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Afghan Report: March 11, 2004


11 March 2004, Volume 3, Number 10
SPECIAL FEATURES
DISPUTE ERUPTS OVER AFGHAN MINISTER'S PURPORTED RESIGNATION
By Amin Tarzi

An initial report suggesting that Afghan Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq had stepped down gave way on 9 March to Mohaqeq's accusation that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai improperly dismissed him after a rift over the levers of government in Kabul.

Mohaqeq resigned on 7 March and Karzai accepted the resignation, state-owned Afghanistan Television reported on 8 March. The report added that Karzai has appointed Ramazan Bashardost to succeed the outgoing minister.

While there was no immediate response from Mohaqeq to the news, initial reactions from some Afghan media suggested that the departure would allow Mohaqeq to focus on his bid for the Afghan presidency in elections widely expected to take place by September.

On 9 March, Mohaqeq told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he had left a cabinet session to protest the division of responsibilities within the government and that Karzai "decided on his own to sack" him. "I did not want to resign," Mohaqeq said, adding that he still considers himself the legally appointed planning minister and a member of the cabinet. He said that Karzai "does not have the authority" to dismiss him.

Mohaqeq also said he argued with Karzai over the responsibilities of his ministry and over the actions of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who Mohaqeq said has been undermining the work of the Planning Ministry. "I considered it my right to argue over this," he told Radio Afghanistan on 9 March. "I left the cabinet in protest."

According to Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, Mohaqeq "expressed his desire to be out of the cabinet." Ludin added that Mohaqeq said he did not "see any place for himself in the cabinet," which the Transitional Administration "considered...an oral resignation and accepted it," Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 March. Ludin also said that Mohaqeq "raised inappropriate questions and addressed them" to Karzai, "The New York Times" reported on 10 March.

Mohaqeq told Radio Free Afghanistan on 9 March that while he considers himself a member of the cabinet, he will stay at home and will not create a problem from the situation. "There were a lot of other problems in the cabinet," Mohaqeq said, adding that he kept quiet in the "national interest," according to "The New York Times." Mohaqeq attributed the differences to some circles wishing to destroy the "jihadis" -- a reference to those who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979-89. "My dismissal is an illegal dismissal, and Mr. Karzai has done it by force," Mohaqeq concluded.

Mohaqeq entered the presidential contest as an independent despite the fact that he heads a faction of the Hizb-e Wahdat -- the main party representing the Afghan Shi'ite minority. He has been vocal about concerns of alleged irregularities related to the upcoming elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004).

Following his purported resignation, Mohaqeq said that a "psychological war" has been launched to pressure him as a presidential candidate. He said his former colleagues from the anti-Soviet military campaign have been removed from office as "punishment" for his "stance against the monopoly" of power, according to Radio Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's electoral field is growing at the party level. Afghan Ambassador to London Ahmad Wali Mas'ud is expected to announce the long-awaited launch of the Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Movement of Afghanistan) political party, which he vowed will include figures such as Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Education Minister Yunos Qanuni -- key members in the Shura-ye Nezar faction within the Northern Alliance -- and will put forward a "strong presidential candidate" for the elections, the Dubai-based daily "Gulf News" reported on 10 March.

Mas'ud, who is a younger brother of slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, unofficially founded his political party in May 2002, but has so far delayed its official launch (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 October 2004). "History in Afghanistan has shown that a central government, which is too strong, leads to a dictatorship, and dictatorships lead to chaos," Mas'ud told "Gulf News."

Karzai has been a vocal proponent of a strong central government and the new Afghan Constitution grants the president sweeping powers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003).

With Mohaqeq assuming a confrontational posture and the potential candidacy of Mas'ud, Qanuni, or Abdullah -- all ethnic Tajiks -- Karzai might be prompted to concentrate efforts on gaining the support of ethnic Pashtuns in his own presidential bid, including those Taliban members who have not committed crimes (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). That could potentially split the election along ethnic lines and thus erode the legitimacy of the eventual winner in some segments of Afghan society.

RIGHTS GROUP CRITICIZES U.S. MILITARY CONDUCT
By Frank Csongos

An independent U.S. human rights organization says U.S. forces in Afghanistan have arbitrarily detained civilians, mistreated prisoners, and employed excessive force in making arrests.

