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Afghan Report: June 5, 2003

5 June 2003, Volume 2, Number 19
By Mark Berniker

It is the time of year when opium farmers are beginning the harvest of the lucrative cash crop in Afghanistan. Several reports point to an opium crop far larger than last year, which will likely create a spike in heroin shipments throughout the region and to black markets around the world (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 May 2003).

While a modicum of stability has come to Kabul, Afghanistan continues to be plagued by political strife and warlord control persists in the provinces.

Despite international efforts, opium is being farmed, processed, and smuggled primarily through the Afghan-Tajik border. Efforts are being made to stem the tide, but the problem appears to be getting worse.

On 18 May, IRNA reported top government officials of Afghanistan and Tajikistan met to discuss plans to improve border security and interdiction of drug trafficking. But while all the governments in the region are quick to herald the seizure of heroin smugglers, the trade is growing unabated.

Afghanistan is at the center of the opium farming and smuggling crisis and, despite the fall of the Taliban, the government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai continues to fight an uphill battle. The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), in its annual world review published on 13 May depicted a grim view of Afghanistan with what it said included, "political stagnation, with Afghan warlords back in the driving seat and a vibrant opium economy taking off in the absence of major economic reconstruction."

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, providing more than 75 percent of the heroin on the global market. The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board's most recent report said the opium crop was 3,400 tons in 2002, up from 185 tons in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). More recently, the head of Pakistan's Antinarcotics Task Force, Major General Zafar Abbas, has said heroin production in Afghanistan this year is expected to reach more than 4,000 tons. An opium harvest of between 4,000 and 4,500 tons would lead to close to 500 tons of heroin worth well over a $1 billion, far greater than Afghanistan's gross national product.

The Russian, Afghan, Tajik, Pakistani and Iranian press are littered with media reports about heroin seizures and arrests of smugglers crossing border passes on the periphery of Afghanistan. But the problem starts deeper inside the Afghan provinces, where poppy farmers are selling the cash crop at far greater prices than any other agricultural product. International crop substitution programs have not been successful, and efforts to wipe out opium farms in the Nangarhar Province have recently been met with armed resistance. A report on the Voice of Islamic Radio of Iran on 19 May said that reports of "eradication of poppy crops in the eastern Nangarhar, Konar, Nuristan, and Laghman Provinces of Afghanistan are utterly untrue."

While few clear links have been established between Afghan warlords, opium farmers, and heroin smugglers, the fact that the heroin trade is growing speaks to Kabul's lack of control of both the provinces and its borders with Tajikistan and other neighboring countries. As the International Security Assistance Force has maintained some stability around Kabul, several key warlords have remained in power in the Afghan provinces, and still command their own private armies. The IISS report says Iran has established close relations with Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat. The Russians and Indians are said to be trying to woo Afghan Vice President and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, leader of the mainly Tajik minority at the heart of the government. Meanwhile, the Pashtun majority of the country and neighboring Pakistan and Iran have diminished influence under Karzai's Afghanistan.

Opium is far and away the most lucrative crop for Afghan farmers, often generating 10 or more times the value of any other crop. There is no question there are bands of opium smugglers and factories that combine the raw opium with chemicals before the heroin is packed in a variety of ways. Smugglers are reported to be using new and different techniques to conceal their movement of the drug -- which has a lucrative street value -- primarily to western European capitals. Some reports say refined heroin has been packed inside almonds; other smugglers have been caught with swallowed bags while trying to cross the border by train, planes, and motor vehicles.

As reported by RFE/RL, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov told a group of defense attaches from embassies in Moscow on 19 May that "Tajikistan considers drug trafficking to be one of the main dangers to its national security," Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported. Rakhmonov went onto say the Afghan drug business is not only intact, but is expanding its activities.

There are indications that there has been an increase in heroin seizures along the Afghan-Tajik border, but what is not known is how many other shipments did make it across the 1,400-kilometer border. Asia-Pulse reported on 14 May that there was a border skirmish where heroin and opium was seized, adding one Afghan smuggler was killed and two escaped with guns and ammunition in the southern Khatlon region of Tajikistan. The report said the Afghan smugglers were coming from the direction of Qala'-i Khulm.

