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Afghan Report: June 2, 2004

2 June 2004, Volume 3, Number 20
By Robert McMahon

UN special representative Jean Arnault told the UN Security Council on 27 May that there needs to be a robust international military presence nationwide to safeguard national elections set for September. "Whether it is counterterrorism, electoral security, counternarcotics, or control of factional fighting, at this critical juncture for the Afghan peace process, international security assistance continues to make a difference between success and failure," he said (for more on narcotics in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February 2004).

Earlier this week, a member of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly told RFE/RL that unless NATO deploys at least 3,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, the elections may be won by local warlords and drug traffickers (see below).

But Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, told reporters on 27 May that Afghanistan needs as many as 25,000 international peacekeepers to safeguard elections. Akram expressed the hope more countries would take heed of Afghanistan's security needs. "The project in Afghanistan now is moving forward but it hangs in the balance and this is not the time to falter and [we hope] they will renew their commitment to have a sizeable security presence in Afghanistan until peace and security are comprehensively restored," he said.

NATO leads a 6,500-member security force in the Kabul region and approved the expansion of the force's operating area beyond the capital in October. But the alliance has found few countries willing to contribute more forces. The NATO summit next month in Istanbul will discuss further deployments to Afghanistan.

UN envoy Arnault told the council today that there have been serious delays in efforts to disarm and demobilize the country's militias. The Afghan government, he said, has fallen behind its goal of disarmament of 40 percent of the militia forces by June and full cantonment of heavy weapons by July.

Arnault said that unless the process is accelerated, there will be a widespread drop in confidence about the integrity of the election process. "The principal goal of the 2004 elections, namely strengthening the legitimacy and authority of the next Afghan government, would no doubt be compromised if public perception should prevail that the election was distorted by military intimidation or interference," he said.

The Afghan disarmament process is voluntary. Senior militia commanders have been slow to cooperate because of what they see as a lack of balance between rival armed formations, concern about Taliban remnants, and a lack of confidence in the political integration process.

Voter registration efforts, meanwhile, accelerated in May, with nearly 1 million new voters registered, according to Arnault. That brings the overall number to 2.7 million registered voters out of a total of 10 million eligible in the country. The election process, he said, will also receive a boost from the U.S.-led coalition's deployment of 10 Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the south, southeast, and east by the end of July.

Arnault said the election process, despite its challenges, has mobilized interest throughout a large part of the Afghan population. "There is momentum and there are expectations. Those who were disappointed after June 2002 by the composition of the transitional government -- deemed too unrepresentative of the nation as a whole -- have now transferred their hopes to the national elections," he said.

Arnault expressed concern about under-registration in the south of the country. At latest report, he said, the nine provinces of the south and southeast represent only 12 percent of those registered.

Robert McMahon is an RFE/RL correspondent.

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghanistan's new election law signed by Hamid Karzai on 27 May -- the first of the postwar period -- guarantees a single vote to every citizen age 18 and over, and states that a presidential candidate will win by a simple majority (see news section below).

Afghanistan's justice minister, Abdul Rahim Karimi, said in Kabul on 27 May that the new law would ensure the country's presidential and parliamentary elections -- both now scheduled for September -- will be marked by what he called "free, general, secret, and direct voting."

"Based on the election law, any eligible Afghan has the right to participate in the elections as a voter or to receive votes [as a candidate]," Karimi said.

The new election law limits the duration of the election campaign to 30 days. Campaigning is to end 48 hours prior to the beginning of the elections.

The new law also states that any government officials who wish to run for office must step down from their posts more than two months ahead of the election. "Armed forces personnel, members of the government, judges, prosecutors, and civil servants who are putting forward their candidacy for the presidential post should resign 75 days ahead of the election date," Karimi said.

It is not clear how the stipulation will affect current Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai.

Karimi added that candidates for presidency should each put forward the names of two vice presidents. Each presidential candidate is also required to gather the signatures of 10,000 eligible voters.

The new law also dictates guidelines on the composition of Afghanistan's bicameral parliament. Seats in the lower house will be apportioned based on the polls. Female candidates are guaranteed a certain number of spaces, and each province will be granted seats in proportion to its population. For the upper house, one-third will be appointed by provincial councils, one-third by district councils, and the rest by the president.

