October 9, 2004


Will boycott damage the Afghan vote? (Sanjoy Majumder, 10/09/04, BBC News Online)

First things first - Afghanistan's first ever democratic elections were largely peaceful.

This in a country still under the threat of violence from the Taleban, private militias and sparring warlords.

And large numbers of Afghans turned out to cast their ballots including, in many areas, many women.

But a sudden move to boycott the polls by all the candidates opposed to President Karzai has threatened to cast its shadow over what has clearly been a remarkable process. [...]

Despite the controversy, reports from the ground by BBC correspondents spread across Afghanistan suggest that the issue has had little impact among voters.

Many Afghans are keen that the international community appreciate just what a historic day it has been for this country.

"It is amazing, as an Afghan, to see the turnout, see how many people have come out to cast their votes - especially as it was an exercise that was new to them," says Shoaib Sharifi, a senior Afghan journalist.

It's a view that many voters concurred with.

"This is a country that has suffered greatly over the years," said Abdul Mateen, a Pashtun taxi driver, after casting his vote in the city's diplomatic district.

"To be able to cast my vote and participate in the future of my country - this is a dream to be cherished."

Dreaming in Kabul (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 10/09/04, NY Times)
I'm sorry, President Bush. Although I searched all over Pakistan and Afghanistan, I couldn't find Osama bin Laden - except in my dreams:

There I was, checking my e-mail at a Starbucks in Kandahar, when I spotted a slender 6-foot-5 figure in a burka, going this way and that, obviously lost. There was a dead giveaway - "she" wasn't asking for directions. Another clue was the dialysis machine trailing behind.

So I sat Osama down for an interview:

ME: Tell me, which candidate are you endorsing in the U.S. presidential election?

OSAMA: I try to be nonpartisan. But Al Qaeda will benefit if Bush is re-elected, inshallah.

Think how unimaginable this moment was on 9/10/01 and explain again how al Qaeda is winning.

Saudis seek to portray captured al-Qaida militants in humiliating light (Associated Press, October 9, 2004)

They rent cars and houses using stolen IDs. They disguise themselves as women or as hip young men. The money they raise for Iraqi prisoners in U.S. jails funds terror operations.

This, Saudi officials say, is the kind of information being gleaned from scores of Saudi militants arrested in an aggressive government campaign.

Two suspects have appeared on television to talk about life underground, telling of injured comrades who die from lack of medical care, supposedly devout Muslims who don't bother praying the mandatory five prayers, and uneducated youths who consider Saudis in uniform to be infidels.

Such information has enabled the kingdom to strike at the root of al-Qaida's Saudi infrastructure, kill or capture several of its leaders, and publicly portray it in a humiliating light. [...]

``It's not in our security interest to assume they cannot carry out a large operation,'' said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman. ``If we assume they can't, it would have an adverse effect on our alertness and level of preparedness to confront them.''

He said the picture of operations in the kingdom is clearer than in May 2003, when terrorists struck inside Saudi Arabia for the first time after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In that assault, which took the government completely by surprise, militants shot their way into three housing compounds in synchronized strikes in Riyadh and then set off multiple suicide car bombs, killing 34 people including seven Americans and nine attackers.

Until then the Saudi government had been in denial about the possibility Saudi-born Osama bin Laden would strike inside the kingdom and risk inflicting Saudi or Muslim casualties.

``We had never expected that a Muslim who grew up on Islam in this country would carry out such acts,'' said al-Turki. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of the Muslim faith.

He said authorities have since foiled several terror attempts, including the capture of two cars rigged with explosives, as a result of heightened vigilance. [...]

Authorities have also noticed a decline in the quality and quantity of operations, said al-Turki.

He said instead of explosives, they use fertilizers, and drive-by shootings apparently have replaced large-scale operations such as the compound attacks. [...]

Nawaf Obaid, head of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, a nongovernment research institute, said the quality of recruits is down.

While the first tier mostly trained in camps in Afghanistan and could have met bin Laden in person, the new ones don't have the know-how to structure a cell, find a safe house or rig a car with explosives, Obaid, who is close to the government, said.

The authorities have ``put them on the run,'' said Obaid. ``Their last leaders are still out there but they're spending all their time trying to avoid capture, trying to determine what safe houses have been compromised and which militants have turned against them instead of planning for an attack.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2004 3:44 PM

They sent Nick Kristof 9,000 miles from New York to write an imaginary interview with Osama? He could havfe done that with a laptop and a wireless connection at a Starbucks two blocks from the Times' office.

Posted by: John at October 9, 2004 4:45 PM

He was trained as an Arabist, at Cairo University;
before ending up chronicling the Byzantine
superstates of the Soviet Union and China;

Posted by: narciso at October 9, 2004 9:57 PM