Afghan president says 'fight drugs like Russians'
Thu Dec 9, 2004 09:50 AM GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged his countrymen to tackle the war on drugs with the same zeal they fought the Red Army during the Soviet Union's decade-long occupation that ended in 1990.
Speaking two days after being sworn in as the country's first democratically-elected president, Karzai said on Thursday that as the source of the majority of the world's heroin, Afghanistan risked becoming a pariah state.
"The nation of Afghanistan, for its survival from this disgrace, this dishonour, has to fight against poppy...like it fought against the Russians," he told a two-day national anti-drugs conference in the capital, kabul.
"If we do not, our homeland, our independence, our soil will face danger again."
Afghanistan's opium economy is estimated to have earned $2.8 billion this year -- up $500 million from 2003 -- and the country now accounts for 87 percent of global heroin.
According to a United Nations report released last month, the opium economy was equivalent to over 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product.
But while Karzai's speech was one of the strongest he has made on the subject to date, he offered little new initiatives to eradicate a crop in which 10 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 24 million people are directly involved.
Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Kabul, told the conference that the U.S. Congress plans to provide $780 million to assist Afghanistan in its fight against drugs in the next few months.
The assistance will go to provide cash for alternative work for some 125,000 people in three provinces.
But opium production goes much further than that and the U.N. report says the poppies that produce the base of the highly addictive drug were grown in every one of the country's 32 provinces last year.
The opium trade has flourished since a U.S.-led coalition helped oust the Taliban in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Ironically it was the Taliban who successfully brought opium production down to virtually zero in their last year of rule -- deeming it un-Islamic and making it punishable by death.
But many of the militias that helped overthrow the hardline Taliban are also involved in the drug trade and Karzai risks losing their support if he acts too harshly against them without offering alternatives.
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali conceded some government officials were backing the trade, but said under a new strategy smugglers would be tried and the government would destroy drugs markets and heroin laboratories.
Now, Afghanistan Needs a Parliament
NY Times editorial 12/8/04
Yesterday was a proud and hopeful day for Afghanistan. After centuries of monarchy, foreign occupation, civil war and Taliban tyranny, Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as the country's first democratically elected president. Washington, which played a vital role in this welcome transition, sent a high-level delegation, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But the biggest credit goes to the Afghan people, who braved long lines and threats of Taliban terror in October to have a say in their political future.
But their hopes won't be fulfilled until Afghanistan has an elected parliament as well. Parliamentary elections, which were originally supposed to be held at the same time as the presidential vote, have repeatedly been postponed. They have now been set for next April, but keeping to that timetable will require continued American efforts, increased military help from NATO and strong support from the United Nations. The courage and commitment already shown by Afghan voters deserve no less.
Parliamentary elections, which will require campaigning throughout the country, will be a tougher challenge than the presidential contest, when Mr. Karzai rarely ventured beyond Kabul. But the payoff would be great: replacing armed rivalries among Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras with negotiations by elected representatives would strike a major blow against warlords and fanatics.
Reducing the warlords' power would also require denying them the enormous revenues from drug trafficking. Opium poppy cultivation, which had been sharply cut back under the Taliban, has rebounded strongly since Mullah Muhammad Omar and his associates were driven from power in 2001. This has understandably frustrated Washington. But it would be a mistake to carry out such drastic and unpopular countermeasures as aerial fumigation during the run-up to the parliamentary elections. It would be far better to press the newly elected parliament to adopt strong and effective policies against poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.
The Bush administration can make a further contribution to election security by continuing to pressure Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to restrain attacks by the Taliban. The international security force led by NATO should extend its operations throughout Afghanistan and make a more energetic effort to disarm and demobilize private militias. And despite the dangers demonstrated by the recent kidnappings of United Nations election workers, the U.N. needs to venture more widely outside Kabul, showing the same determined courage that Afghan voters did in October.
Where were the big names on Karzai's big day?
AFP 12/09/2004 By Rachel Morarjee
As Hamid Karzai cast his eyes over the audience during his swearing- in as president of Afghanistan, he would have seen two of the most powerful men in the world looking back at him. US Vice President Dick Cheney was the top-ranking American official to visit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and he was accompanied by high-profile Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Some of the other 150 foreign dignitaries may, however, have been a little less familiar. Bangladesh sent its high commissioner (ambassador) to Uzbekistan while many countries dispatched relatively junior figures to Tuesday's ceremony.
While analysts said the United States was sending a clear message about its success in installing a leadership of its choice in Afghanistan, they believed other countries had more varied reasons for holding back their big guns.
"It's not lack of trust in Karzai, it's anger against the United States" that kept some senior dignitaries away, veteran journalist and prominent Afghan watcher Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP. "They think it is an American project. That feeling is very strong."
Karzai, who was installed as Afghan leader following the US-led invasion that toppled the Islamic hardliners of the Taliban late in 2001, has frequently faced accusations of being a puppet leader.
But other world leaders stayed away from the ceremony at the heavily- guarded presidential palace in Kabul because of security fears, Yusufzai added.
"Not only Afghan neighbours but even Britain also had a low-level representation at the inauguration. They did not take the risk because Taliban had warned, although nothing happened during the ceremony."
Britain -- which is part of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan -- sent its Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan and counter-narcotics, Bill Rammell.
Many Asian countries had low-profile figures at the inauguration, although neigbouring Iran was represented by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi. China dispatched Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui while Australia was represented by its high commissioner to Islamabad, and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa attended for Japan.
US ally Pakistan sent Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, as President Pervez Musharraf was in Europe. Lakhdar Brahimi, special adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, also attended.
