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Afghan Report: April 28, 2004

28 April 2004, Volume 3, Number 16

The next issue of "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" will appear on 12 May.
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has called on former Taliban members to participate in Afghanistan's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. Some members of the ousted regime have threatened to disrupt the elections, due to be held in September.

Karzai has urged former members of the hard-line Taliban to participate in elections and reconstruction efforts during a visit on 24 and 25 April to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.

"If the rest of the people -- Taliban or non-Taliban, especially those in the Taliban -- want to come and live in this country, if they want to work and farm here, they are most welcome. This is their country, their home. Our dispute is only with those who destroy Afghanistan, who blow bombs and who, with the support of foreigners, bring destruction here," Karzai said.

The Afghan leader said only a few hardcore members of the Taliban group are unworthy of rehabilitation. "Our problem is mainly with the top Taliban -- who may number no more than 150 people -- who had links with Al-Qaeda," said Karzai, referring to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. "Those people are the enemies of Afghanistan, and we are against them."

It appears the United States, who helped sweep the Taliban from power in 2001, is supporting Karzai's call for the reintegration of former members of the hard-line group into the Afghan society.

On 20 April, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly said he favored amnesty for all but the worst members of the old government -- those who had allied themselves with the terrorists and committed crimes against humanity.

Karzai's two-day visit to Kandahar Province took place under tight security measures. On 25 April, authorities said they arrested a man who was allegedly preparing to throw a bomb at the president's passing convoy. Karzai already survived an assassination attempt in Kandahar in September 2002.

The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened in recent months, especially in the south. On 25 April, the UN said because of several attacks it had temporarily suspended activities, including registering voters, in Kandahar Province.

Vikram Parekh, an expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, said Karzai's trip to Kandahar and his overtures to the Taliban are attempts to defuse opposition to the elections. "I think with the elections coming up, with the registration rate still being lower in the south and east of Afghanistan than they are in the north and in the center, [Karzai] may have concluded that this would be one way of defusing intimidation or opposition to the process in areas that have been Taliban strongholds. It may also be a continuation of efforts that were apparent even during the Constitutional Loya Jirga to bring [opponents] into the political process," Parekh said.

There has been no reaction so far from the Taliban to Karzai's call. Karzai on 25 April said his government has been negotiating for several months with less radical members of the Taliban. He did not reveal their identities or any further details.

Parekh said that in his view, however, it is unlikely that any Taliban member trying to disrupt the political process would react positively to Karzai's call.

"I think the insurgency is led by a very limited number of Taliban, figures like Mullah Abdullah, Mullah Baradar. And this type of offer, I don't think it's going to be of interest to them. I think they've staked out their position as rejecting the international presence here, rejecting the Bonn political process and as far as the insurgency goes, I think that's going to continue. I mean you continue to see improvised explosive devices planted, [and] ambushes on international targets [and] NGOs. I think the people who are leading these operations are not interested in the political process," Parekh said.

The elections, which were postponed in June because of security concerns, are due to be held in September. So far only about one-fifth of the 10 million eligible voters have been registered for the ballot.

Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent.

A high-level NATO delegation met on 26 April with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. The delegation pledged that NATO will expand its presence in northern and western Afghanistan by assuming responsibility for five new Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). NATO is to expand its operations by September to coincide with the Afghan general elections, the report added. NATO currently leads the Kabul-based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and one PRT in the northern Afghan Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003 and 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said in Kabul on 26 April that those members of NATO that do not contribute troops in Iraq ought to contribute more troops in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. Burns mentioned Germany and Turkey along with Spain, which is pulling its troops from Iraq, as candidates to assist NATO with a "resource problem" in Afghanistan, the BBC reported on 26 April. "NATO needs to go faster and accelerate its build-up of troops in Afghanistan," Burns added. The road that NATO has taken in assuming its first official out-of-area role in the "Greater Middle East" has arguably been greeted unenthusiastically among member states and included little long-term planning. On the contrary, NATO has come -- or been drawn, as some members of the alliance view the process -- into Afghanistan through a series of seemingly arbitrary steps (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The Spanish Defense Ministry is drawing up plans to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan based on requests from NATO for an increase in the number of PRTs in Afghanistan, the Madrid-based daily "El Pais" reported on 25 April. The preferred option for Spain is to increase its participation in Afghanistan by contributing a maximum of 300 personnel to Eurocorps, which is expected to take command of the ISAF from Canada in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2004), the paper reported. Eurocorps comprises Belgian, French, German, Luxembourgian, and Spanish forces. According to "El Pais," Madrid is still undecided on whether to assume responsibility for a PRT, outside of contributing troops to Kabul-based ISAF forces. (Amin Tarzi)

