Angry Pakistan denies blame for Afghan violence
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Pakistan's UN ambassador fired back at allegations his country was aiding Taliban and other elements trying to undermine neighbouring Afghanistan and its presidential election.
Taking aim at remarks by the UN envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador Munir Akram on Wednesday denied the charges and said they called into question the objectivity of the world body.
"The threats to Afghanistan security lie inside Afghanistan," Akram said in an unusually testy speech at a meeting of the UN Security Council called to discuss the situation in the country ahead of the October 9 poll.
"There are nevertheless quarters who are seeking to shift the blame on Pakistan," he said. "There seems to be a compulsion on the part of certain power centres and some individuals to find scapegoats for failing to address the real security threats in Afghanistan. Even some (UN) officials seem to be playing into their hands or playing their game," he said.
Briefing the council, UN envoy Jean Arnault implicitly blamed Pakistan, saying the Taliban -- who ruled the country until being toppled in late 2001 -- and other groups could step up attacks ahead of the election.
He said he hoped this week's meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf could end the bloodshed which has killed 12 election workers. "Action is therefore necessary against those who plan and organise these attacks," Arnault said.
"In this respect, we welcome the timely meetings ... between President Musharraf and President Karzai, and we hope that the enhanced cooperation between the two countries will prevent further violence against the elections," he said.
After his two-day visit to Kabul, Karzai on Tuesday said there had been "frank and detailed" talks between the two countries and that they had reaffirmed a partnership to fight terrorism. Ties between the neighbours have been strained by Taliban attacks in Afghanistan allegedly launched from Pakistani border areas.
Joint plan to attack Afghan polling stations
JALALABAD - Five militant groups of Afghanistan, including Taliban, have adopted a joint strategy to disrupt the presidential elections scheduled for October 9 by attacking polling stations across the country.
Maulvi Muhammad Ishaq Manzoor, Supreme Military Commander of Jamiat Jaishal Muslemeen (JJM), a newly formed outfit operating mainly in the southern and eastern Afghanistan, announced this decision on behalf of all the five groups.
Talking to Geo TV from the mountains close to Pak-Afghan border, Maulvi Ishaq disclosed that the JJM was led by former Afghan Jihad veteran Sayyed Muhammad Akbar Agha from Kandahar and some former Taliban leaders and this new outfit was closely collaborating not only with Taliban but also with Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani and commanders close to Maulvi Younas Khalis.
Maulvi Ishaq said he was one of the 90 Taliban fighters who started their first offensive against Gull Agha from Spin Boldik under the command of Mulla Muhammad Omar in 1994 and finally captured Kandahar.
He was appointed Inspector General of Police in Badges province by Mulla Omar but after the fall of the Taliban government he lost his contact with the Taliban leadership and formed another outfit with Sayyed Akbar Agha to resist the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Sayyed Akbar Agha participated in the Afghan Jihad against the then USSR under the command of Maulvi Younas Khalis. He said that with the passage of time all the old Taliban commanders and fighters were getting in touch with each other and recently they had decided to adopt a joint strategy against the "fraud" presidential election in Afghanistan.
He said Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Sayyed Akbar Agha and Jalaluddin Haqqani were in touch with each other and they were trying their best to organise their meeting with Mulla Muhammad Omar in near future.
He claimed that the JJM was active from Kandahar to Kabul and its fighters burned three Pakistani oil tankers recently near Kandahar because they were carrying oil for the American troops.
Maulvi Ishaq said they released the drivers because they were Pakistanis but in future they would kill everyone cooperating with their enemies, weather he was an Indian or Pakistani. He said they were not happy with the Indians who were providing military training to the newly formed Afghan National Army. Indian restaurants in Kabul are selling liquor openly and "we hate liquor".
He threatened that not only non-Muslims but also all the so-called Muslims cooperating and guiding coalition forces in Afghanistan would be targeted. Maulvi Ishaq claimed that he would release video clips of JJM's remote-controlled blasts against the American troops very soon.
He accused the American troops of killing innocent civilians in different parts of the country and claimed that a scandal bigger than Abu Gharib jail of Iraq would come up very soon. He said two female teachers and five female students of Mariam School in Kabul were kidnapped, raped and killed by the American troops recently. Some parents of those teachers and the girls are trying to get out of Afghanistan to contact international media for exposing the scandal.
Maulvi Ishaq brandished his AK 47 and said: "We will take revenge of our seven sisters raped in Kabul and five civilians killed in Ghazni recently, next 72 hours will tell you that the Americans are heading for a bloody September and then a deadliest October this year." When asked that the coalition forces were building roads, schools and hospitals then they were creating problems for them? The angered Maulvi Ishaq said the Kabul-Kandahar highway project was initiated by the Taliban, the "invaders" just implemented an old project because they had money.
"If they are so good then why they are trying to impose Karzai on us through a rigged election, if Karzai is so good then why he is refusing to resign before the election, how is it possible to hold a fair and free election when Karzai himself is contesting the election as president, why defence and foreign ministers are supporting Younas Qanooni as the presidential candidate against Karzai?" he asked.
He said Karzai is another puppet like Ayad Allawi in Iraq. The Americans, he said, were trying to impose their puppets in the name of democracy, and "we hate that kind of controlled democracy."
