Factional violence flares in western Afghanistan; one commander says 21 killed
Associated Press August 14, 2004
Militias loyal to rival warlords clashed in western Afghanistan Saturday, sending tanks through the streets of a regional capital in the latest jolt to the country's shaky security ahead of national elections.
The U.S. military expressed concern about the violence _ which one Afghan commander claimed left 21 fighters dead _ but showed no sign of intervening.
The clashes pitched forces loyal to Herat Gov. Ismail Khan, one of the country's most powerful warlords, against rivals in the north, east and south of the province.
In the fiercest clash, a commander from Shindand, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) west of the capital, Kabul, said his men seized a nearby Soviet-built air base in an overnight attack.
"By 4 a.m. we had captured the whole of the district, including the airport and the division," Amanullah, an ethnic Pashtun commander who goes by one name, told The Associated Press.
Afghan forces have few aircraft, but the base is home to a militia division believed loyal to Khan, a Tajik.
Amanullah said his fighters, armed with machine-guns and rockets, had killed 14 of Khan's men and captured another 20. Seven of his own men also died, he said.
One of Amanullah's commanders, Abdul Karim, said three more of his fighters were wounded, and a director of the hospital in Herat said three patients had been admitted from Shindand with minor injuries _ two civilians and a soldier.
An Associated Press Television News reporter in Herat saw tanks heading south toward Shindand. Knots of militiamen stood guard at major junctions in the city.
Abdul Wahed Tawakali, a spokesman for Khan, said there was "hand-to-hand fighting" near the base, but denied it had fallen. He had no information on casualties.
The battles are the latest in a string of factional clashes across the north and west of the country and present a fresh security headache for U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai and the American military ahead of Oct. 9 presidential elections.
Forces of other dissident commanders fought Khan's troops near Karukh to the north of Herat city and in Chishti Sharif, a valley in the Hindu Kush mountains, said Naseer Ahmad Halawi, Herat's intelligence chief.
Both sides said the attacks were coordinated.
Karzai condemned the violence as "an attack on the state" and vowed to take "serious measures" against the rebel commanders, according to a statement released by his office.
Still, the Defense Ministry said militia units in Herat _ nominally loyal to Kabul but with close links to Khan _ would be left to tackle the situation.
A battalion from the new U.S.-trained national army stationed in Herat since an earlier burst of factional violence in March would get involved only "if there is a need," ministry spokesman Mohammed Zahir Azimi said.
Karzai also recently sent troops from the national army to neighboring Ghor province in an attempt to calm violent feuding between warlords.
The U.S. military said it was "very concerned" about tension in the region but pointed out that it had only a few dozens troops in Herat, mostly engaged in reconstruction projects.
Spokesman Maj. Rick Peat said it was still "trying to assess what's going on."
The United Nations is concerned that the failure to disarm militias who control much of the country leaves the election vulnerable to intimidation.
About 9.5 million of the estimated 9.8 million eligible Afghans have registered to vote, according to U.N. figures, despite a string of attacks on voters and election workers blamed on Taliban rebels.
The U.S. military claimed Saturday that the Taliban leadership appeared to be "falling apart" and that ordinary Afghans were increasingly supplying useful intelligence on militant operations.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed that a breakaway group had formed, but said it was tiny and that fugitive Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar was still directing the insurgency.
Associated Press Writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
At Least 21 Killed in Afghan Turf War
Sat Aug 14, 6:21 AM ET By Saeed Haqiqi
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 21 people were killed in Afghanistan Saturday in factional fighting for control of a disused airbase in a western province where militia commanders have launched raids to oust the provincial governor.
Turf wars in the provinces are a headache for President Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan prepares for its first presidential election on October 9, with ousted Taliban fighters running a guerrilla war against U.S.-led forces in the south and east.
A spokesman for Herat province Governor Ismail Khan and Defense Ministry officials in Kabul said fighting was raging at Shindand airfield some 100 kms (63 miles) south of Herat city, denying claims it had fallen overnight.
Local militia commander Amanullah Khan, an ethnic Pashtun, said there was "a local uprising" against the ethnic Tajik governor in Herat, who is an arch critic of Karzai.
The governor sent reinforcements and tanks to halt the attackers, an official said.
He added that the Defense Ministry was informed both of the clashes in Shindand, and plans by other militia commanders to strike from the east, northeast and north of Herat.
Amanullah Khan and Sayed Nasir Alawi, a spokesman for Herat's governor, said 21 people had been killed in Shindand's fighting alone.
"Among them are two top commanders of Ismail Khan," said Amanullah Khan.
Local sources said casualties on both sides were higher than reported.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said the central government condemned the fighting but did not say what plans it had to restore order.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said tensions in Herat and Ghor provinces were being monitored and support would be offered to help end the fighting if a request came from the central government.
The U.S.-led military has a small Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat, but it was not a security force, Major Scott Nelson said.
Ismail Khan, a veteran of the 1980s war to end Soviet occupation, was upset in March when Karzai sent several hundred soldiers from the U.S.-trained new national army to quell factional fighting.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in the clashes, mostly in the northern areas, while some 900 others including militants have been killed in Taliban-linked violence in the south and east in the past year.
The Taliban and its allies have vowed to disrupt the presidential poll in October and parliamentary polls six months later. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in KABUL)
Eight killed in factional fighting in western Afghanistan
Sat Aug 14,12:10 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Eight militiamen, including two commanders, were killed when fighting erupted between two rival warlords over control of a district in western Afghanistan, the leader of one of the factions said.
Faction commander Amanullah Khan said his forces had clashed with those loyal to Western Herat province governor Ismail Khan at 2:00 am in the province's Shindand district.
They had eventually driven out the governor's men, he said
"Fighting started at two in the morning and went on up to four," Amanullah Khan told AFP.
"Eight people were killed, including Herat garrison commander Saifullah and general Zakim Khan of the border brigade who supported Ismail Khan," he said.
He said his forces had taken control of Shindand and pushed Ismail Khan's fighters into the neighbouring Adraskan district.
"We have captured Shindand totally from Khan's forces and now the fighting is going on in Adraskan district," he said.
Shindand, some 660 kilometres (412 miles) west of the capital Kabul, is a troubled district that has been controlled both by forces loyal to Ismail Khan, an ethnic Tajik, and Amanullah Khan, a Pashtun.
The factions have clashed regularly in the past two years.
A local tribal leader said Saturday's fighting had erupted because Ismail Khan's forces had raided the district.
"Ismail Khan's forces attacked Amanullah's posts and that is when the fighting started," Wakeel Daulat Sarwari told AFP.
Faction fighting adds to the many security problems facing Afghanistan, which is also plagued by attacks from members of the ousted Taliban regime and its allies.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the presidential elections due in October. Parliamentary elections have been pushed back to April next year mainly due to security problems.
Former Afghan President Says Election Process May Divide Afghan People
Tanya Goudsouzian Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty August 14, 2004
With presidential elections around the corner, the word on the street in Kabul is that no matter who wins, current Afghan leader Hamid Karzai will be president for yet another term. Such is the prevailing cynicism about the country's first democratic elections, which are scheduled to be held on 9 October.
How great is Karzai's support base? No viable census has been conducted to assess his popularity across the country, let alone the city of Kabul. While he is still widely considered the man supported by Afghanistan's foreign backers, the elections are a good time to ask: Is Karzai Afghanistan's man?
Two weeks ago, Karzai shocked observers when he sidelined Defense Minister Marshall Mohamed Qasim Fahim and appointed Ahmed Zia Mas'ud, brother of the late Commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud, as his first vice president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 5 August 2004). The move suggested a desperate bid to garner support, especially among the mujahedin, who have been a thorn in the beleaguered leader's side since he first took office three years ago. And what better way to win over the mujahedin than to run with the brother of a slain national hero?
But Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow, is also the son-in-law of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was the internationally recognized Afghan president from 1992-2001. Does this signify a comeback for the leader of the Jami'at-e Islami party?
In an exclusive interview at his home in the posh Wazir Akbar Khan District, Rabbani told RFE/RL that Afghanistan's "first experience with democracy is not without any problems," but said he is going along with it anyway for the good of the nation.
"I believe that with the appointment of Ahmed Zia, Mr. Karzai will enjoy more support," Rabbani said, and then added: "It may result in an increase in support. But if it doesn't increase the support, it definitely won't reduce it."
He has no doubt that "the people of Panjsher [Province] will support Ahmed Zia."
"They have supported this family in the past, and they will support him in the future," he said. "Ahmed Zia hasn't got any problems of support. There might be some remarks against President Karzai. But as far as Ahmed Zia is concerned, he doesn't have any problems."