The organization, Human Rights Watch, issued a 59-page report today detailing the allegations (see news section below). The study concludes that the U.S.-administered system of arrest and detention in Afghanistan violates the rule of law. The U.S. military has denied the allegations.

Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL: "There are many people who were picked up in Afghanistan who have nothing to do with the war -- taxi drivers, farmers, villagers -- and they are disappearing into the black hole that we describe in the report. And this is not only a violation of the legal regime that applies in that case, but also is breeding a lot of distrust and resentment in Afghanistan."

Human Rights Watch conducted its research in 2003 and early this year. The group says several released detainees have stated that U.S. forces beat them, doused them with cold water, and subjected them to freezing temperatures. According to the report, some of the detainees claim they were forced to stay awake, or to stand or kneel in painful positions for extended periods of time.

The report also describes frequent arbitrary arrests of civilians, apparently based on mistaken or faulty intelligence, and numerous cases of civilians who were held incommunicado for a long time.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that the charges leveled and conclusions reached by Human Rights Watch are not true. He says Human Rights Watch appears to disregard the fact that Afghanistan continues to be a war zone. "They have a lack of understanding, perhaps, of the law of war and the present environment that coalition forces operate in [in] Afghanistan," he said. "Afghanistan is a combat zone, and forces here are engaged in combat operations against [a] determined enemy force."

Hilferty says U.S. forces are instructed to adhere to international law governing military conduct. "We apply appropriate rules of engagement for combat operations," he said. "We are in full compliance with the laws of war."

Human Rights Watch notes in its report that U.S. President George W. Bush and officials in his administration stated last June that the United States does not torture or mistreat detainees in U.S. custody. But the report says the United States has refused to allow any independent observers access to detention facilities in Afghanistan, except for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty said, "The Red Cross does have access to our detainees' facilities. I was just at Bagram air base a week ago, and the Red Cross was coming into the base the same time I was, and they were going to the detainees' facilities."

Adams of Human Rights Watch said in an RFE/RL interview that the Red Cross does not comment publicly about the detainees' conditions. The "no comment" policy stems from an agreement with the United States. "We have no idea what conditions exist in these detention centers," he said. "There's no reason why people other than the Red Cross should not be allowed in."

Human Rights Watch has raised the case of three detainees who it says are known to have died while in U.S. custody. They include two at the Bagram air base north of Kabul in December 2002 and one at the Asadabad air base in eastern Afghanistan in June 2003. The group says the first two deaths were ruled homicides by U.S. military pathologists.

Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. military to investigate and publicly report on allegations of mistreatment at detention facilities in Afghanistan. Hilferty says the military has been doing that all along.

The report also recommends that the U.S. military create a legal system of tribunals, in conjunction with the Afghan government. This, says the report, would ensure that detainees in Afghanistan -- both combatants and civilians -- are processed and screened in accordance with applicable standards of the Geneva Conventions.

Adams says it is in the interest of the United States to make the military's conduct in Afghanistan more transparent as far as treatment of the detainees is concerned. "The lack of due process, the lack of any legal system that the U.S. is operating is such a terrible message to the rest of the world," he said.

Frank Csongos is a RFE/RL Washington bureau chief. Shakila Khalje of RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report.

NEWS
AFGHAN MINISTER-CUM-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SAID TO HAVE RESIGNED GOVERNMENT POST...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai accepted the resignation on 7 March of Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq and appointed Ramazan Bashardost to succeed the outgoing minister, Afghanistan Television reported the next day. Initial reports did not specify the reason for Mohaqeq's move, however, and there was no initial announcement from Mohaqeq himself. The Hindukosh News Agency and other media suggested that the departure will allow him to focus on his bid for the Afghan presidency in elections widely expected to take place later this year. Mohaqeq, who entered the presidential contest as an independent despite the fact that he heads one of the factions of the Hizb-e Wahdat, has voiced concern about alleged irregularities related to the upcoming elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