Yusufzai believed international interest in Afghanistan's economic development was low. "So far there is no major industry, no irrigation dams or mineral projects, except that Afghans have started making biscuits and slippers."
However diplomatic analyst and former Pakistani foreign secretary Najmuddin Sheikh said the absence of top leaders signalled neither that the world was turning away from Afghanistan nor that there was anti-US feeling.
"The international community has welcomed the holding of elections and restoration of democracy in Afghanistan and the absence of top leaders should not be seen as lack of interest in Afghanistan," he said.
One Asian diplomat earlier gave AFP a more practical explanation for the poor turnout, saying: "There is no point sending anybody senior because these things are a circus and it's almost impossible to get real bilateral meetings on the sidelines."
There was, however, little doubt about why key US administration hawks Cheney and Rumsfeld were in Kabul for Tuesday's inauguration, which came two months after Karzai won Afghanistan's first democratic elections.
"The US interest in Afghanistan is high in the context of anti-terror war. They were bound to have a high level participation to claim credit for the successful polls," said Babar Shah, professor of Central Asian studies in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the porous Afghan border.
"Americans wanted to introduce western-style democracy in the country by bringing like-minded people and they have succeeded in this," he said.
"This is their (US) success story and they need to give it as much profile as possible, especially as we are now heading into elections in Iraq," a western analyst in Kabul added on condition of anonymity.
Why were so many key Afghan politicians absent from Karzai's inauguration?
Pajhwok Afghan News 12/08/2004 By Makia Monir
KABUL - As the capital Kabul brazed itself for the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai amid tight security yesterday and the media boasted of high-level international dignitaries attending the ceremony, only two out of the 16 Afghans competing in the October presidential poll seen at the ceremony.
Correspondent said, the only two political opponents at the gathering were Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum who secured 10.3 percent of the total votes and Dr Masouda Jalal, the only woman who competed.
Mohammad Younus Qanoni, who didn't attend the ceremony had the second highest votes in the 2004 presidential elections, was not available for comment. But a spokesman for Mohammad Mohaqiq, the third runner-up said Mohaqiq was invited but couldn't attend because he was out of the country.
Engineer Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, who only secured 0.7 percent of the votes, said if he was invited he would have attended. "Only popular people with a considered political status were invited to the ceremony."
Another candidate, Abdul Hafiz Mansor, a Tajik from the northern Panjshir province, said he was not invited because he was Karzai's rival. But Hamid Elmi, Karzai's election spokesman, said all election candidates were sent official invitations.
However Panghar Nourani, a political analyst, said all the candidates were not invited and that it was unsuitable for some of them to attend such a ceremony.
"It would be embarrassing for Abdul Satar Sirat and Abdul Hadi Dabir to participate in Karzai's ceremonies because they often referred to him as a foreign stooge during the election campaign."
And another Kabul-based political analyst, Mohammad Qasim Akhgar, said many of these candidates feel undervalued and somewhat a failure to watch their rival's victory. "It is hard to tolerate victory of one's rival."
Cabinet announcement still uncertain
Pajhwok Afghan News 12/08/2004 By Najibullah Khelwatgar
KABUL - The Afghan government has not given any clear indication of when the new cabinet will be announced so far but some experts believe they are locked in consultations with senior foreign officials about who should be included.
Many analysts and even the media anticipated an announcement will coincide with the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai yesterday. Hamid Elmi, a presidential spokesman said he was not able to give a definite date but confirmed that the new cabinet would consist of fewer members than the interim cabinet.
Dr Panghar Nourani, the chief editor of Rozgaran Weekly said the delay of announcing the cabinet was due to pressure from the international community not to give Warlords any future government positions. But there is pressure from Afghan armed factions to include them in the Karzai camp.
Senior dignitaries from more than 50 countries including Dick Cheney the US-Vise president and parliamentary delegations from France and UK met Karzai Tuesday to discuss the future of the country.
However, Jawed Ludin, another presidential spokesman earlier said the elected president will not bow down to international pressure in choosing his new cabinet.
Nourani said most members of the interim cabinet have secured a place in the new Afghan government but he believes an increased element of western educated Afghans will play an important role in the new government.
Taliban have contacted US over amnesty proposal: military
KABUL, Dec 8 (AFP) - The US-led military in Afghanistan Wednesday said it had been contacted by Taliban members willing to lay down their weapons following an arms-for-amnesty offer by the US envoy to Afghanistan.
US military commanders operating in south and southeastern Afghanistan have been contacted by Taliban declaring their desire to 'join the peaceful political process,' the US-led military spokesman, Major Mark McCann, told a news briefing in Kabul.
'We don't have any specific names -- although, we have reports of individuals, the Taliban making contacts with some of our commanders in the field,' the major said. He also said there had been 'contacts with senior (provincial) government officials and military representatives here in Kabul.'
His comments follow US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's call last Thursday for Taliban insurgents to lay down their arms in return for an amnesty. The ambassador called on remnants of the Taliban regime to get in contact with tribal elders and the US-led coalition to declare their allegiance to the Afghan government.
'I don't know exactly how far the process has gone forward,... however, we have seen what we call rank-and-file... people who wish to reconcile and become part of the peaceful political process,' McCann said. A spokesman claiming to be from the Taliban rejected the offer last weekend.
McCann separated the militia into two groups. There were hardline Islamic militants who still 'believe in their ideology and fight to the end,' and 'a vast majority of the Taliban do not share that view and they have a desire to become part of a peaceful process.'
A US-led military offensive toppled the extreme Islamic Taliban regime in December 2001 but the Taliban still carry out attacks on foreign and pro-Kabul forces, mainly along the rugged border with Pakistan.
