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Afghan Report: July 31, 2003

31 July 2003, Volume 2, Number 27
By Kimberly McCloud

"Education, education, education, and reconstruction." An Afghan listener recently wrote this in a letter to RFE/RL, in which he expressed frustration at the political wrangling and violence that has caused much destruction in the recent past in Afghanistan and which continues to do so today. The man, a university lecturer in the United Kingdom for the past 15 years, pointed to the lack of education in Afghanistan as the primary factor inhibiting the development of a truly democratic political culture. On the subject of political parties, for example, he said: "Forming [a] political party in Afghanistan is totally different than the Western world. In the West all the people are educated and every country has stable police, military and proper governments. Compare this with Afghanistan!"

Sorry State of Education in Afghanistan

Indeed, education in Afghanistan remains in a sorry state. And it seems that the importance, indeed the necessity of education in the reconstruction of a state that boasts 90 percent illiteracy is not fully appreciated. There was no outcry, for example, when AFP reported on 16 July that "Afghanistan was to close 180 schools and fire 4,000 teachers as government funds have run dry" in Balkh Province. The provincial director of education, Yosuf Rahmani, told AFP that the ministry could not afford to pay 4,000 of its 6,000 public-school teachers, and that they would therefore be laid off. This decision will affect 170,000 students in that province alone.

The plan is to cram the 170,000 "affected" students into the remaining open schools; however, it is likely that many will not have that possibility. Children in Balkh's Kishindeh District, for example, where all 19 schools are to be closed, will have no alternatives. And, as RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah noted in her 23 July article about the issue: "Classrooms in Balkh's 166 remaining schools are already suffering from overcrowding. Afghan Education Ministry standards limit to 40 the number of students in any one classroom. But in reality, the lack of qualified teachers means that number has swollen to as many as 60 per classroom throughout Afghanistan."

The national Ministry of Education responded to this statement by saying that there was a misunderstanding in the drafting of the current budget, and that none of the schools would be closed. Deputy Education Minister Zabehullah Esmati told RFE/RL: "The Education Ministry has not closed schools and is not going to do so under any circumstances. To the contrary, we are planning to open 2,500 new schools. The problem in Balkh and also in Zabul provinces was due to a misunderstanding." For the children of those provinces, and for the future of Afghanistan, let us hope Esmati's statement is true. In any event, this announcement received very little international press coverage -- a sign that education is not on the top of the list of priorities for reconstructing Afghanistan.

And, as Najibullah points out, "the issue is not so simple. In many Afghan provinces, teachers have been working with no pay since the commencement of the school year in late March." For instance, the head of the education department in the Arguy District of Badakhshan Province, Muhammad Zaher, told RFE/RL that his teachers had so far not received any of their salaries this year (since 21 March). In a June interview with RFE/RL freelance correspondent Tanya Goudsouzian, Education Minister Yunos Qanuni confirmed that this is a major problem. "We have spoken to the Finance Ministry, and they have promised to pay the salaries," said Qanuni. "Their reasoning for the late salaries was that they had to bring the revenue from the provinces to the central government. This year, we are passing the third month, and only one month has been paid...."

Human Rights Issues and Lack of Security Impair Education Efforts

National and regional financial problems aside, there are many dilemmas at the local level that are also thwarting the education of Afghanistan's children and young adults.

A report released on 29 July by Human Rights Watch (HRW) details ongoing human rights abuses in Afghanistan, especially towards girls and women, whose movements are greatly restricted in many parts of the country. This keeps them and many other young people out of schools. One 11-year-old boy from Paghman District in Kabul Province told HRW researchers: "I have 10 sisters.... None of them can go to school. I don't know why -- up until now there have been problems for them...from the gunmen. They stay inside all the time." Even worse, HRW brings to light other common crimes, such as "kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, and extortion, [which] have devastating consequences for the liberty of movement of women and girls." The inability of women to move about freely surely inhibits young boys from getting to and from school as well.

These abuses are directly related to the general lack of physical security across the country. Despite government efforts and the presence of U.S. and international security forces, daily press reports indicate that Afghanistan is being besieged at the national level by remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and at the local level by warlords and drug lords. Security is a necessary precondition if children are to have the freedom to attend school on a regular basis. At the same time, education is a necessary precondition to bring about a fundamental shift in the gun culture that prevails currently in Afghanistan.

