18 August 2005, Volume
PAKISTANI ISLAMIST OPENS PANDORA'S BOX
By Amin Tarzi
During a press conference on 7 August, one of Pakistan's most influential religious and political leaders claimed that while his country is telling the West that it's fighting terrorism, it is actually supporting the infiltration of militants into Afghanistan. His controversial remarks threaten to set off a firestorm in Pakistan's domestic politics and its foreign relations.
Mawlana Fazlur Rehman, secretary-general of Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) and leader of Pakistan's opposition in the National Assembly, during a news conference in Lahore on 7 August challenged his country's government to decide whether it supports jihadis or wishes to close down the camps in Pakistan where these forces are allegedly being trained. "We can't afford to be hypocritical anymore," he said, according to the Lahore-based "Daily Times." "The rulers [of Pakistan] are not only trying to deceive the United States and the West, but also hoodwinking the entire nation [of Pakistan]," Fazlur Rahman added.
"We ask the rulers to reveal the identity of the people being transported to Afghanistan from Waziristan [in Pakistan's tribal belt close to the Afghan border] via Kaali Sarak in private vehicles, to reveal who is supervising their trouble-free entry into Afghanistan, and [to reveal] the reasons for their infiltrations," Fazlur Rehman further demanded. Rehman also challenged Islamabad authorities to provide the Pakistani people with the "identities of the men being moved from Waziristan to militant camps in Mansehra" district in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
While official Pakistani sources have consistently denied any association with the terrorist organizations -- including the neo-Taliban -- that are destabilizing the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to a 28 July report in the "Los Angeles Times," sources in Pakistan indicated that in early May 13 militant camps had been reactivated in Mansehra region alone. "Our transport fleet is back, electricity has been restored, and the communications system is in place," a militant source told the daily.
The initial reaction of the Afghan government to the remarks of Fazlur Rehman has been cautious. Government spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi told a news conference on 8 August in Kabul that Afghanistan's concerns regarding the infiltration of militants from Pakistan "are known to Pakistan and to the international community," and as such Fazlur Rehman's "remarks are important." "Whatever concerns Afghanistan's national security is important to us. Therefore, his remarks are important and we will discuss them and think about them," Rahimi added.
Afghan media has been less cautious in its approach to Fazlur Rehman's remarks. In a commentary on 9 August, Afghanistan's official Bakhtar News Agency stated that Fazlur Rahman's remarks provide proof of the "direct cooperation of Pakistan with terrorist networks." The commentary adds that the remarks cast doubt on Islamabad's claims that it is trying to stop the infiltration of terrorists into Afghanistan from its side of the border. On 10 August, Bakhtar posted a commentary by Kabul daily "Cheragh" on its website which wrote that "the speech of Mawlawi Fazlur Rehman, who was once referred to as the father of the Taliban groups, leaves no ground for Pakistan to conceal its interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan."
Faced with mounted criticism about his remarks, Fazlur Rehman told the official Pakistan TV 1 on 9 August that what he had said was taken out of context by newspapers.
His remarks, he claimed, were made "as an example" of what "many people were saying -- leveling the allegation -- that people were going to Afghanistan from Pakistan." Fazlur Rehman asked how can these people infiltrate into Afghan territory from Pakistan when there are "70,000 troops there, on the border"?
Fazlur Rehman however did not clarify the charges of deception he purportedly made against Pakistani leaders, nor did he deny the reports.
The remarks, while going against the core of Islamabad's stated policy, were more astonishing coming from Fazlur Rehman, who, as leader of the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam-Fazlur Rehman Group (JUI-F), has been one of the strongest backers of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He remains a firm supporter of the neo-Taliban fighting against the Afghan government and is someone who propelled the MMA (a six-party Islamist coalition that includes the JUI-F) into the main opposition front in Pakistan partly by campaigning against the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since 2002, the JUI-F has been the dominant force in governments of the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, both bordering Afghanistan.
In fact, one of Kabul's demands to Islamabad has been the curtailment of Fazlur Rehman's activities.
So why is an Islamist clergyman-turned-politician seemingly calling attention to a phenomenon that he has been supporting?