Dadfar Sepanta, a professor of political science at Germany's Aachen University and an expert on Afghanistan, said the new law marks a crucial step in Afghanistan's political development. "The conditions and circumstances set for people's participation in an election of this magnitude is unprecedented in Afghanistan," Sepanta said. "In the past, elections were done based on government orders and after each election the conditions could change based on the inclination of that day's government."

Still, even as the new electoral law paves the way for democratic elections in Afghanistan, insecurity continues to be a major problem. The chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said on 27 May that the country's election process remains under threat from terrorism, factionalism, and criminal networks. Jean Arnault warned that the integrity of the vote could be at risk without a robust international military presence nationwide. He also said there have been serious delays in government efforts to disarm and demobilize the country's militias.

The British-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International, in its annual rights report issued this week, described Afghanistan as "a country slipping slowly into chaos." The country's elections have already been postponed once -- from June to September -- because of security concerns.

Sepanta stressed the security issue as well. "Afghanistan's main problem is not only lawlessness. Of course, the lack of law is a major problem, but the main problem is insecurity and warlordism, conflict and lack of security in the south and east," he said. "The existence of local armies is also one of the main obstacles to the elections."

In recent months, security has deteriorated particularly sharply in southern Afghanistan, with increased attacks by remnants of the Taliban militia and other armed groups.

There have also been reports of voter intimidation throughout the country. Although a surge in voter registration efforts saw nearly 1 million new Afghan voters registered in May, the overall number is still low: 2.6 million of a total 10 million eligible voters. Some 31 percent of the registered voters are women.

News agencies report that the ratification of Afghanistan's new election law coincides with a power-sharing agreement between Karzai and leaders of the Northern Alliance, who have pledged not to field a candidate against him in return for top government positions.

Reuters reported that the agreement was made at a meeting between Karzai and a number of influential Northern Alliance commanders, including Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and Abdul Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf, a military commander and religious conservative.

The details of the meeting are sketchy, however, and it is not yet clear a deal has been struck. Vikram Parekh, an Afghanistan expert with the Kabul office of the International Crisis Group, told RFE/RL: "These negotiations have been going on for months at this point. There are various rumors and allegations that a deal has been reached. I think all of the parties involved have acknowledged that there have been talks with the center, and most of the key individuals -- not just Ismail Khan and [General Abdul Rashid] Dostum, but a number of other influential commanders -- are in Kabul. But there are other reasons for them to be here as well; one of them is the disarmament process. And I think it would probably be premature to conclude that a deal has been reached."

The UN in Afghanistan yesterday announced that in order to ensure the rights of political parties and independent candidates, the Afghan Interior Ministry has issued an electoral-conduct code to the country's governors and security commanders. The code forbids the use of state resources to support or criticize parties or candidates. It also warns against the use of weapons to intimidate voters and against harassment of journalists covering the elections.

Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent.

An explosion destroyed a U.S. military vehicle in Zabul Province on 29 May, killing four U.S. servicemen attached to the Special Forces, Radio Afghanistan reported on 30 May. A U.S. Defense Department press release on 31 May identified three U.S. casualties and said that their vehicle hit a land mine in Kandahar Province. However, Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that four servicemen were killed some 30 kilometers east of Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul, "The New York Times," reported on 31 May. Zabul has been the center of resurgent neo-Taliban activity and the focus of efforts by the U.S.-led coalition to halt the expected "spring offensive" by the militants. In anticipation of an increase in activities of neo-Taliban and to safeguard Afghanistan's general elections scheduled for September, the United States recently increased the number of its troops in the country from 11,000 to 20,000. (Amin Tarzi)