Maulvi Ishaq denied his links with militants fighting in South Wazirastan and said: "We are already facing a big enemy in Afghainstan, we have no resources to help the tribals of Wazirastan, this is our policy not to interfere outside Afghanistan and that's why all our fighters are Afghans, we don't need outsiders to fight against the Americans."
Responding to another question, he said: "Sheikh Osama bin Laden is a Mujahid. We respect him because he helped us against the Soviet Union but we have not seen him for quite a long time inside Afghanistan, we don't need al-Qaeda to liberate Afghanistan from the clutches of America."
Afghan voting number puzzle
BBC News - 27 August, 2004
By Martin Huckerby in Kabul - Fears are growing that the numbers of people registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections simply do not add up.
When the elections were announced there were plenty of people standing in the way. The Taleban were busily intimidating would-be voters, while other conservatives bitterly opposed the idea of women taking part. And all the time, the violence that President Hamid Karzai's government struggles to deal with continued.
But that has not stopped many ordinary Afghans from demonstrating an enthusiasm for elections which puts to shame the level of interest in long-established democracies elsewhere in the world.
On 17 August, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that the high rate of voter registration - more than 9.9m already enrolled - showed the political isolation of groups responsible for violence.
What he did not mention was that the number registered already exceeds the estimated total of eligible voters for the whole country. Originally UN officials estimated there were 9.8m eligible adults, and as the percentage registered climbed ever higher, the Afghan government and US leaders loudly praised this as an achievement for democracy.
When the total reached 9.9m UN officials in Kabul hastily upped the estimated total of voters to 10.5 million, arguing that, with no accurate census, the original figure could be up to a million out - due to the effects of war, civil strife and mass migration.
But the figure is still increasing. UN Kabul spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said on 23 August that the total after registration was more than 10.35m, and data was expected to continue arriving for at least a couple of weeks.
Only a little arithmetic shows the figures are dubious. Only 42% of those registered are women. That means some 750,000 women are not registered. The shortfall of women means the only way the 10m-plus figure for registered voters can be accurate is if every single male in the country has registered - at least once.
And that ignores an estimated one third of a million unregistered people in conflict-ridden parts of the south and south-east of Afghanistan. So it is painfully evident that the registration process has been seriously flawed.
There are constant reports of individuals brandishing two or more voting cards, usually announcing they have acquired extra ones as an investment. The more optimistic hope to make $100 or more per card by selling them - serious money in a country where most people earn less than that per month.
One tale - unconfirmed - even has a woman claiming to have gained 40 voting cards by turning up repeatedly for registration with her identity concealed under an all-enveloping burqa. In the mujahideen-dominated Panjshir Valley, the number of cards issued is two and a half times the estimated number of voters.
Mr de Almeida e Silva admitted there had been multiple registering, but argued that many countries had problems with first-time elections. He also noted it was hard to tell whether voters were under-age, as almost no Afghans had identity cards or birth certificates.
When it comes to polling on 9 October, voters will have a finger marked with indelible ink in an attempt to prevent fraud. But the success of those acquiring extra cards suggests similar ingenuity will be employed at the polling stations.
There is a danger that the inflated registration figures will become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: if officials claim more than 10m people have registered, then they may feel under some pressure to deliver similar numbers of votes on election day.
And there are those who will be happy to help - notably warlords who have already been reported using their militias to ensure local people vote in the required fashion.
The pity is that there obviously is much enthusiasm for elections among the population at large. But there needs to be rigorous examination of voter registration plus stringent controls at the 5,000 polling centres - otherwise an election which probably will be a genuine achievement for democracy could be marred by serious fraud. The writer is a British journalist in Kabul training staff for a new national news agency.
Afghan Rivals Gang Up on Karzai, Seek a Champion
Aug 26, 2004 By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's rivals Thursday challenged him to quit the presidential race or face them in a public debate, even as they searched for a viable challenger to unite behind.
Karzai's opponents believe the odds are unfairly stacked in his favor for an election on Oct. 9 that marks the climax of Afghanistan's political transition, following the overthrow of the hard-line Islamist Taliban militia by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
"Since Karzai is abusing his position of power and monetary resources for the election, I and the council (of opposition candidates) support Karzai's resignation," Hamayoun Shah Asifi told a news conference flanked by 14 other challengers or their representatives.
For the past two weeks, Karzai has ignored calls for him to step down, arguing there is no constitutional reason for him to quit a position he has held since being put at the head of an interim government with U.S. support after the Taliban's fall.
About 18,000 U.S.-led troops are in Afghanistan chasing remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden. A smooth victory for the U.S.-backed Karzai would give President Bush a boost ahead of his re-election bid in November, analysts say.
Thursday, Karzai's rivals dared him to either quit or face them in public debate under the tent of a Loya Jirga, a traditional grand council, to justify why he should fight the election as an incumbent. But candidates told Reuters they were no longer considering a mass withdrawal from the race to protest Karzai's running as the incumbent.
Latif Pedram, an ethnic Tajik and former journalist who returned from exile in France to contest the vote, told Reuters the plan was to challenge Karzai's incumbency through the Supreme Court, launch a mass protest and finally ask allies in Karzai's Cabinet to quit.
