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Afghan Report: July 3, 2003


3 July 2003, Volume 2, Number 23
SPECIAL FEATURES
POLITICAL SPACE IS OPENING FOR TALIBAN MODERATES, BUT JUST HOW MODERATE ARE THEY?
By John Heller

A "clear line" has to be drawn between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country" and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country." No one has "the right to harass/persecute any one under the name of Talib/Taliban anymore." Like no other event, this speech by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 30 April has shaped the domestic political debate in Afghanistan in the last half year. The aftershocks of this risky push ahead continue to be felt.

The background of Karzai's comment, made before an audience of Ulama (Islamic scholars), is the fact that some power holders in Afghanistan have taken to brandishing their opponents as "Taliban" in order to justify action against them as part of the war against the terrorists. For example, Herat Governor and warlord Mohammad Ismail Khan, who calls himself the "Amir" of southwestern Afghanistan and only formally recognizes the suzerainty of the Kabul government, clashes politically and sometimes violently with commander Amanullah Khan, a Pashtun warlord in the Shindand District. Amanullah Khan rejects Ismail Khan's claim for dominance in the region, and the Herat governor in turn accuses him under the very pretext of being a Talib. Amanullah has garnered support from the victims of Ismail Khan's anti-Pashtun policy. For example, for some time the "Amir" blocked access to Herat city for traders belonging to this particular ethnic group. Currently, Ismail Khan is attempting to expand his grip to the neighboring province of Badghis by fanning interethnic -- Tajik-Pashtun in this case -- rivalry in its center, Qala'-ye Nau.

Karzai has already touched upon this issue before. During an official visit to Pakistan in mid-April he demanded that Islamabad arrest key Taliban leaders to prevent crossborder terrorist activities. In return, Karzai offered clemency to "thousands of ordinary Taliban" and asked them to return to Afghanistan.

The United Nations (UN) special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, backed Karzai. Without mentioning the "T-word," Brahimi told the UN Security Council in May that, "those who did not oppose the peace process and who were committed to non-violent means must be provided with political space and equal opportunities, regardless of their political or ethnic affiliation, to help the peace process along." The Kabul daily "Anis" praised Karzai's approach as "an indication of his good intention and kindness, based on a specific objective, regarding only a certain set of Taliban. That specific objective is the elimination of the sense of revenge-seeking from Afghanistan."

In the mujahedin camp, however, this offer for reconciliation caused furious reactions. In the weekly "Payam-e Mujahed," the mouthpiece of the Jamia't-e Islami party around Defense Minister Marshall Abdul Qasim Fahim, chief ideologue Hafizullah Mansur called Karzai's proposal "a betrayal to Islam, betrayal to the nation, betrayal to humanity." Students demanded that Karzai step down. According to diplomats in Kabul, however, the Jamia't-e Islami-dominated National Security Department had a hand in the organization of these student protests. The Jamia't-e Islami faction fears losing its monopoly of power, given that not only former Taliban but also other Pashtun groups could be reintegrated into the political mainstream.

Karzai apparently went beyond mere words. According to Al-Jazeera in early May, the chairman planned a meeting with former Taliban Deputy Minister for Public Health Mulla Abbas Stanakzai who, in the late 1990s, as the group's only decent English speaker, acted as de facto spokesman of the movement. But it seems that the contact between Karzai and Stanakzai -- if it indeed did occur -- did not lead to substantial results.

However, there seems to be another back-door channel to certain Taliban elements from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. "Al-Hayat," an Arab-language daily published in London, reported in mid-May that from there, through a Pakistani Islamist group close to the Taliban, moderate Taliban leaders had been contacted by the United States. Amongst them were, according to this report, former Defense Minister Mulla Obaydullah, Planning Minister Munib Ahmad, and Internal Affairs Minister Mulla Ghawsuddin.