About 18,000 US-led coalition troops are stationed in Afghanistan, which the US attacked after Taliban leaders refused to surrender Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks on New York.
U.S. Military Base In Herat To Be Near Iran
Daily Afghan Report / December 8, 2004 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based, Dari-language service and "The New York Sun" reported on 6 December that U.S. military personnel have been scouting Afghanistan's Herat Province in order to establish a base there. The radio station cited locals who noted the increased presence of U.S. soldiers, and it also cited Afghan military spokesman General Azimi, who confirmed that the U.S. has chosen a location in the province for a base. American officials confirmed in 5 December interviews with "The New York Sun" that the area they have been scouting is in Herat Province and is some 20 miles from the Iranian border. They said this would mainly be an Afghan army base and American aircraft "would probably be deployed there as well." BS
Iran has no comment on the new military base built near its border
Pajhwok Afghan News 12/08/2004 By Lailama Sadid
KABUL - Mohammad Reza Bahrami, Iran's Ambassador to Kabul, said it is too early to comment on a construction of a military base near its border in Afghanistan's western province of Herat.
The US-led coalition forces are working on a 300-hectare airbase in the desert area of Holang, in Ghorian district of Herat province, just 45 kilometers from the Iranian frontier.
Afghan officials and the coalition forces in Kabul had earlier confirmed that it is building the base and said it would be used by the Afghan National Army.
"We cannot express our views as long as the issue is not clear whether the base belongs to the US led coalition or the Afghan National Army," Bahrami told Pajhwok Afghan News Wednesday, adding that Iran hadn't discussed the issue with the Afghan government so far.
However, Zahir Azemi, a spokesman for Afghan Defense Ministry, said wherever the national army is the coalition forces will back them. "At the Ghorian military base, the coalition forces and the Afghan national army are working together but this base is built by the leadership of the United States," said Azemi.
Currently, there are the US forces and Afghan National Army soldiers deployed at the Shindand airbase, to the south of Herat city. Some military commentators believe the construction of a base near Iran's border could be linked to rising tensions between the United States and Iran, but the US military strongly reject this suggestion.
There have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries since the 1980s. The Iranian ambassador said his country's relations with Afghanistan has largely improved over the past three years.
Being optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, Mr Bahrami maintained that his country was committed to pledges it made towards Afghanistan for the next five years. He said Iran has pledged more than $200 million to Afghanistan recomstruction.
Russia Believes It Can Do More in Afghanistan
FRE/RL 12/08/04 Amin Tarzi
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev, who represented the Russian Federation at Karzai's inauguration ceremony, said in Kabul that he believes that Moscow still has substantial interests in Afghanistan despite the U.S. military presence there, NTV reported on 7 December.
"In my view, the U.S.A. unequivocally views [Afghanistan] -- and not only Afghanistan -- as a zone of its absolute, complete, and all-consuming interests," Alekseev said.
But he said Russia can help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, adding that when the Soviet Union "had an alliance with Afghanistan" it "built a great deal here." Kabul was upset by recent comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the composition of the future Afghan government.
Hope and caution in Afghan press
BBC News 8 December, 2004
Papers in Afghanistan have welcomed the inauguration on Tuesday of Hamid Karzai as president, but warn that the country faces many challenges. While speaking of a "new chapter" and a "golden opportunity", most editorials highlight the twin threats of lack of security and the drugs trade.
Hamid Karzai has faced major challenges over the past three years. He will face such challenges and problems in the next five years too... Establishing and boosting security and stability all over the country, combating narcotics, and implementing general disarmament are the tasks ahead for the elected president. Now that our people have opened a new chapter in the history of their country, they hope that Mr Karzai's oath of allegiance will be implemented in a lawful and logical way, taking into consideration the high interests of the people.
State-run daily Anis
With his oath of allegiance Hamid Karzai closed an old chapter and opened a new page for the people... Karzai boosted the weak confidence of people about a brighter future and strengthened the feeling of national participation and harmony.
Independent daily Cheragh
Hamid Karzai took the oath of allegiance yesterday as a president who entered the palace through the nation's direct vote, instead of via cannons, tanks, coups and uprisings. This was truly a great national festival. This was a festival of renewal of our strong national determination. This was a festival of a new chapter in our history. This was the festival of the renewal of the international community's solidarity and support for the Afghan nation.
State-run daily Hewad
If President Karzai fails to curb tribal fascism and remove elements from his cabinet who are disrupting security and who are involved in the drugs trade, he will become the most disreputable politician in Afghanistan, because he enjoys a golden opportunity that none of the past statesmen of the country have ever had.
Independent Kabul Weekly
The people and the international community support the elected government and this is another historic opportunity. Government officials must carry out their heavy responsibilities, fulfil the people's expectations and reconstruct the country. Afghanistan has been dealing with problems for three decades... The government's priorities should be ensuring security and disarmament. Security will help the government implement the rule of law. According to the constitution, the government then will be able to establish a democratic, civil society.
Herat daily Etefaq-e Eslam
BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.
Afghanistan, jewel of American foreign policy
The Telegraph (UK) December 8, 2004 - OPINION
Figuratively speaking, America sent its big guns to Kabul yesterday for the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan.
Both Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, were there to celebrate what George W Bush regards as the outstanding foreign policy success of his first term.
In the three years since the invasion, the Taliban have been routed and their al-Qa'eda allies scattered. A moderate, pluralist government has taken the place of a mono-ethnic theocracy. Presidential elections were held in October and parliamentary ones are expected next year.
In contrast to Iraq, which is still groping its way towards democracy, Afghanistan has already laid the foundations. And in doing so, again unlike Iraq, it has received broad European support. At the moment, for instance, the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is commanded by the Franco-German Eurocorps.