On 13 May, Asia-Pulse reported from Dushanbe that the amount of heroin that Tajik security forces have seized this year has already doubled since last year. The report quotes Tajik Interior Ministry official Fayzullo Gadoyev as saying his drug security forces have already seized 1.3 tons of heroin this year.

And while more heroin may be getting seized, it also appears the security status quo is keeping the warlord power structure in place.

A recent report on Tajikistan issued by the International Crisis Group said that "drugs need to be approached as a development problem as much as a security issue, with a new focus on employment and alternative agricultural and business opportunities at all levels."

UN experts have voiced concern that U.S.-led antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan have not at all affected local drug syndicates. While few specific details are publicly known about the heroin processing factories, there are reports of at least 50 located in Afghanistan along the border with Tajikistan.

While there is widespread knowledge of the extent of the Afghan opium farming and heroin export business, interdiction by local and international authorities has been only partially successful, at best. Increased drug surveillance technology and border security staff and equipment are needed if the growing flow of heroin from Afghanistan is to be stopped. Afghanistan and Tajikistan are profoundly affected by the rising heroin trade, which threatens their fragile economic development.

Mark Berniker is a freelance journalist who specializes in Eurasian affairs.

As was largely expected (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003), General Abdul Rashid Dostum has refused to leave his seat of power in northern Afghanistan and move to Kabul to take his post as a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Reuters reported on 3 June. As a way to curb the power of the warlords, Karzai appointed Dostum to his new post on 21 May, but the general immediately left for his power base in the north. According to Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, "the very optimistic conclusions which were made just after the meeting [between Karzai and Dostum] might not have been the real ones," Reuters reported. However, Abdullah added that the situation should not be viewed with pessimism "because of a single issue which has not been done, that is, the presence of General Dostum in Kabul." The main problem is not whether Dostum moves to Kabul or not, but the fact that his action illustrates the powerlessness of the Kabul administration to enforce its policies. Unless the central administration in Afghanistan is given international support to extend its rule over the provinces, one warlord or another will undermine the country's move toward a peaceful existence. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 28 May commentary, "The Kabul Times" praised the appointment of General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 21 May as a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). The paper argued that Karzai's decision to transfer "General Dostum from his seat of power" in northern Afghanistan to Kabul has "been welcomed throughout the country," adding that "those who grow too big for their clothes ought to be cut down to size" to allow for the development of a strong central government. Dostum nevertheless appears to be consolidating his position in the Faryab, Balkh, Samangan, and Sar-e Pol provinces; almost immediately after the appointment, he made his way back to northern Afghanistan, with a stopover in Uzbekistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai visited Ghazni, the provincial seat of Ghazni Province, on 29 May, AP reported. Karzai was greeted by cheering crowds amid tight security and was surrounded by his U.S. bodyguards. Sayyed Tayeb Jawad, Karzai's chief of staff, said the trip was meant to assess "how the reconstruction process is going and what the people need," adding that Karzai will visit all of Afghan's provinces. During his trip, Karzai met with Ghazni Governor Asadollah Khaled and visited a television station and a school. The trip might be related in part to Karzai's efforts to curb the power of renegade governors and warlords and extend the authority of the central government beyond Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Reconstruction Minister Amin Farhang said on 31 May that the slow pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan is due to the lack of security in some parts of the country and the slow flow of aid promised by donor countries, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Farhang said the United States "once again made a mistake" by announcing the end of its antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan, as remnants of the Taliban remain in Afghanistan and can regroup at any time. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said during his 1 May visit to Kabul that major combat operations in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, had ended (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The international war on terrorism could be disrupted if the world does not address the increasing chaos in Afghanistan, European Commission President Romano Prodi said during the G-8 meeting in Evian on 2 June, Reuters reported. Prodi added that the situation in Afghanistan is "very bad...The central power is weak; drug income is increasing in an incredible way. Money doesn't go to the government." He warned that the world will "never succeed" in its war against terrorism if it does not "have control over everything in Afghanistan." (Amin Tarzi)

Militiamen loyal to Commander Abdul Razaq on 2 June killed an Afghan who was working as a translator for U.S. forces and who belonged to the militia of Commander Payda Gol in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, the Hindukosh news agency reported on 3 June. Later, forces loyal to Payda Gol killed three members of the militia of Abdul Razaq. According to Sayyed Fazluddin Agha, the district governor of Spin Boldak, the "clash was [due to a] misunderstanding between the personnel of the two groups." The fighting, which lasted for several hours, was brought under control only when U.S. forces intervened, Reuters reported on 3 June. According to the report, one militia member and two civilians died after being caught in the crossfire. (Amin Tarzi)