But his could be mere window dressing. Some days later, "Al-Hayat" quoted four alleged Taliban demands to the United States before talks could take place: a more high-ranking interlocutor; a defined agenda for the talks; a U.S. statement that the Taliban was not a terrorist movement; and the release of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to the website of "Hindustan Times," the U.S., for its part, demanded that the Taliban substitute Mulla Mohammad Omar as their leader, that it expel all non-Afghan fighters from the country, and release all U.S. prisoners. This, however, puts this story in doubt: apart from some Taliban statements, there have been no public indications that any U.S. soldier was taken prisoner by the them.

Clear is that the Taliban movement split after the fall of its regime in late 2001. On one hand, there is its militant wing accused of a series of attacks on U.S. and Afghan government forces as well as on Afghan and foreign humanitarian workers. Allegedly, this wing is still led by Mulla Omar, whose whereabouts are a subject of speculation. Some weeks ago, Mulla Omar is reported to have appointed Mulla Beradar ("brother"), who was born in the same village as the Taliban leader himself, military chief of the movement. Amongst Beradar's regional commanders are said to be Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, the former corps commander in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, and Mulla Dadullah, notorious for some massacres committed against the Hazarah minority in central and northern Afghanistan as well as accused to have had a key role in the destruction of the famous Buddha statues in Bamiyan. The announcement on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June 2003) of the creation of a Taliban leadership council headed by Mulla Omar may have been an attempt by the more militant wing of the Taliban to suppress any possible split in the leadership of the movement. The council reportedly includes Mulla Dadullah, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, and Mulla Beradar.

This more militant wing does not have a broad base within the local population. Rather, it profits from the political vacuum prevalent in many areas of Afghanistan, which exists due to the lack of a government presence and any visible reconstruction efforts. Brahimi spoke about a "growth in the number of Afghans who were becoming disaffected with the state of their nation." He said that "[t]he benefits of peace were still largely centered on Kabul and a peace dividend still eluded the vast majority of Afghans." Additionally, the heavy-handedness of U.S. troops vis-a-vis Afghan civilians -- like random house searches and arrests, lack of respect of women's quarters in private houses and "collateral damage" caused by bombardments -- plays into the hands of Karzai's enemies.

On the other hand, in early 2002 the so-called moderate Taliban faction established a political party called "Khuddam al-Forqan" (Servants of the Qur'an). An Islamist group of the same name had been active in Kabul in the mid-1960s when it opposed increasing leftist activities on the Kabul University campus. It later joined the mujahedin "party" of Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, the Harakat-e Inqelab-e Islami (Movement for an Islamic Revolution), from which most of the leading Taliban figures emerged in the mid-1990s. Khuddam al-Forqan's current leader is an Islamic cleric, Amin Mujaddedi who, a short while before 11 September and the fall of the Taliban, had issued a fatwa that referred to the enemies of the Taliban -- i.e., the Northern Alliance -- as "infidels" that could be slain with impunity. Today, however, Mujaddedi encourages nonviolent political struggle. Among the leaders of the Khuddam are former Taliban education minister and Pashtun from Khost Province, Arsala Rahmani, and former Deputy Minister for Information and Culture Abdul Rahman Hotak. Hotak is said to have been opposing the destruction of pre-Islamic artifacts at Kabul Museum by a Taliban sledgehammer squad under the leadership of his own minister, and subsequently had fallen into disgrace.

Spokesmen of the Khuddam emphasize that they reject the Jihad policy of the militant Taliban and that they want to become part of the political process in Afghanistan. It is not clear, however, whether this reflects a real change of mind or whether this is just lip service to cover the militants.

John Heller is a freelance journalist who frequently travels to Afghanistan.

NEWS
AFGHAN LEADER DOWNPLAYS SIGNIFICANCE OF NEW TALIBAN COUNCIL.
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 25 June dismissed as having "no importance" the news that the ousted Taliban movement has named a 10-member leadership council to organize resistance to U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June 2003), Reuters reported. The movement announced that the effort is led by spiritual leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, who was targeted by the U.S.-led forces when they ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001. In a reference to Mulla Omar, Karzai asked, "If someone is in hiding and cannot reveal himself, then how can he make a council?" Karzai said Afghanistan is in touch with neighboring Pakistan regarding reports that the Taliban is forming the council and that Islamabad is cooperating. Karzai once again repeated his opinion that the Taliban "have been defeated and destroyed [and] in no way are they a danger for Afghanistan" (for more on this issue see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

