The Guardian
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Afghanistan’s violence victims recall ordeal


MOTHERS of slain teenage sons, men wounded by mine blasts and tearful widows were among Afghans who yesterday spoke out at a conference billed as the first major gathering of victims of decades of war in their country.

The so-called “victims’ jirga” at a Kabul hotel brought together dozens of Afghans from across the country to build pressure on the government ahead of a national peace assembly called by President Hamid Karzai for later this month.

According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), legal advocates who organized the gathering in the capital want to make sure the voices of the Afghan people who have suffered at the hands of insurgents, warlords and under the former Taliban and Soviet regimes are heard at the government’s peace assembly.

Some 1,500 people from across Afghan society have been invited to the assembly to seek a consensus for reconciling with insurgents willing to lay down their arms. Some victims don’t want those who perpetrated violence over the years to be allowed to regain a measure of power, and for them to pay the consequences for their actions in order to resolve the more than eight-year-old war.

“We cannot lose hope for a peaceful life,” said Sima Hussiani, a woman from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan. The former Taliban regime killed her two brothers, both teachers, in the late 1990s, she said. “I don’t want blood for blood, but the perpetrators should acknowledge their mistakes.”

Despite talk of peace and hopes for justice, the violence continues across the country as an insurgency led by Taliban militants works to destabilize the Karzai government and its international supporters.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) reported that a service member died yesteday following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. No other details were disclosed.

Over the weekend, four members of a community defense force protecting villagers in western Afghanistan were beheaded by militants in fighting.

Meanwhile, in Dera ismail khan, Pakistan, suspected U.S. missiles yesterday killed 10 people in a militant-controlled region close to the Afghan border, the first such strike since an alleged Pakistani-trained extremist was linked to a bombing attempt in Times Square.

Last week’s failed car bomb in New York City has added to pressure on Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who have long had safe havens along the Afghan border. A Pakistan-American detained soon after the bomb attempt has allegedly told investigators he received explosives training in the Waziristan area there.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington expects more cooperation from Pakistan in fighting terrorism and warned of “severe consequences” if an attack on U.S. soil were traced back to the South Asian country.

The comments mark something of a change in America’s public stance toward Pakistan, which in recent months has been characterized by praise, not criticism. She made the remarks in an interview with CBS television’s “60 minutes” yesterday.

The U.S. missiles hit in North Waziristan, which has been the target of nearly all of the some 30 other American attacks this year. Al-Qaeda leaders and jihadis from all over the world congregate in the region, as well as members of the Pakistani Taliban, which has reportedly been linked to the Times Square attempt.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the two missiles hit the house of local tribesman Awal Gul in Enzer Kasa village of the Datta Khel area. Ten people were killed, among them an unknown number of militants who were staying at the home, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

It was not immediately clear whether Gul had any ties to militant groups.

Pakistan, a key U.S. ally, officially protests the strikes on its territory as violations of its sovereignty, but it is believed to aid them. The U.S. rarely discusses the unmanned-drone-fired strikes, which are part of a covert CIA programme.

In recent months, North Waziristan has become a new haven for Pakistani Taliban leaders who have fled a Pakistani army offensive in their previous stronghold, neighboring South Waziristan.

The Pakistani Taliban, while linked to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, have primarily directed their attacks at targets inside Pakistan, making that militant group a priority for the country’s army. If it is found to be behind the Times Square plot, it would represent a significant show of strength for the organization, which has never attacked outside South Asia before.

Despite U.S. pressure, the Pakistani army has held off on waging an offensive against other militant networks based in North Waziristan because it does not want to antagonize powerful insurgent groups there that have so far attacked only targets in Afghanistan.

Pakistani army helicopters early yesterday pounded insurgent hide-outs in the Shana Garhi area of the Orakzai tribal region, killing at least eight militants, local official Jahanzeb Khan said.

Pakistan security forces are carrying out an operation against insurgents who escaped the military offensive in South Waziristan. Some have taken refuge in the Orakzai tribal region, which lies next to North Waziristan, and other neighboring tribal areas.

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