Powerful ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara military commanders who fought the Soviets in the 1980s and the Taliban in later years fear being squeezed out if Karzai, a member of the majority Pashtun ethnic group, is elected.
Some see Karzai cozying up to moderate elements in the Taliban, most of whom were also Pashtuns, to heal old wounds and to broaden his appeal among the majority group. Pedram said ethnic and regional leaders plan to meet soon to see if they can find a mutually acceptable candidate to unite behind.
"The majority of candidates agree they should try to present one candidate," he told Reuters after Thursday's meeting. Pedram said among those looking for an alternative to Karzai were the powerful governor of western Herat province, Ismail Khan and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, both of whom are Tajiks, ethnic Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq.
Afghan militia commander called to Kabul after clashes
KABUL, Aug 27 (AFP) - President Hamid Karzai Friday summoned a powerful militia commander to Kabul following factional fighting in western Afghanistan weeks ahead of landmark presidential elections, an official spokesman said.
Commander Amanullah Khan was brought to the Afghan capital with his consent following clashes in Shindand district in Herat province, presidential spokesman Jawad Ludin told AFP.
Fighting between Amanullah Khan's forces and those of powerful warlord Ismael Khan left scores dead earlier this month in a battle for control of districts around Herat city. Ludin did not say who Amanullah Khan would meet in Kabul or what discussions in the capital would involve.
The fighting broke out August 14 after Amanullah Khan's troops took control of a key military airport in Shindand district 185 kilometres (115 miles) south of Herat and raged for four days until the US stepped in to broker a truce.
After the clashes, Karzai sent in troops from the fledgling Afghan National Army, ostensibly to come to the aid of embattled governor Ismael Khan and ensure stability in the province. The US-brokered truce in the strategic province bordering Iran has been holding, with US special forces and Afghan army troops installed in the military base at Shindand.
Amanullah Khan's spokesman Karim Afghan denied Amanullah had been ordered to Kabul. 'He went there after he received a formal invitation from the government,' Afghan said. Clashes between the rival commanders highlighted Afghanistan's edgy security situation as the country prepares for its first-ever presidential elections on October 9.
Rife insecurity has already forced the postponement of parliamentary elections until April 2005. Despite deteriorating security, 10.5 million Afghans have registered to vote in the presidential polls, about 41 percent of them women according to UN figures released Thursday.
US-led coalition detains warlord militias in west Afghanistan
The US-led coalition detained eight militias of Herat governor Ismael Khan Sunday on charge of firing upon coalition's patrol in Adraskan district and later released them, US military said Monday.
"We have report in Heart province that eight individuals fired on coalition patrol and these individuals were detained in our operation," Scott Nelson, the coalition spokesman told journalists here.
The incident was reported amid increasing tension in the western region as a US-brokered ceasefire has been in place since last week between Herat governor and his rival. Around 50 people including civilians have been killed as a result of fighting between the two regional warlords during the last 10 days.
This is the first time that such engagement has taken place between US-led troops and regional warlords who assisted the US- led military campaign in late 2001 to oust the former fundamentalist Taliban regime.
"Ismael came to coalition and said he is very sorry for the incident and apologized to the coalition for that," the US military spokesman said, "the information I have is these men were turned over to Ismael Khan's forces."
In the incident, according to Afghan sources, at least one coalition soldier was killed. But US military denied it saying, " There were no casualties on either side."
Two Pakistani soldiers killed in landmine blast near Afghan border
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Two Pakistani soldiers were killed and five injured when a landmine believed planted by Al-Qaeda militants ripped through their vehicle near the Afghan border, officials said.
"The landmine was exploded by remote control," said an official in Wana, the district capital of the tribal South Waziristan region. The explosion occurred in Tiarza village, 10 kilometres (six miles) northeast of Wana, when a 20-vehicle military convoy was travelling from Wana to the northern Shakai valley near the border, he said on Thursday.
One soldier died on the spot and six were injured, he said. A critically wounded soldier died later in hospital. On Monday troops hunting Al-Qaeda suspects in the rugged terrain launched an operation against a secret hideout in the nearby North Waziristan region, killing four foreign militants.
Military officials said they also captured two Al Qaeda-linked militants, one of them a foreigner. Troops hunting militants believed to be hiding in the area have come under rocket or mortar attack since they launched a five-day operation in June and destroyed several suspected hideouts.
The June operation in the Shakai valley, 25 kilometers north of Wana, left 65 militants and 18 soldiers dead. Pakistani authorities believe some 500 to 600 Al-Qaeda suspects, including Chechen and Uzbek fighters, sneaked into the region after a US-led military offensive ousted Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. In a stepped-up campaign against the militants, security forces in Pakistan have arrested more than 60 Al-Qaeda suspects since last month.
Militants will be tried in Afghanistan-US military
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Hundreds of suspected militants held by U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 will be tried in Afghan courts under local laws, a U.S. army spokesman said on Wednesday.
Major Scott Nelson said Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Lieutenant-General David Barno, the overall commander of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, agreed the plan earlier this month. "The people that are still being held here will be tried in Afghan courts and under the Afghan justice system," Nelson told a regular press briefing.
He said the detainees posed no major threat and the reason why the U.S. military was holding them for a longer time was because Afghanistan lacked prisons and its judicial system was being rebuilt.