Should Ahmed Zia Mas'ud be considered a Panjsheri or as Jami'at-e Islami's man in government?
"I think that he should be considered as a Panjsheri who has replaced another Panjsheri in that position," he said, alluding to Fahim's recent displacement.
Complicating matters -- if only slightly -- was the announcement that Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, who served as a key military strategist for the late Mas'ud during the resistance, was also running for president. Would this split the Panjsheri vote?
Rabbani is skeptical: "I believe that Mr. Qanuni has started very late. He has announced his support for Mr. Karzai on several occasions. This puts his candidacy into question."
In spite of rumors that Qanuni -- backed by Marshall Fahim -- enjoys the support of the mujahedin and, as such, may pose a formidable challenge to Karzai, Rabbani said: "It's too early to say that the commanders have put their support behind Mr. Qanuni. The commanders have their own interests and they will definitely consider that before supporting Mr. Qanuni."
With regard to popular perception that the outcome of the elections are predetermined, he said: "There has been some concern regarding this and people have shown their concern. So even as we are experiencing democracy for the first time, we have to strive [to ensure] the elections are transparent."
Rabbani expressed some qualms over discrepancies between the election law and the constitution, which was ratified some months ago. The constitution stipulates that elections be conducted through secret balloting, but the government has ordered candidates to submit 10,000 ballot cards for their candidacy to be accepted.
"Although this election law has been passed by the UN, I don't know why it has not been considered [that it goes against our constitution]," he said. "This is, of course, one of the problems that in the early stages of democracy we are experiencing."
Another problem is the timing of the elections. As a rule, elections tend to divide a people rather than unite them. Some observers have warned that it is too early to hold elections in Afghanistan. The country is still recovering from two decades of war and time is needed to build a civil society that could produce a viable democracy. In recent weeks, the country has shown further signs of polarization between the Tajiks and Uzbeks of the north and the Pashtuns in the south. In addition to the tribal issues, there are a number of new constituencies to reckon with, such as the Afghans who have returned from the West to set up private enterprises and the foreigners who may be here on a short-term basis for whatever purpose, but carry influence nonetheless.
"They have announced that as per the constitution, the elections should be held within this period, and although there are problems and there is a crisis of confidence, and certainly the elections do bring divisions and polarize the population, but as it has been decided now, [we must all try and make it work]," said Rabbani. "There is no doubt that [although] most of the things that the government starts are with good intentions, they are certainly not without dangers -- and there are dangers."
Another curious factor is the marked absence of any campaigning. Weeks before the elections, none of the candidates have taken to the streets to reach out to the people. There are no fiery speeches, no lofty promises of a better tomorrow.
"I have also inquired about this," said Rabbani, "and they have said that according to the law, they will start their campaign 30 days before the elections are held."
Observers speculate Rabbani may be given the position of speaker of parliament after the elections, but when asked what role he plans to play in the government, the former president replied: "I am looking forward to having a membership in the parliament for Badakhshan" Province in northeastern Afghanistan.
No winners in Afghan campaign
The Globe and Mail 08/12/2004 By Amin Saikal
Afghan politics has entered its most potentially divisive phase since the overthrow of Taliban rule nearly three years ago. President Hamid Karzai is likely to win the election scheduled for Oct. 9, but he may have little to celebrate.
On the domestic front, there will be no legislature to back his government for at least another six months. And he'll face a number of disgruntled election losers who exercise considerable military power in different parts of the country.
Internationally, Mr. Karzai will find a diminishing international focus on Afghanistan, especially if President George W. Bush loses his own election. None of this bodes well for transforming Afghanistan into a stable democracy. (Nor does it bode well for the 75 Canadians who have just left Edmonton to join a 700-member Canadian task force providing reconnaissance and surveillance with the Kabul multinational brigade.)
One factor that set Mr. Karzai apart from other Afghan leaders was his knack for maintaining the support of many key figures of the so-called Northern Alliance who were instrumental in helping the Americans against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But he is now trying to balance his ticket by selecting as vice-presidential running mates Ahmed Zia Massoud (brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, hero of anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and anti-Taliban resistance in the 1990s) and Karim Khalili, the leader of a Hazara Shia group.
These moves may have offended other influential actors. Mr. Karzai may have calculated that, while he himself is Pashtun (Afghanistan's largest ethnic cluster, to which the Taliban also belonged) and would pick up a good number of Pashtun votes, his running mates will split the votes of the Tajiks (the second-largest ethnic group) and Hazaras to ensure his electoral success.
But a better-known Massoud brother, Ahmed Wali Massoud (the Afghan ambassador to Britain), is supporting the presidential candidacy of a talented Massoud disciple, Yunus Qanooni. So is Mr. Karzai's Vice-President and Minister of Defence, Marshal Mohammed Fahim (possibly Afghanistan's most powerful military actor).
Mr. Qanooni served in the anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance with distinction, and played key roles in Northern Alliance negotiations with other groups to chart Afghanistan's future, including the appointment of Mr. Karzai as head of the interim and transitional government. Lately, Mr. Qanooni has become progressively discontented. Although he was an able minister of the interior in the Karzai interim government, Mr. Karzai's transitional administration gave that job to a U.S.-backed Pashtun ally, Ali Jalali.
Like several other of his former Northern Alliance colleagues, Mr. Qanooni is also troubled by Mr. Karzai's close relations with the Bush administration, and the increasing role that Mr. Bush's envoys play in determining the terms and direction of Afghan politics. America's involvement in local politics has become so pervasive, informed Afghans have begun to question U.S. motives.
To make the situation more complex, the militarily powerful Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam has also declared his candidacy for presidency. This, together with Mr. Qanooni's candidacy (which reportedly also has the support of Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah), could have serious ramifications. Even if Mr. Karzai wins, he'll face several powerful actors who feel locked out of the power structure.
Although security, stability and an improved standard of living remain elusive for most Afghans, the election may enable Mr. Bush to claim another "mission accomplished" and boost his own chances of re-election. But the way the Afghan election has been managed so far will do little to move Afghanistan down the path of stability and democracy.
The country didn't need a strong presidential system as enshrined in the new constitution. It needed a strong parliamentary system that could provide for many winners rather than just one. The costs of overlooking this elementary reality could prove to be quite high.
Amin Saikal is a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) at the Australian National University, and author of Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival.
Veteran General Goes for Presidency
IWPR 08/14/2004 By Hafizullah Gardish
The controversial commander Abdul Rashid Dostum has little chance of winning votes outside his own constituency
Kabul - General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the tough commander who holds sway over much of northern Afghanistan, heard this week that the country's election body had sanctioned his controversial bid to stand for president.
Dostum announced he would run in the October 9 election on a statement made in his northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on July 22. His request to stand was approved by the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB, which also announced on August 10 that it had rejected five of the 23 candidates' applications.
Dostum's decision to stand appeared to take both government and political analysts by surprise, all the more so because it could be argued that the general's military background is in direct breach of Afghanistan's election law.
One of the best known figures of Afghanistan's 20 years of war, Dostum, 50, began fighting alongside the Communists, then switched side to align himself with the mujahedin and most recently helped the Americans in 2001. This turbulent career has earned him a reputation for opportunism that his enemies regard as treachery.
Announcing his candidature, Dostum pledged, "If I am elected president, I will promote a government based on Islam."
In his election programme, he promised to support disarmament of Afghanistan's militias, to campaign against drugs production, and promote government based on human rights and democracy.
But critics say Dostum has patently failed to deliver on many of the issues that he has now made part of his political platform.
Dostum was born to a poor family from Jowzjan province's substantial Uzbek population, and began his working life in the gas industry after completing an elementary education.
In the Eighties, he was part of the Soviet-backed communist regime's military, leading an irregular militia recruited from local Uzbeks who gained a reputation for ferocity in fighting against the mujahedin rebels. Their commander was rewarded by rapid promotion to the rank of general.
But by 1992, the storm clouds had gathered over the weakening government of President Najibullah. Sensing the change, Dostum helped seal his former masters' fate by changing sides to back a coalition of mujahedin factions which captured Kabul and overthrew the communists. As Dostum's spokesman Mohammad Homayun Khairi puts it, "When the mujahedin entered Kabul, they were riding on Dostum's tanks."
For the next four years, the various mujahedin groups, joined by Dostum's feared "Uzbek militia", were to destroy large parts of the capital - killing tens of thousands - in a senseless and bloody war to control territory and win cabinet posts.
The internecine conflict was brought to a halt when a new force, the Taleban, captured Kabul. Like other commanders, Dostum withdrew to his own patch - in his case, the provinces of north-central Afghanistan.