...WHILE HE DISPUTES REPORTS OF RESIGNATION...
Mohammad Mohaqeq denied that he resigned his post as planning minister on 6 March, as reported by Afghanistan Television the following day (see above), RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 9 March. Mohaqeq, who is also a candidate for the Afghan presidency, said he left a cabinet session to protest the division of responsibilities within the government and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai "decided on his own to sack" him. "I did not want to resign," Mohaqeq added. Mohaqeq said he views himself as the legally appointed planning minister and a member of the cabinet. He claimed that Karzai "does not have the authority" to dismiss him. Mohaqeq said he argued with Karzai over the responsibilities of his ministry and over the actions of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who Mohaqeq said has been undermining the work of the Planning Ministry. "I considered it my right to argue over this," he told Radio Afghanistan on 9 March. "I left the cabinet in protest." Mohaqeq told RFE/RL that he returned to his ministry after leaving the cabinet session. (Amin Tarzi)

...WHILE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN OFFERS DIFFERENT VERSION OF EVENTS.
Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said on 9 March that Planning Minister Mohaqeq "expressed his desire to be out [of] the cabinet," Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Ludin, Mohaqeq said he did not "see any place for himself in the cabinet," which the Afghan Transitional Administration "considered...an oral resignation and accepted it." Ludin added that Mohaqeq "raised inappropriate questions and addressed them" to Karzai, "The New York Times" reported on 10 March. Mohaqeq told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 9 March that while he considers himself a member of the cabinet, he will stay at home and will not create a problem from the situation. "There were a lot of other problems in the cabinet," Mohaqeq said, adding that he kept quiet out of "national interest," according to "The New York Times." Mohaqeq attributed the differences to some circles wishing to destroy the "jihadis" -- a reference to those who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979-89. "My dismissal is an illegal dismissal, and Mr. Karzai has done it by force," Mohaqeq concluded. (Amin Tarzi)

STAGE SET FOR CONTENTIOUS AFGHAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN...
Embattled Planning Minister Mohaqeq said on 9 March that a "psychological war" has been launched to pressure him as a presidential candidate, Radio Afghanistan reported. Mohaqeq, who entered the presidential contest as an independent candidate despite the fact that he is the leader of a faction of the Hizb-e Wahdat, had also voiced early concerns about alleged irregularities related to the upcoming vote (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). He has said since his purported resignation that his colleagues from the anti-Soviet military campaign have been removed from office as "punishment" for his "stance against the monopoly" of power. Mohaqeq is a key figure in a faction within the most important political party representing Afghan Shi'ites. (Amin Tarzi)

...AS NEW POLITICAL PARTY TAKES SHAPE.
Afghan Ambassador to London Ahmad Wali Mas'ud said on 8 March that he intends to announce the launch of the Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan (National Movement of Afghanistan) political party, which he vowed will include figures such as Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Education Minister Yunos Qanuni and will be aimed at putting forward a "strong presidential candidate" for the elections scheduled for June, the Dubai-based daily "Gulf News" reported on 10 March. Mas'ud, who is a younger brother of slain Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, unofficially founded his political party in May 2002; but he has so far delayed its official launch (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 October 2003). "History in Afghanistan has shown that a central government, which [sic] is too strong, leads to a dictatorship, and dictatorships lead to chaos," Mas'ud reportedly told "Gulf News." With Mohaqeq assuming a confrontational posture and the potential candidacy of Mas'ud, Qanuni, or Abdullah -- all ethnic Tajiks -- Karzai might be prompted to concentrate efforts on gaining the support of ethnic Pashtuns in his own presidential bid, potentially splitting the election along ethnic lines. (Amin Tarzi)

AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION SACKS MAYOR OF KABUL.
Officials announced on 4 March that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has responded to long-standing complaints of widespread corruption and land grabs among senior local officials by dismissing Kabul Mayor Mohammad Anwar Jegdalak, Reuters reported. In September, Kabul Police commander General Abdul Basir Salangi was sacked in connection with the destruction of more than 30 homes in Kabul's Shayr Pur District to make room for luxury homes intended for use by government officials (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). The incident drew international condemnation, and Karzai ordered the plan halted. Reuters reported that "construction is still going on" in that district of the capital. (Amin Tarzi)

