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Afghan Report: January 2, 2003

2 January 2003, Volume 2, Number 1
By Amin Tarzi

On the night of 27 December 1979, Soviet troops killed maverick communist Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and replaced him with longtime Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal. With this move, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which had been seriously contemplated in Moscow since March, finally materialized.

International reaction initially had more to do with the geopolitical effects of the Soviet invasion than with what it meant to Afghans or for Afghanistan. U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the Soviet action "the most serious threat to world peace" during his administration. He retaliated by putting the SALT II treaty on hold, boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, cutting back U.S. grain sales to the USSR, and imposing other sanctions. The UN General Assembly condemned the invasion by an overwhelming margin of 104 to 18, with 18 abstentions, but failed to mention which country's troops had committed the act. Instead of naming the Soviet Union, the UN called for a withdrawal of "foreign troops." The EU, calling the invasion a serious threat to peace and stability in the region, followed the example of the UN and called for a withdrawal of "foreign forces." Members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference withheld recognition of the Soviet-installed regime in Kabul and called for the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

The initial fear was that Afghanistan would be a stepping-stone for the Soviets in their drive to the warm ports of the Indian Ocean as well as the oil fields of the Persian Gulf region. Beginning with the Carter administration, taking its lead from national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the United States and its allies were to impose a heavy price for Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. Carter stated, "Aggression unopposed becomes a contagious disease."

While an overwhelming number of countries both directly and indirectly condemned the invasion of Afghanistan, most analysts and policymakers at the time deemed the Soviet action -- which brought hitherto nonaligned Afghanistan into the Moscow orbit -- irreversible. The Afghan resistance, known simply as "rebels" collectively, was viewed as no match for the mighty Soviet Army. Most observers considered the ultimate demise and total collapse of the Afghan resistance inevitable.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had its origins in the bloody April 1978 coup d'etat that brought the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) to power. The brutal treatment that ensued against nearly every segment of the Afghan population that rose in opposition to the Marxist ideologies of the new regime -- along with the numerous internal squabbles within the PDPA -- increasingly drew the Soviets into Afghanistan in an advisory role.

Meanwhile, by early 1979, Brzezinski and his allies within the Carter administration had taken control of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan away from the State Department. They worked with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, with help from China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in the form of cash and weapons, to train and organize pockets of the Afghan resistance across the border in Pakistan.

The Soviets, wary of U.S. involvement in the Afghan resistance, still regarded their support of the PDPA regime in Kabul militarily, financially, and ideologically, as the best guarantee of its preservation. However, internal feuds among the Afghan communists and the disenchantment of the Afghan military with the regime increasingly drew Moscow closer to direct involvement.

The turning point for the Soviets -- and the beginning of discussions among high-ranking Soviet officials regarding an invasion -- began after a rebellion on 16 March 1979. Between nine and 40 Soviet advisers and their family members were killed in the western Afghan city of Herat. Ironically, the first call for the introduction of Soviet forces in Afghanistan came not from Moscow but from the leadership of the PDPA, members of which would become the very first victims of the Soviet military action on 27 December.

Twenty-three years after Soviet troops attacked Kabul, they are still claiming victims. The direct loss of life for the Soviets during the decade-long occupation of Afghanistan is still not tallied, at least not for the Afghans. The number of Soviet dead has been estimated at 15,000, while between 1 million and 1.5 million Afghans perished. The Afghan state became a sociopolitical black hole, and internal strife and civil warfare persisted for more than a decade beyond the Soviet withdrawal. Today, it abides delicately in its formative stages of development. Beyond this immediate and direct damage caused by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, there have been significant international repercussions. If the events leading to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States are viewed historically, their origins are inextricably linked to the events of 27 December 1979.

In retrospect, the Politburo should have heeded the advice of then-KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov, who told his colleagues in March 1979 in a reference to possible intervention in Afghanistan (before later changing his mind): "Comrades, I have thought this issue over very thoroughly since yesterday and have concluded that we should consider very, very seriously whether it would make sense to send troops into Afghanistan. The economy is backward, the Islamic religion predominates, and nearly all of the rural population is illiterate. I do not think we can uphold the revolution in Afghanistan with the help of our bayonets" (from "Out of Afghanistan," Cordovez, Harrison, 1995).