TWO AFGHAN MILITIAMEN KILLED IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE, TALIBAN SUSPECTED.
Two pro-government Afghan militiamen were killed on 25 June during an ambush in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Reuters reported the next day. The attack was carried out by "a group of Taliban," Hindukosh news agency reported on 26 June, adding that residents of Spin Boldak said the attack was in connection with the new war council that has allegedly been set up by the Taliban. The Hindukosh report said the Transitional Administration authorities have denied the attack was related to the establishment of the council (see above), noting that such attacks have occurred in the past. (Amin Tarzi)

FIGHTING REPORTED BETWEEN ZABUL PROVINCE FORCES AND THE TALIBAN.
An unidentified spokesman for Zabul Province Governor Hamidullah Tokhi said on 1 July that fighting is continuing between provincial forces and the Taliban in province's Ata Ghar District, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The spokesman said that "fighting is more or less continuing in the area," but that he could provide "no details at the moment." It is not clear when the fighting began. Despite Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's recent statement that the Taliban are no longer a viable force, most provincial administrators have continued to blame the Taliban for clashes. (Amin Tarzi)

RADICAL LEADER RESURFACES WITH ANOTHER THREAT AGAINST FOREIGNERS IN AFGHANISTAN.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of Hizb-e Islami and Afghan prime minister in the early 1990s, has urged Afghans to "cut off the hands of the foreign meddlers" and drive all foreign forces out of Afghanistan, AP reported on 2 July. Hekmatyar forwarded his video message to AP from his mountain hideout, believed to be situated somewhere in Konar Province near the Afghan-Pakistan border, the report added. In December, Hekmatyar declared a jihad against foreign forces in Afghanistan, although he denied reports that he had formed an alliance with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The United States in February designated him a terrorist (see " RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January and 20 February 2003). Hekmatyar has been out of the spotlight for the past two months, although German sources blamed him for the 7 June attack on International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN PAKTIYA PROVINCE...
A U.S. special-operations soldier was killed and two others were injured on 25 June while on patrol near Gardayz, Paktiya Province, AFP quoted U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge as saying on 26 June. Lefforge provided no further information on the incident or on the identity of the perpetrators. (Amin Tarzi)

...WHILE ATTACKS ON U.S. TROOPS CONTINUE IN SOUTHEAST PROVINCES.
Assailants fired on U.S. soldiers near the border with Pakistan on four separate occasions over the past few days, AFP reported on 30 June. According to military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis, Task Force Devil Scout on 29 June "received small-arms fire from an unknown-sized element" near the military base in the Paktika Province town of Shkin, some 241 kilometers south of Kabul. The previous day, a dozen fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades ambushed a U.S. patrol northeast of Shkin, prompting return fire and air support from Apache helicopters. In nearby Paktiya Province, the Gardayz military base came under rocket fire on 29 June, as did a military base in Urgun, Paktika Province, on 28 June. No casualties were reported in any of the incidents. AFP reported that some 500 U.S. and Afghan troops are engaged in intensive operations against suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda members in the Nangarhar and Kunar provinces north of Paktika Province (see " RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June 2003). (Traci Hukill)

WARLORDS BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN'S SAMANGAN PROVINCE.
Factional fighting erupted on 27 and 28 June in the Dara-ye Suf district of Samangan Province between forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, and those of General Ata Mohammad, commander of Army Corps No. 7, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported on 29 June. UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that although the fighting has reportedly stopped the UN is sending a mission to "verify reports of fighting, ascertain the causes and attempt to resolve the more immediate issues as well as reduce tensions." Forces loyal to Ata Mohammad, who represents the Jami'at-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan, have clashed sporadically over the past year with armed supporters of Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party. In May, Karzai appointed Dostum as his adviser and recalled him to Kabul, but Dostum ignored those orders and repositioned himself in his stronghold in Jowzjan Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