RELATIONS REPORTEDLY IMPROVING BETWEEN KABUL AND ROGUE AFGHAN COMMANDER.
Abdul Wali Zadran, a son of rogue military commander Pacha Khan Zadran, has been appointed to head the Wazi Zadran District administration in the eastern Afghan province of Paktiya, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 2 March. Ghamay Khan Mohammadyar, a spokesman for the elder Zadran, told AIP that Paktiya Governor Asadullah Wafa and a number of U.S. officials placed the tribal turban on Abdul Wali Zadran's head as a symbol of his new authority as the chief of Wazi Zadran District, a newly established district. Mohammadyar was quoted as saying that while differences remain between Kabul and the elder Zadran, the establishment of the new administrative district "means that negotiations between Haji Pacha Khan Zadran and the government are in progress." Zadran was a signatory of the 2001 Bonn agreement and an ally of both Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and the United States before he went into armed opposition the following year. Zadran recently pledged full cooperation with the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

RESIDENTS OF EASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE CRITICIZE CENSUS PROCESS.
Residents of Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have complained that census procedures in their province have been flawed, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 March. The census has been completed in seven of the province's districts so far, but residents say officials have failed to count occupants of many houses and, in some cases, have excluded entire villages from the process. Elders from the Rodat District have pointed out that their district's population was 93,000 people in the last census taken in the country (1975-76), but the current census has placed that number at 52,000. Others have complained that census takers have focused their efforts on registering ethnic Tajiks in districts in which there are no members of that minority group. Some residents of neighboring Konar Province have complained that while most residents of their province communicate in Pashto, some teams of census officials sent to the province do not speak that language. Census taking in Afghanistan is a controversial issue, as many of the major ethnic groups have often reported inflated numbers for their groups in an effort to justify their positions within the country's power structures. Holding the elections scheduled for June might prove difficult in the absence of credible census figures. (Amin Tarzi)

EU URGES DELAY IN ELECTIONS.
The European Commission said on 2 March that credible elections cannot be held in Afghanistan by the June deadline set down in the 2001 Bonn agreement.

Emma Udwin, the external relations spokeswoman for the commission, cited the enormous logistical difficulties facing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is in charge of voter registration and organizing other aspects of the poll.

Udwin said the EU has informed Afghan authorities of its concerns and raised the issue at this week's (1 March) meeting of the EU's "troika" with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. The troika comprises the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, and the commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten.

"We're saying -- and we said that in the [EU] 'troika' meeting with the Americans [1 March] -- that we think it's more important for Afghanistan to have credible elections later than elections early that will not be trusted by the population. So, if all of this means that the elections will have to be delayed, perhaps till the autumn, so be it. It's better that people feel they can trust the results of the elections when they come, and that UNAMA should have the personnel, the materials, the vehicles, the cameras they need to do a proper job. And that when we have those elections, Afghans can be sure they've got the result they chose," Udwin said.

An EU official, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that, according to the latest estimates, less than one-tenth of Afghanistan's estimated 10.5 million voters have been registered. The official said that for the elections to be credible, a "critical mass" of at least 70 percent of registered voters needs to be attained (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 February 2004).

The European Commission yesterday announced a further 8 million euro ($9.7 million) grant to support the work of UNAMA, bringing the total EU contribution to 30 million euros. However, an estimated 90 million euros is needed, of which less than one-third had been made available by mid-February (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004).

Announcing the additional EU aid grant, Udwin stressed the importance of engaging women in the process and called for other donors to follow suit.

"You can't have free and fair elections if you haven't registered the population, and notably of course in this country, the women, to vote. This is a project which has been managed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, who've run into some fairly significant problems. As things stand, for elections which are scheduled for June, they've only registered one-tenth of those eligible to vote. We're putting in extra money. Others will need to do so. There will need to be extra contributions to security, as well," Udwin said.

The unnamed EU official said the registration process also faces enormous logistical difficulties. Given Afghanistan's 15 percent literacy rate, finding the 33,000 literate people needed to conduct and monitor the elections is a serious challenge. The official added that Afghanistan is in need of "more of everything" -- in particular mobile phones and vehicles.

Security is another major concern. The official noted that polling stations are likely to be seen as "soft targets" by the various groups of insurgents in the country, adding that while NATO is looking for more troops, they are unlikely to be deployed by June, "even if member states find them."