An unspecified number of people have been killed in fighting between rival commanders in Daikondi Province, Kelid radio reported from Kabul on 11 April. The fighting reportedly erupted on 9 April when forces loyal to Afghan Commerce Minister Sayyed Mostafa Kazemi attacked forces supporting Abdul Karim Khalili, a deputy of Chairman Karzai. Daikondi Province Governor Mohammad Ali Sedaqat said that tension between armed men in the region has been brewing for some time and that the fighting in the Dara-ye Khudi region lasted until 10 April. Unidentified local sources have disclosed that the main factor behind the fighting has been the central government's March recognition of Daikondi as a province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 April 2004). Before that, Daikondi was a district within Oruzgan Province. (Amin Tarzi)

Thousands of residents in the Gazab District of the central Afghan Oruzgan Province protested on 20 April against a decision by Kabul to designate Daikondi District a new province, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 21 April. Demonstrators demanded that the Afghan Transitional Administration solve people's problems instead of expanding administrative structures, and asked that Kabul reverse its March decision to designate Daikondi a province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 April 2004). According to "Erada," dozens of people have been killed in the region in recent months in fighting between rival commanders trying to gain control of the new province. (Amin Tarzi)

Ata Mohammad, commander of Military Corps No. 7 in Balkh Province, and General Abdul Malik said that they deplore the ongoing crisis in Faryab Province, Balkh Television reported on 13 April. Militia loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum ousted Enayatullah Enayat as governor of Faryab on 6 April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 April 2004). Ata Mohammad and Abdul Malik called on the central government to uphold law and order in Faryab by deploying national police forces in the provincial capital of Maymana. Ata Mohammad is the main military commander of the Jami'at-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan and the strongest rival to Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party for dominance in northern Afghanistan. General Abdul Malik, who is from Faryab Province, had collaborated with the Taliban in ousting Dostum from northern Afghanistan in 1997. Unconfirmed reports in 2003 indicated that Ata Mohammad was seeking help from Abdul Malik to counter Dostum (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

An estimated 200 people demonstrated in Kabul on 14 April to condemn Chairman Karzai and some of his key advisers, AFP reported the same day. The protesters said they oppose Karzai's stated willingness to negotiate with moderate elements within the ousted Taliban regime. Chanting "Death to Taliban and their supporters in the government," the demonstrators charged that Karzai and some of his ministers are supporting the Taliban. The protesters called for the removal of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, and Afghan central-bank Governor Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, all of whom are ethnic Pashtuns, dpa reported on 14 April. The main organizer of the rally, Latif Pedram, who also heads the newly established National Congress Party, accused Ghani and Jalali of organizing a "plot" against Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and northern Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 14 April 2004). Dostum's representative in Kabul, Akbar Bai, claimed that Karzai is trying to remove all non-Pashtun figures from government positions through his "fascist" ministers, and demanded, "Karzai himself should resign from his position," dpa reported. (Amin Tarzi)

General Dostum arrived in Kabul on 19 April to meet with Karzai following clashes in northern Afghanistan involving the strongman's militia forces, AFP reported 19 April. "General Dostum is in Kabul, he will meet...Karzai this evening," said Akbar Bai, an aide to Dostum. Dostum met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as well, Akbar Bai said without offering details. Dostum's forces were at the center of factional fighting that began on 6 April in northern Afghanistan that left at least four dead. Dostum's militia moved into the northwestern Faryab Province, where the government-appointed governor was forced to flee with the help of British troops based nearby. The fighting marked another setback in Karzai's efforts to rein in warlords across the country and extend the U.S.-backed government's powers. Tensions between Dostum's forces and rival militias loyal to Tajik commanders have persisted in the area around the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. (Marc Ricks)