UN OFFICE IN NANGARHAR PROVINCE ATTACKED.
Security officials in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, said several rockets landed near a United Nations office in the city on 30 June, RFE/RL reported. According to news agencies, the explosions shattered windows in some houses but caused no injuries. The attackers have not been identified. This is the second rocket attack apparently aimed at the UN Children's Fund office in Jalalabad. In April, a hand grenade shattered office windows and damaged an office vehicle, but no one was hurt. There have been numerous rocket attacks in Afghanistan against government buildings as well as offices of international aid organizations. (Amin Tarzi)

SUSPECTED SUICIDE BOMBER DIES IN KABUL.
Kabul police chief Basir Salangi said on 2 July that a man died at a bazaar on the outskirts of Kabul late in the evening of 1 July when explosives attached to his body detonated prematurely, international media reported. Salangi said it is unclear what the man's intended target was. The fatal blast occurred about 3 kilometers from a base at which U.S. and French soldiers are training troops for the Afghan National Army. A base used by German peacekeepers is also located nearby. On 16 June, leaflets distributed in Kandahar Province in the name of the former Afghan Taliban regime warned of suicide attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan, and four German ISAF soldiers were killed in a 7 June suicide attack in Kabul (see " RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 and 19 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY SAYS SECURITY IS AFGHANS' RESPONSIBILITY...
Foreign Secretary Straw arrived in Kabul on 30 June for a two-day visit, AFP reported. After meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Straw praised Afghanistan's progress in the fields of economic activity and women's rights and told reporters security is the country's greatest challenge and, ultimately, its responsibility. Other states "can do what we can," Straw said, "but it's both your responsibility and your duty." The U.K. announced on 28 June that it will send 50 troops to Mazar-e Sharif in early July to provide security for a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). NATO, which will assume command of the International Security Assistance Force in August, has said it might deploy small numbers of soldiers to PRTs throughout the countryside as a means of extending Karzai's influence (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). Straw was to meet with Karzai later in the day. (Traci Hukill)

...AND VISITS KANDAHAR FOLLOWING MOSQUE BOMBING.
Straw visited Kandahar on 1 July as part of his two-day visit to Afghanistan, telling Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai that the U.K. remains "completely committed to remain in Afghanistan for as long as you want to help you build this country into a prosperous and stable community," the BBC reported. Just hours before Straw's arrival, a time bomb exploded in a local mosque during evening prayers, injuring 17 people, three of them seriously, AFP reported. Mulla Mawlawi Abdullah Fayaz said his mosque was targeted because he has spoken out against the Taliban, Reuters reported. Sherzai told Straw that those behind the attack on the mosque "have no religion. They are terrorists," the BBC reported. (Amin Tarzi)

GERMAN NATO GENERAL TO TAKE COMMAND OF ISAF IN AUGUST...
German Lieutenant-General Goetz Gliemeroth will assume command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August when NATO takes command of the peacekeeping force, ddp reported on 25 June. German Lieutenant-General Norbert van Heyst currently commands the ISAF, which has been under joint German-Dutch leadership since February. Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham announced in May that his country will assume command of the ISAF under the NATO mandate and will deploy 2,000 troops to Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 May 2003). Since its inception in December 2001, the ISAF has had three different commands: the United Kingdom until June 2002, Turkey until February 2003, and the current German-Dutch command. NATO's assumption of responsibility for the force is intended to give the ISAF a more structured and stable command system. It is not clear how many German soldiers will remain in Kabul after August. There are currently more than 2,000 German personnel in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