The EU official said the bloc's external relations commissioner, Patten, regards September "as a better date than June" for elections.

Udwin yesterday confirmed that the EU brought up its concerns at a recent high-level visit to Kabul. She said the delegation was met with at least partial understanding on the part of the current Afghan administration under Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai.

"I think that when we spoke to them during the [EU] 'troika' mission -- was it only last week [or] two weeks ago? -- they have an understanding that it may be necessary to shift the date. They don't want to take the decision yet. They are planning a major -- I think they are calling it a 'national mobilization' -- a major registration drive in May, and they will embark on that in the light of what happens at the Berlin international [donors] conference, which as you know is at the end of March, beginning of April. So they're aware that they may have to shift the date, but they have not taken any final decisions," Udwin said.

The EU official said the EU also considers it necessary to hold both the presidential and parliamentary elections as close together as possible. This is essential, the official said, as the new president will inevitably hail from one ethnic group and will need the support of a body of legislators that represents all of the population.

The official said that without such support, parts of the electorate who did not vote for the president are likely to feel unrepresented.

The official acknowledged that a presidential poll is easier to hold than parliamentary elections, as fewer candidates are needed and issues relating to determining constituency borders do not arise.

The UN assistance mission is also reported to be considering whether regional elections may have to be held before parliamentary polls.

The unnamed EU official said there is little prospect of new EU pledges emerging at the two-day Berlin donors conference, which begins at the end of this month. The officials noted the EU is by far the largest donor to Afghanistan, having made a 1 billion euro commitment in 2001 for the period 2002 to 2006. The bloc has already spent significantly more than envisaged in the past two years. (Ahto Lobjakas)

TAJWAR KAKAR -- FIGHTING FOR WOMEN AND FREEDOM.
In December 1977, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 8 March as a commemorative day honoring women's rights and international peace. The tradition of marking a special women's day stretches back nearly a century, and continues to unite women across the world regardless of ethnic and political boundaries.

Women are largely lost in the tumult and chaos of Afghanistan's recent history. Their victimization over the past 25 years of war and conflict -- particularly under the Taliban -- has been well-documented. But their roles as patriots, fighters, teachers, and survivors are often overlooked. Tajwar Kakar is one such woman. The mother of seven has spent the past quarter-century working for the freedom of her country and fellow Afghan women. She defied the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in fighting for the right for girls to attend school, and continues to stand up to a system dominated by warlords and political cronies who she says have destroyed the country -- not saved it. After 25 years, Kakar says, the fight for women's rights is only just beginning.

It is a bitter irony for many Afghan women. Fighting alongside the mujahedin during the decade-long Soviet occupation, women did everything from organizing protests to smuggling ammunition to Afghan fighters -- sometimes even fighting on the frontlines themselves.

But this chapter in Afghan history is rarely remembered. Women are not typically honored as part of the anti-Soviet resistance. Sidelined from the military struggle against communist occupation, they have remained on the sidelines ever since -- victimized, repressed, and isolated from the political process.

But women like Tajwar Kakar continue to fight. Born in 1948, she has been a witness to and participant in Afghanistan's tumultuous 25-year struggle for freedom. She is among Afghanistan's most prominent rights activists, and a former member of the interim government. But then as now, she says, the fight remains.

Kakar was a teacher in Kabul when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. She still remembers proudly her role in the resistance, for which she spent a year in jail. "Twenty-five thousand political prisoners were jailed at that time, and all of them disappeared," she says. "But I don't regret being in prison. Most of the women I met were proud of themselves for being imprisoned for the cause of freedom."

Still, she says, the cruelties she and her fellow inmates endured are something she will never forget.

"They kicked us, punched us, beat us with wooden sticks. There was also a girl there who was accused of aiding the mujahedin. The prison staff buried her under the snow on one of the coldest winter nights. Another woman, who told me she was a police officer, was also accused of [aiding the mujahedin], so they tied her feet to an electric heater. Her feet were completely burned as a result," Kakar said.

Kakar says she emerged from prison more determined than ever to fight the occupation. But her activities as an activist put her life in danger, and in the early 1980s, she and her husband fled from Afghanistan with their seven children, traveling mainly on foot from Konduz to Peshawar, Pakistan. Their youngest child, Maihan, was just eight days old when they left.