Another potential mitigating factor is linked to economic conditions in Afghanistan today. Many children -- especially in rural areas -- are doubtless tasked to work rather than to go to school during the day, in order to help their families survive and provide the basic necessities of food and shelter.

All of these dynamics at the local level -- human rights abuses, lack of security, and economics -- are making it difficult for Afghanistan's children to go to school. But, at the same time, education is part of the puzzle to solving these deep-rooted problems in the long term. Notwithstanding the inherent difficulties, education should be a tandem priority with improving human rights, the security, and the economy in Afghanistan.

The Planning is in Place...But the Resources?

There are signs of hope that the Afghan Transitional Administration and international agencies do recognize the need for educating Afghanistan's future.

Education Minister Qanuni shared his experiences since assuming his position: "Our objective was to bring children back to school. We have been successful, because we covered 3.3 million children last year. This year, we have three objectives: to develop the quality of education, to equip the education sector, and to develop the infrastructure." This year, according to Qanuni's statistics, there are 4 million children in school across the country. This is, without a doubt, encouraging.

Qanuni is realistic about the challenges faced by the government in providing education. He noted three main challenges currently: gathering the resources for the construction of schools, furnishing schools, and the shortage of teachers -- all of which make it difficult to achieve the ultimate goal of providing education to all of Afghanistan's children. According to Qanuni, these challenges have been reflected in the governments' development budget. "Unfortunately," Qanuni said, "meeting our needs is slow and fund raising is slow. Our greatest fear is that if the [government] does not fulfill these requirements; the education sector will face a big crisis."

Organizations, such as United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are indeed working to construct new schools across the country and to train new teachers as well. The U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams are also assisting in school construction.

But more must be done. Even in Kabul children do not have the infrastructure and appropriate environment for learning. Qanuni noted: "At the moment, in Kabul, most kids are studying in the open air, under the heat of the sun. They have no furniture, no textbooks, but they are eager to attend school and seek education." This "classroom" will not be available when the fall turns to winter again.

Qanuni shares the government's plans. "We need to build schools across the country in 32 provinces," he said. "According to our development plan, we have planned to build 85 schools in each province. In total this year, we must build 2,710 schools.

The plans are in place, and the children are anxious to learn and grow. But the resources are insufficient as it stands now. "Out of this number [2,710], only 450 schools are promised by some organizations: 200 schools were promised by USAID, 200 by UNICEF, and about 50 by other NGOs. The remaining number of schools is waiting for funds."

Education: Another Tool in the War on Terror

Education is integral in solving Afghanistan's myriad problems in the long run. As our well-educated listener hinted in his note, any hope for a stable, democratic future for Afghanistan will depend greatly on educating its population. Unfortunately, reconstruction efforts by the Afghan government and the international community, including the multitude of international organizations, are not focused sufficiently on education. It is true that there are a great number of problems in Afghanistan, including many immediate humanitarian crises that must first be addressed. Security considerations, political clashes and fragilities, drug trafficking, and economic reconstruction are all important factors in rebuilding this war-torn nation. Resources are, as always, limited. Nevertheless, investing in the long-term future of Afghanistan begins with educating its populace. If this is neglected now in the formative stages, the band-aids placed over the other problems in Afghanistan will again be ripped away in a matter of time.

Moreover, ensuring a stable future for Afghanistan helps to improve long-term international security. In an article for the Summer 2003 issue of "Foreign Affairs," Jessica Stern, a leading expert on terrorism, pinpoints the importance of supporting secular education in countries where extremism exists or has existed. Stern makes the implicit connection between the lack of secular education and the rise of extremism and failed states. She highlights the example and extremist influence of Pakistan's madrassas -- from which the Taliban gathered its soldiers for export to Afghanistan.

While Afghanistan's problem at the moment has more to do with the overall lack of schooling rather than extremist religious schooling, this same lesson could be applied to Afghanistan. Education will directly improve the chances of Afghanistan's rehabilitation -- and the chances that terrorist organizations will never again find safe haven there.

In thinking about terrorism today, Stern concludes, "Only by matching the radical innovation shown by professional terrorists such as Al-Qaeda -- and by showing a similar willingness to adapt and adopt new methods and new ways of thinking -- can the United States and its allies make themselves safe from the ongoing threat of terrorist attack." One of her "radical innovations" is support for education, which helps to cut off the problem of rising extremism at the root.