Twenty-three years later, Andropov's description of Afghanistan still rings true, while the Soviet Union no longer exists.

A U.S. AV-8B dropped a precision-guided bomb on an abandoned religious school on 29 December after a U.S. soldier, part of a joint U.S.-Pakistani patrol, was shot in the head by one of the Pakistani soldiers, reported the American Forces Press Service (AFPS) on 31 December. The incident occurred near Shkin in Paktiya Province in Afghanistan where a U.S. soldier was killed on 22 December (see below).

According to AFPS the U.S. soldier was standing on the Afghan side of the border, observing Pakistani border guards destroy missiles found in the area on the Pakistani side of the disputed Afghan-Pakistani border, when one Pakistani soldier approached him. The U.S. soldier asked the Pakistani to return to his side of the boundary, instead the Pakistani "dropped to one knee, and fired on the Americans," AFPS reported. While other Pakistani border guards helped the U.S. forces, the Pakistani who had fired at the U.S. soldier "ran into a nearby abandoned madrassa, or local religious school. He was the only person observed entering the structure, but U.S. soldiers said they took more fire from the building and called in close-air support," AFPS reported. The report added that the border guard who fired on the U.S. soldier is in Pakistani custody, but does not indicate if he was apprehended after the bombing or if there were any other Pakistani casualties. The U.S. soldier has been described to be in stable condition and has been transferred to Germany for treatment.

According to the AFPS the school is situated "inside the recognized borders of Afghanistan." However it would be very difficult to accurately determine the exact borderline between Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially in the area where this incident occurred since the boundary has been in dispute and is for the most part not demarcated for political reasons. The borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- known as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the agreement in 1893 -- has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the dispute over the Duran Line has been the core of Afghan-Pakistani disagreements and conflicts and one of the reasons behind Islamabad's policy of installing a friendly government in Kabul via its support of the Taliban. The incident of 29 December, if not contained and recognized for its sensitivities, can reopen Afghan-Pakistani dispute with dire consequences for all sides involved. (Amin Tarzi)

According to Pakistani officials speaking on 31 December, a U.S. warplane bombed an abandoned religious school "in the Pakistani territory after a gun battle between the U.S. and Pakistani troops on the border with Afghanistan," Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 1 January. The Pakistani official called the incident "a disagreement" and added that in addition to the U.S. troops, two Pakistani border guards were also injured, "Dawn" reported. Mohammad Khurshied, a local official in the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan said that the school bombed by the U.S. was in Angor Adda, "Dawn" reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Assembly in Peshawar, Pakistan, on 1 January passed a resolution which "strongly condemned" the U.S. bombing of a religious school in South Waziristan and "demanded of the federal government to register a strong protest with" the United States in this matter, "Dawn" reported on 2 January. The resolution also stated that "Pakistan was an independent and sovereign state and the U.S. warplanes intruding into Pakistani territory amounts to an attack on its independence and sovereignty." While its not known where the U.S. plane involved in the bombing was based, the U.S. has air bases in Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

A U.S. soldier attached to the 82nd Airborne Division died in a gun battle on 22 December in the town of Shkin, Paktika Province, and a U.S. Special Forces soldier was wounded in an attack the same day in Asadabad, Kunar Province, AP reported the same day. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said during his visit to Bagram Air Base that while overall security is improving in the country, eastern parts of Afghanistan are likely to remain a problem "for some time to come."

The attacks on U.S. forces occurred in areas that were identified by a 17 December UN report as housing newly established terrorist camps in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). "The Independent" on 22 December cited an unidentified U.S. intelligence officer as saying that "middle-ranking Pakistani army officers are tipping off members" of Al-Qaeda about U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, suicide bombers are "being recruited and trained in eastern Pakistan," and offered $50,000 for their families if "they carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan, "The Independent" reported. (Amin Tarzi)

On 28 December, a U.S. soldier was wounded at Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan. The military declined to provide details about the incident. More than 115 U.S. soldiers have been injured in noncombat incidents in the course of the war against terror in Afghanistan, and there have been 28 non-combat-related fatalities, AFP reported. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