He was forced to flee to neighbouring Uzbekistan in 1997, after a bloody episode in which one of his deputies, General Abdul Malik, whose brother had been killed allegedly by Dostum, defected to the Taleban and helped them overrun the northern provinces.
But five days later, with the assistance of another faction, Malik turned on his new allies and the Taleban were slaughtered. Dostum made an attempt to return and regained control for a year, before he was again defeated in battle and fled to Turkey.
In 2001, following the September 11 attacks on the United States, Dostum, as a key Northern Alliance commander, advanced from Central Asia into Samangan and helped the United States topple the Taliban regime.
As well his militia following, Dostum developed a political vehicle through the Nineties, the National Islamic Movement or Junbesh-e-Milli-ye-Islami, which has increasingly sought to reshape itself as a political party as well as one of the traditional militarised factions.
The general was awarded the post of deputy defence minister, but on the ground his men of the Eighth Army Corps engaged in sporadic turf warfare with another local militia led by Mohammad Atta, for which each side blamed the other. The local conflict was complicated by the fact that Atta was part of the Jamiat-e-Islami faction and an ally of Dostum's ministerial superior, defence chief Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
Although Karzai gave him the additional post of special advisor, and Dostum himself spoke about the need to remove militias and move towards democratic government, the general's shift of image from archetypal warlord to civilian politician has been marred by the continued lack of security in his home region and questions about his human rights record.
Government officials were particularly irked when troops loyal to Dostum stormed into Maimana, capital of the north-western Faryab region, in April this year, unceremoniously ousting a Kabul-approved provincial governor with whom the general had apparently fallen out. "This is an unconstitutional act of interference," said Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali.
Dostum's spokesman later said the incident was a result of a campaign to discredit the general.
Political analyst Habibullah Rafi suggests Dostum should be ruled out from standing for election by a law adopted earlier this year specifically barring any candidate who controls an armed militia.
Candidates should not "have unofficial military organisations, or be part of them", article 16 of the election law says.
But when IWPR spoke to Sayed Mohammed Azam, spokesman for the election management body, he refused to talk about Dostum's candidacy and the ban on militia leaders.
"I can't talk about Dostum," he said, noting that the general was only one of many candidates and that the JEMB was reviewing all of the documentation relating to their applications to stand.
The general has publicly agreed to cede control of his forces and put them through the Demobilisation, Demilitarisation and Reintegration programme, DDR, which the UN has run for the government. But the general's compliance with DDR has been criticised.
"Even though Dostum claims that he has not violated this programme directly, he doesn't want to surrender his heavy weapons which are included in the main programme," said Milos Krsmanovic, the official in charge of DDR in the north.
He added that although Dostum no longer technically counts as a military commander, because he resigned as deputy defence minister to run for the presidency, he still enjoys full support of the soldiers of Eighth Corps, based in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Another accusation brought by some people in the north is that Dostum, as de facto political chief of several provinces, of presiding over extortion and other human rights abuses.
Juma Khan, 18, a resident of Daulat Abad district in the Balkh province, says, "Nazar Mohammad, one of Dostum's commanders, charges us six to 10 dollars as 'life tax'." The tax, known as "kala poli", is protection money that has to be paid by villages whose residents are not willing to serve in the militias of local commanders, so that they can live there
The head of the human rights joint commission in the north, Sayed Ikramuddin Haisaryan, underlined the connection between militias and human rights abuses.
"A lot of civil rights violators in the north of Afghanistan are gunmen who are linked with various parties," he said. Haisaryan said there were several parties involved, among them Junbish led by Dostum, but also Hizb-e-Wahdat, whose leaders include Hamed Karzai's running-mate in the presidential election, Karim Khalili.
Another question swirling around Dostum is allegations that he has profited from production and trafficking of opium in northern Afghanistan.
The region Dostum controls includes areas where opium is grown. "These four provinces - Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan and Samangan - are on the list of major areas for poppy production," said General Majid Azimi, head of the national intelligence service's branch in Mazar-e-Sharif.
A government official, who did not want to give his name, told IWPR that narcotics from the north are frequently smuggled from producing areas in the north via Jowzjan province to Ghor, and on to Kandahar and to Helmand province for processing into heroin. Then it is taken by road back through the northern regions and to Central Asia.
As the top Uzbek political and military figure, Dostum is seen by supporters and enemies alike as representing his community's interests, and he has even been accused of separatist ambitions for provinces with a strong Uzbek ethnic presence.
He has tried - like the other three leading contenders in the presidential race - to broaden his appeal by selecting running-mates from other communities. In his case, his vice-presidents of choice are Shafiqa Habibi, a Pashtun female journalist, and Wazir Mohammad.
On the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif, Nazar Mohammad says "Among all the candidates who have come forward up to now, I consider Dostum the most effective person for the future of Afghanistan."
He rejects charges that Dostum has behaved treacherously in the past, insisting that whatever he promised, he delivered on - and did not lie to people.
Mohammad Ibrahim, from the Dawlatabad district north of Mazar-e-Sharif, is in no doubt about who he will choose, saying, "I am Uzbek, so I will give my vote to an Uzbek."
And Faiz Mohammed said: "I will never vote for anyone but Dostum...Dostum is our leader. He always helps us; he listens to people before doing anything".
But in Kabul, there's little support for him. "Who is Dostum?" asked Bilqis, a 45-year-old woman. "He is a looter, and he cares only about the Uzbeks and nothing else. I don't accept him."
Political analyst Rafi sees Dostum's candidacy as particularly divisive because of his past, "During Dr Najibullah's regime [1986-92] led a tribal militia and damaged national unity."
Rafi warned that Dostum now wants a federal state, which would ultimately take Afghanistan towards disintegration.
In recent years, Dostum and his supporters have floated the idea of creating a federative structure to ensure that minority and regional interests are taken care of.
They have been accused of using the idea to promote secession by stealth. Such accusations date largely from the first half of the nineties, when the general was allied with Uzbekistan and to an extent Russia, and was viewed as running a de facto buffer statelet on their behalf, in return for covert supplies of military equipment. But neither Dostum nor his Junbesh allies have suggested that they would want more than federal status or that they do not believe in the Afghan state.
Opponents of Dostum say a man whose education ended at primary school is not qualified to run for president.
"My God! - Dostum isn't educated; if he becomes president he will sign documents without reading them," said Mohammad Afzal, 30, who like many who make this criticism, lives in Kabul where education provision is better than elsewhere.
"He joined the army with the help of the Communists and the regime's intelligence services," said a Kabul analyst, who asked not to be named. "Dostum had an intellectual talent for homicide and for this reason, after joining the military, he was promoted to the position of general."
But Dostum's spokesman Khairi brushed aside such allegations, saying Dostum's military promotions were just rewards for his abilities.
Dostum's colourful career leaves him a feared as well as respected figure who carries undoubted political - and military - clout.
His candidature, together with those of two other influential figures, Yunus Qanuni and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, increases the number of popular credible candidates standing against President Karzai, raising the likelihood of a second round - something that was not previously anticipated, and that will bring additional problems.
Hafizullah Gardish is a local editor for IWPR in Kabul, staff reporters Jawad Sharifzade, Yaqub Ibrahimi from Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul freelancer Dauod Roshan also contributed to this report.
Sattar Sirat speaks on Kabul TV
Afghanistan Television 08/14/2004
Independent presidential candidate Abdol Sattar Sirat speaks on Afghan Kabul TV about his intentions and his reasons for standing as a presidential candidate.
(Former justice minister, an independent candidate) Abdol Sattar Sirat began with a few words of prayer in Arabic and then said that he had decided to put himself forward as a candidate because he wanted to serve his war-torn country. He said his aim was not to get the reins of power, but to create an open political environment where the Afghan nation will have the free to determine its leader. Abdossattar said that over the past half a century, particularly over the past three decades, most political decisions relating to the faith of the Afghan people have been taken without involving Afghans.
In respect of Afghanistan's diplomatic relations with the West, particularly with the USA, over the history of diplomatic relations, he said the USA had not recognized Afghanistan's independence for over 10 years after Afghanistan had become independent. He said the West and the USA always judged the issues of Afghanistan in the light of explanations of the Afghan situation provided by people other then Afghans themselves. He said "Always non-Afghan representatives would explain our issues in America..."
Abdossattar Sirat said that our relations with the USA would always be influenced and affected by our neighbours' varying relations with the USA. For instance he said, "During the Shah's regime, Iran's relations with the USA were completely different and much better than Afghanistan's relations with America. After the royal regime in Iran, our other neighbour and brother country, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, replaced Iran in having better relations with America..."