In the case of Afghanistan, the population has always been largely uneducated. One might venture to say that this has helped the waves of ideologues sway the people in order to grab the reins of power: most recently the Soviet-backed communists and the Taliban. Sadly, this has also helped other extremists and warlords piggyback the negative reactions of the people to these authoritarian and brutal regimes.

By educating Afghans, the world will achieve a win-win situation. Afghanistan would gain the opportunity to at last develop into a normal nation-state, where its people can move and think freely without constant violent interruptions. Internationally, one less country would be available to those in this world who seek to sow fanaticism and violence.

Kimberly McCloud is the executive assistant for RFE/RL's Afghan Service.

This past February, a man from Jalalabad was arrested by police on charges that he had planted a bomb in the city. During his three days in custody, according to an account by the man's cousin, he was beaten and abused. Police dangled him by the feet over the side of a hydroelectric dam, threatening to make him sign a confession. When his brothers arrived from Pakistan, the cousin said, they had to pay a ransom of $80-$100 to secure his release. The charges were bogus, the cousin insisted -- trumped up to put a veneer of legality on a kidnapping and ransom.

Robbery, abductions, extortion, rape, and intimidation of political actors and journalists are distressingly common in Afghanistan, according to a report released this week by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). More than a year and a half after the toppling of the Taliban regime, the country still labors under a climate of intimidation -- much of it officially sanctioned -- that threatens to paralyze its progress toward modern democratic statehood.

The 101-page report, "'Killing You Is A Very Easy Thing For Us': Human Rights Abuses in Southeast Afghanistan" (, gathers anecdotes compiled from interviews conducted between January and June 2003 in Afghanistan's most densely populated region. A disturbing number involve government authorities, either through direct participation or refusal to intervene. Soldiers from local militias, police, and municipal leaders reportedly engage in violations ranging to petty extortion exercised at unofficial checkpoints to graver offenses such as armed robbery.

In one incident in western Kabul, the report says, men in police uniforms claiming to be state security officers demanded entrance to a house on the pretext of conducting an investigation, then proceeded to rough up the family members, stabbing several with bayonets before taking their valuables. When local police arrived to investigate a half hour later, an older officer reportedly warned the family in an aside not to reveal what valuables remained in the house. "Shh! Be quiet," the owner of the house recalled the officer saying, "because they will come in a few hours and take it themselves."

According to HRW, such abuses are not limited to local authorities. "Many prominent Afghan commanders, officials, and former mujahedin leaders, including officials in the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and the intelligence agency, the Amniat-e Melli, are responsible for or are implicated in many of the abuses," the report's authors wrote.

In the run-up to the June 2002 loya jirga, an activist who was trying to organize a new political party said he was detained for three months by the Amniat-e Melli and released just after the convention. Although he was not tortured, he witnessed beatings and heard stories of electrocutions and other torments. The leader of another party in Kabul critical of the government said he received warnings last November from Education Minister Yunos Qanuni after an article published in the party's bulletin criticized the cabinet's composition. Following other articles, he said, the threats intensified, culminating in a beating in late May by uniformed soldiers and police.

Journalists have also been targeted. The editor of "Farda" was jailed on 19 December after publishing a cartoon lampooning Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Two editors at "Aftab" were arrested on 17 June for blasphemy after a series of editorials criticizing prominent former mujahedin and religious fundamentalism (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June 2003). One of the editors, Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi, had received several death threats over the articles in April. Though released from jail, "Aftab's" editors must still stand trial.

The predictable effect of these and similar incidents is self-censorship. "All the journalists try to write with precaution -- they use caution always," said "Farda" editor Abdul Ghafur Iteqad.

In these cases the victims of intimidation were willing to talk to HRW researchers, although many spoke on condition of anonymity. More difficult to document were cases of rape. The stigma attached to violations of women's "honor" stifles rape victims' willingness to speak of their ordeals and likewise discourages discussion by family members, the report's authors found. "Even if you cut the men into pieces, they will not admit that the women were raped," said one man from Paghman District in Kabul Province. "But we know that it happens."

From neighbors' accounts and reports by UN officials and aid workers, researchers determined that "sexual violence against women, girls, and boys is both frequent and almost never reported." Girls have been abducted and raped on the way to school. Women have been raped during armed robberies and, in one case, apparently in retaliation for promoting women's rights. The result is that many families are afraid to send their girls to school, and numerous women say they wear the burqa when they leave home as a precaution against harassment or assault.