In his inaugural speech, Mr Karzai mentioned the twin scourges of drugs and terrorism. This year, according to the United Nations, the area under opium poppy cultivation rose by two thirds, making Afghanistan the source of nearly 90 per cent of world opium production. The export value, at $2.8 billion, was about 60 per cent of the country's gross domestic product in 2003. Eradicating such narcotic dependency requires long-term, sustained effort. The Americans, who fear that the trade could undermine a fragile democracy, are increasing their annual expenditure on counter-measures from $123 million to $780 million.
Drugs and violence often go together. Afghanistan is no exception, with warlords and their militia funding their operations from opium production. They are likely to play a bigger, and almost certainly more disruptive, role in the parliamentary elections than they did in the presidential ones. Along with the time needed to take a census and draw up constituency boundaries, that is why next year's poll is likely to be postponed from the scheduled date of April.
Nevertheless, the power of the warlords has diminished as that of the central government has grown. Ismail Khan was dismissed as governor of the western province of Herat in September. Mohammed Qasim Fahim, a Tajik, is no longer minister of defence. And the Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum, unsuccessful in his presidential bid in October, cuts a less formidable figure than before.
The presence of 18,000 American troops as well as the Isaf contingent bears witness to continuing instability. But that should not detract from the transformation symbolised by yesterday's inauguration.
AFGHANISTAN: Britain boosts counter-narcotics efforts
KABUL, 8 December (IRIN) - Surrounded by tens of armed security guards, Bill Rammell, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, set alight a pile of narcotics on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, on Monday.
The narcotics had been seized by the newly established UK-backed Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) in several operations around Kabul recently.
Following the UN warnings that Afghanistan could fall into the death grip of drug gangs fueled by the burgeoning opium poppy crop, the UK, the US and the Afghan government are pushing the fight to control the multi-billion dollar drug trade in the post-conflict country.
One day prior to the inauguration of Afghanistan’s elected president, Hamid Karzai, Rammell, the British Member of Parliament (MP), who had come to attend the inauguration ceremony, said they would use all possible elements to fight the drugs problem in Afghanistan.
Rammell’s mission came almost few weeks after a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that indicated a massive increase in opium poppy cultivation in the Central Asian nation in 2004.
According to UNODC, Afghan opium poppy cultivation has spread to all the
32 provinces of the country and in 2004 the booming trade was equal to 30 to 50 percent of the country’s GDP, with US $2.8 billion revenue. The report also showed that Afghanistan provided 87 percent of the world’s illicit opium output with 4,200 mt of opium this year.
The news worried the international community - mainly the UK as the lead nation in the Afghan counter-narcotics programme.
“We expect to see a turning in the tide at the end of the next planting season and when you see the next UNODC report [at the end of 2005] we would expect to see a reduction by that stage,” Rammel told IRIN. He also called on the international community to rally behind Afghanistan in the fight against drugs.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s newly elected President, in his inaugural address in Kabul, underscored the urgency of the fight against opium poppy while high-ranking delegates from nearly 50 countries, including the US Vice-President Dick Cheney, attended the ceremony. As the first task after being elected, Karzai is convening a meeting of tribal leaders from across the nation to confront the issue on Thursday.
“The fact that he [Hamid Karzai] is calling this extra-ordinary conference this week on counter-narcotics is sending out a very strong message to all the local leaders that drug cultivation is unacceptable, it is illegal and very strong action will be taken against them,” Rammel said. “All of that gives me reasonable confidence.”
The MP said the next planting season, which is now beginning and will carry through to May was “the real test” to see if their strategy would work. “Because this is the first time, all the different elements of the strategy have been in place for the full planting season. And that is why I am reasonably confident.”
The minister also informed of a recent shift in policy of the nearly 20,000 US-led Coalition troops and the 6,000 NATO-led international peacekeepers (ISAF) who would be involved in tackling the drugs problem.
“We are saying that on an opportunistic basis as they come across drug laboratories that they destroy them and when they come across personnel who are involved in illegal activities associated with that [drugs], they take them prisoners,” he maintained.
Recently, Washington announced a major new offensive against drug production in Afghanistan. Washington expects to spend an extra $780 million in the next financial year on measures including eradication of poppy fields and providing alternative livelihoods for farmers.
Meanwhile, the UK government is expecting to spend some $960 million over five years on the Afghan counter-narcotics efforts until 2007. “We have been calling upon all the international partners to do more in terms of financial and material commitment towards the drug challenge,” Rammell noted.
Authorities arrest two militants in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) 12/8/04 - Intelligence agents raided an Afghan refugee camp in northwestern Pakistan and arrested two alleged Islamic militants, a security official said Thursday.
It wasn't clear what prompted the authorities raid the Jalozai camp on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
``They were picked up late Tuesday, and are being questioned,'' said the official. Another government official confirmed the arrests, but said he had no details. Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in its war on terror and its security agencies have arrested hundreds of terrorist suspects from different parts of the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America.
Pakistan has also deployed about 70,000 troops in its northwestern tribal regions bordering Afghanistan in an effort to capture foreign militants and their local supporters, who often target troops with land mines and assault rifles.
On Wednesday, provincial Governor Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah visited Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal region, to thank elders for supporting the military in operations against militants.
Pakistani security officials believe that scores of Arabs and Central Asians are hiding in South Waziristan, the scene of several operations in recent months. the area is also considered a possible hiding place of Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. However, a senior Pakistan general said last month that no sign of bin Laden has been found in South Waziristan.
