Afghanistan: 'Loyal Opposition' Plans Election Strategy
By Amin Tarzi
In two recent private and candid discussions with RFE/RL, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, leader of the 12-party coalition National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM), spoke about the Afghan opposition's election strategy and his own personal reflections about the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as relations between Kabul and Washington. Part 1 of a two-part analysis of Qanuni's views focuses on JTM's election priorities and polices.
By virtue of securing 16 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential elections, second only to Karzai's 55 percent, Qanuni has become the strongest opposition leader in Afghanistan and has been chosen as the leader of JTM, which was formed in late March as the main opposition front against the Karzai government.
In his talks with RFE/RL, Qanuni made it clear that he still believes, though he currently leads a "loyal political opposition," that during the October elections many irregularities occurred, robbing him of certain victory. "On the whole we accepted the current government, despite the fact that I won 53 percent of the votes to Mr. Karzai's 24 percent," Qanuni asserted. A U.S. government official whom Qanuni chose not to identify told him that he had "secured the votes while Karzai got the victory."
Afghanistan In Crisis
According to Qanuni, since the October elections Afghanistan's overall situation has regressed because the current "leadership has failed" to take advantage of a "golden opportunity" presented to Afghanistan in the form of strong international support. Karzai's former interior and later education minister added that his "friend" Karzai is a weak leader who presides over a "weak cabinet" and that his government lacks a "strategic, national agenda." Karzai's policies are "driven by ethnicity and private gains," Qanuni said.
As such, Afghanistan's main opposition leader asserted that his country was moving toward "a crisis."
Unlike Karzai, Qanuni predicted that the elections for the lower house of the Afghan parliament and the provincial councils scheduled for September will not end the government's malaise or the increasing levels of violence in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan.
Qanuni said that the only way to address the current crisis is through implementation of reforms, which he emphasized should be "real, not symbolic." If the Karzai government initiates reforms, especially in the electoral procedures, prior to the September polls, "we shall have a united parliament." Otherwise, Qanuni warned that the parliament might be factionalized.
Yunos Qanuni listed "national unity, stability, and security," as the three main essential steps to get Afghanistan out of its current quagmire and as broad goals of the JTM.
The Opposition's Goals
Repeating that JTM was a "legal opposition," Qanuni said the front he is leading is "against mistaken policies of the [Karzai] government," but that it did not want "the government to fall," which he stressed would be "tantamount to giving Afghanistan to Pakistan."
To achieve its goals, prior to the September polls the JTM plans to strengthen the positions of individual candidates representing any of the 12 political parties; enhance cooperation between the parties; and observe the election process for irregularities, which according to Qanuni were widespread during the October presidential elections.
In order to ensure that the September elections are fair and free, Qanuni suggested that the UN-Afghan Joint Election Management Body and the Election Commission are independent; that the votes be counted in the polling stations rather than being transported to counting centers; that the office for lodging complaints about election irregularities be independent of government control; that larger cities be divided in electoral districts; and that the population estimates be made more fair.
JTM's goals during the elections will be obtaining a larger majority of the seats, Qanuni explained, adding that his front wants the "politicization of the struggle rather than the use of gun," and the "rationalization and legalization of the struggle."
Once the JTM has secured enough seats to become the main opposition to Karzai's government, Qanuni said that his party and his coalition partners will demand the reforming of the cabinet, which he said was "not based on equality." He also emphasized working to accelerate the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs under way; deal with the narcotics problem in Afghanistan -- Qanuni added that currently the "police are a mafia"; and reform the Afghan National Army and National Police.
The most controversial plan of the JTM, as explained by Qanuni, is changing the current Afghan government system as enshrined in the constitution from a strong presidential system to a prime-ministerial system. "How can we help Karzai's weakness?" Qanuni asked, and then answered his own question, "by creating the post of a prime minister through a Loya Jirga."
Whether the "loyal opposition" headed by Mohammad Yunos Qanuni will be capable of achieving all of its stated goals is impossible to predict at the moment. Surely his call for national unity, stability, and security will go over well with not only Karzai's government, but with Afghanistan's foreign backers. However, Karzai and his supporters fought hard and made some difficult compromises to write a constitution with a very strong presidency -- power the current president does not seem likely to relinquish.
