Accessibility links

Afghan Report: December 17, 2004

17 December 2004, Volume 3, Number 44
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghanistan is by far the world's leading producer of opium. Its narcotics economy, based on the farming of opium poppies, accounts for 87 percent of the global opium supply and this year earned an estimated $2.8 billion. The opium trade, according to the United Nations, accounts for more than 60 percent of the economy of Afghanistan, which is among the world's poorest countries. Eradicating opium, is such a context, might seem impossible. But during a national counternarcotics conference in Kabul on 9-10 December, Afghanistan's newly inaugurated President Hamid Karzai pledged to do just that, vowing to wage an all-out "holy war" on drugs (for more on the topic, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003; 12 February, 2 and 10 June, 1 September, 18 November, 3 and 8 December 2004).

Karzai, in perhaps his strongest remarks on the topic, urged Afghans to wage "jihad" or holy war against drugs, much as they did against the Soviet Army in the 1980s.

Karzai's passionate speech, two days after his inauguration, came at the opening on 9 December of a national counternarcotics conference in Kabul. More than 500 key figures attended, including tribal leaders, provincial governors, and security officials.

Karzai, Afghanistan's first popularly elected president, called poppy farming a national disgrace.

"God knows how hard it is for me when [international representatives] come to my office and say that Afghans cultivate poppies. I feel terribly ashamed," Karzai said. "It's very difficult for my Afghan pride to listen to it. I cannot tolerate it when they come to my office and say Afghans cultivate poppies. This shame must be removed from our country. Free us from this insult. Let's repeat in one voice, 'We don't want poppy cultivation!' [Crowd repeats] 'We want life, honor and respect. [Crowd repeats]'"

On 10 December, delegates wrapped up the conference by pledging their support for Karzai in a statement that read: "Taking into consideration that cultivation, producing, smuggling, and trafficking of narcotic drugs has endangered Afghanistan's security, we have decided to destroy poppy lands by all possible means across Afghanistan."

Raising The Stakes

Since his formal election this year, Karzai has repeatedly vowed to crack down on poppy farming, calling it a greater threat to Afghanistan than insurgents of the former Taliban regime.

Dadafar Sepanta is a professor of political Science at Aachen University and currently a guest lecturer at Kabul University. He told RFE/RL that by declaring a jihad, Karzai has raised the stakes in his bid to cleanse the country of drugs.

"The meaning of jihad in this context is a nationwide war [against drugs] with the participation of all people," Sepanta said. "The president, by declaring a jihad in the war against drugs, wants to show the national and religious importance of the issue. The drug trade in Afghanistan is a real problem that is seriously threatening the health of Afghan and international society."

During Karzai's three years in power, Afghan poppy cultivation has increased at an alarming rate. Ironically, the Taliban had virtually eliminated opium production, making it punishable by death.

A survey released in November by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a "narco-state."

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali addressed the issue at the conference, saying: "If we look at the figures, the situation is very dark. According to the UN survey, this year in Afghanistan 131,000 acres of land was planted with opium. This is an increase of 64 percent compared to last year. From this, almost 4,200 tons of opium can be produced. This is a huge production. This is a shame for Afghanistan."

Professor Sepanta said the drug war can succeed only if the future Afghan government is fully behind Karzai's efforts.

"What is important now is that today Karzai has democratic legitimacy and in these days he is trying to put together an efficient and powerful government," Sepanta said. "And if such a government is formed and will follow the president's plans, then it will be different from the former government, which was formed [out of expediency] following the Bonn conference [held by the UN after the Taliban's fall in 2001]. The efficiency of [the future] government will help the fight against drugs."

News reports said that during the conference, the Interior Ministry announced "seven pillars" on which to base the drug war: alternative livelihoods for farmers; interdiction of drug processing and trafficking; eradication of crops; judicial reform; public information; building institutions; and tackling drug addiction.

Poppy cultivation remains the main source of income for many Afghans. Farmers say that unless the government provides them with financial support and alternative crops, they will continue.

Official Involvement?

As Sepanta noted, many provincial officials and militia groups are reportedly involved in the lucrative the industry.