He said that, whenever a situation relating to Afghanistan came up in the West, particularly in the USA, that situation would first be introduced and explained by one of our neighbours, not by the Afghans themselves. The opinions of Afghans would be given second priority.
Abdossattar Sirat said, "Afghanistan became a priority for the West and the USA on only two occasions. First, when the Russian Red Army attacked Afghan territory and international communism destroyed the independence of Afghanistan. Then Afghanistan's situation attracted the attention of the world and the Afghan situation became an international issue. Then our situation became the first priority for America..."
He said that the second time when Afghanistan became a priority for the world and the USA was the events of 11 September. He said the latter events took place 10 years after the collapse of communism and the expulsion of the Red Army from Afghanistan and during that 10 years, all the countries that had assisted Afghanistan in the jihad turned their backs.
I had told our American friends several times in 1990 to adopt a specific policy towards Afghanistan to bring about a national political system in Afghanistan.
He said, "I asked an American friend about it in the early 1990s. I asked him, do you have a specific policy regarding Afghanistan. He thought for a while and said, 'If you find out, let me know." He said, 'The Cold War is over. We have no more interest in Afghanistan.' This was his answer. I told him, if you don't have any interest in Afghanistan, your enemies will take an interest in Afghanistan. And in that case, Afghanistan will be the best place for your enemies to arrange and organize their anti-American activities."
Abdol Sattar Sirat said that political military decisions, if made in a hasty way can become mixed up and lead to disaster. He said the situation after 11 September justifies quick decisions and reactions by the Americans to chase their enemies, but there were neither qualified elements and centres nor was the situation favourable to implementing political policies in Afghanistan in coordination with military operations.
Election Worries in Afghanistan
By Omar Samad - Washington Times - Published August 12, 2004
Election fever has gripped Afghanistan. Stunning and unexpected political maneuvers of the past few weeks rocked the political status quo that came into life at the historic U.N.-sponsored conference on post-Taliban Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, at the end of 2001.
A simmering summer of Afghan-style politicking ahead of presidential elections slated for October, followed by parliamentary elections next spring, will reshape the future power dynamics in the country and redefine the role of the international community in supporting stability and reconstruction efforts over the next several years.
It is incumbent on election contesters and members of the international community, who are helping shape and support the new Afghanistan, to avoid the political and security pitfalls that might result in a weak post-election government lacking a national mandate or pave the way for a chaotic parliament next year.
For stability's sake and to ensure a decisive electoral outcome, frontline presidential contenders will have to reach across the ethnic and regional divides to break the rigid political molds that the country has inherited after years of conflict. Alienating any of the major ethnic constituencies promises to be counterproductive.
The good news is that for the country's first-ever national elections, a stunning 90 percent of eligible adult voters -- at least 40 percent of whom are women -- have registered to vote thus far. Albeit fragile but alive, this is a young democracy in the making.
Last-minute decisions late last month about new candidacies and the selection of presidential running mates put the political process into high gear. Pundits and factions scrambled to align and realign their positions following the sudden decision by President Hamid Karzai to drop his original first-choice running mate, Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, in favor of Ahmad Zia Massoud, a less controversial newcomer on the national political scene and brother of slain resistance hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Mr. Zia Massoud also happens to be the son-in-law of former President Burhanudin Rabbani, who still aspires to be a key political player.
The decision has triggered favorable reactions in certain Afghan and foreign quarters, and stirred up apprehension in others. An eleventh-hour decision by Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, another former aide to Mr. Massoud, to throw his hat into the candidates' ring added a significant twist to the overall electoral amalgam. The Qanooni camp was revitalized a few days later when Mr. Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah endorsed his candidacy.
Confusion, however, seems to be the prevalent sentiment among the country's political circles and militia commanders these days. The democratic machine still churns forward, but what Afghanistan does not need at this stage is political mayhem that could lead to growing mistrust and deepening fissures along ethnic and regional fault lines.
Last January's Loya Jirga, called to ratify the new constitution, presented an occasion for reckoning with ghosts of times past, but also resulted in tensions arising between those who think they know best because of learned technocratic skills, and those who believe they should be recognized because of their past sacrifices.
On the surface, Afghan politics is still influenced by ethnicity, but it remains to be seen whether the ethnic vote will split as a result of the recent alignments in Kabul or whether various components of the so-called Northern Alliance are going to unite behind one candidate, as they did under fire in their struggle against the Taliban.
The buzzword among some circles in Kabul following last week's dramatic decisions is "teamwork" once again. Efforts are underway by the leading contenders to bridge the divide and seek an accommodation. New post-election, power-sharing scenarios are already on the drawing board.
Over the last two years, the central government's authority has been challenged by the growing pull of local commanders, resurgent Taliban and extremist militants, and an emboldened drug mafia, fueling rampant corruption. Afghans, however, would like to see terrorist infiltrations checked, private militias disbanded under a practical disarmament program, and drug barons put out of business, thus facilitating the emergence of an efficient and clean administration, a responsible parliament and a balanced judiciary.
This is easier said than accomplished. The events of the past two years have demonstrated that Mr. Karzai and the coalesced cabinet of ministers performed relatively well to pull the country together, promulgate a new constitution and start the work of rebuilding the economy and such institutions as the army and police. But the hard work still lies ahead, and requires a determined and united administration to wrestle with the factors of instability. A much-awaited reform of the cabinet, effectively fighting lawlessness in parts of the country and addressing the economic concerns of the Afghans, might be the first steps in that direction.
Modernization and reform are essential to improve the quality of life for Afghans, but stability is a prerequisite that cannot be compromised at this critical juncture. It is possible though to find balance between these two sets of goals that are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
On the other hand, it is essential that the international community's constructive engagement continues to support the political, security and economic revivals underway in Afghanistan actively. However, constructive engagement and tangible support should not conjure overly intrusive and radical demands that undermine the balance required to uphold the new Afghan political structures or stir up deep-seated resentment among important blocks of voters.
Afghans overwhelmingly have welcomed the international community's presence and showed great appreciation for the pledges made for reconstruction work. Afghans view this partnership as mutually beneficial -- not just as a one-sided affair. Nurturing these relationships will still remain critical beyond the elections' timeframe in order to solidify gains already achieved and to keep the country on solid footing.
The time is now for Afghan leaders with nationwide appeal and a comprehensive reform program to define and rally support for a common vision, to reach across voter constituencies and to build a political platform that can ensure a strong mandate for the next government. Afghan men and women have earned the right to cast their votes freely. May the best team win the country's first election.
Omar Samad is the former spokesman of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and current ambassador-designate to Canada.
Bad electoral competition
Defending one's position and strategies and attacking the weak points of the rival candidates are considered part of the electoral campaigns.
Everyone has the right to express their views and criticize their opponents or rivals. However, this right has its limits, which should not be crossed. Views which are against national or public interests or which damage the prestige of the country and, similarly, false allegations or criticism are not an act becoming of a political figure, let alone a presidential candidate.
A few days ago I saw the text of an interview with the daily Sahar published in Peshawar, Pakistan, with Mr (Abdol Satar) Sirat, who has also entered the election process. Irrespective of the fact that this interview was published in a newspaper published on the other side of the Durand Line without having faced even a minor problem over this period, its contents were unbelievable and surprising to me. One could never expect an educated person like Mr Sirat to say things like that. It seems as if his failure at the Bonn Conference severely impacted on his becoming a member of the cabinet. Perhaps that is why he has chosen to oppose the whole process.
One can observe a big difference in Mr Sirat's words and actions. This will severally impact on his candidature for such an important and critical position as the presidency because his reputation, good name and respect that he commands among some people will be affected. It is a reputation that stems from his proximity to the Father of the Nation (former king). Nevertheless, the Father of the Nation's non-support for his candidacy has already affected his reputation.
Mr Sirat has termed the head of state a "puppet" and has thus also called into question the legitimacy of the deployment of coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan citing a number of publications and books published outside the country.
Prior to everything it should be highlighted that this is indeed not an ideal situation. I wish it were not like this. I wish the need for international forces had not arisen. However, it is this way unfortunately. Our nation is in dire need of the political, social and military support of the international community. What will happen if international forces withdrew from Afghanistan? Will we not return to the disastrous and dark era of the Taleban? Will we not once again experience civil wars which recorded the worst crimes against humanity and which we experienced before the Taleban emerged? We definitely will. Therefore, the presence of the international forces in Afghanistan in the! present situation is compatible with the national interests of Afghanistan and serves as the only way for Afghanistan to be rid of crisis.
