enter the city to take up a security role before Karzai’s new six-month, 30-member interim government is sworn in tomorrow.

Apart from the foreign security force that will swell to at least 1,500 within days most people will no longer be allowed to carry weapons.

The government ordered guns off the streets of the capital although few people seemed to take any notice today as numerous armed men strolled in the winter sunshine.

Karzai returned from a lightning visit to Rome where he paid homage to ex-king Zahir Shah, 87.

The former monarch, overthrown in a coup in 1973, is not yet going home but is widely regarded by his people as a force for unity even though he is unlikely ever to hold office again. His close ties with Karzai have lent legitimacy to his U.N.-sponsored administration.

The new government, composed of a mix of former Mujahideen, exiled technocrats and high-powered women will be sworn in on Saturday, marking the start of a new age for one of the world’s classic failed states.

In a sign that Afghans of all ethnic groups are looking to the new government to bring peace, ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum said he wanted to attend the swearing in.

“The issue of peace and security is more important. I am specifically coming to see the transfer of power and take part in this historic meeting,” he said.

Dostum said he would take the opportunity of his visit to Kabul to raise the issue of Cabinet posts with incoming Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni, a senior Northern Alliance member.

Afghan factions agreed in Bonn to set up a six-month interim government to replace the Taliban, routed by their local opponents backed by weeks of US air strikes. Part of the deal is the dispatch of a multinational security force, which will be led by Britain.

The United Nations Security Council, a day earlier, authorised the international force to help keep the peace and allowed it to use force to maintain security.

Across Afghanistan, US-led forces are questioning about 7,000 prisoners in Afghanistan to determine the level of their involvement in the Taliban and Bin Laden’s Al-Qaida network, said a coalition spokesman.

Meanwhile, India has re-emerged as a player in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s ouster, but it is the USA and UK that are likely to call the political shots in this country in future.

With the security situation in Afghanistan still a cause for concern, the interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai will continue to look to the USA and UK, the two nations that led the war against the Taliban, to play a major role in ensuring peace in the war-battered country.

Senior Indian officials here acknowledge that there is a lot of goodwill for India in Afghanistan, but the romance with the USA and UK — which are seen as liberators — would make it seem that New Delhi will have to be content playing second fiddle.

“But that doesn’t take away the importance of the role we are playing and will continue to play,” said Mr Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, India’s liaison officer in Kabul.

Mr Mukhopadhyaya, currently functioning from Kabul Hotel, said India never intended to play a predominant role in Afghanistan, but Afghan leaders realise that New Delhi can help in the massive rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

“They realise our geographical proximity and expertise in various fields could be of great help to them,” he said.

India, which closed its embassy in Kabul in 1996 after the Taliban took over the city, was among the first countries to set up a diplomatic liaison office here after the fall of the hardline militia. The Indian embassy is expected to formally reopen on Saturday with a flag hoisting ceremony. Reuters, IANS


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