'We still have no power over our lives here'
Catherine Philp / The Times (UK) December 8, 2004
As President Karzai is sworn into office in Afghanistan, male culture still dominates and oppression continues for many women
WHEN I FIRST met Illaha she was curled up on her bed, her bright eyes focused intently on the book she held close to her face. “It’s a novel,” she announced, flipping over the cover to show me the title, written in swirling calligraphic Dari as incomprehensible to me as to most of the friends around her. Growing up under the Taleban or simply in poor, illiterate families, few Afghan girls used to learn to read and write.
Illaha had done so because she was a refugee in Iran with no restrictions on her learning. She made it as far as college with the grudging support of her family. Suddenly, a year after the Taleban fell, her father decided that it was time for them to move back to Afghanistan. Illaha returned to her extended family in Kabul.
Ripped away from her studies, she found a job with an American construction company whose managers were so impressed with her talents that they began helping her to secure a scholarship to study in Canada. Alarmed, the family patriarchs began to circle.
“It was my uncle’s idea that I should marry my cousin,” Illaha explains. “But I refused because I didn’t want to get married, especially not to him. He was a butcher and not educated, and I wanted to continue my studies.”
Illaha was busy preparing for her move when her male relatives swooped on her and her sister, also betrothed against her will to a cousin. They tied the girls up, locked them in a room at her uncle’s house and beat them, demanding that they obey their elders. “They beat us and beat us until we bled,” she says. “We had no choice but to agree to marry our cousins.”
But Illaha was not yet defeated. Once released, she and her sister ran away, moving into a guesthouse in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul as they made plans to escape to Iran.
Before they could, the police arrived and arrested both of them. Illaha was taken to hospital for a virginity test so that doctors could examine her to see whether her hymen was intact. It was, so she was spared charges of adultery. But that did not save her from being sent to Kabul women’s prison for running away from home. She now awaits not a trial, but the day the authorities decide to release her. I met her there as she began her ninth month behind bars with no charges against her, just the vague murmur that she is there for her own good and safety. She still dreams of going to Canada to study, but bleakly recognises the reality of her life.
“Women have no power over their lives in Afghanistan,” she says wistfully, sitting on her bed next to a prisoner who was locked up for alleged adultery after she tried to divorce her abusive husband. “The culture here dictates that the men decide our fate.”
It is two years since President Bush said of Afghanistan in his State of the Nation address that “today women are free”. But saying it has not made it true. Yes, the Taleban are gone and little girls can once more skip to primary school, dressed in their baggy black shalwar kameez and white headscarves. But even in cosmopolitan Kabul, a third remain at home, forbidden by their families to leave in search of an education. In the countryside that figure doubles.
Fewer still make it to secondary school, often because of marriage, which 60 per cent of Afghan girls are forced into before they reach their 16th birthday, a tradition that goes back centuries. The fall of the Taleban has allowed women back into the workplace, but only 2 or 3 per cent of them can be found there. Wearing the burka is optional, but the vast majority of women — if they dare or are allowed to venture out of the home — still wear it, for protection against assault or because their families insist that they do.
Yesterday President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first democratically elected leader. He pledged to use his five-year term to steer the country back on track after 25 years of war. Campaigners hope that in his drive to fight terrorism he will not forget the rights of women.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Karzai, reminding him of the plight of women.
The lack of security in the country is both a potent excuse and a reason to keep women locked up as prisoners in their homes. And girls such as Illaha, who have committed no crime, can still languish in jail for breaking society’s mores without breaking any law.
“Who needs the Taleban to oppress you when you have your family and your culture to do it for you?” asks Zarghona Ahmadzai, a psychologist who works with women patients at a rare group-therapy session at her clinic in Kabul. “Women are forced to accept their fate because of the culture. In our society, culture is more powerful than law or religion.”
“Culture” is a word that you hear a lot in Afghanistan, far more than religion, especially when you are talking about women.
“It is not in our culture to let women go out of the house and roam around alone,” an acquaintance of mine told me of his Pashtun community, the ethnic group from which the Taleban sprang.
But it is the Dari-speaking, supposedly less conservative north that produced the Afghan proverb: “A girl should have her first period in her husband’s house, not her father’s.” No matter that both law and Islam forbid it, as Habiba Aftali, 28, whom I met outside a polling station on election day, knows all too well. As a child in the remote Badakhstan province, never held by the Taleban, she was handed over in marriage to a man 25 years her senior to resolve a blood feud between their families.
“I was ten when he came for me and said that he would kill my brother if I did not marry him,” she recalls. The family managed to put off the union, but after the promise to kill her brother was carried through three years later, they handed over their daughter.
“I was playing outside the house and they said, ‘Come in, it’s your wedding party’,” she says. “I screamed and cried but they forced me inside. Later that day I drank pesticide and spent four days in hospital, but I didn’t die as I had wished. I stopped going to school after that, not because my husband made me but because there was no hope left in my life. I told my husband, ‘I would never have gone to school if I had known this would be my fate’. It is better to be ignorant than to see the prison you live in.”
The day I saw her she had ventured out alone to vote for a better future, but her expectations were modest and her hopes few. “If someone would let me divorce my husband, I would vote for them in a heartbeat,” she says. “I am voting for Karzai because he is good for peace and he doesn’t want to put me in a burka. But even he has done nothing to change our lives.” Few candidates in the election had much to say on the subject of women’s rights. One reason is that despite the most vaunted right of women to vote, few actually get to make their own decision about how they use it.
“Nobody is talking about women’s rights because they are talking only to men,” says Massouda Jalal, the only female candidate to run in the election. “The men come to them and convince them to give them all the village’s votes, so they go home and tell everyone how to vote.” Latif Pedram, the only candidate who spoke out on the need for a women’ s right to divorce, was nearly thrown out of the election by the ultra-conservative Supreme Court, which accused him of speaking against Islam — a dismissible offence under the electoral law.