The fact that, after decades of Afghanistan's politics being determined by violence and intimidation, the main opposition figure sits in his villa on the outskirts of Kabul and, while clearly expressing his disappointment with the political process, confirms his loyalty to the system in place, is a major leap forward for Afghanistan. It would be a disservice to Afghanistan's long and difficult march toward becoming a democratic nation-state to have elections in September that are not transparent and are not deemed by a majority of Afghans as being fair. In this, the burden first falls on the shoulders of the Afghan government and only then on its foreign supporters and the "loyal opposition."
Karzai Says Bin Laden Not in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai said Friday that Osama bin Laden wasn't in Afghanistan, saying his government has no idea of his whereabouts. "God knows where he is," he said. "We don't know. ... He is not in Afghanistan."
The comments come just days after Pakisani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the al-Qaida leader wasn't in Pakistan and could be hiding in southeastern Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said they believe bin Laden to be hiding somewhere in rugged mountains between the two nations.
Also Friday, a purported Taliban spokesman reiterated a claim that a missing American commando was being interrogated by the Taliban and would soon be killed.
U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore declined to comment on the latest claim that a U.S. Navy SEAL commando has been captured, except to say that "we are continuing to search for him."
The commando is the last of a four-member U.S. Navy SEAL team missing for 11 days in Kunar province, near the Pakistani border. One of the men was rescued and the other two have been found dead.
"Right now the interrogation is taking place of the American who is with us about the American strategy in Afghanistan," Mullah Latif Hakimi said.
Hakimi's information has in the past frequently proven exaggerated or untrue, and his exact tie to the Taliban leadership cannot be independently verified.
The claims follow an unprecedented spate of insurgent violence that has left about 700 people dead and threatened to sabotage three years of progress toward peace. Afghan officials insist the violence will not disrupt landmark legislative elections slated for September.
Uzbekistan to Reassess Presence of U.S. Airbase
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
8 July 2005 -- The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Uzbekistan intends to reassess Washington's use of Khanabad airbase due to the changed situation in Afghanistan.
The Foreign Ministry said in a written statement that the Khanabad airbase, which American forces now use to support operations and supply humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, was only intended for combat operations in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Uzbekistan also claims the United States hasn't paid takeoff and landing fees for all flights to and from the base, and has offered virtually no compensation for additional costs incurred by the Uzbek authorities.
On Tuesday, a regional alliance led by China and Russia and including Uzbekistan called for the U.S. and its coalition allies in Afghanistan to set a date for withdrawing from several states in Central Asia.
SEAL: Loss in Afghanistan Firms Resolve
By SUE LINDSEY, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 8,10:32 PM ET
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The loss of 18 elite servicemen in the deadliest single attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan will only strengthen the military's resolve to fight terrorism, the commander of the Navy SEALs said Friday.
Eight Navy SEALs and eight members of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment were killed June 28 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their MH-47 Chinook. Also killed were two SEAL commandos they were trying to rescue.
Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire of San Diego, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command, spoke following a memorial service at Little Creek Amphibious Base for the 10 SEALs who died — the special force's greatest loss ever. He said the fallen SEALs and Army air crewmen did not die in vain.
"These men bravely and unselfishly answered the nation's call to defend freedom," Maguire said.
Six of the SEALs were based at Little Creek and were eulogized at the service, which a base spokesman said was attended by 2,600. The service was closed to the media.
The 16 troops on the helicopter were responding to a call for help from four SEAL commandos on reconnaissance in the rugged Afghan mountains who were attacked by a force of militants. One of the commandos survived and is hospitalized in Germany, and one is still missing.
The Chinook left in daylight to search for the commandos. The 16 aboard would have known that was risky, the admiral said, but loyalty to their teammates was the overriding factor.
"It's not the way we want to do it, but we would do it again," he said.
In Georgia, more than 800 people attended a service Thursday at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah for the soldiers who died.
Afghan president condemns London bombs, Taliban says Britons paying price
Fri Jul 8, 6:00 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the deadly bombings in London, as the ousted Taliban said Britons were suffering for their government's hostility to the Muslim world.
"This is an attack not against a city, this is an attack not against a nation, this was an attack against all of mankind," the US-backed leader told reporters in Kabul on Friday.