Afghan security officers detained a man in Kandahar on 25 April who they believe was preparing a suicide attack on Chairman Karzai during his visit to his native city, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The suspect was carrying a hand grenade and a pistol, and was detained near the route of Karzai's motorcade. Unidentified security sources were quoted as alleging the man was a would-be suicide attacker. A source close to Karzai described it to AFP as a "minor incident," the BBC reported on 25 April. Some Afghans have criticized Karzai for traveling too little within his own country and allowing himself to be protected by foreign security guards. (Amin Tarzi)

Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the resurgent Taliban movement, said that Ahmadullah, intelligence chief of the central Afghan Oruzgan Province, was killed on 11 April, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 12 April. Hakimi said that the neo-Taliban, who abducted Ahmadullah and two of his bodyguards, executed him and would return his body only in exchange for the body of a neo-Taliban fighter killed in the province some time ago. Oruzgan Province Governor Jan Mohammad Mohammadi has warned that if the neo-Taliban has actually executed Ahmadullah, he would retaliate by killing neo-Taliban prisoners, "The New York Times," reported on 13 April. (Amin Tarzi)

Suspected neo-Taliban militants kidnapped five schoolteachers in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 18 April. According to AFP, Zabul provincial spokesman Al-Haj Ghulam Rabbani said kidnappers abducted the five on 16 April in the province's Shah Joy District, where insurgents are known to operate. "The government has no control over the districts of Zabul Province. [The] Taliban rule and threaten villagers not to register for elections," Rabbani said at a disarmament seminar in Kabul, calling on the Afghan government to send forces to the area. Neo-Taliban insurgents are suspected of burning nonreligious schools in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Rabbani said few schools are operating in Zabul. Meanwhile, the top UN refugee official, Ruud Lubbers, called on the U.S.-led peacekeeping force to ensure security in Afghanistan to facilitate refugee return (see below), according to AFP on 18 April. Lubbers made his comments at the end of a four-day visit to Afghanistan on 18 April. (Marc Ricks)

Three senior commanders and two other suspected neo-Taliban fighters escaped from a prison in Zabul Province on 23 April, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 April. Afghan authorities confirmed the escape but put the number at just three neo-Taliban members. The identity of the escapees was not immediately available. Operations to recapture the prisoners have thus far failed, the Iranian broadcaster reported on 25 April. More than 40 neo-Taliban prisoners managed to escape from a prison in the neighboring Kandahar Province in October, a case that some believe involved bribery (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 October 2003).

Two people suspected of belonging to neo-Taliban forces were killed on 21 April in fighting with U.S. forces in Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 April. General Ayyub, head of the Zabul police department, said the incident took place in the Tangi Mountains, which he described as a neo-Taliban hideout. There were no casualties on the U.S. side. (Amin Tarzi)

Three Afghan soldiers were killed at a military outpost in Khost Province on 14 April, dpa reported, citing a report the next day by Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press. Unidentified gunmen reportedly attacked the Shinkay region outpost during the night. Local authorities, while reportedly confirming the attack, refused to provide further details. (Amin Tarzi)

The head of security in the city of Kandahar, General Mohammad Salem, was wounded in an explosion on 14 April, Hindukosh News Agency reported the same day. The blast, apparently triggered by remote control, also injured two of Salem's bodyguards and one civilian bystander. Gol Mohammad Parwani, who is in charge of security for Kandahar Province, said eight suspects have been detained. The identities of the suspects have not been revealed. (Amin Tarzi)

Suspected neo-Taliban guerillas are reported to have killed Afghan government soldiers with rockets and machine guns in a nighttime attack on a checkpoint in the southwest of the country, AP reported 18 April. Disguised as travelers, the gunmen approached a checkpoint in Nimroz Province in three vehicles, leaping from the cars and opening fire when guards approached them, according to provincial Governor Abdul Karim Barawi. The attack came on 16 April at the last checkpoint before neighboring Farah Province, roughly 750 kilometers southwest of Kabul. "This is a terrible attack because they killed innocent soldiers who were only serving the people," said Barawi, who added that the attackers got away. Also, suspected neo-Taliban forces launched three rockets into Sharan, the capital of southeastern Paktika Province bordering Pakistan, Deputy Governor Sado Khan said on 18 April. Kahn said that attack on 17 April caused no injuries. (Marc Ricks)