U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban militia after its leaders refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to Washington following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Hundreds of suspected militants, of many nationalities, have been caught by the U.S. military since then and are being kept at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and in its detention centres in Afghanistan.
Former prisoners released from U.S. jails in Afghanistan say they were tortured and abused while in custody, raising concerns that scandal over the mistreatment of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison earlier this year was not an isolated episode.
Nelson said a report on a U.S. military investigation into alleged abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan would be released "very, very soon". In a separate development, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday all Pakistanis captured fighting for the Taliban in 2001 eventually would be sent home once the government is sure they do not pose a risk to Afghanistan.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Karzai, who ended a two-day visit to Islamabad on Tuesday, had said all 400 Pakistani prisoners would be returned in exchange for 250 Afghans being held for minor offences in Pakistani jails.
Interview: Top Analyst Barnett Rubin Says Pakistan Is Letting Taliban Survive
By Ron Synovitz / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Islamabad's recent efforts in the war on terrorism have focused on Al-Qaeda fighters. But now there are growing calls from Western diplomats, the Afghan government and the United Nations for Pakistan to rein in Taliban militants who have fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan since late 2001.
Prague, 26 August 2004 -- Barnett Rubin -- the director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University -- is among many South Asia analysts who think Pakistan's security forces are intentionally overlooking the presence of Taliban militants on their territory.
Most experts agree that Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency helped create the Taliban and gave it the military and financial support it needed to take control over most of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Islamabad has repeatedly denied those allegations and insists that it cut all ties with the Taliban when it joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the attacks 11 September 2001.
But like many independent analysts, Rubin insists that Pakistan's security services have fostered religious fundamentalism for years in order to promote Islamabad's foreign-policy goals. He said the key motivations include strategic concerns about India, as well as the dormant "Pashtunistan" question -- that is, the fear in Islamabad that ethnic Pashtun nationalists might take power in Kabul and make territorial claims on Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun border regions.
"Supporting some antigovernment forces in Afghanistan is something that Pakistan has done for decades in order to have some leverage over the government of Afghanistan," Rubin said. "They did have a long-term commitment toward supporting ethnic Pashtun religious extremists in Afghanistan in order to assure that an Afghan government would side with Pakistan against India and would not raise the issue of the Pashtun territories. [That's because] the Pashtun Islamists -- unlike the Pashtun nationalists -- do not support that kind of ethnic issue against a fellow Muslim country."
Senior Western diplomats in Kabul told "The New York Times" this week that Pakistan's security services are allowing Taliban fighters to operate training camps in Pakistan and cross back into Afghanistan to conduct terrorist attacks aimed at undermining presidential elections there in October.
Pakistan's army calls that allegation "ridiculous." Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram told the UN Security Council yesterday that his country has taken extraordinary efforts to safeguard its border with Afghanistan, including the deployment of 75,000 troops.
Rubin agrees with authorities in Islamabad who argue that Pakistan's military does not control many parts of the tribal regions near the border. But Rubin said there are other reasons Taliban militants are not being arrested in Pakistan.
"The Pakistani military is moving against Al-Qaeda, [but] they're not doing anything against the Taliban. Most of the Taliban activities are not in the tribal territories," Rubin said. "They are in the city of Quetta. They are in Balochistan. They are in areas that are firmly under the control of the Pakistan government. Therefore, Pakistan has no credibility. They've been supplied with information about the exact location of various major Taliban leaders. And they have done nothing. Instead, whenever there is pressure on [Pakistan] about the Taliban, they arrest more Al-Qaeda people -- meaning people from Arab countries or from small extremist groups. But they do not move against the Taliban."
Rubin said that Pakistan is not trying to undermine Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's government or create a new Taliban regime. But he believes that elements within the government or security services want to use Taliban militants for future leverage against pro-Indian officials in Kabul.
"They do not believe that the United States and the rest of the Western countries are going to stay in Afghanistan. They believe that it is quite possible -- maybe a year after the U.S. presidential election [in November] -- these countries will start drawing down their forces and abandon Afghanistan again," Rubin said. "And therefore, they believe it is inevitable that there will be another power struggle in Afghanistan in which various regional powers will try to position their allies within the government and within the society. They don't want to cut their ties to those who may be ready to defend their interest in Afghanistan when that struggle resumes again."
Rubin said the economic issues discussed during Karzai's two-day visit to Islamabad this week could eventually act as an important counterbalance to the policies of Pakistan's security services.
"In the past, the Pakistani military saw Afghanistan only as a potential security threat or a potential security asset. Now, Pakistan's business community -- which is becoming more assertive -- is seeing Afghanistan as a major opportunity," Rubin said. "They are starting to put forward the idea that a stable, reconstructed Afghanistan is strongly in Pakistan's interests because of the economic implications, regardless of the political coloration or ethnic composition of the government of the day in Kabul."
But Rubin concluded that Pakistan's security forces will continue to have the final word for now because there is no real public input into Pakistan's security policies and the military is not subject to any kind of civilian control or oversight.
Interview: Afghan Minister of Reconstruction Speaks To RFE/RL
24 August 2004
Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang was interviewed on 18 August by RFE/RL freelance correspondent Tanya Goudsouzian in Kabul.