Karzai said the war-weary nation understood what Britain was going through, because it was still suffering from a deadly insurgency by hardline Taliban militants which has left more than 500 people dead this year.
"The people of Afghanistan recognize very well this pain of the British people because the people of Afghanistan were the first to suffer at the hands of the terrorism," he added.
A group calling itself the Organisation of Al-Qaeda Jihad in Europe which claimed Thursday's deadly attacks in London said they were "in response to the massacres carried out by Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan."
British forces are part of an 18,000-strong coalition in Afghanistan still battling the Taliban, ousted by a US-led invasion in late 2001 for sheltering Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Karzai said he had expressed his concern to the world community about the recent Taliban resurgence, which he described as "terrorism hurting us on a daily basis."
"That's why we understand very well the pain of people in London who were affected yesterday and that's why our solidarity with the people of England comes from our hearts, the depth of our hearts," he added.
However the Taliban said that Britons were paying the price for the actions of their rulers.
"The British nation should understand that their suffering from this bombing is because of their government's wrong policies against Muslim nations, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and many others," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told AFP by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.
Australian prime minister says London blasts won't affect Afghan troop decision
Associated Press / July 8, 2005
Australian Prime Minister John Howard vowed on Friday that the deadly terror attacks in London would not affect his government's decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Howard's government _ a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war on terror _ is to decide next week whether to send troops to Afghanistan.
Canberra sent elite special forces commandos to Afghanistan in 2001 for the invasion that toppled the Taliban regime but now has just one soldier in the country, helping clear land mines.
"We have not taken a decision, but if anybody imagines that these attacks will intimidate the Australian government in any way, they would be wrong," Howard said.
In an earlier interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp., Howard said the attacks "will in fact steel the determination of people who recognize the threat that terrorism poses to democratic societies, to go on with the fight against terrorism."
Nine Australians were injured in the series of bomb blasts that ripped through three subway trains and a double-decker bus in London on Thursday, including two who remain in critical condition, Australian Ambassador to Britain Richard Alston told Australian Broadcasting Corp. About 300,000 Australians live and work in Britain, most in London.
Howard also said he would not put off a planned trip to London and Washington later this month for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush.
"It will not change in any way my plans to be in London in some two weeks' time," he said. "It is more important than ever that I go there."
Attorney General Philip Ruddock said Australia would not raise its terror alert in the aftermath of the London blasts, but state governments across the country boosted security for public transport.
Meanwhile, Australia's national carrier, Qantas Airways Ltd., offered refunds to passengers booked on flights to Britain this month who decide not to fly.
The Australian and Aboriginal flags hung at half-staff from Sydney Harbor Bridge on Friday as a mark of respect for those killed in the blasts.
Muslim leaders join condemnation
BBC News / Friday, 8 July, 2005
Muslim leaders have condemned the terror attacks on London and called for full co-operation with police.
Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala called on worshippers to pray for victims at Friday prayers.
And Ahmed Sheikh, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said he feared a backlash and added that the Muslim community would feel less safe.
He warned that Muslims, especially women in headscarves, might fall prey to vigilante attacks.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he would be working closely with different groups to prevent any attacks on British ethnic minorities.
"I'm hoping to meet faith leaders later today [Friday] to discuss some of these questions and the police are looking very, very carefully at any organisations that might try and attack particular ethnic minorities," he told BBC Radio Five Live.
Muslim News editor Ahmed Versi noted one of London's biggest Muslim areas, around Aldgate, had been targeted.
Mr Sheikh said the unique good relationship Muslims had with the government and society was threatened.
"The person who did this was targeting along with wider British society the Muslim community, ruining the good relationship we have."
He said the police should consider extra protection for mosques and Islamic schools and said Muslims, particularly women in headscarves, should be vigilant and avoid unnecessary journeys.
"It is scary. A tiny element of the community will make use of this. It is a blow to us, to all of us. It is a moment of sadness and we send our condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured."
Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain said he utterly condemned the attacks.
"We are simply appalled and want to express our deepest condolences to the families.
"These terrorists, these evil people want to demoralise us as a nation and divide us.
"All of must unite in helping the police to hunt these murderers down."
Mr Sacranie admitted "there may well be elements who want to exploit this tragedy and incite hatred".
