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What's happening away from the fighting in Afghanistan during w/e February 3 2012 
By Caroline Cameron, Great North News Services


Afghan olive farms waiting for water

THE South Eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar was once home to thousands
of hectares of olive groves, but residents say water and electricity
shortages, combined with land-grabs and war, have left the industry
devastated.

State-run farms here once produced 8,000 tons of olives in a season, but in
the decade since the fall of the Taleban, labourers have harvested a
totalof just 1,400 tons. Last year, the harvest was little over half a ton.

Buried treasure

FOR 1,500 years, the sandstone cliffs of Afghanistan's Bamiyan valley
encased two towering Buddhas peering sleepily from their caves onto patches
of magnolia trees.

Nearly 11 years ago, however, the statues were destroyed by tanks,
explosives and antiaircraft weapons on the orders of the Taliban
government, which condemned the Buddhas as "idols." So if you flew into the
smog-filled skies of Kabul today, interested in looking for one of the
country's most important Buddhist sites, you'd have to head 25 miles
southeast, where you'd find yourself at Mes Aynak, on the edge of the tiny
but strategically located Logar province.

Mes Aynak is a sprawling, mountainous, 9,800-acre site studded with
artefacts that archaeologists believe are as significant as the Bamiyan
Buddhas, as well as the remains of civilizations that stretch back to the
time of Alexander the Great.

It is also, coincidentally, a copper mine - in fact, it's the site of the
second-largest copper deposit in the world. Mes Aynak is one of dozens of
known sites across Afghanistan

brimming with rich deposits of other minerals - iron ore, lithium and
cobalt.

"Art is the one thing that gives the message to people outside that we are
not just fighters and terrorists."

No early pull-out for British troops in Afghanistan

BRITAIN says it will stand by Afghanistan, keeping troops there until 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters Saturday he has no
plans to pull his country's combat troops from Afghanistan before the
current deadline expires.

He also said Britain will continue to have a strong relationship with Kabul
going forward because "it is in the interests of the whole world to have a
safe and stable Afghanistan that is free from the terrorism."

Mr Cameron's comments followed a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

outside London. The British leader said his country will continue to
provide Afghanistan with aid after its troops withdraw in 2014.

His position differed from that of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who
met with Mr. Karzai on Friday. Mr. Sarkozy said French troops will complete
their withdrawal from the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan a year earlier
than planned, at the end of 2013.

The French president also said France will transfer security to the Afghans

in March in the eastern province of Kapisa, where nearly all French troops

are based and where last week's killing of the four unarmed soldiers took

place.

Afghan lawmaker blasts France's early troop withdrawal

AN Afghan lawmaker has sharply criticized France's plans to hand over
security in her troubled province to Afghan troops within a few months,
saying that her country's forces are unprepared to handle the job and more
violence would result.

Tahira Mujadedi, a member of parliament from Kapisa province, also
criticized France's decision to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan
early.

She said Saturday that it would be "a big mistake" for President Hamid
Karzai to back a French proposal to speed up the overall NATO timetable for
handing all combat operations to Afghan forces to 2013, a year earlier than
now planned.

Afghanistan to press Pakistan for access to Taliban

AFGHANISTAN will press Pakistan for access to Taliban leaders during a
one-day visit to Kabul by Pakistan's foreign minister, with Afghan
officials hoping to ease cross-border strains and lay the ground for peace
negotiations with the insurgents.

Hina Rabbani Khar will visit Kabul on February 1 to discuss reconciliation
and nascent plans for peace talks ahead of a meeting between
representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.

Khar's trip will mark the first high-level meetings between officials from
the countries in months.

Pakistan is seen as critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan
before foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

French decision to accelerate exit causes some Afghans to question NATO

THE announcement by France last week that it would speed up the exit of its
troops from Afghanistan has been greeted with a mixture of cynicism,
disbelief and concern by politicians here.

"It may have a bad impact on other NATO allies," said Shukria Barakzai, an
Afghan parliamentarian and chairwoman of the National Assembly's defense
committee. She said the announcement "might provide an excuse for other
countries" to leave Afghanistan before the end of 2014, when NATO is
scheduled to end its combat mission.

Mawlawi Qalamuddin, a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council and
formerly the Taliban's minister of vice and virtue, dismissed the statement
by French President Nicolas Sarkozy — which came after an Afghan soldier
killed four French soldiers on Jan. 20 — as mere rhetoric.

"Emotional comments are not credible," said Qalamuddin, "and it doesn't
seem logical. It's not possible that France will withdraw before scheduled
because France is member of NATO, and the rest of NATO is here."

With thanks to IWPR, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, VOA News and McClatchy
Newspapers.

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