"People from cities whose youth are possible drug victims are worried about this issue. But villagers in some regions of Afghanistan and also drug barons who have a big influence on the government are not interested in the fight against drugs because farmers, by cultivating poppy in smaller fields, can make more money," Sepanta said.

Experts warn that the drug business is threatening to undermine all efforts to rebuild the war-torn country.

But Afghan officials say they can't succeed without greater international.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the conference that drug money funds terrorists and extremist groups. He also said the U.S. Congress plans to provide more than $750 million to help the Afghan drug war.

The aid is to be used for alternative work for 125,000 people in key poppy-producing provinces.

(Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent. RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report.)

Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage Afghanistan Votes 2004-05 for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Find profiles of emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow next year's parliamentary campaigns.

The U.S. Army says eight detainees have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001, at least two more than had previously been reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March and 20 May 2004). The announcement came after the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had uncovered three new cases of detainee deaths in U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan.

HRW charged on 13 December that the United States is failing to bring to justice those U.S. soldiers involved in prisoner abuses in Afghanistan.

The group said it has evidence of three new cases of detainee deaths in Afghanistan. In an open letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, HRW said the failure to investigate and prosecute such abuses has created a culture of impunity among some interrogators and has allowed abuse to spread (

Following the release of the HRW letter, the U.S. Army said there have been investigations into the deaths of eight detainees who had been in U.S. military custody in Afghanistan. That is two more than the U.S. had previously disclosed.

Brad Adams is Asia division director for Human Rights Watch. He said he believes Washington is still not revealing all it can about the abuses.

"It really is time for the United States to come completely clean about the number of deaths," Adams said. "We keep getting new figures every time someone like us or the [American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)] comes out with material -- they drip out a little bit more information. So we are not reassured by that. It's good that they put more information out, but we are reassured that this is the whole story. They have not had the position since the beginning of announcing deaths immediately and initiating investigations on their own. They're only doing this under pressure "

In total, Adams said, HRW is seeking answers to the deaths of six Afghan detainees and numerous claims of torture and mistreatment. Adams claimed that four of the deaths are "known cases of murder or manslaughter."

Chris Grey, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, said yesterday that investigations into at least three of the Afghan deaths are ongoing.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel John Skinner, is quoted by AP as saying many of the investigations have determined that detainees died due to natural causes or because of injuries suffered before their capture.

The U.S. military has charged two people in connection with detainee abuse in Afghanistan and has recommended 28 other people for prosecution in connection with deaths at Bagram air base near Kabul.

The two new cases disclosed by the U.S. Army include the death in November 2003 of a detainee identified as A. Wahid and the death of a person detained by U.S. soldiers in the village of Wazi in January 2003.

HRW said it has uncovered three new cases -- the suspected murder of a detainee by four U.S. military personnel in 2002; the death of an Afghan army soldier mistakenly arrested with seven others in March 2003; and the death of an Afghan man arrested in September during a raid at his home near Khost.

HRW said the new cases came to light after a request made by the ACLU.

"These new cases are from the government's own files," Adams said. "A Freedom of Information Act request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union -- and we have to give credit to them for making it -- and 11,000 pages of documents were released. And these are just the unclassified documents that were released. We don't know what's in the heavily classified documents that might talk about more abuses. We haven't -- and the ACLU hasn't -- had time to go through all these documents yet. This is just what we've found thus far."

Mohammad Farid Hamidi, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told RFE/RL that the commission has often expressed concern about the deaths of detainees in U.S. custody.

"The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission hasn't received any response in regard to its request to monitor the work of [coalition] forces and for the results of the investigation [about prisoners abuses] to made available for the people and the government of Afghanistan," Hamidi said.

Adams said HRW continues to receive reports that some U.S. forces based in Afghanistan are mistreating people in detention.

"It ranges from very abusive practices, including beatings, to things like sleep deprivation, forcing people to stand for long periods of time. And we really don't understand why this is still happening," Adams said. "There has been so much publicity about torture by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, one would have thought that the orders would have come down to end these practices completely. But it seems that the Pentagon is trying to push their interrogators to get information, and the interrogators are using tactics that are not permitted."