Kakar quickly went to work building schools for children living in Pakistan's refugee camps. "I saw there were no schools or textbooks, especially for girls," she says. "I thought the children of our freedom fighters deserved an education."

In the end, she and her family spent six years in Pakistan, and then moved again to Australia when her life was once again in danger. But all that time, she was fighting for a role for women in the interim government after the Northern Alliance took power in 1992.

It was a time of optimism for many Afghans, who hoped the country would finally be free to determine its own fate. Kakar was among the women activists calling for a significant role for women in building an interim government and calling for the authorities to resist political cronyism and nepotism.

But her hopes were shattered. "The mujahedin were very selfish," she says. "Everybody wanted to be either president or prime minister."

"When the mujahedin took power -- that was the worst time for women. Women were raped, kidnapped, and killed. The mujahedin issued a decree that prohibited women from attending university because the universities could not provide separate classes for men and women. This decree effectively blocked women from getting a higher education. Later, when the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, they issued an order that girls over the age of 9 should attend religious school, not regular school. During the Taliban regime, I came back to Kabul [from Australia] and worked at a school that was run by a Swedish organization, and I also worked with some other aid agencies helping people with disabilities. It's true the Taliban did not allow girls to go to school. But they brought law and order. They stopped what was happening with women under the Northern Alliance. They were not killing or raping or kidnapping women. For the past 25 years, women have suffered with each government. The communists claimed that women and men were equal. They claimed they were democratic. The reality was that educated women were put in prison," Kakar said.

Maihan, the eight-day-old infant Kakar carried into Pakistan, is now in her early 20s, and a journalism student in Australia. She says she has few childhood memories of her mother, who often left her in the care of older brothers and sisters as she attended conferences and directed the refugee schools for girls. But she says if she and her siblings have learned one thing from her mother, it is that education is everything.

"My mother has always supported education as being the most important thing. Even now, she still says your education is the most important thing in life. If you don't have an education, you cannot stand on your own two feet, because that is what is going to liberate you and teach you a lot in life," Maihan said.

Maihan has spent nearly all of her life outside Afghanistan. But she has clearly inherited her mother's fierce love of her homeland.

"I would like to go back, especially now that it's a time where Afghanistan is very much in need of educated people to come back and rebuild the country. And I'd like to go back and help, especially where women and children are concerned, especially with women's rights and helping children receive an education," Maihan said.

Kakar has since served briefly as a deputy in the interim government's Women's Affairs Ministry, but stepped down, saying she was frustrated by how little she was able to accomplish.

To the international community, Kakar is an integral figure in Afghanistan's resurrection. Her lobbying work has seen concrete results -- new schools and textbooks for the country's young girls, and a growing rights movement for its women. Afghan women in Kabul will mark International Women's Day 8 March with public demonstrations calling for change. Kakar says it is just the latest step in a 25-year fight.

"It is very disappointing that no one mentions that women have also struggled," she says. "We are waiting for the government and the mujahedin to recognize women's rights." (Farah Hiwad)

TEAM INVESTIGATES REPORTS OF SELF-IMMOLATION AMONG AFGHAN WOMEN.
A team dispatched from Kabul to investigate reports of self-immolation by women in the western Afghan Herat Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004) discovered that most of those cases occurred among women in forced marriages, the Kabul-based daily "Hewad" reported on 7 March. Soraya Parlika said the cases her investigative team probed "revealed that 70 percent of these women were forcibly married, 20 percent of them were living in extreme poverty, and the remaining 10 percent were engaged in immoral activities [presumably prostitution]." Parlika reportedly added that women might also be setting themselves alight as a result of "influence of the neighboring country, Iran, on them," although the "Hewad" report is vague on this last point. Parlika said there have been fewer incidents of self-immolation by women in Herat than the media have suggested, however, "Hewat" did not cite figures. (Amin Tarzi)