Two people were killed in an explosion that occurred on 21 April in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. The explosion apparently targeted Kandahar Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, who was in the area at the time. The daughter of the head of the Spin Boldak District and a security guard were killed and two others were injured. According to Radio Afghanistan, while no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, officials in the province have accused "terrorists," implying the involvement of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two Afghan soldiers were killed in the explosion, according to a 21 April report by the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press. (Amin Tarzi)

Guerilla fighters launched five rockets at a U.S. Army base in the southeast border city of Khost, though no one was hurt, AFP reported 19 April. The attack came late on 18 April at the Khost airport, 10 kilometers from the city center. "Five rockets landed at a distance from the Khost city airport, there were no casualties or serious damage," provincial police chief Abdul Sabor Allahyar said. Khost, 150 kilometers southeast of Kabul, has been a hotbed of insurgent activity, with U.S.-led coalition forces coming under frequent attack from guerrillas believed to be operating across the nearby Pakistani border. The area was a former stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime and remains volatile, with U.S.-led forces continuing to conduct antiguerrilla operations against remnants of the regime, who are believed to be operating along the border with Al-Qaeda fighters. (Marc Ricks)

Afghan government security forces, in cooperation with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), arrested a Hizb-e Islami military commander on 13 April, Hindukosh News Agency reported the next day. Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements, are regarded as the main threat to peace and stability in Afghanistan by Afghan authorities and their foreign backers. Canadian commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman for ISAF, declined to identify the detainee, adding, "Suffice to say that he is suspected to be senior.... But it is important to us that we don't reveal all the details that we learn when a raid like this occurs," "The Washington Times" reported on 15 April, citing AP. The suspect "was deemed to be an imminent threat to the people of Kabul, international aid workers, and personnel from the United Nations and the peacekeeping contingent," Henderson added. (Amin Tarzi)

Forces belonging to the Afghan National Directorate of Security, with support from the ISAF, arrested 17 suspects in separate operations on 21 and 22 April in Kabul, according to a 22 April NATO press release. The arrests "brought to a close an ongoing surveillance operation that successfully identified, tracked, and apprehended the individuals before a suspected terrorist act could be perpetrated," the statement added. It did not specify the identity, affiliation, or intended targets of the suspects. (Amin Tarzi)

Neo-Taliban fighters have threatened to kill Afghans who participate in the country's elections scheduled for September, AFP reported on 20 April. The threats were contained in pamphlets distributed in Logar Province, about 70 kilometers southeast of Kabul, according to a source only identified by the agency as an "intelligence official." "We advise all Afghans not to risk their lives attending the elections," the pamphlets said, according to the official. "Women especially will face the death penalty if they try to take part in the elections. Husbands are responsible for the blood of their wives if they fail to stop them voting in elections." Remnants of the ousted Taliban regime have vowed to disrupt the September ballot, in which Afghan voters will elect a president and a parliament. Already, insurgent activity in the south and southeast of the country has forced delays in voter registration. The elections were initially slated for June but postponed until fall largely because of security problems surrounding voter registration. (Marc Ricks)

Afghanistan received two planeloads full of UN-donated election materials as part of an increased effort to register voters ahead of elections slated for June, AP reported on 15 April. The planes arrived at Kabul's international airport from Denmark carrying roughly 80 tons of goods paid for by the United Nations, including cameras, booklets, and other items. "This is a big step in our logistical preparations providing eligible Afghan men and women outside of the regional capitals with the opportunity to register to vote," said Faruq Wardak, the head of the Afghan electoral organization. The presidential and parliamentary elections have been delayed due to persistent security concerns and complications over voter registration. Despite ongoing security concerns in the east and south of the country, roughly 1.8 million of Afghanistan's 10.5 million eligible voters have so far registered, according to UN spokesman David Singh. With U.S. and NATO forces providing security, UN and Afghan officials hope to open registration facilities across the country in May. (Marc Ricks)

In an interview with the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" of 19 April, Chairman Karzai said his country will likely need foreign troops for "about 10 years, I think." "That's the time we will need to have a completely operational army and police force," Karzai told the magazine, as cited by AFP in a 17 April article previewing the interview. Karzai said that establishing a professional administration would likely take "20 years." Karzai also vowed to crack down on drug traffickers, even if those involved in the opium trade have ties to government officials. "Whoever is involved in drug trafficking cannot be an honorable man," Karzai said. "He will face action whatever position he holds." (Marc Ricks)