According to Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Pakistan's relations with that country, "severe tensions" have developed between the Pakistani military and the JUI-F. Rashid's comments, which appeared in the "International Herald Tribune" on 10 August, add that with his 7 August remarks, Fazlur Rehman "is now defying the army by declaring that it bears responsibility for the fruits of its past policies" supporting Islamist militants. He adds that the Pakistani military "should not seek to parry American pressure by blaming Pakistan's Islamic parties," the largest one of which is headed by Fazlur Rehman himself.
Whether Fazlur Rehman's controversial remarks snowball into something bigger or melt away, Afghanistan is sure to use them when confronting Pakistan on its longstanding grievance regarding what Kabul believes is a lack of cohesion between Islamabad's declarations and its actions.
According to the "Daily Times," Fazlur Rehman has stated that if pressured he will reveal facts that would open a Pandora's box. Somehow he has already opened that box, both with his reported remarks and his later attempts to clarify them. If 70,000 troops are not sufficient to stop the constant infiltrations of jihadis from Pakistan into Afghanistan, Islamabad is seemingly unable or unwilling to control this problem. Paradoxically, the influence of forces represented and supported by Fazlur Rehman is what may have forced Pakistan's government to be both with and against the jihadis in the first place.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS ON AIRWAVES.
The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announced on 15 August that the official campaign period for Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga (People's Assembly, the lower house of the National Assembly) and provincial councils is to begin on 17 August and continue until 15 September, three days before the polling date.
While candidates have already been able to hold campaign rallies and distribute posters and leaflets after certifying their candidacy with the JEMB, for the next 30 days they are allowed to start their official campaign using broadcast media through a regulated system.
Candidates are now able to access a "sponsored advertisement" system supervised by the JEMB's Media Commission, according to the JEMB's 15 August press release. JEMB Chairman Besmellah Besmel said the system will enable candidates to produce and broadcast campaign advertisements on radio and television "free of charge, courtesy of donors, for an equal amount of airtime." The system will allow every candidate to have "an equal opportunity to reach voters in their constituencies through the broadcast media," Besmel added.
Each Wolesi Jirga candidate will be allocated a five-minute slot to be broadcast twice on radio or one advertisement of two minutes to be broadcast on television twice. Provincial-council candidates are entitled to a four-minute segment to be broadcast once on radio or a two-minute segment to be aired on television once.
Besmel expressed hopes for a "lively and peaceful campaign of free expression" and encouraged all candidates to "make full use" of the 30-day "official campaign period to reach voters through radio or television."
The final decision by the JEMB to allow all candidates sponsored equal time came after a series of confusing regulations.
According to a July report, "Afghanistan Elections: Endgame or New Beginning?" by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), the JEMB on 7 July had banned candidates from advertising in newspapers for the entire campaign, while radio and television advertisements could be purchased between 17 August and 15 September. On 11 July, the JEMB reversed itself and banned all paid campaign advertisements on broadcast media, but allowed newspaper advertisements, limited to four pages per candidate.
While giving each candidate an equal amount of airtime is commendable, since financial and political resources of candidates vary widely, as the ICG pointed out in its report, if each of Kabul's 701 candidates for both the Wolesi Jirga and provincial-council seats chose to take the television option, "it would mean nearly 2 1/2 hours of dedicated programming for 26 days (the campaign period minus Fridays)."
It is very unlikely that the majority of voters would dedicate so much time to choosing their favorite candidates. Moreover, in such a crowded schedule, it is very difficult for a voter to determine the slot when his or her favorite candidate is due to appear on television.
For the undecided but interested voters, the order and time of appearance of candidates may be crucial. It is likely that the most determined voter becomes tired after watching two hours of short speeches and limits their choices by watching part of the program.
While there are no perfect models that could have been offered to Afghanistan -- a country with no democratic experience -- on which to base its crucial election-campaign advertisement system, with 5,800 candidates a campaign period of more than 30 days with more broadcast-media exposure would have helped the voters to gain more knowledge about the candidates.
Under the circumstances, the future of Afghanistan's democracy falls on the wisdom of the country's voters. It is up to the Afghans to canvass the candidates, among whose ranks are known gross violators of human rights and opponents of democracy itself, and select those candidates with good records or no records at all. Afghans will have to hope that many of those with no records turn out to support democracy and civil society. (Amin Tarzi)
THREATS, INTIMIDATION REPORTED AGAINST FEMALE CANDIDATES.