In an attack by suspected neo-Taliban militants, four soldiers loyal to the Afghan government were killed and 20 others, including a senior commander, were injured in Musa Qala' District of Helmand Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 May. General Dad Mohammad, head of the National Security Command of Helmand, said that forces under his command "carried out a widespread operation in the area [after the attack] and the area is still cordoned off." He said that the neo-Taliban fighters escaped and "some of them had hidden in people's houses." Dad Mohammad said that at least one neo-Taliban militant was killed in the attack and four were captured. According to Dad Mohammad, the captured neo-Taliban confessed that at least 15 of their fighters had come from neighboring Pakistan, AIP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Kandahar provincial government spokesman Khaled Pashtun said that nine suspected neo-Taliban militia were killed and five others captured during fighting in neighboring Zabul Province on 31 May, AIP reported on 1 June. Pashtun said that the fighting occurred in the Shenkay area of Zabul and aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition took part in the action. Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosyani recently said that while the government is in control of Zabul, the mountainous areas of the province "cannot be guarded easily despite the massive presence of government forces" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

In a bombing raid on 25 May in a newly discovered camp in Kandahar Province, U.S. forces killed eight suspected neo-Taliban members, AP reported on 27 May. Earlier Kandahar military commander Khan Mohammad said "U.S. forces told us that they had seen the bodies of about 20 dead Taliban," but neither he nor U.S. military officials speculated how many militants were using the camp, which is situated in the Arghistan region in the southern part of the province, AP reported on 27 May. According to AP, the clash appeared to be the most deadly encounter between U.S.-led coalition troops and neo-Taliban militants since the beginning of the spring when both sides stepped up their operations. (Amin Tarzi)

Three people were killed in armed clashes on 30 May in Ghor Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The clashes occurred between Haji Gol, head of Shahrak District, and Mullah Mostafa, a local commander. According to the report, the two men have had "previous differences." (Amin Tarzi)

Haji Ajab Shah, the security commander of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar Province, was killed on 1 June, AIP reported. Ajab Shah's deputy, Abdul Rahman, said that an explosive device was apparently placed under the commander's chair. No further information was provided about the incident. (Amin Tarzi)

Already a virtual "narco-economy," Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narco-democracy" -- a country where not only most of the wealth derives from the drug trade, but where drugs also determine who has power.

That's the view of French parliamentarian Pierre Lellouche, who just returned from a visit to Afghanistan. Lellouche added urgency to recent press reports suggesting NATO is struggling to staff and equip its Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Lellouche said that unless NATO and its partners find 3,000 to 4,000 more soldiers to secure presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September, the polls are in danger of being won by local warlords and drug traffickers (for more on NATO in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 18 March 2004).

"The danger is that -- I have seen, and some people, of course, are aware of it in Kabul -- is that the election to be held in September will actually increase the power of the warlords by giving them public legitimacy when they enter parliament. And we may end up, instead of a new state going towards democracy, we may end up with what I would call a 'narco-Islamic state,'" Lellouche said.

Lellouche offered a damning summary of the situation -- "there is no security in Afghanistan." He said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has been unable to establish his authority in the provinces. The provinces are instead ruled by warlords and factional commanders, who also collect the taxes and customs duties.

Local strongmen, most of whom fought both the Soviet invasion and the Taliban, field private armies totaling some 45,000 men throughout the country. The Afghan army, being built up by the United States and France, only has 7,500 soldiers.

Although the U.S.-led coalition has about 13,000 to 20,000 men in Afghanistan, they mostly fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda units in the south and east. Meanwhile, Lellouche said, the 38 nations comprising the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) field 6,000 troops in Kabul. Only 2,000 of them are combatants. The remainder performs support duties.

This means, he warned, that Afghanistan's Western sponsors -- who have invested $4 billion into the country over the past two years -- could lose their investment unless they act soon.

Another NATO source, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that in most parts of the country, securing the September elections would only require the physical presence of Western forces in the regions between August and October. He said local militias shy away from direct confrontations.

Lellouche said NATO will need to persuade allies to contribute troops and helicopters -- both in short supply now. He said Spain, which recently withdrew its soldiers from Iraq, would be particularly welcome to join ISAF under the joint Franco-German command, which will take over in early August.

Lellouche warned that the "window of opportunity" to secure Afghanistan is closing fast. "Well, as you know, everybody is short of forces now. Everybody is looking at the situation in Iraq," he said. "Clearly no one is eager to put priority in Afghanistan, and I regret it, because, again, if we don't pay attention, we may end up with a bad situation there in a few months' time. So, I hope people realize that at the G-8 meeting [in June], also at the NATO [summit] in Istanbul [in June]. The request for more forces has been channeled through NATO, and I hope the political leaders will do their job before the end of this month, because the window for decision is now. After that, it's going to be too late."