RIGHTS GROUP ALLEGES ABUSES BY U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN...
U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have arbitrarily detained civilians, used excessive force during arrests of noncombatants, and mistreated detainees, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed in a report released on 8 March. "The United States is setting a terrible example in Afghanistan on detention practices," HRW Asia division Executive Director Brad Adam said. "Civilians are being held in a legal black hole -- with no tribunals, no legal counsel, no family visits, and no basic legal protections." The 59-page report, "Enduring Freedom: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan," (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/03/08/afghan8073.htm), is based on research conducted by HRW in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and early 2004. "There is compelling evidence suggesting that U.S. personnel have committed acts against detainees amounting to torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment," Adams added. HRW said Taliban and other anti-U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have themselves violated international humanitarian law by carrying out armed attacks and abductions targeting civilians and humanitarian-aid workers. But HRW pointed out that under international law, those violations do not excuse alleged U.S. violations. (Amin Tarzi)

...BUT IS CHALLENGED BY U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN.
The spokesman for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, responded to the 8 March HRW report by saying the U.S. military has reviewed the HRW report and is "taking the allegations [of abuse by U.S. troops contained in that report] seriously," the BBC reported the same day. But Hilferty added that the U.S. military feels the report "shows a lack of understanding of the laws of war and of the environment" in which the forces are operating in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. The HRW report does not take into account that combat is continuing in Afghanistan, where the use of civilian law enforcement methods are not appropriate, Hilferty said, according to "The New York Times" on 8 March. Hilferty said that actions by U.S. forces "are in complete compliance with the laws of combat," adding that "it's a war" in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

NEW RECONSTRUCTION TEAM ESTABLISHED IN SOUTH-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN.
A Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has been established in Ghazni Province, AFP reported on 4 March. The new PRT, which is led by the United States, brings the number of civil-military teams in the country to 10. The new PRT will comprise approximately 50 U.S. military personnel and serve about 1.86 million people in south-central Afghanistan. "Wherever Provincial Reconstruction Teams go, security follows," U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said. The United States leads seven PRTs in the country, while New Zealand and the United Kingdom each command one team, and Germany leads another PRT under NATO's command (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. FORCES REPORT KILLING NINE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN IN SOUTHEAST AFGHANISTAN...
A spokesman for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, announced on 6 March that U.S. special-operations snipers killed nine suspected neo-Taliban insurgents on 5 March, AP reported. The incident occurred in Orgun in the southeastern Afghan Paktika Province, some 30 kilometers from the Pakistani border. Afghan National Army troops were also involved in the operation, according to "The New York Times" of 7 March. Afghanistan Television reported on 6 March that the operation was carried out jointly by U.S. and Afghan National Army forces, but it identified those killed as Al-Qaeda members. Hilferty was noncommittal over whether the operation was part of the newly adopted tactics announced recently by the U.S. military (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 February 2004). Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said on 8 March that no joint "spring operation" with U.S. forces along the Afghan-Pakistani border region is planned, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 9 March. (Amin Tarzi)

...BUT NEO-TALIBAN SPOKESMAN DENIES THE REPORT
Neo-Taliban spokesman Hamed Agha denied claims that any of the insurgency movement's fighters were killed by the U.S.-led coalition forces in Orgun on 5 March, Al-Jazeera reported on 8 March. In a statement to the press, Hamed Agha claimed that those killed in Orgun were civilians. (Amin Tarzi)

PAKISTAN SAYS NO U.S. FORCES ARE OPERATING ON ITS SIDE OF BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan on 3 March denied recent reports that U.S. troops are engaged in military operations against terrorist and militant forces inside Pakistan, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported the next day. Khan said Islamabad's "focus has been to coordinate these special operations" but that "reports of U.S. troops inside Pakistan are mere speculation." If fact, Khan reportedly added, Pakistan has asked the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to "increase the number of troops on the Afghan side of the [Pakistani-Afghan] border." (The ISAF mandate extends only to Kabul and Konduz in northern Afghanistan.) The commander of international-coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, said in February that his forces have improved their cooperation with Pakistan as part of a change of tactics designed to better confront militants (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 February 2004). Some Western media have speculated that Islamabad has agreed to allow U.S. Special Forces to operate near the Afghan border. (Amin Tarzi)