A number of the women who have submitted their candidacies for September's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan say they have been threatened with personal harm. Some of those threats reportedly come from Islamic militant groups as well as from ordinary people who oppose a public role for women in Afghan society. Some female candidates have also complained of a lack of funding and resources for their campaigns. Earlier this week, the Afghan women's affairs minister called for the state to provide protection for female candidates.
Nourzai Charkhi is campaigning for a seat in Afghanistan's future parliament, representing her home province of Logar in eastern Afghanistan.
Charkhi recently told RFE/RL's Afghan Service that she has received threatening phone calls warning her to quit the race -- or be killed.
"One man called Asef Palang -- who was known under the Taliban as Mullah Palang -- told me, 'You are a servant of the Americans, aren't you ashamed of yourself? If you come to the village of Charkhi, your life will be in danger. We will place a mine under your car,'" Charkhi said.
There are other reports of threats and violence as well against other female candidates across Afghanistan. One candidate was reportedly beaten up in Kunduz, and in Logar another woman in the September race had her house set on fire.
Fifty women have reportedly already withdrawn their candidacies. That leaves about 300 women registered for the 18 September elections -- out of a total 3,000 candidates.
Afghan electoral law requires that at least 68 of the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or general assembly, be reserved for women.
Approximately 250 women have also registered for the provincial council elections that are scheduled to take place the same day.
Intimidation and insecurity are not the only problems female candidates are facing in Afghanistan. Conservative traditions and restrictions placed on women are major obstacles as well. In villages and remote areas, women are often not allowed to leave their homes, let alone publicly campaign and run for office. Many women candidates are forced to hold campaign meetings in their homes.
Another female candidate, Ghadrieh Yazdanparast, said that limited access to public platforms hampers women's ability to effectively campaign.
"[Women] are not allowed to appear in all public places," Yazdanparast said. "For example, women cannot use pulpits, but men have this privilege."
Malalai Shinwari, who is in charge of the society of female candidates for the parliamentary elections, said she believes women who are running as independent candidates face threats and lack of resources.
She also said there are attempts in deeply conservative Afghan society to persuade citizens not to vote for women, by calling it un-Islamic.
"It is a threat when they say: 'Don't vote for women because your prayers won't be recognized,'" Shinwari said. "This is a [serious] threat against women in the society."
During a meeting of female candidates in Kabul on 8 August, Afghan Women's Affairs Minister Massoudeh Jalal called on the country's officials to protect women running for office.
"We have called on the president, governors, and security officials to provide protection for women candidates," Jalal said. "Our expectation from the candidates is that they focus on the improvement of women's situations and fight against limitations."
Afghan election officials have called on any candidate -- man or woman -- who is experiencing intimidation or harassment to lodge a formal objection with the commission that deals with electoral complaints.
But the spokesperson of the Afghan-UN joint electoral management body, Sultan Ahmed Baheen, told RFE/RL on 10 August that, so far, there have been no official complaints from female candidates.
"Of course, we are worried especially regarding security for women, and for that reason we have told them that if they face a problem, they should inform the commission about it," Baheen said. "We pay special attention to this issue, because women, compared to men, have less access to the society, and this could cause problems for them."
Shinwari of the female candidates society said that women who have been threatened are reluctant to contact election officials because it is difficult for them to prove their claims.
"A woman is threatened by a car that does not have a license plate," Shinwari said. "A woman receives a call from a unknown number telling her to quit. Isn't that a threat? But that woman doesn't have anything to show as proof. For that reason, when she goes to the [complaint] commission, she gets discouraged. Until women have physical proof they're being threatened, nobody cares."
Despite the difficulties, many female candidates have expressed determination to pursue their efforts and have a say in the future of their country.
Many women's rights activists say improving Afghanistan's security situation and disarming militant groups are key factors in ensuring women's participation in the political process. (Golnaz Esfandiari, with contributions from RFE/RL's Afghan Service correspondent Omid Marzban.)
VIOLENCE INVOLVING NEO-TALIBAN CONTINUES IN AFGHANISTAN.