Women are also startlingly ignorant of their own rights. A survey before the election found that 87 per cent of those asked thought that a woman needed to ask her husband’s permission to vote. There was no discernible difference between the answers from men and those from women. “Women are trapped in a prison of their own mind,” says Zarghona Ahmadzai. “I have treated women who were being beaten by their husbands and didn’t even know that it was wrong.”
Habiba looks incredulous when I ask her if she thinks that a woman president, such as Jalal, could do any better for women’s rights. “What does a woman have that she can be president?” she asks. “God will never get power for women.”
Jalal may not have won the presidency, but just by going into public life she has taken an important step for Afghan women. “It wasn’t my ambition to become president, but I wanted to show that women could be valued,” she says in her office. She is now working with women candidates for the approaching parliamentary elections. She is angry that in the three years since the fall of the Taleban, little more has been done than just reversing measures that the regime introduced to keep women down.
“We have turned back the clock to before the Taleban, but now it has stopped again,” she says. “The fundamental changes that women desired and expected when they saw the international community come in — those have not taken place. It didn’t take any effort for them to say that girls could go back to school, that women could go back to work. There was a framework for that from before. What they weren’t willing to do was to make an effort to change women’s lives.”
Officials insist that education is the answer to freeing women from cultural oppression. But being educated did not save Illaha and Habiba from their destiny, because it was men who decided that.
It is a fate that haunts even Afghanistan’s educated and ambitious women. “I can never marry an Afghan man,” says Fatima, 22, a political science student who also works for a women’s rights group. Her sister married a supposedly educated man in Bamiyan who beat her until she miscarried three times, then took a second wife because she had failed to deliver a child.
Fatima has since moved to less conservative Kabul where she lives, scandalously, apart from her parents, but she fears the same fate. “Some men may seem liberal, but hardly any really believe what they say,” she says. “The culture is too strong.”
As if on cue, Akbar, 22, my translator, appears on the scene, harassed by the sight of three women standing on the street outside their workplace. An economics student and the founder of a youth charity, he considers himself progressive — a feminist, even. “They shouldn’t be here. People are saying bad things about them,” Akbar fumes, referring to the waiting women. Fatima turns on him. “You want society here to change, don’t you?” she says. “How can it if women stay inside?”
“Of course, I want it to change,” he retorts. “But I don’t want my sisters or my fiancée to be the ones doing it.” Akbar, one of the most progressive Afghans I have met, has given up on the possibility of Afghanistan changing within his lifetime, so much so that he is planning to emigrate to Canada. “My sisters can go out of the house there,” he says. “But not here.”
Fatima’s face hardens. As a pioneer of women’s rights, she is engaged in a lonely struggle. When we bid farewell, it is hard to find adequate words to wish her luck. On my return from Afghanistan, I receive an e-mail from her. She has not seen Akbar since I left, even though I had sensed a tense attraction between them and he had asked to meet her for lunch.
“You know, Catherine,” she writes, “the problem is that many people like Akbar who think they are democrats are not. My work is to learn these things myself so I can try to change their minds.”
She plans to return to the prison to visit Illaha. Fatima writes: “She said she never wanted to marry. We think the same. This is the only way to be free.”
200 Pakistani security personnel die in anti-militants operations
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan's army said Thursday that some 200 security personnel have been killed in the operations against foreign militants and their local supporters in the South Waziristan tribal region.
Maj. Gen. Niaz Khattak who is in charge of the operation told reporters in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier province,that 100 foreign militants are still hiding in Waziristan and the operation will continue against them, private News Network International reported.
He did not provide any exact figures of the militants killed during the operations, saying the security forces have broken the network of the militants and they have also moved to some other areas.
Khattak said there is no evidence to establish that Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan's tribal region and denied that any agreement has been struck with militant leader, Abdullah Mehsud, who was responsible for the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in October this year.
Pakistani forces have been conducting major operations in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters since March this year.
US defence secretary sidesteps India's concern over F16s for Pakistan
Friday December 10, 1:12 AM AFP
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met Indian leaders but sidestepped controversy after New Delhi urged Washington not to sell F-16 fighter planes to rival Pakistan.
Rumsfeld, looking to push sales of US military equipment, met India's Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee followed by Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.
Asked if he had been able to ease Indian concerns, Rumsfeld skirted the issue.
"We had an excellent discussion about all aspects of our defence relationship I don't know that it's for me to characterize how other people react to things," he said.
"We talked about a full range of things. I don't think I would consider that to be a central part of discussion at all."
The defence secretary earlier gave a brief statement describing Indo-US defence ties as "strong" and "something that we intend to see further knitted together as we go along the months and years ahead."
Mukherjee, who was invited to the United States, said the meeting has been "very useful".
The friendly banter contrasted with a formal statement on Wednesday by Foreign Minister Singh who told parliament Washington had been "cautioned" against selling F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met US President George W. Bush last Saturday and said he discussed the potential purchase of the F-16 fighters.
India also repeated Wednesday that it would not send any troops to help out the United States in Iraq.
"Iraq was discussed at some length," Rumsfeld told reporters. Passing reference had also been made to Iran, he said without elaborating.
A senior US defence official said Rumsfeld would seek India's help in trying to end Iran's nuclear programme.
"India has been terrifically helpful in Afghanistan with various types of humanitarian assistance and money," Rumsfeld added.
The secretary was also to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before heading back to Washington in the afternoon.
The visit is Rumsfeld's first since June 2002 and is his inaugural contact with the Congress party-led government that took power this year.