The widespread fear and corruption engendered by this climate pose a direct threat to the country's future, the report warns. "Afghanistan's window of opportunity is closing fast," the authors wrote. "If allowed to continue with impunity, these abuses will make it impossible for Afghans to create a modern, democratic state."

The authors recommend urgent action: the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (see below), meaningful reform of the Defense Ministry, active international engagement with the disarmament effort, and visible displays of support for Karzai's administration. Of utmost importance is the reigning in of the warlords.

"Human rights abuses in Afghanistan are being committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. "The United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, need to decide whether they are with Chairman Karzai and other reformers in Kabul or with the warlords. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to loosen the warlords' grip on power."

Report researcher Zama Coursen-Neff framed the matter within a more immediate context. "The whole thing goes back to the constitutional process and the elections," she told RFE/RL. "If the United States and the international community doesn't seize on this opportunity it will be too late." (Isabelle Laughlin)

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, told representatives of NATO member states in Brussels on 23 July that while "there is a need for international support to security outside Kabul," if it "can be provided in any other way than the extension of the ISAF that is quite alright," Reuters reported. Brahimi, who has been warning the international community that violence in the regions could escalate if the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mandate is not expanded beyond Kabul, seems to have given up on the plan in the face of opposition from NATO, which will assume command of the peacekeeping force in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 July 2003). An unidentified NATO diplomat said that "Brahimi did not come to bang us on the head about expanding the ISAF mandate," adding that "no one is going to push us" into thinking about such a possibility until NATO is in Afghanistan. "After that, we'll see," the diplomat said. (Amin Tarzi)

Operation Warrior Sweep, the recently launched military operation in Paktiya Province that is being conducted jointly by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and coalition forces, is reportedly aimed at capturing former Taliban official Mawlawi Jalauddin Haqqani, Pakistan's Afghan Islamic Press reported on 23 July. The mission marks the ANA's combat debut (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 July 2003). According to a spokesman of Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord in the region, sweeps are being carried out in villages in the province's Zormat District that are under Haqqani's influence. Haqqani was a powerful commander of the Mujahedin during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. He later joined the Taliban movement and eventually became its tribal affairs minister. U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted a large-scale military campaign in the same area in early June, ostensibly to defeat Haqqani loyalists (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

While little is known about the exact role the ANA is playing in the sweeps, the BBC reported on 23 July that "there are already reports of some desertions because of the poor salary structure." Approximately 1,000 of the ANA's 5,000 soldiers are reportedly participating in the mission. The BBC reported that, in addition to its military role, the ANA is expected to serve as a sort of a police force and protect civilian officials in Zormat. A spokesman for the coalition forces said the ANA is expected to play "a key role in Afghanistan's security from now on." However, the BBC commented that "that may not happen until the dozens of powerful provincial warlords in Afghanistan decide to disband their private armies." The Transitional Administration hopes to have a 70,000-strong ANA force by 2009, buttressing the central government's authority while drawing recruits away from warlords and political parties.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition's forces confirmed that some newly trained soldiers have deserted from the ANA, calling it a problem that exists in every country around the world, Hindukosh news agency reported on 24 July. Afghan warlords can arguably recruit more soldiers -- and pay them better wages -- than the Afghan Transitional Administration. (Amin Tarzi)

Many soldiers are reportedly deserting the ANA because of low salaries, "The Kabul Times," reported on 27 July. Soldier Jan Mohammad said he has been in the ANA for four months and was "promised" a salary of $100 per month, but has thus far received just $40 per month. Jan Mohammad said there were 700 recruits when he began his training, but today there are only about 460. He claimed that if the salary situation "remains like this, everyone will leave the army." A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan said the problem of underpayment "will be solved very soon."

While no confirmation has been made, the extra cash might be culled from a $1 billion aid package the U.S. administration reportedly will propose for Afghanistan (see below). (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition's forces said on 24 July that the bulk of ANA training, which until July was being conducted by the United States, is being handed over to Afghan officers, Hindukosh news agency reported. Spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said the United Kingdom, France, and Romania are running programs to train ANA officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and mechanized forces, respectively. Germany is expected to train ANA medical personnel. According to a British military source, the training of NCOs will also be handed over to Afghans by 17 August, Hindukosh reported. With Afghan Defense Ministry reforms still incomplete, the termination of foreign training programs for the ANA might prolong the formation of the force and could render it less a "national" military than a factional army. (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan said on 23 July that the current military structure in the province will continue to function as part of a "resistance force," even after the disarmament process is completed, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 24 July. Spokesman Major General Gholam Mohammad Masun described the Herat military force not as a local army, but as part of the Afghan Defense Ministry. He added that an unspecified government commission envisages a "resistance force" of 100,000 to function alongside the 70,000-strong ANA. It is unclear from the Iranian radio report what commission Masun might be referring to. The ANA has so far managed to train just 5,000 soldiers, while warlords in various parts of Afghanistan, including Herat, have much larger forces at their disposal. (Amin Tarzi)