One of the U.S. bodyguards of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai was killed on 29 May while accompanying the Afghan leader to Ghazni Province (see above), the Hindukosh news agency reported on 31 May. In November 2002, it was reported that U.S. Special Forces officers tasked with guarding Karzai were to be replaced by guards from DynCorp Inc., a U.S.-based private military contractor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

A U.S. Special Forces Operations vehicle of the U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in Afghanistan was targeted by a remote-controlled bomb on 27 May in Khost Province near the Afghan-Pakistani border, AFP reported on 28 May. According to U.S. forces, the explosives were detonated alongside a road, damaging the vehicle but causing no casualties. The use of remote-controlled devices highlights the difficulty that terrorist groups and opposition Afghan forces face in confronting coalition forces, but it also suggests that hostile forces are turning to increasingly sophisticated weaponry. (Amin Tarzi)

Two rockets landed in a base operated by the antiterrorism coalition's forces in Gardayz in Paktia Province on 28 May, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The attack, the first rocket incident in weeks, did not result in any casualties. AIP speculated that the attack was carried out by groups opposed to the recent appointment of Paktia Governor Asadollah Wafa, who assumed his post on 28 May. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have launched a large-scale military operation in the Shahi Kot Mountains in eastern Afghanistan's Paktiya Province, "The New York Times" reported on 4 June. Major Jack Marr of the U.S. military said that intelligence reports had pointed to the existence of Al-Qaeda or Taliban elements in the area, which he described as "one of the hottest areas in Afghanistan." Afghan intelligence sources had indicated that the Taliban regime's chief of staff, Jalaluddin Haqqani, along with several Arab fighters, had crossed into Paktiya from Pakistan. The Taliban team reportedly included Saif al-Rahman Mansur, who was responsible for leading a battle against U.S. forces in the Shahi Kot in March 2002 that resulted in the deaths of seven U.S. military personnel. Mansur was also named as the person behind the attempted assassination of Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

According to eyewitnesses in Zormat, Paktiya Province, a convoy of at least 20 U.S. military vehicles and tanks moved from Gadayz to the Shahi Kot Mountains on 2 June, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 3 June. Reports also indicated that 10 helicopters were flying low over the area; however, there were no indications that a large-scale military confrontation was taking place, the AIP reported. The major operation announced by the U.S. forces resulted in the arrest of "just four men on a farm," Reuters reported on 4 June. (Amin Tarzi)

A U.S. military spokesman announced that an AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed on 3 June near Urgon, Paktika Province, while providing backup for a military operation, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 4 June. The spokesman denied reports that the helicopter had come under fire. Two pilots onboard the Apache helicopter survived the crash, American Forces Press Service, reported on 3 June. (Amin Tarzi)

Explosive materials left in a bag went off at the Kandahar Province office of the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) on 30 May, causing no casualties or material damage, Bakhtar news agency reported on 1 June. A "suspicious local employee" of the GTZ is under investigation. The targeting of GTZ, a nonmilitary organization, follows the new trend of attacks in Afghanistan in which unarmed aid workers or their assistants have specifically been targeted (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). The new tactics seem to be designed to scare aid groups out of Afghanistan, thus plunging the country into further chaos that would be viewed by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or disenchanted Afghan opposition groups as a defeat of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

A German soldier serving with ISAF was killed and another sustained injuries when their vehicle hit a land mine south of Kabul on 29 May, ISAF reported. This brings the number of German ISAF soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 10. (Amin Tarzi)

Gerhard Schroeder said on 28 May that Germany would "seriously consider" the extension of its forces beyond Kabul if the United Nations requested such a move and if those forces were given the required resources, ddp reported. Schroeder said the possibility of German participation in the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) is being studied, but added that no decision has been made to commit German troops to those teams. Germany was reported on 26 May to be planning to establish a second military base in Herat Province in western Afghanistan in addition to the base it operates in Kabul as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). The UN has not sanctioned PRTs, which represent an attempt by the United States to combine peace and security efforts with reconstruction in Afghan provinces. (Amin Tarzi)