On the other hand, it is unclear why Mr Sirat has added his voice to those of the Taleban and (Islamic Party leader) Golboddin Hekmatyar and has called the current government a "puppet administration". It is because in his speeches he has asked the international community and the United States of America on several occasions to help the people of Afghanistan rid themselves of the tragic civil wars and wild clutches of the Taleban. Mr Sirat was not only present at the Bonn Conference but was also an eager candidate for the post of head of the interim administration. If he had been selected as the head of the interim administration of Afghanistan at the Bonn Conference, would the presenc! e of the international military forces in Afghanistan have had more legitimacy and would the government not be a puppet administration? Similarly, it should be remembered that the opportunity for nominating his presidential candidacy that he is availing himself of at present is the result of the work and efforts of the same government and coalition and NATO forces.
On the other hand, the Emergency and the Constitutional Loya Jergas (assemblies) have legitimized this administration and such an accusation is indeed an insult to the constitution and elected representatives of the people.
Another question for Mr Sirat. If this is a puppet administration, all its activities lose their legitimacy. Why have you nominated yourself as a presidential candidate in an illegitimate system? Does this not establish a serious contradiction between your words and actions? Taking this contradiction in your words and actions into consideration, how do you expect the people to repose confidence in you and vote for you and make you responsible for deciding their future?
I personally had great respect for Mr Sirat's educated personality but his recent remarks have disappointed me. Perhaps, we have not yet adopted the culture of democracy and think that our words and actions only are legitimate and justified and see as illegitimate everything said or done by an opponent or not said or done by us. Such a view and mind-set cannot be expected from an educated person. We should bear in mind that sound political competition promotes democracy while bad political competition weakens it.
Women run gauntlet for chance to vote
The Telegraph, UK 08/14/2004 By Hamida Ghafour
It has proved difficult to bring democracy to Zabul. When the US army arrived in one of the more remote districts of the southern province last month, the residents thought the Russians had invaded again.
They had never seen an American because the district was a Taliban stronghold. The Americans had arrived to use their firepower to rid the villages of the militants, allowing the local people to register to vote - a process which the soldiers themselves say works better when B1 bombers are flying overhead.
"We have B1 bombers flying 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Zabul," said Major Joseph Walsh, the executive officer of the 2nd Bn, 35th Infantry. "Sometimes it is a show of force so if you have a 500lb bomb possibly in your backyard then you might be reluctant to cause trouble."
He said there was a historical precedent for nations holding an election in a war zone. "You look at us in 1776," he said, referring to the American war of Independence. "We went ahead and wrote the constitution and we were still at war."
Qalat, 240 miles south-west of Kabul, is the capital of Zabul and the heartland of the Taliban insurgency. Here, the American-led coalition is in the middle of Operation Lightning Resolve to rid the south of Taliban and pave the way for democracy. The Americans, together with a battalion from the fledgling Afghan National Army, are working with the United Nations to give out as many identification cards as possible for the Oct 9 presidential election.
The national deadline was Aug 1 but it was extended by two weeks in Zabul so the Americans could finish a few combat missions and secure areas for the UN's election teams to set up voter registration sites.
It appears to have worked. In Arghandab and Khak-e-Afghan where the Americans were mistaken for the Red Army - combat missions involved Black Hawk helicopters, a B1 bomber and several platoons of infantry - the security improved to such an extent that more than 1,000 Afghans have registered. But the mission has not been easy. Last week, four American soldiers were wounded after their Humvee troop carrier was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Four more were injured when an explosive device detonated near their vehicle. So far 12 UN election workers have been killed by militants vowing to disrupt the election. Another 33 have been injured across the country. "It's obvious we are afraid," said Rajiabia, 46, a registrar at the election site inside a school. "On average we get 10 to 12 women a day, which is not bad. But we go from house to house to tell women to come. The mullahs don't like it and a lot of women come in secret because they are too scared."
Less than half of the eligible 124,000 voters in Zabul have received their cards and only eight per cent are women - the prospective turn-out in the country. By contrast, the UN has registered more than 90 per cent of the estimated 10 million eligible voters nationwide, and about 40 per cent are women.
Is Afghanistan ready for an election? Capt Todd Schmidt, a military liaison officer to the UN, would only say: "Americans are supremely optimistic. We always see hope. Part of what we are trying to do is sow those seeds of hope."
At the 19th century fortress once occupied by the British, Rahman Wafa, an officer with the 1st Bn of the Afghan army, said the Taliban were as strong as ever. "In Khak-e-Afghan district we distributed voter registration cards with our American brothers. The night we left Talibs gathered all of the cards and took them away. They told the villagers that anyone who took cards again would have their throat slit."
Maj Abdul Qadir, commander of the battalion, said most people secretly supported America but were biding their time to see which force would win.
"When we go to a village we persuade people to take part in elections but when we leave the Taliban threatens them. The Americans need to stay. Otherwise, I don't know what would happen to us."
U.S. Sees Widening Crack in Taliban Leadership
Sat Aug 14, 7:06 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - There are signs of the Taliban leadership "falling apart," a U.S. military spokesman said on Saturday, citing reports this week that a breakaway faction no longer recognizes Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The one-eyed Mullah Omar became one of the world's most wanted men for helping shelter Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network until late 2001, when U.S. led forces drove the Taliban militia from power in Afghanistan.
Reuters reported Monday that a dissident group named Taliban Jamiat Jaish-e-Muslimeen (Muslim Army of the Taliban) had broken away, taking with it about one-third of the Taliban's fighting strength.
"That's a significant development which demonstrates the Taliban are falling apart a little bit on the leadership side," Major Scott Nelson told a regular news briefing in Kabul.
Nelson said the military was still assessing what impact the split was having on the Islamist militants' strategy and operations against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
"That fissure is widening -- we see that. Specifically what that means we're still looking into it," he said.
The new group was being led by Mulla Syed Mohammad Akbar Aga, a 45-year-old commander from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, Sabir Momin, who was the Taliban's deputy operations commander in southern Afghanistan, told Reuters Monday.
The rift within the Taliban comes hard on the heels of a series of arrests of al Qaeda members in neighboring Pakistan, suggesting success on two fronts in the U.S.-led war on terror.
There are around 18,000 U.S.-led troops combing the south and east of Afghanistan for Taliban and al Qaeda members.
Another eight thousand peacekeepers are part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stationed in Kabul and northern parts of the country.
Friday, one U.S. soldier was wounded in a Taliban ambush of a convoy in southeastern Paktika province, and another was hurt when his patrol vehicle was hit by an explosive device in neighboring Zabul province.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told Reuters four fighters had been wounded.
The U.S. military has lost 98 servicemen in Afghanistan since late 2001, the most recent a soldier killed when the Black Hawk helicopter he was traveling in crashed due to a mechanical problem Thursday. The U.S. military says there was no hostile fire involved in the incident.
The peacekeeping force has been beefed up ahead of Afghanistan's landmark presidential election in October, as the Taliban and its allies are expected to intensify a campaign of violence. Close to one thousand people have been killed in the past year, including militants.
Taliban remnants are believed to have links with al Qaeda, the group they sheltered from the 1990s, and militant Islamic forces loyal to former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Afghanistan's women are competing for the first time
ATHENS, Greece It's been eight years since Afghanistan has participated in the Olympic games. The country, ruled by the repressive Taliban regime, was banned by the Olympic committee because of its treatment of women.
This summer, though, Afghanistan is back -- and with it, women competitors.
Among the athletes is 17-year-old Friba Razayee (FREE'-buh ruh-ZEYE'-uh). Trained as a boxer, she took up judo only a year ago after her coach left the country.
Razayee grew up under the Taliban regime, which beat women who didn't wear the all-enveloping veil in public and didn't let girls go to school.
Things are better now -- but there are still limits. Razayee says she still can't run in public, for example.
Razayee says she doesn't expect to get a medal when she competes in judo against the best in the world. She says just being in Athens is "better than a medal."
Bush hails athletes from Iraq, Afghanistan
Washington, DC, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- President Bush in his weekly radio address Saturday hailed Afghanistan's and Iraq's Olympians as symbols of what newly liberated nations can accomplish.
"Twenty-nine athletes from Iraq are competing in Athens, including the Iraqi soccer team, which thrilled the world by winning its first game," Bush said.
He also celebrated the presence of women athletes from both nations in the Athens Summer Olympics.
"For the first time in history, people everywhere will see women competitors wearing the uniform of Afghanistan." Bush said female competitors embody the highest Olympic ideals.
"One woman on the Iraqi track team described her outlook this way: 'Someone who represents only herself has accomplished nothing; I want to represent my country.' "
Afghan asylum seekers hospitalized following hunger strike
August 14, 2004 Associated Press
Nearly a dozen Afghan asylum seekers have been hospitalized following a hunger strike in which some stitched their mouths shut to protest the United Nations' refusal to grant them refugee status, officials said Saturday.