SELF-DESCRIBED TALIBAN SPOKESMAN CLAIMS TROOPS KILLED SEVEN AFGHAN SOLDIERS.
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the Taliban movement, said fighters loyal to the ousted Afghan regime killed seven Afghan soldiers on 4 March, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 5 March. Hakimi claimed the soldiers were killed in an attack on a security checkpoint near the Maruf District in the southern Afghan Kandahar Province. Hakimi's claim has not been confirmed by independent sources. In a statement in February, the ousted Taliban movement named Hamed Agha as its only authorized spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

TURKISH ENGINEER, AFGHAN GUARD KILLED.
A Turkish engineer and his Afghan guard were killed on 5 March in the Shah Joy District of the southern Afghan Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 March. Armed men riding on motorcycles reportedly ambushed the vehicle that was carrying the Turkish national, identified as Salim, and his colleagues on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The attackers abducted another Turkish national along with the Afghan driver of the vehicle. While no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, Afghan Interior Ministry officials have accused supporters of Mullah Ruzi, a former Taliban commander, for carrying out the attack, according to Radio Afghanistan. Another Turkish engineer also working on the Kabul-Kandahar highway was kidnapped in late October and released a month later, after Mullah Ruzi claimed that two neo-Taliban members were released from a prison in Ghazni Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November and 1 December 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

LOCAL RED CRESCENT DIRECTOR KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.
Mohammad Isa, the local director of the Red Crescent Society of Zabul Province, was killed on 6 March near the provincial capital of Qalat, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 7 March. Zabul's chief of security, Gholam Jailani, said he has no information about the killers or their motive, adding that an investigation is under way. (Amin Tarzi)

UN BODY CITES GROWING DRUG TRAFFIC THROUGH TAJIKISTAN...
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent UN body, noted a significant increase in heroin trafficking through Tajikistan in an annual report on the illegal drug trade published on 3 March, the BBC reported. Guards on the Tajik-Afghan border seized almost 6 tons of heroin in 2003, 1,000 times the amount confiscated in 1996, the report claimed. The UN is working to stem the drug flow out of Afghanistan through a program called Operation Topaz, in which Tajikistan is a participant. (Daniel Kimmage)

...AND CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN FOR LACK OF COOPERATION.
The INCB report issued on 3 March singled out Turkmenistan, the only country neighboring Afghanistan that is not participating in Operation Topaz, for its failure to cooperate with the international community's efforts to curb narcotics trafficking in the region, the UN news agency IRIN reported on 3 March. INCB board member Nuzhet Kandemir told IRIN that the INCB sent delegations to Turkmenistan in 2003 and 2004, but that Turkmen authorities were less than helpful and denied requests for appointments with senior officials. The INCB "urges the government of Turkmenistan to join Operation Topaz without delay in order to ensure that traffickers will not use the country to smuggle acetic anhydride to Afghanistan." Acetic anhydride is a key component in the manufacture of heroin. The chemical has been found in Turkmenistan, the BBC reported on 3 March. "Turkmenistan must not become the weak link in the chain of international drug control efforts," the INCB concluded. (Daniel Kimmage)

TAJIK OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS AFGHAN DRUG TRANSIT THROUGH TAJIKISTAN.
Tajik Drug Control Agency Director Ghaffor Mirzoev told a 3 March news conference that Afghanistan exports only 15 percent of its drug output through Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 March. The comments came at a news conference to present a UN report that cites the Afghan-Tajik border as a major heroin transit point. According to Mirzoev, 85 percent of Afghanistan's drug output reaches the outside world through other countries, including Iran, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Mirzoev also noted that 90 percent of the Afghan drug output transported through Tajikistan proceeds on to Russia. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, 9.6 tons of narcotics were confiscated in Tajikistan in 2003, including 5.6 tons of heroin. (Daniel Kimmage)

THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY
6 March 1956 -- South East Asian Trade Organization (SEATO) powers declare region up to Durand Line is Pakistani territory and within treaty area.

6 March 1960 -- Pakistan calls Soviet support of Afghanistan on Pashtun question interference in Pakistan's internal affairs. (The USSR's support was voiced by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during his visit to Afghanistan on 2-5 March.)

10 March 1982 -- U.S. President Ronald Reagan proclaims 21 March as "Afghanistan Day."

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).

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