HRW has urged Rumsfeld to speed the investigations and prosecution of personnel and officials implicated in prisoner deaths and mistreatment.

Hamidi from the Independent Human Rights Commission said U.S. forces based in Afghanistan should be more transparent about their investigations.

"This issue is causing concern among the people of Afghanistan and also for the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan," Hamidi said. "At the same time, it is a blow to the reputation and credibility of the coalition forces who are helping the Afghan government and people in the fight against terrorism. We want the activities of these forces to be transparent and for people to be informed about developments and investigations in that regard. The fight against terrorism should by no mean justify human rights abuses."

In May, the U.S. Army ordered a review of all coalition detention centers in Afghanistan, following the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal in Iraq and reports of prisoner mistreatment in Afghanistan.

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Pamela Keeton said the brigadier general who carried out the review found no evidence of abuse, or of leaders who condoned such behavior. She said any deficiencies found have been corrected. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

In his inaugural speech in Kabul on 7 December, President Hamid Karzai outlined the tasks ahead for his government, Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). Karzai listed "strengthening the security forces, ensuring full security and stability throughout the country, eradicating poppy cultivation, combating narcotics production and trafficking, disarmament and reintegration, tackling poverty, creating wealth and making efforts towards public welfare, particularly in rural areas," as the main tasks to be tackled by his administration. He promised to enforce the law, uphold human rights, and strive to reform government administration. Karzai also promised to strengthen national unity and to rebuild the country. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai issued a code of conduct in the form of a presidential decree on 8 December aimed at high-ranking public officials in the country, Afghanistan Television reported. The 11-article code instructs senior government officials to report on the performance of their subordinates and to recruit personnel for their departments "based on a system of meritocracy." The code forbids the discussion of issues debated in cabinet sessions by those in attendance without the consent of the president. Officials covered under the code are required within 14 days to provide the president with complete information "on their personal revenue, movable and immovable property, trade activities, and any debts of their own, of their spouses, or of their under-age children," according to Afghan Television. The president is mentioned as being "the only authority entitled to judge the implementation or violation of the provisions" of the code of conduct. The decree represents Karzai's first act since taking the oath of office on 7 December. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Minister of Planning Ramazan Bachardost has declared 1,935 nongovernmental organizations illegal and ordered them to close down, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 11 December. The NGOs, which include 260 foreign ones, according to Bachardost, do not cooperate "with the government of Afghanistan or the authorities and they do not give reports of the results of their work to the Planning Ministry and they work for their own benefit," Reuters reported on 11 December. Anja de Beer, executive coordinator for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, said that the NGOs in Afghanistan would be "extremely disappointed and worried" if President Hamid Karzai retained Bachardost in his future cabinet.

However "Arman-e Melli" commented that "laudable measures" by Bachardost that are "supported by the majority of the people...have inspired the lifeless structure of the [Afghan] government with a new spirit, and...have opened the way to further...reforms within the government apparatus."

Bachardost has long insisted that the majority of NGOs in Afghanistan do not work for the benefit of the country and are counterproductive. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan presidential spokesman Kaliq Ahmad said on 11 December that Bachardost's comments regarding the closure of NGOs "do not constitute a governmental decision," AFP reported. "We will make sure that he [Bachardost] apologizes to the international and local NGOs," Ahmad added. According to Karzai's spokesman, the Planning Minister is "trying to get media attention." An anonymous Afghan governmental source told AFP that Karzai will not include Bachardost in this new cabinet that is expected to be announced soon (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Bachardost resigned from his post as planning minister on 13 December, Jowzjan Aina Television reported. Bachardost told reporters on 13 December that he decided to resign once he realized that President Hamid Karzai would not support his decision to shut down nearly 2,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). (Amin Tarzi)

Dick Cheney visited U.S. troops based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan on 7 December and said that their work is still not finished, the American Forces Press Service reported. "Freedom still has enemies here in Afghanistan. And you are here to make those enemies miserable," Cheney told the troops.

He was in Afghanistan to attend the inauguration of Afghan President Karzai.