A total of 39 migrants launched the hunger strike Tuesday, after living in legal limbo for more than two years in a hostel in Bogor on the southern outskirts of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly rejected their appeals for asylum status, refusing to send them to a third country and leaving them no option except to return to Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, 18 of the hunger strikers sewed their mouths shut to press their demand. Eleven of those were taken to a hospital Friday.
"They were getting very weak and that is why we brought them to the hospital," said Steve Cook, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta. "I think they will be OK...but the hunger strike will not affect their status."
The refugees insist they were lied to by the United Nations, contending the agency promised to send them to a third country since there is still fighting in Afghanistan.
The United Nations in Jakarta has said most of the migrants have had their cases heard three times and that their appeals have been exhausted.
There are about 150 Afghan asylum seekers in Indonesia. Some have been granted refugee status, though many are stuck here living in cheap hostels paid for by the United Nations.
Most paid thousands of dollars to smugglers in unsuccessful attempts to travel by boat to nearby Australia, which has intercepted scores of asylum seekers and sent them back to Indonesia or to offshore detention centers while their refugee claims are considered.
Last year, three Afghans living in a hotel in central Indonesia sewed up their lips in a similar protest after being denied refugee status. They stopped their protest after being hospitalized.
Bringing democracy to citizens of Zabul
It's not easy to stage elections in the heartland of Taliban resistance, but efforts persist despite the costs, HAMIDA GHAFOUR writes
By HAMIDA GHAFOUR The Globe and Mail (Canada) Saturday, August 14, 2004 - Page A1
QALAT, AFGHANISTAN -- The buzz one would expect from a first-time presidential election is absent from the streets of Qalat.
There are no campaign posters or offices to be seen. The city is quiet, with the occasional roar of a B-1 bomber jet breaking the silence.
At the United Nations voter-registration office at the local girls school, Rajiabia, 46, an election worker, and her three colleagues are waiting to give identification cards to women so they can participate in the Oct. 9 vote. No one has come this morning.
"It's obvious we are afraid," said Rajiabia, who has one name. "On average, we get 10 to 12 women a day, which is not bad. But we go from house to house to tell women to come. The mullahs don't like it and a lot of women come in secret because they are too scared."
Qalat, 380 kilometres southwest of Kabul, is the capital of Zabul province, heartland of the Taliban resistance. Here, the U.S.-led coalition is in the middle of Operation Lightning Resolve, trying to rid four southern provinces of militants to pave the way for democracy.
The Americans and a battalion from the Afghan national army are helping the United Nations identify as many voters as possible.
The national deadline for voter registration was Aug. 1, but in Zabul it was extended until tomorrow.
It has proven difficult to bring democracy to Zabul; less than half of the eligible 124,000 voters have received registration cards. Only 8 per cent of that group are women.
By contrast, the UN has registered more than 90 per cent of the estimated 10 million eligible voters nationwide, about 40 per cent women.
In Kabul, posters are slowly appearing on street corners and the usual mudslinging among the 18 presidential candidates has begun.
Zabul has been so isolated that when coalition forces arrived in the more remote northern districts in July, residents thought the Russians had invaded again.
They had never seen, or heard of, the U.S.-led coalition because the Taliban had firm control of the regions, said Major Joseph Walsh, executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry.
But after a combat mission involving air assaults, security has improved enough that 1,000 Afghans have registered in the northern district of Arghandab alone.
Major Walsh said that in order to establish a more permanent security presence, the military is building the police force in several districts, giving them radios and uniforms.
But the U.S.-led operation is meeting resistance and eight U.S. soldiers were hurt in two attacks.
UN election workers are also targets. On Aug. 6, 30 militants fired at an armed election convoy in Uruzgan province, killing two Afghans.
Twelve election workers have been killed across the country and at least 33 have been injured.
Aid groups are scaling back operations as they anticipate more violence as the elections draw closer. Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is pulling out of Afghanistan after 24 years, due to the deteriorating security.
In the midst of this unrest, is the country ready for an election?
Captain Todd Schmidt, a military liaison officer for the UN, paused when asked that question.
"Having been an American, and living in America my whole life, Americans are supremely optimistic. We always see hope. Part of what we are trying to do is sow those seeds of hope," he said.
He insisted security is improving.
But Rahman Wafa, an officer with the Afghan army, said the Taliban are as strong as ever.
"In [the northern] Khak-e-Afghan district, we went and distributed voter-registration cards with our American brothers," he said. "The next day some people said to us that the night we left the village Talibs came and gathered all of the cards and took them away.
"They also told the villagers that anyone who took cards again would have their throats slit," he added, running his forefinger across his throat.
Murder strains Afghan, Pakistan ties
Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned Saturday the murder of the son of an Afghan official in Pakistan.
Mullah Abdul Ali, son of Karzai's adviser on religious affairs, was killed in the Pakistani city of Quetta Friday night.
The murder has further strained already tense relations between the two neighbors, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Although Pakistan now supports the Afghan government, Islamabad's close ties to the former Taliban regime have plagued its relations with Kabul's new rulers.
"This crime is the work of the enemies of Afghanistan, and it is an act against humanity and against Islam," said Karzai.
He urged the Pakistani government to arrest those responsible for the murder and to take "thorough measures for the security of Afghan nationals who travel and reside in Pakistan legally.
Afghan minister in plea to investors
Victoria Burnett August 13 2004
The private sector must invest in Afghanistan to boost legitimate enterprise and prevent the opium industry from swallowing the renascent legal economy, the country's top finance official said.
"If 50 Fortune 500 companies invested $10m [€8.2m, £5.5m)]each, it would have an enormous impact," Ashraf Ghani, the finance minister, said in an interview with the Financial Times. "The global private sector is not doing its share of fighting terrorism and drugs. We need them as a partner."
Afghanistan has won billions of dollars in humanitarian aid and development money since the Taliban regime fell nearly three years ago, but it has struggled to attract foreign investment.
Foreign companies have invested about $100m so far, mainly in telecommunications and hotels. Mr Ghani, who reckons Afghanistan needs $15bn in private-sector investment to fulfil his vision of a modern state that is a cultural and commercial hub, said the government would "lean over backwards" to accommodate more.
Many prospective investors have complained about the lack of laws and security and about corruption, Kabul businessmen say. Mr Ghani called for tariff concessions to help Afghanistan to revive its moribund export industry. Before the 1979 Soviet invasion, Afghanistan was a trading centre and one of the world's largest exporters of dried fruit, but its principal export is now opium, which netted about $2.2bn last year for farmers and traders - equivalent to half the legal economy.
The International Monetary Fund praised the finance ministry's and central bank's reform efforts in a report issued last week and said it expected the economy to grow by 16 per cent this year, raising per-capita income to $246 from $199.
The finance ministry expects new taxes to increase revenues this year by about $100m to $309m, which will cover half the government's operational budget.
'American Taliban' Lawyer Seeks Reversal
Sat Aug 14, 1:33 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO - The attorney for American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh says Lindh's case should be reconsidered now that another U.S. citizen captured on an Afghanistan battlefield may soon be released.
Lindh received a 20-year sentence in 2002 after pleading guilty in civilian court to supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. His attorney asked the Justice Department on Friday to review the case.
Lindh was captured at roughly the same time as Yaser Esam Hamdi, another U.S. citizen. Lawyers for Hamdi and for the government told a federal judge Wednesday they have been negotiating his permanent release from a Navy brig after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that enemy combatants may not be indefinitely detained without legal rights.
"We are very interested in the recent developments" regarding Hamdi's possible release, said James Brosnahan in a statement Friday. "We hope that the government gives Mr. Lindh the same reconsideration they have extended to Mr. Hamdi."
Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980. He grew up in Saudi Arabia while his Saudi father worked in the oil industry there. Hamdi is also a citizen of that country.
After his capture, Lindh was almost immediately transferred from military custody and charged in a civilian court.
Afghanistan-Turkmenistan Road Connection Almost Ready
Ashgabat, 13 August 2004 (nCa) --- The Atamurat-Zeit-Imamnazar road link that connects northeastern Turkmenistan with Afghanistan is almost ready for public service. Atamurat (formerly Kerki) is a favourite departure point for most Turkmens who have relatives on both sides of the border. It is also a convenient route for frequent travelers between Mazar-e-Sharif and Turkmenistan.
A patch of about 20 kilometers from the 110-km road is left now and the rest has been compacted and carpeted. Atamurat-Imamnazar connection would be helpful for the residents of Mazar-e-Sharif, Andkhoi, Shibergan, and other adjoining areas mostly inhabited by ethnic Turkmens in Afghanistan. Serhetabat (formerly Kushka) is another crossing point from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan. It leads to Herat, and onward to Kandahar and Pakistani border town Chaman.