Deputy Interior Minister Helaluddin Helal on 18 December blamed Al-Qaeda for the 17 December bomb attack in central Kabul that injured two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002), Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 December. Helal said the "two arrested people confessed they had been trained and instructed by a foreign network," according to the report. Helal said the two men are Pakistani nationals who have confessed to being sent to Afghanistan "along with a group of Arabs, Chechens, and other Pakistanis." Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak told reporters at a Kabul news conference on 18 December that the identities of the arrestees and any links they might have to terrorist organizations have not been determined (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

A Kabul Police Department official has alleged the 17 December attack was perpetrated by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami party, and that the attackers received training for three months in Khost, the "Kabul Weekly" reported on 19 December. General Khalil told the newspaper that four individuals traveled to Kabul from Khost to carry out the attack and that three of them have been arrested, including one from Khost Province and one from Nangarhar Province.

High-ranking Hizb-e Islami official Qotbuddin Helal has denied any links between the party and Al-Qaeda and has indicated that his party wants to join the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2002). Hekmatyar has denied any Hizb-e Islami links to Al-Qaeda, but has declared a jihad against the United States because of its presence in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2002). One of the arrested men has denied affiliation with any organization "but complained that the Americans had occupied his country," the BBC reported on 20 December. (Amin Tarzi)

Hizb-e Islami party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has renewed its call for a jihad to liberate Afghanistan from foreign troops, namely the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces, the United Arab Emirates-based Arabic daily "Al-Khaleej" reported on 26 December.

Hekmatyar made his announcement in Pashto via leaflets distributed by his supporters in Pakistan. The radical Islamist leader said he has formed an alliance with Al-Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban to resist "foreign occupation," with the ultimate goal of setting up an elected Islamic government in Afghanistan. According to intelligence sources, Hekmatyar's forces have recently acquired artillery, machine guns, grenades, and vehicles, and it is believed they are preparing for a series of attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan and members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

Hekmatyar was the closest Afghan ally of the Pakistani intelligence agencies during Afghan resistance to the Soviets (1979-89) and the Pakistanis channeled the lion's share of weapons and money that the United States and other countries were supplying to the Afghan resistance, to which the anti-American Hizb-e Islami belonged. For that reason, Hekmatyar's reemergence in Pakistan could be viewed as an another attempt on the part of dissatisfied elements within Pakistan's military intelligence to reestablish their presence in Afghanistan as they had with the Taliban. (Amin Tarzi and Tanya Goudsouzian)

The Afghan Supreme Court held an emergency session on 28 December to draft a rebuttal to a statement issued by Hekmatyar calling for a fresh jihad in the country, AFP reported. The court defended the government's legitimacy in the face of claims by former Premier Hekmatyar that Afghanistan remains in thrall to occupying forces. The statement, published by the official Bakhtar news agency, said President Hamid Karzai's internationally backed government was legitimized through democratic means and is supported by a nationwide judicial system based on Islamic law. It followed a call by Hekmatyar, for supporters to rid Afghanistan of foreign "aggressors" and fight side by side with the former Taliban militia and its Al-Qaeda associates. Hizb-e Islami "will never abandon the people and [will] always defend Islam and wage jihad in collaboration with them to expel the aggressors from their country," Hekmatyar said in a letter.

The U.S.-led military coalition currently operating in Afghanistan suspects Hekmatyar of involvement in a series of extremist-linked rocket attacks on its bases close to the Pakistani border. Although he remains a notorious figure in Kabul, particularly for pounding the city with rockets in 1992, he still commands a large following in much of Afghanistan and is considered a major threat to Karzai's authority.

In an interview with Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 30 December, Afghanistan's chief justice and the head of the Supreme Court, Fazel Hadi Shinwari, said that Hekmatyar and Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar are to be considered rebels. Shinwari added that "anyone who rises up against the present government is a rebel," and regarding Hekmatyar's declaration of jihad, he said that "the statement calling for jihad is incorrect because it is rebels who [have] issued it," AIP reported. Shinwari added: "Hekmatyar has declared jihad against the Afghan government. Regarding the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, I should say that they are in Afghanistan but they do not interfere in Afghan affairs." (Tanya Goudsouzian and Amin Tarzi)

In an exclusive interview on 20 December, Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang told Radio Free Afghanistan that during the 17-18 December meeting of the Afghanistan Support Group in Oslo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002), donor countries agreed to distribute the bulk of their assistance through the Afghan administration and to fund UN agencies only for humanitarian-aid projects. Farhang noted that the lack of security in some areas of Afghanistan has had a direct influence on donor countries' policies, but said his side indicated in Oslo that after 23 years of conflict, security will not come to Afghanistan overnight. Farhang added that the formation of the Afghan National Army and the police force are the first steps toward securing the country. The existence of warlords in some parts of the country requires serious measures, Farhang said, adding that the Afghan administration is working to solve this problem.