A new Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) began its operations in Zabul Province on 22 April, the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency reported. The PRT in Zabul will help reconstruct some 230 kilometers of roads from the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat to Spin Boldak, a town in neighboring Kandahar Province. The Zabul PRT is led by the United States. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has announced plans to reduce the size of his cabinet, which he said was oversized and ineffective, AFP reported on 20 April. "I have come to the conclusion that the size of the cabinet is too large for effective delivery of services," Karzai said while meeting with regional delegates attending an economic cooperation conference in Kabul. Karzai said the cabinet's 29 members are hindering "creation of the necessary regulatory authorities to promote...the private sector as the key engine of our growth." Karzai told top Afghan officials to prepare a plan for reducing the size of the cabinet within two weeks, AFP reported. To date, the makeup of the cabinet has reflected Afghanistan's ethnic mix of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Pashtuns, and Nuristanis. But Tajik commanders of the Northern Alliance head the powerful Defense and Foreign ministries, creating resentment among Pashtuns and Uzbeks in the government. (Marc Ricks)

The Kabul government-run daily "Anis" wrote in a 22 April editorial that "downsizing the [Afghan] cabinet has become a prime necessity." In Afghanistan there are ministries, departments, and agencies that are "not effective and cannot render any services," the editorial said. Some of these government departments are "so similar that their activities and affairs are often confused," "Anis" added. At the end, "Anis" wrote that the people of Afghanistan "urge" Chairman Karzai to "review the present cabinet and appoint professional people" in a restructured cabinet. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai called on local commanders to hand in their weapons and support the country's disarmament effort, Xinhua News Agency reported on 16 April. A government statement released on 15 April said Karzai "urges all commanders in and out of the Defense Ministry to hand over their weaponry voluntarily and help ensure durable peace in the country." Karzai's government hopes to disarm Afghanistan's militias within three years under a UN-backed disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. The plan also calls for an Afghan national military force numbering up to 70,000 soldiers. "Afghanistan's Islamic Transitional Government would compensate all those who voluntarily turn in their arms and help the country's reconstruction process to get impetus," said the statement. (Marc Ricks)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has called for the government to step up efforts to disarm some of the country's 100,000 militia fighters, AP reported on 20 April. Khalilzad said disarmament is vital to the security of the country and must proceed ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for September. "Realistically, it is very difficult to do, but it is a necessary thing to do," Khalilzad said. "As long as there are multiple armed forces under multiple commands, rivals, there is always the risk of instability and war and conflict." The government has plans to disarm about 40,000 militia fighters by the end of June, but some observers doubt whether this will be possible. "It is a very difficult process," Khalilzad said. "It is hard for people to give up their weapons. It is hard for people to change their way of life." (Marc Ricks)

Chairman Karzai pledged during a visit to Astana on 15 April to strengthen ties with Kazakhstan in an effort to enhance regional stability and fight the heroin trade, AFP reported on 15 April. "We shall continue to work together against terrorism and drugs, and continue to work together to forge trade," Karzai told reporters after meeting President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the Kazakh capital. Western countries have called on Central Asian states like Kazakhstan to work more closely with Afghanistan to combat the heroin trade from Afghanistan that fuels European drug use. Neither Karzai nor Nazarbaev offered specifics of how cooperation on fighting drug trade in their two countries might increase. For his part, Nazarbaev expressed support for cooperation with neighboring countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in road-building projects in Afghanistan. "We are very interested in stability in Afghanistan -- we want to trade there and want to use Afghan territory to lay roads to the sea," Nazarbaev said. Karzai led an Afghan delegation that included three cabinet officials on a one-day visit to Kazakhstan. (Marc Ricks)

Representatives from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan gathered in Kabul to discuss regional trade at the country's first international conference in some 20 years, AFP reported on 18 April. The two-day meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization began on 18 April. In opening remarks, Chairman Karzai said the conference signified progress for Afghanistan and that the country is set to play a role in improving the region's economy. "Our country has a great history of trade. Afghanistan has been at the crossroads of regional and international trade for hundreds of years," Karzai said, alluding to ancient trade along the Silk Road. "We do all we can to open up our borders and to renew our infrastructure to become a nation" that facilitates trade for its neighbors, Karzai said. (Marc Ricks)