In his inaugural speech, Karzai said that in the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan is still in "serious need of regional and international cooperation," Afghanistan Television reported. In a press conference after meeting with Cheney and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Karzai referred to "terrorism as individuals and individual acts of terrorism" which, he said, pose a greater danger than large groups of militants such as the neo-Taliban, AFP reported on 7 December. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. military spokesman Mark McCann said in Kabul on 8 December that Washington would back efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with former members of the Taliban regime, RFE/RL reported. McCann explained that the Afghan government's view is that there is a peaceful way to engage former members of the Taliban aside from "a very select few." There are indications that "there are people out there [among the neo-Taliban] who wish to reconcile and become part of the peaceful political process" in Afghanistan, McCann said, adding that United States and the coalition governments "stand firmly behind the Afghan government in their efforts to try to reconcile" with the militia.

The issue of reconciliation with most members of the neo-Taliban was raised by President Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated on by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April of this year (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 28 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Lieutenant General David Barno, commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, said at the Bagram air base north of Kabul on 9 December that he believes the neo-Taliban are "at an internal crossroads" and are "having great difficulty deciding what their future should be," Reuters reported. According to Barno, the turmoil in the ranks of the neo-Taliban is caused by the reconciliation offer from President Karzai and their inability to prevent Afghans from voting in their country's presidential election in October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 October and 8 December 2004). There are indications that within the neo-Taliban leadership there is a debate as to whether to accept the reconciliation offer from Kabul, Barno said. "There's a huge opportunity" at the moment to take the neo-Taliban "as an organization, off the table and bring the majority of its elements back" into the society, Barno explained. Comparing Afghanistan to other guerrilla wars, Barno said that the Afghan militias have "no passion, no commitment, no nationalistic streak" driving their struggle, and an increasing number of the guerrillas are being paid to fight. (Amin Tarzi)

Former Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaiduallah Akhund told Reuters via satellite phone from an undisclosed location on 9 December that the movement's struggle will continue. "We will continue this war until our country is the free. America will also suffer a defeat like Russia," Akhund said. The neo-Taliban have consistently denied that they are negotiating with Karzai's government for a truce. (Amin Tarzi)

Six suspected neo-Taliban militiamen and four Afghan government soldiers were killed during a night raid on a security checkpoint on 6 December in Khost Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported (, quoting General Khyalbaz Sherzai, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division. Unnamed Afghan government officials claimed that up to 50 neo-Taliban fighters were killed in the attack. However, Mullah Abdul Samad, purporting to speak for the neo-Taliban, told Pajhwak that his side killed 15 soldiers and only one of their ranks suffered injuries. Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, also claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press that 120 of the group's fighters were involved in the attack, which resulted in the death of 15 government soldiers. Hakimi also said that only one militiaman was wounded. This incident is one of the most serious attacks reported in Khost in recent months. (Amin Tarzi)

The head of security in Kandahar Province, Abdullah Laghmani, said his forces have exposed a secret neo-Taliban network in the city of Kandahar, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 13 December. Three alleged members of the militant group and their driver have been arrested in the operation. Laghmani described the group as being part of a neo-Taliban "secret network that was carrying out explosions and other subversive activities in Kandahar city." Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban movement, but that southern city has been largely quiet in recent months. (Amin Tarzi)

Security forces in Kandahar have arrested Mullah Mohammad Esa, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 13 December. Mohammad Esa is a brother of Mullah Mohammad Hasan, former governor of Kandahar under the Taliban regime. Mohammad Esa was living in Kandahar when he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in activities against the government. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani security forces on 11 December arrested the alleged leader of the Army of the Muslims (Jaysh al-Muslimin), the group involved in the recent kidnapping of three UN employees in Kabul, Pakistan TV 1 reported. Pakistan's Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, told Dubai-based Geo TV on 11 December that Sayyed Akbar Agha was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi. Asked whether Abkar Agha will be extradited to Afghanistan for questioning, Ahmad said that Pakistan is capable "better than any other country of the world in carrying out the interrogation" of the alleged mastermind of the kidnapping in Kabul. An unidentified Pakistani government official said that Kabul has not requested Akbar Agha's extradition, AFP reported on 11 December. "Even if a request comes, it will not be an instant extradition," the source added. (Amin Tarzi)