General Atiqollah Barialay has said that Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan will not be allowed to retain his own militia because doing so would violate an agreement between local commanders and the Afghan military, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 28 July. Rejecting Major General Masun's statement the Herat militia, will continue to function even after disarmament as a "resistance force" alongside the ANA, Barialay said all militia forces, including those loyal to Ismail Khan, must be disarmed. (Amin Tarzi)

Major General Masun told Radio Afghanistan on 27 July that Ismail Khan does not intend to maintain his militia as a force separate from the ANA. Masun said that Ismail Khan, whom he referred to as "Amir" (ruler), has announced that "disarmament has taken place in Herat." "This means we registered everyone's arms and deposited them in arms warehouses," Masun said. "We wanted to let people know this good news, and we want this process to take place in other provinces as well." He added that Barialay's apprehensions are misplaced because Ismail Khan has always been loyal to Kabul and the force he commands belongs to the central government. Warlordism is one of the most challenging tasks faced by Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai as he attempts to unite the country. (Amin Tarzi)

The United Nations has yet to initiate its $130 million Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program targeting some 100,000 former mujahedin in Afghanistan. But some local experts say the natural place to kick off the plan is Parwan Province.

Parwan was the military base for late United Front (Northern Alliance) commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's anti-Taliban resistance. Now it is home to tens of thousands of armed fighters loyal to Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim -- like Mas'ud, an ethnic Tajik from the Panjsher Valley.

These are men who will not give up their weapons without a struggle. More than two decades of war have left them with no profession beyond fighting. Tens of thousands of former mujahedin in Parwan have received little or no education. Most of them have no job qualifications.

Abdul Habib is one such former mujahed in Parwan. He says he will not consider handing over his weapon anytime soon. Despite promises from the government to pay the mujahedin's back wages and help them find new work, Habib said the only thing he has received in a year and a half are empty promises.

"We want our wages for the past two years. During the 23 years of the civil war we didn't have the chance to get an education. We don't know anything except war and weapons. We want to know what's going to happen to us, what we could do if we handed over our weapons. We're not going to give our weapons away unless it becomes clear what's going to happen to us next," Habib told RFE/RL.

Another Parwan mujahed, who refused to give his name, said he has always trusted the new Afghan government, but that his hopes are beginning to fade. "I am one of the mujahedin. I want to say to the international community and to our government that we are committed to our government's plans and programs, as long as they pay our unpaid wages. Our commanders made us fight for the country for 23 years. Now we are not going to give up our weapons and go away. We need our future to be clarified," he said.

In the meantime, weapons registration has begun in Parwan in preparation for disarmament. The UN office is providing funds only to those armed units which register with the Defense Ministry.

The UN has allocated $130 million for the three-year DDR program. It estimates that some $30 million will be spent during the first year of the DDR process. Most of the funds were provided by Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman in Kabul, Manuel de Almeida e Silva, told RFE/RL that members of the registered units will be given the choice of joining the new national army or returning to civilian life. Former mujahedin who opt for the army will receive additional military training. "If they want to go into civilian life, then they are interviewed, their skills, need and requirements are identified, and they go home with a lump sum and some food assistance, which is also true for those who go into army," the UN's Manuel de Almeida e Silva told RFE/RL. "Then they will come back some six to eight weeks later, and by that time hopefully, the government's New Beginning program will provide a job opportunity for them in light of these characteristics they have, or training and education programs depending on the information they provided during the interview I mentioned."

Mawlana Abdul Rahman, a local commander, expressed concern that his troops, who have already gone a year and a half with no wages, may not be patient for much longer. He said the situation could easily spin out of control if the central government fails to handle the situation in a proper and timely fashion. "We propose that the UN and the Defense Ministry pay their wages for this period, and also assist them in finding a job. Otherwise the troops will be beyond out control. These armed men are capable of destabilizing the country. Al-Qaeda is still in Afghanistan and could take advantage of the situation. I can predict that it could lead to dangerous consequences," Rahman said.