RFE/RL: Popular perception holds that Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections will not be very democratic [see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004]. What is your opinion?
Farhang: No, I think the process will be very democratic. Everyone has the right to be a candidate for president and at the same time, the process of voter registration has worked out very well. Right now, we have more than 10 million registered voters, which means that popular participation is very high. We have prolonged the deadline [originally 15 August] for registration in some provinces by another week. But in some parts of the country, there are still some warlords who are trying to influence the process. The reaction of the people, however, has been positive. We have seen this in some areas where [warlords] have killed those who were trying to help the registration process. But the outcome of this was that the people increased their participation. This means that in spite of the pressure exerted by residual Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the people want to participate in the elections.
RFE/RL: According to various reports, most of the voter registrations are said to come from the north and urban areas. Where does this leave the volatile south?
Farhang: No, this is not correct. If 10 million people have already registered, this means that even in the villages, they have registered. In Afghanistan, the percentage of people living in the cities is very small. So if 10 million have registered, then it means that most of them are in the villages, not in the cities. The cities of Afghanistan do not have large populations, except for Kabul, which has nearly 3 million. The rest are very small. So 10 million means that most of the people who have registered to vote are from the rural areas. Granted, in the south, the turnout was not as great, but it is enough. It is larger than what we had expected, especially insofar as women's participation. In places, such as Khost, Gardayz [cities, Khost also a province, in eastern Afghanistan], and even in Kandahar [city and province in southern Afghanistan], there were many women who registered.
RFE/RL: There are allegations that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is using the Ministry of Frontier and Tribal Affairs to buy the support of the tribes....
Farhang: You know, it's always like this in elections everywhere in the world. They accuse the government, the government accuses others. This does not happen only in Afghanistan, but also elsewhere, even in developed countries, like the United States, Germany, and France. When one party believes he cannot win, or when there is rivalry among many parties, there are accusations like this flying about. But they must supply proof to support their allegations. Without proof, we cannot believe that all they say is true.
One thing I can say is that the government has decided not to spend too much money on the campaign. If the government spends too much money, it means that the government is taking this money from the budget, which belongs to the people, not the government. But other candidates have already spent millions of dollars. It begs the question: where did they find this money?
RFE/RL: But if Chairman Karzai does not want to spend so much money on the campaign, and the law limits the period of campaigning to 30 days before the elections, how much time and opportunity does it give the president, as well as the other candidates, to reach out to the people and win their confidence?
Farhang: The law has stipulated this period. We cannot do otherwise. But, we -- Mr. Karzai and his team -- will launch our campaign. We have divided the 33 provinces of Afghanistan into eight zones, and Mr. Karzai will travel to these zones to see the people -- the voters -- and talk to them and explain to them his political program for the future of Afghanistan. We have drafted a political program for the next five years, and Mr. Karzai will announce this to the people of Afghanistan. This is an electoral campaign. It could happen that Mr. Karzai is not successful. It is possible that another candidate wins. It is a democratic election, and everyone has the right to participate and to run for president.
RFE/RL: There are many who criticize Karzai for rarely venturing out of the palace to meet with the people.... He is especially criticized for his legions of foreign bodyguards.
Farhang: In the past 2 1/2 years, I have traveled with Mr. Karzai at least 20 times to various parts of Afghanistan. There, he met with the people, he spoke to them, he ate with them, and he gave speeches. In Kandahar, Badakhshan, Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad.... I was with him. Even his bodyguards were scared because he did not do what they had instructed him to do. Remember that in Kandahar they tried to kill him [in September 2002]. He is not scared. He speaks to the people. But don't forget that our enemies, especially the Taliban, want to kill him, because if he is eliminated, the others will have their chance. This is why we must be very prudent. We cannot risk everything.
For example today [18 August], there was a ceremony marking Independence Day [from Britain in 1919], and Mr. Karzai was there in the stadium, and there were thousands of people there. These are risks.
But we can't exaggerate. Afghanistan is not a European country. In a European country, if one leader is not there, there are others and others... There are many who can replace him. But in our country, after the war and the experience we have had, the fate of the country is linked to the fate of the president, and if he is not there, we will have another crisis. Among the other presidential candidates, I can find no one who can replace Mr. Karzai. He has national credibility, as well as international credibility, and he has a lot of patience.
RFE/RL: One very strong candidate who may pose a real challenge to Karzai is said to be Yunos Qanuni, former education minister....
Farhang: Mr. Qanuni reacted with his emotions [for more reactions on Qanuni's candidacy, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004]. When Mr. Karzai did not accept [Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim] Fahim as first vice president, the group from the north -- not all, but a part of the group -- reacted in an emotional way and they obliged Mr. Qanuni to run for president [see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004]. This is his right. Why not? He is now one of the candidates, and he has started his campaign. This is totally democratic and no one has the right to stop him. But I believe that Mr. Qanuni committed political suicide, because his position in the government was very strong, and now he is out of the government.
RFE/RL: Is there any truth to the rumors that there are backstage negotiations taking place to reach an agreement whereby Qanuni would relinquish his candidacy in exchange for key ministerial posts for himself and his supporters?