Six suspected neo-Taliban were killed and three U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were wounded on 9 August in a firefight in southeastern Paktika Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 10 August. The clash occurred during a search operation, a U.S. military spokesman said. Among those killed was neo-Taliban commander Qari Ahmadullah, American Forces Press Service reported on 11 August, quoting U.S. military sources. Ahmadullah was believed to have been in command of up to 50 neo-Taliban militias -- a relatively large number of militias given that the neo-Taliban usually operate in very small groups.
"Killing this individual will significantly disrupt Taliban operations in the region," U.S. Brigadier General James Champion said. Champion expressed the hope that Ahmadullah's men will "find the courage" to reconcile with the Afghan government.
A woman was gunned down in her home on 10 August in the Mizan District of Zabul Province. Yunos Akhundzada, police chief of Mizan, told Pajhwak that militants killed the woman on the suspicion of spying for U.S.-led coalition forces. According to Akhundzada, the militants also kidnapped the victim's brother and father.
Neo-Taliban spokesman Mawlawi Latifullah Hakimi claimed responsibility for the murder. He told Pajhwak that the two kidnapped men will be tried by neo-Taliban scholars. The slain woman has been identified as the wife of Malik Rozi Khan, a local elder.
On the same day, one of two U.S. soldiers wounded in the south-central Ghazni Province on 9 August died of his wounds, international news agencies reported.
Hakimi on 9 August had claimed that the militia planted the explosive device to target the U.S. military vehicle in which those wounded were riding.
A U.S. military engineer was killed and another was wounded on 11 August in Paktika, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported, citing a report issued by the U.S.-led coalition forces.
Hakimi told AIP on 11 August that the militia attacked an Afghan government military vehicle in Paktika, killing five soldiers, without mentioning any U.S. casualties.
Afghan security forces and U.S. troops captured a key neo-Taliban commander on 13 August, AFP reported. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara said the joint raid led to the arrest of Qari Baba, who served as governor of Ghazni during the Taliban's rule. Qari Baba is believed to be responsible for attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces in the province. O'Hara said Qari Baba was captured in his home in Andar District, where a cache of machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, cell phones, and ammunition were also found.
Neo-Taliban forces claimed responsibility for an explosion on 14 August that left five people dead in Kandahar Province, AIP reported the next day. The blast occurred when a gas cylinder exploded and destroyed eight vehicles, apparently in a convoy. "Yesterday evening, a number of trucks and oil tankers were traveling from Herat Province to Kandahar," Kandahar security commander General Abdul Malek said. "They stopped overnight in the Bagh-e Pol area. A gas cylinder being used by the drivers of the vehicles exploded. As a result, an oil tanker caught fire and this spread to other vehicles. The vehicles were completely destroyed and their drivers were burnt to death. Five others were injured." Hakimi told AIP, "The vehicles and oil tankers, which were carrying fuel for the Americans, were set on fire by the Taliban."
On 15 August, Afghan police killed six neo-Taliban guerrillas who apparently attacked a highway checkpoint in southern Oruzgan Province, AP reported on 15 August. Authorities seized AK-47s and ammunition from guerrillas in the mountains of Tirin Kot District, Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said. Jan Mohammad added that no police officers were injured. Afghan police began their raid on the area on 14 August, sweeping into neighboring Chora District as well. Nine suspected neo-Taliban insurgents were arrested in the operation as well, including a local commander named Mullah Janan, Jan Mohammad said. "They [police] want to pressure the Taliban because the elections are coming," he said, referring to parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 September.
In a separate incident in Zabul Province, suspected neo-Taliban insurgents accidentally detonated on 14 August what appeared to be a roadside bomb meant for U.S.-led coalition forces. One suspected militant was killed in the blast, and another was wounded, Sori District head Rozi Khan said.
U.S. and Afghan officials indicated that they have been expecting the neo-Taliban and their allies to step up their disruptive activities in wake of the September elections. In the one-week period, six U.S. military personnel were killed. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY:
15 August 1963 -- Shah of Iran says confederation of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan is a good idea but cites many obstacles.
17 August 1989 -- President Najibullah appoints Lieutenant General Shahnawaz Tanai as defense minister.
17 August 2004 -- Afghan National Army takes control of Shindand air base after 21 people were killed in factional fighting in the area.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003); "RFE/RL Newsline"