...AS GERMAN ARMY MEMBERS' UNION WANTS TROOPS OUT OF AFGHANISTAN.
Bernhard Gertz, chairman of the Bundeswehr-Verband, the union of German Army members, told "Die Welt" of 27 June that "if attacks on our soldiers increase, we must seriously consider ending our involvement in Afghanistan." Gertz argued that having German soldiers risking their lives to stabilize the Transitional Administration does not make sense when the resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda have "secured withdrawal areas beyond the Pakistani border, have reestablished themselves there, largely control Kandahar Province, and have great popular appeal." Gertz said the reconstruction work in Afghanistan is "a piecemeal job" and rejected the possibility of deploying German soldiers beyond Kabul. Four German soldiers were killed and 29 others injured on 7 June when the bus they were traveling in was attacked. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL: THREAT OF TERRORIST INFILTRATION ACROSS TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER REMAINS SEVERE.
Russian border-guard service deputy head Colonel General Aleksei Kozhevnikov told journalists in Dushanbe on 25 June that the danger of international terrorists crossing the Tajik-Afghan border remains serious despite the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Kozhevnikov was quoted as saying there are still significant numbers of members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, and that the Russian border-guard service in Tajikistan has learned that some terrorist groups, including ethnic Chechens, have concentrated in northern Afghanistan and are trying to cross the border. Current training exercises for Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border were planned with this situation in mind, as well as the continuing problem of drug smuggling, Kozhevnikov added. (Bess Brown)

UNODC REPORT SHOWS MAJOR INCREASE IN AFGHAN POPPY PRODUCTION...
In a report titled "2003 Global Illicit Drug Trends" that was released on 25 June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) cites an alarming increase in opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the UN Information Service reported. According to UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, "growth of opium production in Afghanistan has increased the heroin market in the region and, further, in Central Asia, the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been expanding at an alarming rate due mainly to the increase in intravenous heroin abuse." The UNODC report (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/report_2003-06-26_1.pdf) states that total opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2002 "was estimated to range from 69,000 hectares to 79,000 [hectares]," compared to 8,000 hectares in 2001. With the resumption of large-scale poppy farming after the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan has become the main producer of opium in the world, accounting for 76 percent of the market in 2002, compared to 12 percent in 2001, Reuters reported on 25 June. (For more on Afghanistan's illicit-drug problems, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

...AS PAPER CRITICIZES AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION'S FIGHT AGAINST ILLICIT DRUGS.
In a 25 June commentary, the Kabul publication "Panjara" wrote that profits from the sale of illicit drugs in Afghanistan are a substantial factor in providing unnamed terrorist organizations with funds. The commentary laments the fact that Afghanistan has held the "world record" in opium poppy production for the past few years. "Panjara" states that "disorder" and the absence of "central government" are the main causes of the increase in opium-poppy production. It claims that some of the "gangs" responsible for the production of opium have links to the Afghan Transitional Administration. "Panjara" calls on the Transitional Administration to issue a decree imposing "strict control on poppy cultivation." (Amin Tarzi)

DISCUSSIONS ON DRAFT AFGHAN CONSTITUTION HELD IN KANDAHAR...
As part of the process of soliciting the opinions of Afghans on the shape of their future constitution, members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) hosted discussions in Kandahar on 25 June, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to the report, one participant expressed "his deep disagreement" with a republican system for Afghanistan and argued in favor of a constitutional monarchy. In the questionnaire the CRC is distributing to Afghan citizens, a copy of which has been obtained by RFE/RL, there is one question regarding the system of government that asks whether people would favor a parliamentary, presidential, monarchical, or mixed system. However, all subsequent questions discuss the powers that would be held by the president and the possible prime minister, but do not address any possible role for a monarch. One question asks what role should be given to the "Father of the Nation" -- the title given to former King Mohammad Zaher by Chairman Karzai. It should be noted that roughly 80 percent of Afghans are illiterate. (Amin Tarzi)

...AS DELEGATES IN SAMANGAN REPORTEDLY FAVOR A FEDERAL SYSTEM.
In the ongoing debate on Afghanistan's new constitution, residents of Samangan Province have declared "by a majority vote" that they are in favor of a geographically based federal system, Jowzjan TV reported on 28 June. According to the report, people in Samangan want all languages spoken in Afghanistan to be recognized as national languages with Dari designated the "governmental language." The population of Samangan has also made clear its opposition to the formation of a national army. How those opinions were ascertained and by whom is not clear from the report. Dostum, who favors a federal system for Afghanistan, which would presumably grant him control over parts of northern Afghanistan, controls Jowzjan TV. The rejection of the national army is also part of Dostum's plan to maintain control over his own militia. (For more on the Afghan constitutional process, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 10 and 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