The opening of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) field office in Kandahar on 27 May completed the opening of field offices in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. The offices will lay the groundwork for public debate on the new Afghan constitution, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said on 29 May. There are a total of 10 field offices, in Kabul, Konduz, Mazar-e Sharif, Bamiyan, Herat, Gadayz, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mashhad in Iran, and Quetta in Pakistan. The CRC offices are explaining the importance of the new constitution in the lives of the Afghan people and making people aware of how the new law code can help prevent abuse of power by the government, UNAMA reported. A Loya Jirga is scheduled to approve the new constitution in October (for more on the constitutional process, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issued a joint statement on 1 June expressing concern over an "increase in the number of threats, intimidation, physical aggression, and even arbitrary detentions" of people who have expressed political views regarding the new constitution and the future shape of the Afghan state and government, Reuters reported. UNAMA spokesman De Almeida e Silva said that while the violence was not directly targeted at the CRC's work, it had a negative effect on the "environment conducive to free participation of people" in the constitutional process. One of the thorniest points in the debate over the new Afghan constitution is the choice of political system for the country. According to Reuters, some powerful provincial leaders favor a "loose federalist setup," while others want a strong centralized system. An early draft of the new Afghan constitution obtained by RFE/RL (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003) proposed a strong central government; however, the current debate within the CRC has been conducted with little transparency, and it seems that the Afghan people will have little chance of voicing their opinion but will rather face a fait accompli when they see their new constitution. (Amin Tarzi)

As the nationwide public debate on the new Afghan constitution began, UNAMA spokesman De Almeida e Silva on 1 June called for all participants in the constitutional process, including "men and women, regardless of their ethnic origin, religious belief, or political affiliation," to be "able to express themselves freely and openly" and voice their opinion regarding the kind of constitution they want for Afghanistan, UNAMA reported. He added that only with the broad and unopposed participation of the Afghan people can the new constitution "reflect the needs and aspirations" of the Afghan nation. De Almeida e Silva called on the Afghan police and security forces to "use their mandate and resources to counter any attempts aimed at disrupting the consultations and to bring those perpetrators to justice." According to the timetable presented by the secretariat of the Constitutional Commission on 10 March (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003), the public consultation process in the constitution was slated to run from 1 May to 30 June, but with the debate starting on 1 June, it seems that the CRC has decided either to shorten the public debate or to push the constitutional process forward by one month. (Amin Tarzi)

One year after the emergency Loya Jirga, participants in the Afghan grand assembly say a lack of security and warlordism are the main challenges facing the Transitional Administration, the government created by the assembly. Some participants today criticize Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai for failing to deliver overall peace and security. Others say that, under the circumstances, no other leader could have achieved more over the past 12 months.

On 11 June 2002, more than 1,500 delegates from every region of Afghanistan assembled in a giant white tent on the grounds of the Polytechnic Institute on the northwestern edge of the capital, Kabul. The delegates -- professionals, politicians, tribal elders, and religious leaders -- gathered for an emergency Loya Jirga to select members of an interim administration that would rule Afghanistan until democratic elections scheduled for 2004.

Now, a year later, how is the Loya Jirga being remembered? Mohammed Usman Tareq, a journalist who participated in the Loya Jirga as a representative from Logar Province, believes the Transitional Administration has not lived up to the expectations of the Afghan people. Tareq tells RFE/RL that living conditions for ordinary Afghans have not improved, that violence and lawlessness continue, that the central government has no real authority beyond the capital, and that Afghanistan's budget depends too heavily on foreign aid. He recalls pledges made by Karzai after he was selected to be Transitional Authority president at the weeklong Loya Jirga: "Mr. Karzai implied that if he cannot succeed in his job he would call the Loya Jirga and resign. Unfortunately, the government did not make progress, but he did not resign. One of the issues, which was underlined in the Bonn Agreement, as well as at the Loya Jirga, was the human rights issue. The human rights committee was established, but despite its huge budget, the committee did not do anything significant." Tareq says the Afghan government cannot rebuild the country or receive international aid unless it provides security throughout the country, not only in the capital. He insists that only the U.S. is capable of dealing with powerful warlords who have been ignoring the central government.