Farhang: Mr. Qanuni tried several times to speak to the president and return to his post. The president told him that the door of his ministry is open. But from elsewhere I heard that Mr. Qanuni has started to use students, professors, and schools to further his electoral campaign. The last time I saw him was about a week ago, and I told him that he is free to campaign, but he should not politicize the education system of Afghanistan. If he does this, then it will go down in history in black words. But he is doing this now. And in my opinion, it is treason to use young people, who are impressionable. He has started this and he has done it in Nuristan, where he changed the head of education. He replaced him with another person who works for him. But we rectified this matter.
The president told me that Mr. Qanuni is free to return to his post, but the government will not give any concessions to those who return. He can return, but he cannot demand political concessions. Personally, I think that if he does return, he will not be as strong as he was before his resignation. If he comes back before the elections, it means that he realized he would not win, and this means that he is a weak politician. It is the same for [former Planning Minister and presidential hopeful] Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, who is always asking for a ministerial post [for more on Mohaqeq, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2004]. He says that if he gets it, he will quit his campaign. It is my personal opinion that the president should not give concessions to anyone. We must allow the people to decide. If the people vote for Mr. Qanuni, why not? If the people vote for Mr. Mohaqeq, why not? This is democracy. If we lose the elections, it is better than giving away political concessions.
RFE/RL: What do you think of members of government who support presidential candidates running against Karzai?
Farhang: It doesn't work that way. Marshall Fahim, for example, is working against the government, while he is still a member of the government [see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004]. This, of course, is illegal. Those who are candidates must resign from their government positions, but Marshall Fahim has kept his position, while he is working against the government. Even though this is illegal, he is doing it quite forcefully.
RFE/RL: There are many who say that much of the rehabilitation of Kabul over the past three years is the result of private investment while the central government has done very little.
Farhang: Frankly, the central government hasn't done much, and there are many reasons for this. After the Tokyo conference in January 2002, when the international community pledged $4.5 billion, we did not have enough capacity of absorption in our economy. The country was just coming out of 25 years of war, and all the capacity was destroyed. That is why the international community gave most of the money to the United Nations and to the various branches of the UN for humanitarian aid, as well as to the NGOs. The Afghan government received very little money, and this is why we could not achieve our priorities for the reconstruction of the country. We were lacking money, we were lacking experts, and the worse thing was that the NGOs and the UN lured our own experts by offering higher salaries....
At the beginning of this year, at a donor's conference in Berlin, we were able to present to the international community a comprehensive program for the reconstruction of our country. The international community was persuaded that this program could be realized, and this is why in Berlin, we decided to give most of the money to the government of Afghanistan. And now we have our projects, our priorities. The feasibility studies are completed and we have started with the project.
You know that in a country that has seen war -- especially civil war -- there are several kinds of reconstruction. There is political reconstruction; We had some success there. There is social reconstruction; This is very difficult because there are rivalries between various ethnic groups in Afghanistan. And we even need psychological reconstruction, because every Afghan has been affected psychologically. War is a terrible thing. Two generations of Afghans are the product of war.
And finally, there is economic reconstruction. We must first create the conditions for economic reconstruction and in the past 2 1/2 years, we were preoccupied with trying to create the preliminary conditions without which we cannot proceed. We can create a factory, but if the people cannot work in this factory, what can we do? We must first focus on capacity building in the country and then we can move toward material reconstruction. This process is very complicated.
I understand my Afghan compatriots. They have seen war and they have had many problems. They have lived in exile for so long, and they want to see the fruits of reconstruction very quickly. But it doesn't happen like that, technically. For a single project, we need at least a year to study a project.
Profile: Younis Qanuni - Panjshiri Roots, Presidential Ambitions
A veteran of Afghan wars and politics, Qanuni is closely identified with the Panjshiri political grouping - The birthplace of presidential candidate Mohammad Younis Qanuni lies in the heart of the Panjshir valley, just 15 minutes walk from the tomb of the legendary mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
The village of Shigha sits between two black rocky mountains in the Rukha district, deep inside the valley, where the wide, fast-flowing Panjshir river runs through a steep gorge.
This territory is synonymous with Massoud's political and military legacy, and rusting military hardware still litters the whole valley. Near Shigha, a wrecked Russian T-55 tank sits marooned in the river.
Rain and snow have worn the walls of Qanuni's childhood home. A big lock hangs on the steel door. No one has lived here for three years and like many other homes in the small village, it is deserted.
The tomb of Massoud, the "Lion of Panjshir" who was assassinated two days before September 11, 2001, lies just south of here. It is his political legacy that Qanuni now seeks to claim.
Qanuni allied himself with Massoud after the Soviet invasion of 1979 and was one of his trusted aides for the next two decades, first in the war against the Russians, then the internecine fighting of the early Nineties, and finally the desperate fight against the Taleban militia.
Alongside Qanuni were two other Panjshiris - men who are now his most powerful political backers. Fellow Tajiks, defence minister and vice-president Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah immediately pledged their support for Qanuni after he announced he was running on July 26. Known as "the three Panjshiris", they are now engaged in a political fight to win votes - and to gain support from the mujahedin who fought alongside them and Massoud.
But it remains unclear who will actually gain the majority backing of the mujahedin forces who pledge allegiance to the powerful Jamiat-e-Islami which dominates north-eastern Afghanistan.