President Karzai issued a decree on 16 December banning political leaders from participating in military activities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). Many perceive this action as an attempt to curb the warlords' power. (Amin Tarzi)

Sayyed Nurullah, director of foreign relations for the northern plains region of Afghanistan, in an interview on 19 December with RFE/RL spoke about the 16 December decree by Hamid Karzai banning political leaders from participating in military activities.

Q: Has there been any development in the implementation of Hamid Karzai's decree?

A: Yes the recent decree has been implemented here, as there was a militia leadership in the north. But to solidify military forces in the north there have been multiple forces here after the Loya Jirga that function under Hamid Karzai's command and the supervision of the Defense Ministry. A group under leadership of General Abdul Rashid Dostum was assigned to carry out the disarmament process in the northern plains, particularly in troubled areas such as Shulgar and Samangan, and it is still being carried out successfully. Of course, as everyone is aware, elements of Al-Qaeda are still very active in some areas in the country and we are faced with terrorism. Although the authorities in the northern plains have no objection to the recent decree, it is perceived necessary to prolong the presence of multiple forces in these areas.

Q: Would the decree have any bearing on General Dostum's position and would it change anything?

A: General Dostum has no objection to this decree, except that considering the current geopolitics the ideal situation would be to maintain the multiple forces [commandants or militia leadership] until the establishment of Afghanistan's National Army and the national police.

Q: Has General Dostum made a decision to stay in a civilian or military position?

A: As I mentioned before, General Dostum carries out his duties as Transitional Authority's special envoy in the northern plains and according to Hamid Karzai's command he [Dostum] has both civilian and military duties that he carries out accordingly.

In a 5 December report entitled "Afghanistan's Bonn Agreement One Year Later: A Catalog of Missed Opportunities," Human Rights Watch listed Dostum as one of the warlords who are "the primary threat to peace and stability" in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

An unidentified man on 19 December detonated grenades attached to his body at the entrance to a military base used by the ISAF in Pol-e Charkhi, east of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. Reports differed on casualties resulting from the attack, which occurred as the perpetrator was speaking to two interpreters while attempting to gain access to the base. The BBC reported on 20 December that the two interpreters died the next day from their injuries and that two French members of the ISAF were injured. Radio Afghanistan reported on 19 December that no ISAF military personnel were injured or killed. AIP reported that the attacker threw a grenade into the ISAF base, injuring a foreign soldier, before detonating the other grenades that killed him and injured three interpreters. The Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported that "a large number of people" were injured. According to ISAF spokesman Colonel Samet Oz, early "indications are that this attack was not the carefully planned and executed work of a professional terrorist organization," the BBC reported. None of the reports provided information on the nationality of the attacker. (Amin Tarzi)

Seven German soldiers belonging to the ISAF died on 21 December when their transport helicopter crashed near the ISAF base on the outskirts of Kabul, ddp reported the same day. The cause of the crash was unclear and flight-security specialists from the German Defense Ministry were heading to the crash site to investigate the incident "immediately and completely," ddp reported. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that all indications are that the crash was a "serious accident," and it "highlighted in a particularly tragic way that the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan is a serious and dangerous operation." It is believed that the helicopter had not come under fire and one soldier in Kabul witnessed smoke coming out of the aircraft's engine before it crashed, ddp reported. Investigators announced on 22 December that, contrary to original reports, no civilians on the ground were killed in the accident, Deutschlandfunk radio reported. Germany currently has about 1,100 troops in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002), but additional German troops are expected to join the ISAF. (Amin Tarzi)

Coinciding with President Karzai's first year in power, Afghanistan's six neighbors (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) on 22 December signed a pact to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and not interfere in its internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002, "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002), "Dawn" reported the next day. "Foreign interference has been behind more than 20 years of devastating conflict in Afghanistan that has wrecked the country, left more than 2 million people dead and sent millions into exile abroad," the Karachi daily added. Representatives of the G-8, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the European Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also attended the meeting, but the foreign ministers of Iran and Uzbekistan were not present. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said their absence was due to "technical reasons" and that the two states fully supported the declaration, "Dawn," reported.

The Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan on 27 December 1979 (see feature above), ushering in more than two decades of war in that country. During that time most of Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan, directly interfered in Afghanistan's internal affairs. (Amin Tarzi).

Kamal Kharrazi was not in Kabul for the 22 December signing of a noninterference pact by Afghanistan's neighbors. The Pashto-language broadcast of the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's External Service cited the Afghan Foreign Ministry's press office as explaining that the Iranian foreign minister did not come because of technical problems with his flight. (Bill Samii)

Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian expressed his country's satisfaction with the noninterference pact during a press conference in Kabul on 23 December. "Iran welcomes any developments that help strengthen peace and stability in the region," Taherian was quoted as saying by Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari-language service. (Bill Samii)

According to an editorial published on 24 December in the independent Urdu daily "Jang," Pakistan has greatly contributed to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and is firmly committed to the tenets of the Kabul Declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002). The editorial asserted Pakistan's commitment to noninterference and "brotherly relations" by tracing the history of relations between the two states. It noted that when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan, along with the United States, assisted the mujahedin in their struggle for liberation. Today there are more than 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, according to the commentary. It claimed that Pakistan has significantly curtailed the narcotics trade on its end, but Afghanistan must implement stricter measures. It suggested that President Karzai must "check the influence of India, Israel, and Russia, which are longstanding foes of Pakistan." In addition, it opined that the United States and its allies must play a more important role on the humanitarian front to help repatriate Afghan refugees, stop external aggression, and engage in reconstruction efforts. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

During a seminar held in Kabul from 14-17 December to review Afghanistan's press law, an 11-member commission was established to form a free union of Afghan journalists, Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 19 December. The members of this commission are as follows: Chairman Ahmad Zia Rafat, Mohammad Ali Alizada, Ahmad Zia Siamak, Latifa Saidi Popal, Sher Aqa Shayan, Soraya Parlika, Mohammad Yosuf Siamak, Mohammad Shuayb Safi, Najibullah Achikzai, Abdullah Watandar, and Mohammad Ali Qayum, according to "Anis." The seminar assigned the commission to prepare the plan for the formation of the free union of journalists and submit it to a gathering of the representatives of journalists and civil society advocates, "Anis" reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Gafur Itiqad, the editor in chief of the Kabul weekly "Farda," has been sentenced to an unspecified prison term for publishing a cartoon of President Karzai, Hindukosh news agency reported on 19 December. Hindukosh expressed regret that Gafur's sentencing came on the heels of seminars on human rights and press freedom that took place in Kabul last week. The report added that Karzai is one of the most prominent advocates of free media.

The 2001 Bonn Agreement validated the 1964 Afghan Constitution as the basis for the country's legal framework until new laws and regulations can be adopted. Article 49 of the 1964 constitution affords Afghan citizens the "right of freedom of thought and speech and writing" and states that "censorship of the press is not allowed." Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghan authorities have not announced specific new media laws. (Amin Tarzi)

21 December 1955 -- The United States confirms that it has offered to mediate between Afghanistan and Pakistan to find a way for solving the "Pashtunistan" issue after Kabul and Islamabad come close to war over the border regions between the two countries. Afghanistan objected that the border regions, which it called Pashtunistan, become part of Pakistan.

27 December 1979 -- The Soviet Union completes its invasion plan of Afghanistan, installing Babrak Karmal as president, who describes the invasion as "urgent political, moral, and economic aid, including military aid" from Soviet Union to Afghanistan.

28 December 1994 -- After the expiration of the extension of his last term in office, Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani again refuses to retire, indicating the lack of an interim council to take over from him, while the power struggle in Afghanistan enters its third year.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997), "Sueddeutsche Zeitung."