Ahmed Rashid, a noted regional expert based in Lahore, Pakistan, agrees that the transitional government's biggest problem over the past year has been the lack of security, but that the problem is not of its making: "I think the failure has to be put on American foreign policy for refusing to take the lead in getting the international community to provide peacekeepers outside Kabul. The lack of security is the biggest danger in order to implement the rest of the Bonn agreement, which includes the new constitution, the registration of political parties and an election next year."

In interviews with RFE/RL, many ordinary Afghans say their lives have not improved economically in the last year. And they say they are disillusioned by the slow pace of reforms: "My name is Najib. Our great expectations after the last Loya Jirga did not materialize. There were so many pledges, but nothing has happened during the past year. We wish they delivered what was promised."

Another: "My name is Sayyid Mohammed. The last Loya Jirga was convened in an exceptional situation -- after 23 years of a civil war -- and subsequently it had many shortcomings. Powerful warlords pushed their favorite candidates ahead. We hope that new Jirgas will not make that mistake and contribute to eliminate ethnic and tribal rivalries."

Supporters of the Transitional Administration note that the government started from zero, and that it would have been difficult -- in a wartorn country with no infrastructure or functioning bureaucracy -- for another leader to have done better in solving Afghanistan's enormous problems.

For the first time in more than a decade, supporters say, Afghanistan has an internationally recognized government that is constructing a framework for long-term national development. A new currency has been introduced, more than 2 million refugees have returned home, and some 4 million children, including girls, have resumed their education in secular schools.

Isma'il Yun, who was the Loya Jirga representative from eastern Laghman Province, dismisses claims that convening the assembly was a purely symbolic procedure and that it was under outside pressure to elect Karzai as head of the government: "We cannot deny that to some extent the emergency Loya Jirga was under the pressure of warlords, internal and foreign elements, and religious groups. However, given the situation, it was the best possible solution we could come up with. It wasn't an ideal Loya Jirga, but it did solve the problem, and we can call it a success."

Yun says that for many centuries, the Loya Jirga -- the highest decision-making institution in the country -- has helped Afghans find solutions to major crises or challenges facing the nation. He notes that Afghanistan was created as a sovereign country by a Loya Jirga in the 18th century, and that during the 20th century, the nation convened a Loya Jirga to decide on whether to participate in World War II.

Free and fair democratic elections are scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in June 2004. In the meantime, a Constitutional Loya Jirga is due to convene to approve a new constitution for the country in October. (Farangis Najibullah)

Heavy rainfall and the ensuing floods killed more than 100 people in the Doshi and Qarqol districts of Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan on 28 May, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 29 May. Floodwaters also damaged more than 70 houses and destroyed large parcels of farmland. According to the Afghan Bakhtar news agency, no action has been taken to help the victims of the floods despite appeals to the international community for assistance. Flooding has also destroyed farmland and orchards in Badakhshan Province. (Amin Tarzi)

Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi announced on 29 May that her ministry dismissed 117 female staff on 22 May, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 30 May. Sorabi said the cuts were part of a plan to reduce state employees in all departments, adding that the total number of dismissals in her ministry will be about 400. Those employees who lost their jobs, many of whom are heads of households, protested their dismissal in a gathering in front of the ministry, charging that only those employees who "do not enjoy the support of the ministry" have lost their jobs, the Iranian radio reported. (Amin Tarzi)

A group of disabled veterans of Afghanistan's wars held a demonstration in Kabul on 31 May to demand the payment of their monthly stipends, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Several wheelchair-bound veterans blocked a main square in Kabul for 15 minutes as they chanted slogans against the Ministry of Martyrs and the Disabled. The demonstrators claimed they have not received their $6 stipend in months. They also demanded that the monthly stipend be increased. Disabled Afghan veterans staged larger demonstrations in December 2002 and in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002 and 15 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai appointed Ahmad Jawed Lodin as the head of his press office on 3 June, Radio Afghanistan reported. Lodin replaces Sayyed Fazl Akbar, who was appointed governor of Konar Province in April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 May 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

2 June 1919 -- An armistice is signed between Afghan and British forces in the Third Anglo-Afghan War.

30 May 1921 -- The first Afghan Constitution goes into force.

3 June 1994 -- Forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum and Muhammad Ismail Khan clash in the western Afghan city of Shindand. Dostum bombs Herat.

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