When President Hamed Karzai announced his candidacy on July 26, he spurned Fahim as running mate for the vice-presidency, and chose instead Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of "The Lion of Panjshir". In so doing, he was making his own bid for the votes of Massoud loyalists from Panjshir, and also to the wider Jamiat constituency in the north.
Ahmad Zia Massoud - until now the Afghan interim government's ambassador to Moscow - has the right Panjshiri credentials, but he is also the son-in-law of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Jamiat-i-Islami who was Afghan president in the mujahedin government that preceded the Taleban. Rabbani's powerbase is not Panjshir, but the Badakhshan region further to the north.
Rabbani has already announced that he will support Karzai. In Shigha's mosque, built 60 years ago, more than 100 men were on their way to and from prayers.
"When we learned about Qanuni's candidacy, we went to the registration centre to take voting cards so we could vote for him," said Abdul Qasim, 19, dressed in the traditional shalwar-kemiz.
"All the men and women took cards to vote for Qanuni," said Gul Ahmad, a 73-year-old with a long beard and flowing turban. Obaidullah, 30, said the villagers would vote for someone would implement Islamic law or shariat, "We will vote for a Muslim, not a democrat."
Qanuni's uncle, Haji Abdullah, 75, still lives in a nearby house. A wiry man with white beard, traditional clothes and turban, he fingered yellow worry beads as he recalled that "Qanuni was raised in my lap. He's never rendered any service to us since he achieved a high government position. But we will vote for him, because he is one of us." Asked what kind of boy he was, Abdullah replied, "When he was a child he just studied, he always studied. He was talkative but well behaved."
Younis Qanuni was born in 1957 into an educated family. While his roots were in the village, he attended school from the age of seven at Imam Abu Hanifa High School in Kabul, where his father was a teacher. Leaving when he was 19, he went on to study Islamic law at the University of Kabul, earning a degree in 1980.
Immediately after graduating, he returned to the Panjshir and joined Massoud, working with the frontline mujahedin forces opposing the Soviet occupation. Qanuni's first job in the resistance was as clerk for Massoud's Panshiri forces. An early indication of his political and diplomatic skills came when he was promoted to become Massoud's special representative dealing with foreign countries. He now speaks Arabic, English and Urdu
The post took him to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he acted as liaison between Shura-i-Nazar - the political grouping that Massoud set up within Jamiat - and the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, which provided the group with money, weapons and ammunition.
In 1992, just before the mujahedin took Kabul and formed an Islamic government, Qanuni became Massoud's director-general of army political affairs. In 1993, as the mujahedin battled among themselves for control of the capital, Qanuni was made joint defence minister under Rabbani's presidency.
Battles among the rival factions continued for more than a year, killing and injuring civilians, forcing people to flee and reducing much of Kabul to rubble.
Qauuni himself survived an assassination attempt in 1993 when a bomb blew up his car near the capital. Seriously wounded in the attack, he still walks with a cane as a result of his injuries.
In 1994, the factional groups agreed to a new distribution of government posts and Qanuni was selected as interior minister. More fighting ensued before the Taleban took Kabul in 1996, ousting Rabbani's government and all the warring factions.
Qanuni, Dr Abdullah and Fahim withdrew to Panjshir with Massoud. Massoud made Qanuni chairman of a committee in charge of provincial affairs, a post he retained until 2001. Dr Abdullah was Massoud's spokesman, while Fahim became a battlefield commander and head of intelligence for Shura-i-Nazar.
On September 9, 2001, during a visit to Takhar, was assassinated by two Arab men posing as journalists. The resistance fighter became immortalised as hero and martyr. In an interview the following year with Indian journalist Jyoti Malhotra, Qanuni said he believed al-Qaeda was responsible for the assassination.
Following the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States two days later, Fahim and other Northern Alliance commanders joined the US-led effort to oust the Taleban. By November, the regime was overthrown.
Qanuni was named interior minister of the Northern Alliance, and in December 2001 gained international prominence as he headed the Afghan delegation to a conference in Bonn that led to the creation of an interim government.
But at an emergency Loya Jirga convened in June 2002 to establish a more legitimate transitional government, Qanuni lost the powerful interior ministry post and was given the position of minister of education.
Qanuni is said to have viewed the appointment, engineered by Karzai, as a demotion. For several days, the streets of the capital were tense. News reports at the time spoke of the armed rank-and-file Panjshiri troops who dominated the interior ministry blocking off roads around the ministry to demonstrate their support for Qanuni.
Small-arms fire and explosions were heard near the compound, and United States and British helicopters were deployed to monitor the area. Kamin Shinwarai, an officer with the interior ministry in Kabul, recalled that, "All the routes to the interior ministry were blocked by deputy minister Din Mohammed Jurat, and for four days [newly appointed interior minister] Taj Mohammed Wardak was prevented from entering the interior ministry."
Shinwarai said that the troops cordoned off the area "because Qanuni was not made prime minister". He believes Qanuni had stepped down as interior minister in expectation of promotion to the post of premier. When that failed to happen, Shinwarai said that Qanuni "regretted resigning and didn't want anyone else to enter the interior ministry".
The crisis was finally resolved, according to Shinwarai said, when Qanuni forged a relationship with Wardak, then 70, by arranging a marriage between him and a woman from Panjshir. Wardak, who was later replaced as interior minister, is now Qanuni's running mate for the presidential election.