Lellouche warned that the blossoming drug trade presents the greatest danger to Afghanistan's future. Most of it is directly controlled by the warlords and contributes to their power base. "The worst problem is that these local warlords are, most of them, if not all of them, directly involved in drug trafficking," he said. "In the last 2 1/2 years since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has become the world's largest producer of heroin. There is about 130,000 hectares, producing 80 percent of the world production of heroin. That is 50 percent of the [gross domestic product] of Afghanistan, and 10 times the income of the state of Afghanistan. That means that the warlords are very powerful. And in the face of that, Western forces are just not numerous enough to either force disarmament or seriously go after the drug trafficking and drug production in Afghanistan."

The anonymous NATO source said that in the absence of strong Western support, the twin projects of decommissioning local militias and eradicating poppy fields have stalled. He said Karzai's government is unable to put any pressure on the warlords, 40 percent of whose private armies were initially supposed to be demilitarized by June. The source said coalition officials also admit the poppy-eradication plan has failed. So far, 200 hectares have been cleared. The goal was 10,000. Again, the fields are heavily protected.

The official said NATO governments and other allies feel there is "no choice" but to hold the presidential elections in September. However, he said, holding simultaneous parliamentary elections may prove impossible. He said Afghanistan lacks the necessary institutions and legislation.

NATO and European Union officials have long insisted that Afghanistan's future president must be balanced by an elected parliament, which would also offer political representation to Afghanistan's many tribes. (Ahto Lobjakas)

The UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, held a meeting on 25 May with warlords who command armies independent of the central government to discuss the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program, Afghanistan Television reported. In a meeting with western Afghan Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, commander of Military Corps No. 7 in the northern Balkh Province; General Ata Mohammad, commander of Military Corps No. 1 in the eastern Nangarhar Province; and General Hazrat Ali and commander General Mohammad Daud from the northern Konduz Province, Arnault said reports by the media quoting him as saying that a number of commanders do not want the DDR process to be implemented are baseless. The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, also attended the meeting. Ata Mohammad had earlier demanded an apology from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for allegedly saying that he is not cooperating with the DDR program (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 26 May 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani troops are reported to have advanced on two border areas of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 26 May. The alleged intrusions occurred on 25 May in the Gosari and Goshta regions, where armed clashes have reportedly occurred between Afghan and Pakistani forces. In July 2003, Afghanistan accused its eastern neighbor of intrusions across the border in the same areas. The Afghan-Pakistani border, referred to as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the 1893 agreement that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India, has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and sections of it -- including those where alleged intrusions have taken place -- are not properly demarcated (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai endorsed new electoral legislation on 27 May that will pave the way for elections for the president, parliament, and regional councils, Radio Afghanistan reported (see features above). Afghan Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi stated at a press conference in Kabul on 27 May that a commission comprising three Afghans and two UN experts drafted the newly adopted election law, in cooperation with the legislative department of the Justice Ministry. The draft law was submitted to the Afghan Transitional Administration and subsequently approved, after discussion, at a cabinet meeting. It was then presented to Karzai for his endorsement. Elections are tentatively scheduled for September, but it is unclear whether local, parliamentary, and presidential elections will be held concurrently. (Kimberly McCloud)

Karimi outlined the contents of the new election law at the International Press Center in Kabul on 27 May, state-run Radio Afghanistan reported. The new law comprises 11 chapters and 62 articles, and stipulates that presidential, parliamentary, provincial, and local-council elections will be held and will be "free, secret, nationwide, and direct," according to the radio station. According to the law, prospective presidential candidates must collect 10,000 voter endorsements and pay 50,000 afghanis ($1,170) to submit their candidacies, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 27 May. Those currently serving as government officials must resign their positions 75 days in advance of elections. Karimi also noted that "in order to avoid a power vacuum" in the run-up to the presidential election, "the head of the Afghan Transitional Administration cannot resign from his current post." Details regarding the electoral processes and procedures, including the duties of officials and staff as well as the responsibilities of voters and candidates, are outlined in the new election law. (Kimberly McCloud)