Blame shifts over Afghan aid killings
The Times 08/13/2004 Anthony Loyd
THE hit was professional. Two bullets through the windscreen, probably fired by a gunman standing on the bonnet, had killed the Afghan driver and interpreter in the vehicle's front seats. Someone had then moved to the back of the car, put a bullet through the rear-door window, pushed the glass through and reached in to open the locked doors. The three Medecins Sans Frontieres international staff sitting in the back were shot at point-blank range.
The killers ripped away the vehicle's radio handset and left. They did not even rob the dead: computers, wallets and money were left with the bodies. "It was clinical, well-planned and professional," said Nick Downie, project manager for the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, given the task of recovering the dead. "The only intent was to kill."
The murders, on June 2, condemned by the Afghan Government as the work of Taliban insurgents, led to the withdrawal of MSF from Afghanistan last month. This was the single biggest blow for the aid community in the country and an unprecedented move for the respected organisation, which had operated there for 24 years.
Yet senior foreign officials in Kabul now say the killings were done by a disgruntled local police chief. Rather than being victims of the "Talibs", the dead MSF staff seem as much to have fallen foul of the international community's haphazard commitment to stabilising Afghanistan.
"Everyone was saying the Taliban had done it," a leading international figure in Afghanistan said. "But the finger is pointing at a local police commander, sacked by the Government, who wanted to prove that there is a security problem in Badgis (province) and that he should be reinstated. A lot of the problem here happens like this. It's like an Afghan protection racket."
Afghan authorities still insist they are investigating the killings. But insiders say all of the men originally arrested by the Government after the murders have been released without charge, and that there is no serious continuing investigation.
"I wasn't even particularly disgusted with the Government for their behaviour," Mr Downie said. "They haven't got the capacity to mount an investigation outside Kabul, let alone the strength to back it with serious arrests. It's just an indication of the lack of international investment here."
Security in the country has so far relied on three pillars: NATO, the US-led coalition, and the United Nations. The UN intended to complete a DDR program -- demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration -- to disarm Afghanistan's estimated 60,000 militiamen in time for the presidential elections on October 9. However, that plan lies dead in the water.
There was little will among the warlords to disarm, and neither the means nor intent among the foreign community to enforce it. "We're now working on a plan for the Government to fine commanders who refuse to disarm," a Western diplomat said.
"Unfortunately, though, it hasn't been finalised yet, and as most of the big commanders have their own financial resources from opium it may not affect them much anyway."
During an unannounced flying visit to Kabul and Jalalabad this week, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that the opium trade was threatening Afghanistan's future but told US and Afghan troops: "This country's doing well. You folks are doing well."
Mr Downie, who cleaned up in the aftermath of the MSF assassination, fears otherwise. "When I got to the MSF vehicle, local villagers had gathered around it," he said. "They could have robbed the vehicle but they hadn't. Instead they had offered to wash the bodies as part of their burial ritual.
"I won't forget their faces. They looked really stunned -- very upset. They knew they had just seen the last of MSF and their clinic -- a remote clinic in an area where people really needed it."
Refugees to be enrolled for Afghan election
By Zulfiqar Ali Dawn
PESHAWAR, Aug 14: Preparations are under way to start registration of Afghan refugees in Pakistan for the next presidential elections scheduled for October 10, sources said.
Afghan officials said that registration of refugee voters was likely to be started from next week for which a seven-member consultative body had been set up to ensure transparency in the voters registration.
Head of the Afghan Constitution Drafting Commission Zahir Khan Jabarkhel told Dawn here on Saturday that the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) had been divided into four zones - Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan and Abbottabad - for the purpose.
He said that registration offices would be established in selected areas while mobile teams would visit camps and refugee hosting localities in the NWFP and Fata to register Afghans for the forthcoming presidential elections.
He said that huge manpower would be engaged in completing the process before the scheduled elections. "We are already late," Mr Jabarkhel said, adding that a tentative plan had been prepared to start registration from next week.
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which is looking after the overall election process, had handed over the task to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to conduct registration of refugees.
The seven-member consultative body, comprising refugee elders and representatives of other organizations, would cooperate with the IOM and also monitor the registration process.
Officials said that apart from IOM, a German organization and various other Afghan NGOs, would also be involved in the exercise.
According to Afghanistan's constitution, all male and female Afghan citizens above the age of 18 would be eligible to use their right of franchise.
Male voters will have to produce their photographs, while female have been exempted from doing so. Registration centres would be established in schools and other community centres in the refugee hosting areas.
Afghan officials said that roughly 700,000 out of two million refugees living in camps and urban areas in Pakistan were likely to get registration as voters for the upcoming presidential elections.
Lists provided by the UNHCR and Commissionarate for Afghan Refugees suggested that about 75 per cent of the total refugee population were Pukhtoons, while the remaining belonged to small ethnic groups of Afghanistan.
An Afghan official said that they had identified two areas in Pakistan where they would face difficulties in conducting the exercise, one is Punjab where the refugee population was scattered and the other South Waziristan Agency where the military was conducting an operation against militants.
Islamabad had assured full cooperation to the Afghan government to smoothly complete the registration of refugees across the country while security would also be provided to the mobile teams during their visit, an official said.
Salman: Afghan caper?
Aug. 14, 2004 IndiaDaily
After proving his mettle in Bollywood, Salman Khan is now setting his sight on the West. His first Indo-American film Marigold is yet to roll, but Salman is about to sign another Indo-American project. According to the buzz, this film by Kabir Khan will be set entirely in Afghanistan and the cast will include Indian, American and Afghan actors. This film will also be a bilingual, shot in Hindi and English. Kabir Khan is also reported to have signed on Arshad Warsi for this project. According to Warsi, the film is not an out and out action film but centers around a few journalists who reach Afghanistan to cover a story. Salman has not yet given a go ahead to the project, but the makers seem keen to cast him. The American cast too has not been finalized yet. If it comes through, Salman will soon be giving Aishwarya Rai company on the global stage.
Good-faith effort goes bad when Afghan officials take off with donated trucks, phones, cash
By Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes European edition, Saturday, August 14, 2004
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Lt. Col. Scott McBride was suspicious of Abdul Ghani from the very beginning.
Ghani had been nominated by the governor of southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province to lead a district north of Qalat in an area known as the Kaki-Afghan Valley. In a gathering of regional leaders a few months ago, Ghani stood up alongside the newly selected police chief for the district denouncing the Taliban and swearing allegiance to Hamid Karzai’s central government in Kabul.
“They said all the right things,” said McBride, commander of the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Division, which is responsible for providing security for the area.
Despite the pledge, McBride said he wasn’t so sure.
He had heard reports that Ghani was secretly collaborating with Taliban insurgents in the area, he said. Still, McBride had nothing concrete on Ghani and felt like he didn’t have much choice but let him take over the key job.
“It was my call. I will trust someone until they betray that trust — and then they become my enemy.”
After Ghani’s appointment, McBride’s troops supplied the new district leader and police chief with $100,000, four new Toyota Hilux four-wheel-drive police trucks and four hand-held satellite phones.
The money was to pay the salaries of district policemen as well as to build a school.
It wasn’t long before McBride said he was getting reports that the school was not being built, and the new vehicles were missing.
He dispatched a Company C platoon attached to an Afghan National Army unit to investigate. While the troops were there, they would also support the U.N. voter registration teams, which had been eager to get into that area for Afghanistan’s presidential elections in October.
The mission was called Operation Devil’s Backbone.
The 150-strong contingent flew aboard CH-47 Chinooks on July 21 and quickly moved into the main village.
“We couldn’t find Ghani or the police chief anywhere,” said 1st Sgt. Matthew Grucella, the company’s senior enlisted soldier. Ghani’s deputy, Zafar Khan, insisted both men would be back soon.
It soon became apparent, however, neither Ghani or the chief would return.
Finally, Khan confessed.
“I am embarrassed,” he said. “I’m ashamed. They’ve taken the vehicles and the phones.”
Khan said that Ghani had been allowing local Taliban militiamen to use the trucks.
“They had a deal where the police would use the trucks in the day and the Taliban could use them at night,” said Grucella. Meanwhile, virtually no work had been done on the new school, and most of the money was gone.
Khan said he didn’t know where Ghani was, but he thought he could find the police chief.
Khan came through, duping the police chief into the village where he soon was arrested, said Grucella.
Interrogated by the Afghan Army, the now-former chief soon told the troops the police trucks could be found in a neighboring village.