Faith leaders in the East End have prepared for the aftermath of a terror attack in London.
The Bishop of Stepney, Stephen Oliver and Dr Mohammed Abdul Bari, the chairman of the East London Mosque, spoke together outside the Royal London Hospital saying the East End and London must remain united in the face of terror.
Dr Bari said "We're just shocked and horrified by what has happened. I spoke to the congregation at the mosque and tried to calm their fears and told them they must remain vigilant.
"We have worked together with the communities in the East End for many years and we must continue doing so."
Bishop Oliver said: "When something like this happens people are at first afraid, and then people get angry.
"There's a great deal of speculation in this atmosphere. We are determined that whatever the reaction it is one that unites the different faith communities."
Mr Versi said he had already received one threatening e-mail about the blasts.
"There might be some increase in attacks on the Muslim community especially visible aspects of Islam like mosques, community centres and women with headscarves.
"Recently there have been a lot of attacks on Muslim women on buses in London, it has increased during the last few months."
But he said the immediate Muslim revulsion at the attacks could help calm the situation.
"I don't think there'll be as high a number of attacks as after 11 September because Muslims have come out very strongly, especially Muslim leaders, condemning the attacks.
"I'm sure many Muslims will have been injured as well... one of the bombs - at Aldgate - was near to the east London mosque, it's a very heavy Muslim area.
"Muslims have to be vigilant now, especially the mosques, and I hope the police will increase security on mosques and Islamic centres."
Other religious leaders also offered their condolences and condemned the attack.
Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said: "These terrible events have brought home to us the full evil that terror represents.
"It is not the weapon of the weak against the strong but the rage of the angry against the defenceless and innocent. It is an evil means to an evil end."
The Sikh Federation said: "We totally condemn the terrorist attacks targeting innocent civilians in London. These are the acts of cowards and a challenge to the international world. Those responsible have no respect for human life."
The federation is cancelling a demonstration due to be held on Friday outside the Indian High Commission.
New Afghan commission has possible conflict of interest
International Journalist's Network (www.ijnet.org) / Jul 07, 2005
A new commission in Afghanistan is administering the country’s national broadcaster. But it also has the authority to investigate complaints against other media organizations – and possibly revoke their licenses.
The latest Media Watch Afghanistan, a regular report distributed by Internews, offers some details learned from interviews with members of the Media Commission.
According to Media Watch, the members will allocate licenses and frequencies to radio and TV stations, oversee compliance with the country’s media law, and develop a policy for the state-run Radio and Television Afghanistan (RTA). The members see reforming RTA as their “primary work,” Media Watch reported.
However, the commission also apparently has the authority to revoke licenses of media that do not follow content guidelines. The Internews publication said there are concerns that the commission’s mandate presents a conflict of interest between making RTA more competitive while judging the content of other outlets.
Afghan government invites UN expert on violence against women to visit
UN News Centre
7 July 2005 – The United Nations expert on violence against women is to begin a 10-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan this weekend at the invitation of the Government of a country where women’s rights were seriously restricted under the Taliban regime ousted four years ago.
The Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk, will meet with Government and other national and local authorities, as well as with representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with issues related to gender-based violence.
Ms. Ertürk will visit various regions of the country as well as spnding time in the capital, Kabul. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate is to collect information on violence against women and recommend ways to eliminate gender-based violence and to remedy its consequences at the national, regional and international levels.
Forms of violence against women identified in the mandate include violence against women in the family, in the community and violence by State agents.
In a report to the UN Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) earlier this year, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that Afghan women had made “historic gains” since the fall of the Taliban regime, but their participation in public life was circumscribed by the continuing lack of security and reformers had to take care not to stir up the traditional hostility to women's advancement.
In other developments, Japan this week signed a $17-million agreement with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to address Afghanistan’s simultaneous needs generated by peace and reconstruction, including long-term regional planning, training government staff, urban employment, increased agricultural productivity, and reducing the threat of landmines left over from decades of war.
Meanwhile, construction of a teacher training college library in the southern city of Kandahar, funded by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has been completed. The project, begun last August, has cost $35,000 and includes the construction of the library, a study room for 50 teachers, a reception hall, an administration room and washrooms. UNICEF also provided equipment and learning material.
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