The official said India is interested in buying US P3 maritime patrol aircraft and Seahawk helicopters, and possible deals could be pursued.
"They're also interested in missile defence strategy and missile defence technology and the US would like to help them with that," said the official, adding Rumsfeld's visit was partly to recognize India's role as a "rising nation that will have an important role to play in the world."
Pakistan on Wednesday test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead but insisted it was not sending a signal to India amid a nascent peace process with its regional rival.
Both Pakistan and India conduct regular missile launches.
Indian defence sources said New Delhi was interested in US Patriot missiles.
India has contributed 400 million dollars to Afghanistan's reconstruction and offered to train election officials ahead of Iraq's polls due January 30.
The defence secretary arrived late Wednesday on a lightning visit from Kuwait, where he met US troops who complained they were being sent into combat in Iraq with poor protection and ageing armour.
AFGHANISTAN: Progress seen on human rights but concerns remain
KABUL, 9 December (IRIN) - On the eve of the universal day of human rights there are still major human rights violations in Afghanistan, but some improvements have been made in the post-conflict country.
Abdul Sabour Babai was celebrating his freedom two weeks after he was released from a private jail in the northwestern Faryab province. The 35-year-old returnee was arrested and tortured by a local commander when he tried to get back his confiscated land in Pashtun Kut district on the outskirts of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab.
Sabour returned from the western city of Herat where he spent three years as an IDP [internally displaced person]. The father of five left Pashtun Kut following the increasing number of violations by local commanders after the hardline Taleban was ousted late 2001. However, when he came back he found out that the rule of the gun was still in place in his isolated, mountainous home town.
"We were told that all the commanders had been disarmed but that was not true," Sabour told IRIN. "I had all the documents and when I insisted on getting my own land back, the commander put me in his private jail and after three weeks of detention the local elders helped me to run away," he said. Sabour said local police could not do anything to stop the commanders from harassing and intimidating civilians.
As Kabul marks the International Human Rights Day on Friday, rights activists at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said the top human rights concerns in the country, still reeling from decades of conflict, were; land grabbing from farmers by local commanders; arbitrary killing and torture; and the general state of impunity. Moreover, violence against women continued unabated.
But despite existing challenges, AIHRC believes there has been some improvement in the state of human rights in the country this year.
"There have been some encouraging sings of improvement in the human rights situation in Afghanistan this year, however, the situation on a number of issues remains concerning," Nader Nadery, a commissioner of AIHRC, told IRIN on Thursday in the capital, Kabul.
According to Nadery, in the first six months of 2004 land grabbing accounted for 31 percent of all violations that AIHRC had investigated, while currently that figure has dropped to 18 percent. Some improvement has also been observed regarding the issues of torture, forced migration and forced marriages.
"But at the same time there are some concerning points like arbitrary arrests," he maintained, adding that they increased from 16 percent of all investigated violations in the first six months of the year to 44 percent in the second half.
There was also a further breakdown in law and order and a rise in kidnappings, he noted.
"The level of violence is still very high. Over the past six months we registered more than 2,000 violations of human rights, which is a big number," he said.
The commission also said that there was yet to be any judicial follow-up of these incidents. "The judiciary either ignores them or is unable to bring perpetrators to justice," Nadery claimed.
Political analysts in Kabul believe that the greatest challenge for human rights protection in Afghanistan is the state of law-enforcement bodies. In most of the rural areas the law abusers were local police who remained loyal to armed militia and powerful warlords than to the central government.
While there is an ongoing programme on police training, supported by Germany and the United States, much more work needs to be done before the provincial police departments become fully professional and centrally accountable institutions, Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based analyst of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a multinational advocacy NGO, said.
"In particular, disengaging the police from militia control should be prioritised by the new government - appointing militia leaders as police chiefs helps preserve their power and only delays the process of security sector reform," Parekh told IRIN.
Meanwhile, the AIHRC declared the three coming years as years for Human Rights Education at the primary and secondary education levels.
"We are calling upon the authorities to end the state of impunity and bring those perpetrators of human rights violations to justice," Nadery said.
Pakistan: UN agencies implement HIV/AIDS programme for Afghan refugees
ISLAMABAD, 8 December (IRIN) - The UN refugee agency has signed a three-year agreement with the UN joint programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to strengthen its prevention and control programme for Afghans residing in refugee camps in Pakistan.
"We are running a basic HIV/AIDS awareness raising programme for Afghan refugees through our health units - set to cater for the refugee population in camps. But now we are going to enhance it with the cooperation of UNAIDS," Dr Naveeda Rehman, a coordinator of health programmes at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told IRIN from the northwestern city of Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Under the agreement, signed on Tuesday, both the agencies will work closely to share information on HIV/AIDS and implement UN plans to combat HIV/AIDS in refugee camps.
There are over 100 health units with some 5,000 health workers providing health services to the refugees living in UNHCR-run camps across the country.
"At present, we have 132 refugee camps in total, mostly in NWFP, with around 1 million people, so obviously health care network is also vast here [in NWFP] with 86 health units in over 100 camps," Rehman said.
Balochistan province had some 25 camps, with 19 units, while there were two units in one camp located in Punjab province, she explained.
"Our health workers hold special sessions with refugee communities, informing them about the nature of HIV infection, how it spreads and how to prevent it," Rehman said.
UNHCR is expected to provide protection and legal assistance to all refugees diagnosed with HIV/AIDS through its network of advice and legal aid centres in Pakistan operated by different non-governmental organisations. The agency will also provide financial support for the UNAIDS programme in Pakistan.