Overall, the Panjshir faction was still viewed to have strengthened its hand following the emergency Loya Jirga. Dr Abdullah and Fahim retained their foreign affairs and defence portfolios, respectively.
Qanuni took up his post as minister of education, and also became a presidential adviser on security affairs. Since announcing his candidacy, Qanuni has resigned his cabinet post and begun lobbying for the votes of Jamiat members and supporters in earnest.
Like other candidates, he is standing on a mixed ticket in hopes of attracting voters outside his natural constituency. With the Pashtun Wardak, his other running mate is Sayed Husain Aalimi Balkhi, a Hazara.
According to Qanuni's brother Haji Ibrahim, a party was held on August 3 in a restaurant in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul. Under Persian-style canopies draped across the ceiling of the Shandeez Iranian restaurant, Qanuni met with 200 Islamic scholars.
According to Ibrahim, his brother told the scholars, "the mujahedin have decided to have [their own] presidential candidate. All the commanders have asked me to stand. I don't want to go against the decision of my brothers [in the mujahedin], so my candidacy is not a reaction against the decisions of the governmental office" - a reference to Karzai's decision not to choose Fahim as running mate.
But some dispute that Qanuni and his two Panjshiri allies have the unqualified support in Jamiat-controlled areas. Jamiat spokesman Mohammad Nasim Faqiri told IWPR, "Qanuni is not the mujahedin's candidate for presidential office, and Jamiat will never support him."
Abdul Hai Moram, an analyst for the government daily Hewad, suggested that Qanuni has a small political power base. "Qanuni has always worked on the interests of his group and relatives, and has never taken care of the common people or even cultural figures or intellectuals," he said.
Some Kabul residents still have bitter memories of the period when the mujahedin commanders now in politics held sway over the capital. "We fled to Mazar-e-Sharif from Kabul in 1992 because of the warlords," recalled Rabia, 35, a Kabul-born teacher at the Bakhter High School in Mazar-e-Sharif. "They don't care about people. They demolished people's homes across the board in Kabul.
"He [Qanuni] is not capable of presidential office." But Jalaluddin, 40, who comes from Khost district in the central province of Baghlan, offered an endorsement of Qanuni as he limped along the streets of Kabul. "Qanuni is an honest, intelligent, patient Muslim," he said.
Jalaluddin, who lost one leg in a mine accident, added that "Qanuni is a person who never left the country during the jihad, but remained among the people and fought for the people and the nation."
But a former colleague raised questions about Qanuni's conduct as interior minister. "Qanuni always gave jobs to his relatives and supporters," said Colonel Mast Alam Ahmadzai, an official in the interior ministry. "And he jailed people who were capable of doing the job but who were not Tajik, calling them Taleban or al-Qaeda. I am one of those who spent a month in jail."
IWPR submitted numerous requests for an interview with Qanuni, who agreed to but then broke several appointments. When he finally did meet with an IWPR reporter, the candidate demanded that all questions be submitted in writing.
But after reviewing the written questions, Qanuni refused to answer any of them, claiming he was too busy. After saying that he had yet to finalise any of his policies, he ended the interview. Freelance reporter Hakimullah Shahriar contributed to this report.
AFGHANISTAN: Demobilised officers to train as teachers
KABUL, 25 August (IRIN) - The Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Afghanistan New Beginning Programme (ANBP) have joined forces to Identify qualified military officers, who have entered the Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration programme (DDR) to fill vacant Teaching posts. The DDR process helps soldiers to fit back into society through training and employment.
“It is good to have these officers who have witnessed war in Afghanistan,” Denise Duclaux, ANBP's public information officer told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul on Wednesday. “These officers are able to teach a new generation not only basic skills necessary but also about Afghanistan’s past and how they can create a new future for themselves.”
There had been a misconception that the DDR programme was only offering jobs that involved physical labour, she said, pointing out that the programme offered some opportunities to educated officers and soldiers.
Since the interim government came to power in Afghanistan in late 2001, some 47,000 officers have been demobilised from the Afghan defence ministry. The majority of these former soldiers have not found work.
“I graduated from school before my military training and I am very enthusiastic to be hired as a teacher - it would solve my economic problems and I could serve my community,” Ghulam Mohammad a 38-year-old ex-officer told IRIN, noting that he had worked in the army for 15 years.
Jan Ali, another ex-officer, said that he was happy to be offered such A job because he knew that he could receive a better salary than before And he could provide for his family. “I want to be safe and I want to go Home every night to be with my family.”
“Some 600 teacher training places have been identified for ex-officers and no previous experience is required if the officer has completed 12th grade of schooling," Wahab Sulaimankhil, an education ministry official, told IRIN. The ministry had designed a five-month teacher training course for the former officers to be run in Kabul, he added.
According to ANBP, those who qualify to become trainee teachers will receive US $50 per month and a $4 per day subsistence allowance. Upon qualifying, the new teachers will receive an additional grant of $200 and a teaching job at a school close to their home.
They would be paid a salary of $70 a month and three months later; the teachers would receive a second grant of $300 upon successful completion of the first school term, the ANPB official noted. The total number of officers and soldiers demobilised in both the pilot phase and main phase of the DDR programme is 13,381.
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