Joschka Fischer arrived in the northern Afghan city of Konduz on 20 April, his first stop in a tour of the country, AP reported. Fischer's plane touched down in Konduz midmorning with some 300 German peacekeeping soldiers and the provincial governor looking on. "It is the duty of the world community to help Afghanistan," Fischer told troops. "Extending reconstruction outside Kabul is an important step." After the brief visit to Konduz, Fischer traveled to Kabul for talks with Chairman Karzai. Fischer thanked Karzai for Germany's contributions to the U.S.-led peacekeeping force and for hosting an international donors conference in Berlin at the end of March that led to $8.2 billion in pledges for reconstruction funds. "The effort Germany put in for the success of [the] Berlin [conference] is something that our people will remember forever," Karzai said. (Marc Ricks)

The top refugee official for the United Nations, Ruud Lubbers, arrived in Kabul to begin a four-day tour of Afghanistan, AFP reported on 15 April. Lubbers was expected to meet Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, according to Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The visit marks Lubbers' sixth trip to Afghanistan in three years. Upon arrival, Lubbers went to a UNHCR compound on the outskirts of Kabul, where the agency offers Afghan returnees inoculations, training in mine awareness, and travel grants, a UNHCR statement said. Roughly 3 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country since March 2002, Farhad said. About 1.6 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, Farhad added, with roughly 1.1 million living in camps. Some 1.4 million Afghan refugees live in Iran, Farhad said. Dpa reported on 15 April that Iran last week aired what it called a final warning to Afghan refugees in the county. Iran has said all Afghan refugees in Iran must leave by August or risk expulsion, dpa reported. (Marc Ricks)

The UN called on Pakistan to close 15 refugee camps housing 200,000 refugees along the Afghan border within four months, saying the settlements are too close to areas rife with insurgent activity, AFP reported on 19 April. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers, who spoke to reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, said, "We are convinced we have to be...more clear on the need to close down certain camps.... and say, 'Close them down by the first of September.'" He added that the situation is "not good for the people, it's not good for Afghanistan, it's not good for Pakistan." Lubbers, who visited Afghanistan before going to Pakistan, delivered the message to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri during talks on 19 April, AFP reported. (Marc Ricks)

In a decree issued on 12 April by Chairman Karzai, the Panjsher District within Parwan Province north of Kabul has been declared Panjsher Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 12 April. The decision to elevate Panjsher to a province is a tribute to former mujahedin military commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, who administered the district independently during the jihad (1978-92) period. Mas'ud, who headed the anti-Taliban forces until his assassination in 2001, is regarded as an Afghan national hero. The town of Bazarak has been recognized as the provincial capital of Panjsher. (Amin Tarzi)

In a statement released on 26 April, the London-based NGO Amnesty International expressed "shock at the news of the first judicial execution known to have been carried out in Kabul" since the ouster of the Taliban forces in November 2001. Amnesty International urged Chairman Karzai to "declare a formal moratorium on executions" based on his 2003 assurances. The Amnesty International statement asserts that Afghanistan's criminal-justice system "is currently incapable of fulfilling even the most basic standards for fair trials." The reported execution of Abdullah Shah "may have been an attempt by powerful political players to eliminate a key witness to human rights abuses," Amnesty International said. (Amin Tarzi)

Hedayat Amin Arsala, a deputy to Chairman Karzai, on 21 April introduced "A Guide to Government in Afghanistan" in Kabul, according to a joint statement from Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) and the World Bank. The guide, published by AREU, seeks to provide newcomers to the administrative and political scene in Afghanistan with basic information about the structures and processes of government. "Understanding how [the Afghan] government works is essential to rebuilding Afghanistan," Arsala said. The guide can be obtained from AREU ( (Amin Tarzi)

26 April 1960 -- Former Afghan King Amanullah dies in exile in Switzerland.

27 April 1978 -- The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) takes control of the country in a bloody coup.

26 April 1992 -- Mujahedin groups capture Kabul, ending 14 years of PDPA rule.

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