14,000 REFUGEES, INCLUDING MANY AFGHANS, REGISTERED IN TURKMENISTAN.
According to the Ashgabat office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 14,000 refugees are registered in Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reported on 26 June. Most of them are from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. According to the UNHCR, the Turkmen government has supported the agency's work with refugees, most notably by providing assistance in repatriations. In addition to Afghans, these have included many ethnic Turkmen citizens of Tajikistan. (Bess Brown)

UN BEGINS DISBANDING CAMP ON AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN BORDER.
The UN refugee agency on 30 June relocated 800 Afghans to camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan on the first day of dismantling a large settlement on the border, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced. Nearly 20,000 refugees were stranded early last year in the Chaman "waiting area" when Pakistan closed its borders to refugees fleeing the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The camp, to which Pakistan did not allow the UN to provide full services, was reportedly considered unsafe due to its location on a smuggling route and because of its makeshift nature. Pakistani, Afghan, and UN authorities decided in May to close the camp for security reasons. These concerns were highlighted last month when the bodies of 22 suspected Taliban fighters killed in a clash with Afghan troops were dumped in the middle of the camp (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 May 2003). Officials from Spin Boldak sent the bodies there to make a point because they claimed the Taliban fighters entered Afghanistan from the camp, according to Afghan Islamic Press. About 60 percent of the camp's residents have asked to be placed in the Zhare Dasht camp near Kandahar and most of the rest are expected to be sent to the Mohammad Khayl camp near Quetta. (Traci Hukill)

ROUTE OF TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE CONFIRMED.
The route of the planned Trans-Afghan Pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dowlatabad field to Pakistan has been confirmed at a regular meeting in Ashgabat of the three-country committee on implementing the pipeline project, turkmenistan.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 27 June. The pipeline is to pass from Dovlatabad in southern Turkmenistan via Herat, Kandahar, and Quetta to Multan. Confirmation of the route permits the Asian Development Bank, which is financing the feasibility studies for the pipeline, to continue work on the technical parameters of the project and to do a study of the markets for natural gas in Pakistan and India. The participants at the Ashgabat meeting also examined various drafts of intergovernmental agreements on the transport, sale, and purchase of the gas to be carried by the 1,500-kilometer pipeline. The planned capacity of the pipeline is 30 billion cubic meters per year, and the project is expected to cost $2 billion-$2.5 billion (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). (Bess Brown)

IOC LIFTS BAN ON AFGHAN OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION.
The International Olympic Committee on 29 June lifted the suspension on Afghanistan's participation in the Olympics, Reuters reported. The executive director for the Olympic Games, Gilbert Felli, said that in "October 1999, the Afghan National Olympic Committee was suspended under the Taliban regime" for abusing the rights of women. However today, Felli stated, "women have a prominent role in sport in Afghanistan." Afghanistan will now be eligible to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Afghanistan has had some success in wrestling in the past. (Amin Tarzi)

AFGHAN SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT LEADER BECOMES FIRST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.
Sayyed Eshaq Gailani, leader of the National Solidarity Movement for Afghanistan, on 21 June announced his candidacy for the presidential elections expected in June 2004, the weekly "Afghanistan" reported on 29 June. Sayyed Eshaq Gailani is the nephew of Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, who heads the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, one of the former mujahedin parties, but the two are not on the same side of the political spectrum. Some analysts and international observers have argued that under the current political situation and insecure environment in Afghanistan, the planned elections for 2004 cannot be held in a democratic fashion (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY
30 June 1949 -- Afghan National Assembly opens seventh session; it is known as the "Liberal Assembly."

1 July 1962 -- Afghanistan accepts Shah of Iran's offer to mediate its dispute with Pakistan.

1 July 1995 -- General Abdul Wali, son-in-law of former king Mohammad Zaher Shah, arrives for consultations with Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani protests to Pakistani government against invitation given to Wali.

Sources: "Dictionary of Afghan Wars, Revolutions and Insurgencies" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996); Voice of America.

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