"UNAIDS is a coordinating body - and not an implementing agency. We coordinate among different agencies working on HIV/AIDS in different sectors like UNHCR is working with refugees," Dr Samia Hashim, a programme officer at UNAIDS, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
So far there are no data about the rate of infection or the actual number of HIV/AIDS cases among refugees. "But, as the Afghan refugees are highly mobile and stay away from home most of the time, travelling across the country to work in big cities like Karachi and Lahore, they certainly constitute a high-risk behavioural group," Rehman noted.
"And then the low literacy rate is there. So we need a lot more awareness among the community, a lot more capacity-building and training to prevent it becoming epidemic," the UNHCR official said.
Rehman went on to say that they had a community network in camps, which made easy for them to approach the refugees and get the message across. "But we have come a long way over 25 years to get to this stage and have their confidence and now we can sit with them comfortably and discuss such sensitive issues like HIV/AIDS and other STIs in this conservative community."
However, the UNHCR officer said they still needed to be cautious about sensitivities. "We run separate sessions for males and females with the health workers from the same gender groups," she said.
Analysis: Difficult Choices, Constitutional Dilemmas Confront Afghan President
RFE By Amin Tarzi
On 7 December 2004, in presence of unprecedented number of foreign dignitaries, Hamid Karzai was sworn as the first popularly elected president in Afghanistan's history on 7 December in the presence of an unprecedented number of foreign dignitaries.
Such a demonstration of support for Karzai by his foreign allies might well be the last grand act of the nearly three-year honeymoon that the Afghan leader has enjoyed with his international backers. That is likely to be the case if Karzai is unable to deliver on his election promises -- which include effecting an end to "warlordism," serious counternarcotics efforts, enacting accountability in government, fighting poverty, and more.
Since the inception of the current transitional administrative system that was established for Afghanistan in December 2001, Karzai has rightfully argued that his hands have been tied by a set of arrangements in which he was not even a participant. (Karzai was leading an effort against Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan when the deal on a new regime was being worked out in Bonn, Germany).
In light of his recent landslide victory in the 9 October presidential election -- granting him an accompanying popular mandate -- and an Afghan Constitution that affords the president far-reaching powers, Karzai will have few credible alibis if the situation in his country does not improve. Worse still if conditions deteriorate further due to decisions taken by him. (For more on power of the president in the constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003).Without a doubt, Karzai's first test and the foundation upon which his five-year term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be built is his choice of cabinet ministers.
Without a doubt, Karzai's first test and the foundation upon which his five-year term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be built is his choice of cabinet ministers. In this task, Karzai faces a challenge and a constitutional dilemma -- with the latter giving him greater power but also placing greater responsibility squarely on his shoulders.
The New Afghan Cabinet - Throughout his presidential campaign, Karzai maintained that he would not form a coalition government if he were successful in the election. And his comfortable margin of victory -- 55 percent versus 16 percent for his nearest rival, former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- suggests that he need not seek coalition partners.
While rejecting the idea of a coalition government, Karzai did leave the door open during the campaign for his opponents to join his cabinet -- with the understanding that they should share similar views as Karzai.
Speculation about the new composition of the Afghan cabinet has circulated for some time, with much of the focus on whether Karzai might include warlords or those who -- if a court existed in which crimes in Afghanistan against humanity might be tried -- might have been indicted as war criminals (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004).
Karzai's dilemma is that while his margin of victory was wide, the vote was split along ethnic lines. Moreover, some people with questionable pasts secured large numbers of votes from their respective co-ethnics. For Karzai to rule effectively, he must somehow deal with such these elements -- however unsavory that might seem. And in the absence of a strong military force that is loyal to the central authorities in Kabul and the Afghan Constitution, appeasement in the form of cabinet posts remains Karzai's only real choice at the moment.
Constitutional Ambiguity - Beyond the choice of a cabinet, which is expected to be announced soon, there remains a constitutional vagueness surrounding the new government.
Article 71 of Afghanistan's new constitution, adopted in January, stipulates that members of the cabinet "are appointed by the President and shall be introduced for approval to the National Assembly." An amended Article 160 states that "every effort shall be made to hold the first presidential election and the parliamentary election at the same time." However, since that situation did not occur -- as the drafters of the constitution must have speculated -- they wrote into the constitution that "until the establishment of the National Assembly, the powers of the National Assembly...shall be held by the Government."
This essentially means that Karzai and his two vice presidents, as the only members of the "government" for the time being, enjoy the power to appoint a cabinet -- and thus form a government -- without scrutiny by the National Assembly.
While this loophole in the constitution affords Karzai absolute authority to appoint the government of his choice, the absence of any National Assembly that might act as a check on that power places the burden of possible failure squarely on his shoulders.
Article 161 of the constitution seeks to afford the National Assembly its powers retroactively by stipulating that the legislative body "shall exercise its powers immediately after its establishment."
If Afghanistan is to have a reasonably representative National Assembly, some of the personnel choices made by Karzai might come under criticism and even face eventual dismissal. While a distant and remote possibility, the existence of such a clause in the constitution (if the document is respected to the letter) could lead to a cabinet that is analogous to the wishes of the Afghan people.
In some cases, the popular choice might well be a warlord or "regional leader" -- to use the more politically correct version of the term -- who has support among his people.
With the ethnic imbalance in the presidential vote and the possibility of similarly divided results in the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2005, President Karzai has a golden opportunity of several months in which to select a cabinet that -- for reasons of political expediency might include a warlord or two. But on the whole, the makeup of the government should reflect and adhere to the president's vision for his country and possess the merits to carry out their respective tasks.
If that delicate balance is not achieved, Karzai might lose more than simply his domestic backing. He could alienate many of those who were on his guest list for the 7 December inauguration ceremony.
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