Kabul welcomed Akbar Agha's arrest, AFP reported on 11 December. "This is very good news," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said. Afghanistan has information that "half of the [Army of the Muslims] group are still in Pakistan and so we hope that this arrest means that those people who are in Peshawar might be arrested," Mashal said, referring to the administrative capital of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, which is close to the Afghan border. The hostage crisis in Kabul, the only such case since the collapse of the Taliban regime, ended when the hostages were released unharmed by their captors, however the identity and motives of the captors as well as the way the crisis ended remain unclear (for more on the hostage crisis, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November and 3 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The Netherlands' National Investigation Service arrested a member of Afghanistan's former military-intelligence service on 2 December, "NRC Handelsblad" reported on 7 December. The man, identified only as Habibullah J. and believed to be the former chief of interrogations in the communist-era service, is suspected of committing war crimes. In November, Dutch authorities arrested another former Afghan communist official, also on suspension of having committed war crimes. A Dutch court recently overturned a decision by the government to reject an asylum request from former Afghan Communist Vice President Abdul Rahim Hatef on the grounds that he had carried out political assassinations and torture (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October and 8 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev, who represented the Russian Federation at Karzai's inauguration ceremony, said in Kabul that he believes that Moscow still has substantial interests in Afghanistan despite the U.S. military presence there, NTV reported on 7 December. "In my view, the U.S.A. unequivocally views [Afghanistan] -- and not only Afghanistan -- as a zone of its absolute, complete, and all-consuming interests," Alekseev said. But he said Russia can help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, adding that when the Soviet Union "had an alliance with Afghanistan" it "built a great deal here." Kabul was upset by recent comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on the composition of the future Afghan government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 6, and 7 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based, Dari-language service and "The New York Sun" reported on 6 December that U.S. military personnel have been scouting Afghanistan's Herat Province in order to establish a base there. The radio station cited locals who noted the increased presence of U.S. soldiers, and it also cited Afghan military spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, who confirmed that the U.S. has chosen a location in the province for a base. American officials confirmed in 5 December interviews with "The New York Sun" that the area they have been scouting is in Herat Province and is some 20 miles from the Iranian border. They said this would mainly be an Afghan army base and American aircraft "would probably be deployed there as well." (Bill Samii)

Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Bahrami declined on 8 December to comment on the construction of a military base in Herat Province near the Afghan-Iranian border, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "We cannot express our views as long as the issue is not clear whether the base belongs to the U.S.-led coalition or the Afghan National Army," Bahrami said. Zaher Azimi explained that at "the Ghorian military base [45 kilometers from the Iranian border], the coalition forces and the Afghan National Army are working together, but this base is [being] built by the leadership of the United States." Azimi did not, however, explain whether U.S. forces will use the base once it is completed. The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been an issue of concern for Tehran. The United States maintains a military presence in Herat, mainly at Shindand air base, situated southeast of Ghorian District and farther from the border with Iran. (Amin Tarzi)

During their meeting in Brussels on 9 December, NATO foreign ministers agreed to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, a NATO press release said ( In the final communique of the meeting, NATO ministers agreed to implement the decision made during the alliance's summit in Istanbul in June regarding expanding ISAF into the west of Afghanistan and "to accelerate this expansion to support the Afghan Government to meet the challenges of the parliamentary elections" scheduled for April 2005 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 July 2004). The first step in the westward expansion of the NATO-led ISAF is expected to be the assumption of command of the existing Provincial Reconstruction Team in Herat Province. (Amin Tarzi)

Lufthansa flew to Kabul from Frankfurt, Germany on 11 December, commencing the first direct commercial air link between Europe and Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to an agreement singed between Lufthansa and Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines, the German carrier will make two weekly flights between Kabul and Frankfurt and will also carry passengers of Ariana to European destinations. (Amin Tarzi)

10 December 1987 -- UN envoy Diego Cordovez is reported to have opened negotiations between exiled King Mohammad Zaher and mujahedin leaders regarding formation of a transitional government.

12 December 1992 -- Interim President Burhanuddin Rabbani announces that he will hold his post beyond his term until a successor is chosen.

13 December 2001 -- Hamid Karzai arrives in Kabul.

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