All but one was recovered.
Ready for a choice
“The problem over here is you just don’t know who to trust,” said Capt. Mike Berdy, 2nd-35th Company C commander. “A lot of these guys, even if they’re not necessarily what you’d call ‘pro-Taliban’ they’re still with the Taliban because they have no other choice.”
Many in the area, however, appear ready for a choice.
In all, the teams have registered more than 2,500 villagers to vote.
“I guess some of them have had enough of the Taliban,” said Grucella.
While far short of the U.N. goal to register 5,000 for that area, considering the region has long been a Taliban stronghold it was better than expected.
Grucella said he hopes Afghanistan’s steady plod toward democracy will make it tougher for Ghani — and men like him — to remain at large.
“There’s going to be hiccups like this until credible leaders are established,” said Grucella. “As time goes by we’ll weed out the bad guys, but we’ve gotta start somewhere.”
McBride said he’s disappointed that Ghani betrayed his trust and is concerned that the Taliban were able to get a police vehicle and the satellite phones, not to mention so much cash.
But he’s not apologetic.
“It’s obviously wasn’t the outcome we wanted,” said McBride. “It’s disappointing; it’s a setback. But I wouldn’t have done anything differently. It’s the cost of doing business over here.”
And he’s confident that Ghani — and the still-missing police truck — will surface eventually. Ghani will either end up dead or in an Army prison like the former district police chief, he said.
“Too many people know him. He’ll turn up,” said McBride. “We’ll get him.”
Afghanistan without Doctors
Wall Street Journal 08/13/2004 By Cheryl Benard
Doctors without Borders, known for its intrepid presence in the world's worst trouble spots, has pulled out of Afghanistan. This is a blow to the Afghans, whose needs in this area are enormous. But more fundamentally, the decision was made for the wrong reasons, on a premise about humanitarian aid that no longer holds up to political reality.
Afghanistan needs NGOs such as Doctors without Borders. The country was poor and underdeveloped to begin with; now, after 25 years of war, civil war and Taliban rule, its health situation is desperate. The devastated Afghan nation has no capacity to deliver its own health care. What they need -- doctors, nurses, clinics, roads to create access to rural populations -- will take years to build up. In the meantime, they need outside help. Doctors Without Borders, whose grit and expertise enable them to work in the most difficult and peripheral situations, and whose 24 years of experience in Afghanistan made them one of the most valuable organizations there, will be sorely missed.
The group cited two reasons for shutting down its operations. First, it was distressed by the murder of five staff members, who were killed in northwestern Afghanistan in June. This was indeed a terrible thing. Ordinarily, though, such an occurrence would lead to a suspension of operations in the relevant district and a reevaluation of the program, not to a complete pullout. That decision, as the organization admits, was motivated by a second and deeper issue pertaining to how the group defines itself and its work, and how it sees the rules of conflict.
As they explained in their press conference, Doctors Without Borders take issue with the coalition's approach in Afghanistan. They bitterly resent the policy of using military units to also perform humanitarian and development tasks. In particular, they object to Provincial Reconstruction Teams, whose mixed assignment of security and economic development is anathema to them. Humanitarian aid, they believe, must be kept strictly separate from anything military. If aid workers can claim to be unarmed, neutral individuals with a purely humanitarian motivation, then the parties to the conflict will respect their status. But when military groups start building village clinics and offering medical help, this jeopardizes the special status of aid workers, thus undermining their safety. In their press conference, Doctors Without Borders complained that the "U.S. backed coalition consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions."
I admire this organization and its strong ethics, but it has missed a paradigm change in global conflict. It's a different world out there, and unless they want to get out of the aid business altogether, they'll have to come to terms with it. Leaving Afghanistan is no solution. It postpones their dilemma but does not resolve it.
The new generation of terrorists does not spare unarmed humanitarians. They do not leave clinics, schools and other benign civilian projects untouched: They destroy them especially, because they want civilians to suffer and reconstruction to fail. Fear and backwardness are a kingdom they can rule; healthy, secure and prosperous populations have no use for them. This means that humanitarian aid workers are not neutral in the eyes of the terrorists; rather, because they work to make things better, they represent a threat.
The principle championed by Doctors Without Borders -- that civilian professionals providing medical help to the suffering will be granted safe passage -- is now part of our nostalgic past. Altogether, 30 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan during the past two years. All of them were unarmed, all of them were working on civilian projects. The absence of weapons and soldiers did not protect them; it just made them easier to kill. Whoever supports progress, stability and the well-being of civil society is the enemy. In this deeply regrettable new situation, security, development and aid are parts of an inseparable whole, and until stability is achieved, humanitarians will have to operate under the cover of arms -- or not at all.
An objective assessment of the facts would lead organizations like Doctors Without Borders to demand more military presence, not less; closer cooperation with the military, not a separation of spheres. Alternatively, they will have to withdraw not just from Afghanistan, but from most of the conflicts of the 21st century.
Ms. Benard, a scholar with The RAND Corporation, recently returned from a three-week assessment of Afghanistan's reconstruction effort. Her husband is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
US soldiers fear being drawn into Afghan drug war
The Independent, UK 08/14/2004 By Nick Meo
Kandahar - US soldiers in Afghanistan fear they are about to be launched into a bloody war on drugs amid mounting evidence that the country's booming opium trade is funding terrorists linked to al-Qa'ida.
The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, raised the prospect of the 17,000 combat troops based in the country taking an active role against the drugs trade on a visit to Kabul this week when he spoke of a need for a new strategy.
Mr Rumsfeld did not give details, but it is widely believed that after October's presidential elections troops may be called on to assist Afghan security forces in a strategy modelled on controversial efforts to destroy Colombia's cocaine industry.
Patrolling US troops routinely turn a blind eye to opium farming and trading, ignoring poppy fields, and have recruited warlords suspected of being drug dealers to fight al-Qa'ida.
Taking on Afghanistan's powerful drug lords could force US troops to confront dangerous new enemies, however.
One US soldier in Kandahar said: "We start taking out drug guys, and they will start taking out our guys." Many of the roadside bombs and sporadic guerrilla attacks on US soldiers in southern Afghanistan are already blamed on criminal gangs seeking to spread chaos as well as Taliban insurgents.
The overstretched military is thought to prefer its current brief, which explicitly excludes it from drug eradication.
One senior officer said: "If we take on the drug trade in this country, that will be a bigger challenge than any other threat we have dealt with so far in Afghanistan."
The Taliban banned opium production as forbidden by Islam, but since the fall of the regime in 2001, large-scale poppy cultivation has returned. About 90 per cent of Britain's heroin is now thought to originate in Afghanistan.
The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.
So far Britain has taken a so-called lead role in combating the drugs trade, but US officials are thought to have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of success. No major figures have been apprehended and a UK plan for crop eradication proved a miserable failure.
British diplomats have privately complained of being handed an impossible task with little assistance from America while stressing that nearly all Afghan heroin is sold in European markets, not American.
After ignoring the opium trade for two years, the US has been forced to take it seriouslyby growing fears that the Taliban and other terrorist groups are financing their activities from the drugs trade on a large scale for the first time.
In recent months the Afghan government and its international backers have also demonstrated a growing determination to strip warlords of their power. Many are heavily involved in the drugs trade. Taliban figures in the Pakistani city of Quetta, just across the border, are also said to be deeply involved.
Appearing at a joint press conference with the US General Eric Olsen yesterday, the governor of Kandahar, Yussef Pashtun, said: "One of the most important things prolonging terrorism is drugs.
"We are 100 per cent sure that some of the top terrorists are involved in drug smuggling, and eradication of this industry would not only benefit Afghanistan but would be a step towards eradicating terrorism."
General Olsen said US troops would not be involved in counter-narcotics "at this point in time" but some officers believe after the hurdle of the October election has been cleared the military will start actively interdicting drug shipments and destroying warehouses.
"Poppy eradication may not be the best way to address the drug issue, there may be better ways to interdict the drug trade," General Olsen said.
America may also consider using the 1,000 special forces soldiers it has stationed in Afghanistan to gather intelligence and target drug lords.
Using helicopters to spray poppy fields with chemicals is not likely, however, because of fears that wrecking the livelihoods of farmers could provoke violent rural rebellions against the American-backed Kabul government - a problem the Taliban encountered when it outlawed poppy farming.
The opium trade has been blamed for worsening insecurity in Afghanistan and may have been a factor in the execution-style murder of five aid workers from Médecins Sans Frontières in June in the north-west province of Badgis.
Security experts in Kabul now warn foreigners not to venture into poppy farming areas as they may be attacked if farmers believe they are involved in poppy eradication.
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