The UN's special envoy for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, told the UN Security Council on 27 May that "more money and troops [are] needed to stabilize Afghanistan" to ensure successful elections, AFP reported. Arnault stressed that the deteriorating security situation in the country, particularly in the southern provinces, could threaten successful elections scheduled to take place in September this year. "At this critical juncture for the Afghan peace process, international security assistance continues to make the difference between success and failure," Arnault told the council. "Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remains critical." He called on NATO member states to provide more troops, only hours after the UN spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, complained that the planned expansion of the NATO-led ISAF to cities and regions outside of Kabul is progressing too slowly. (Kimberly McCloud)

Turkey announced in a 27 May statement from the General Staff that it will provide additional assistance to the NATO-led ISAF, the Turkish news agency Ankara Anatolia reported. Turkey will send three helicopters and 56 flight and maintenance personnel to Afghanistan on 29 May as part of its contribution to ISAF as a NATO member (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May 2004). The General Staff statement called for support for the Afghan government and the establishment of "internal order to restore peace and security for the Afghan people." Turkey commanded ISAF from June 2002 until February 2003, when it handed the task over to Germany and the Netherlands. (Kimberly McCloud)

Bulgarian Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev announced on 31 May that an additional, 200-strong company will be deployed to Afghanistan, reported. General Kolev added that it will take five to six months and additional funds to set up that contingent. Currently, a 50-strong Bulgarian platoon is stationed in Afghanistan. During a recent visit to Sofia, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer asked Bulgaria to step up its military presence in Afghanistan. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

The Afghan Planning Ministry is to launch a probe to evaluate the activities of the numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 May. According to the report, there are around 3,500 foreign and domestic NGOs working in Afghanistan and thus far no one has scrutinized their activities. Newly appointed Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2004) has initiated the program that will monitor NGOs' relations with Afghan government departments and will seek transparency in the activities of NGOs, including their finances. Bashardost believes that the presence of too many NGOs has had a negative impact on the reconstruction process in his country and they have wasted millions of dollars in donations, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Washington has allegedly refused to allow Afghan and Iraqi leaders to attend the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul, "Istanbul Star" reported on 25 May. According to the paper, representatives from the provisional governments in Afghanistan and Iraq were not invited to the NATO summit in order to avoid a diplomatic "crisis" between Ankara and Washington. The paper did not elaborate on the nature of the crisis. NATO's presence and hardships expanding its presence in Afghanistan are expected to figure on the agenda at the NATO summit. (Amin Tarzi)

George W. Bush has invited Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai to the G-8 summit scheduled for 8-10 June in the United States, RFE/RL reported on 24 May. According to a White House statement, Karzai along with leaders of Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen, have been encouraged to attend the summit to discuss Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative for regional reform. On 23 May, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said that President Hosni Mubarak has turned down an invitation to the summit. He said he believes Tunisia and Qatar had done so as well. U.S. officials, however, would not confirm whether invitations have been sent to countries other than five listed by the White House. The G-8 comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai has been named the recipient of the 2004 Philadelphia Liberty Medal, a Liberty Medal press release indicated on 26 May. Karzai will accept the medal and its accompanying $100,000 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on 4 July. Martin Meyerson, chairman since the medal's inception in 1988 of its International Selection Commission, said: "The Philadelphia Liberty Medal has always been awarded to world leaders of great courage, vision, and faith in the future," and Karzai "abundantly exhibits those cherished qualities. He is working tirelessly and skillfully to unify his country's diverse factions, strengthen its economy, and move toward democratic values and practices." Past recipients of the Philadelphia Liberty Medal include, among others, Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. (Amin Tarzi)

2 June 1919 -- Armistice declared in the Third Anglo-Afghan War, leading to Afghanistan's full independence.

28 May 1963 -- Shah of Iran announces that Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to reestablish diplomatic and commercial relations severed due to dispute over "Pashtunistan" question.

28 May 1994 -- Conflict within Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan between supporters of Mohammad Akbari and Abdul Ali Mazari.

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