Civilians in Parwan have spent years watching clashes, bombs, and rocket fire for years. Some, like this man, say they are tired of war and weapons and want to finally be able to live a normal life. "The disarmament is inevitable across Afghanistan. As long as people are armed, we cannot have a normal life. And normal communication between neighbors, between communities, will not be possible," he said.

For the moment, the chance to return to normal life in Parwan and throughout the country depends on the progress on reforms at the Defense Ministry. UNAMA was due to launch its DDR plan earlier this month. But it postponed its plan, saying it will not fund the project until the Defense Ministry carries out reforms aimed at diversifying its staff. Defense Minister Fahim has been criticized for filling the ministry with his fellow Panjsher Valley Tajiks. The UN says the situation has left many Afghans looking at the ministry as a factional body rather than a national institution. Both the government and the UN office confirm the reform process is now under way at the ministry. (Farangis Najibullah)

The commander of U.S. Central Command, Lieutenant General John Abizaid, met with Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai in Kabul on 24 July, Radio Afghanistan reported. Abizaid also met with Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, discussing reforms within the Afghan Defense Ministry, the organization and structure of the ANA, and ongoing disarmament and demilitarization programs, Afghanistan Television reported on 24 July. (Amin Tarzi)

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush will soon propose a $1 billion aid package for Afghanistan, which would be more than triple the $300 million per year Afghanistan currently receives from the United States, "The Washington Post" reported on 27 July, citing unidentified sources in the administration. The officials said the new aid package is designed to fund short-term projects that can be completed by October 2004, the date set for general elections in Afghanistan. They added that the aid package was also designed to counter criticism that the United States has shifted its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said the new aid package is a result of "a comprehensive, strategic update on Afghanistan" with the aim of completing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan "sooner rather than later." (Amin Tarzi)

Zabul Province Deputy Governor Mulla Mohammad Omar (not to be confused with the Taliban leader of the same name) has appealed to coalition forces for help in dealing with neo-Taliban forces in the province, the BBC reported on 28 July. Mohammad Omar said the forces at his disposal cannot effectively combat neo-Taliban forces that are, in the BBC's words, "roaming freely in several districts of his province." The neo-Taliban forces have named their own governor and other administrative officers in the province, according to the BBC. (Amin Tarzi)

Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has appointed Mulla Saber to replace Mulla Abdul Rahman as his new deputy, Hindukosh news agency reported on 28 July. Mohammad Omar also appointed Mulla Abdul Jabar to serve as the neo-Taliban's "governor" of Zabul Province. The news agency commented that the appointments are "said to be a mere show" to demonstrate that the ousted Taliban regime still has a disciplined and orderly structure. (Amin Tarzi)

Posters threatening Afghan "informers" with death appeared on 27 July in the southern Afghan city of Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Reuters reported. The posters, printed in Pashto and signed in the name of the "Taliban mujahedin," specifically identified 25 individuals who will "be killed at the appropriate moment" for their roles in the "massacre of Taliban mujahedin" -- apparently a reference to the reported killing of more than 20 neo-Taliban fighters by coalition forces near Spin Boldak on 19 July (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 July 2003). The poster claims the targeted individuals "have been cooperating with the American forces and their agents [a reference of the Afghan Transitional Administration] despite Taliban warnings." Mulla Abdul Samad, an officer of the neo-Taliban forces, said the individuals listed "have been given privileges and facilities by the [Afghan] government for spying on the Taliban activities." (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified gunmen killed two occupants of a vehicle belonging to the Afghan Health and Development Services on the Kandahar-Oruzgan road in the Spin Kotal region on 29 July, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The two were reportedly employees of the Afghan Transitional Administration. A security official in Kandahar, General Mohammad Salem, while confirming that two people were killed, said that his side is "still awaiting further information," but added that "the attackers could not be anyone but the Taliban." An eyewitness reported that the gunmen took some money from the vehicle, shot the two government workers and let the other passengers go after questioning them, Hindukosh news agency reported on 29 July. (Amin Tarzi)

Haji Mohammad Wali, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said on 28 July that six Afghan policemen were killed in Grishk District on 27 July when their vehicle came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades, Reuters reported. Wali blamed the attack on forces loyal to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, or neo-Taliban. Helmand Province was a stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime. (Amin Tarzi)

A number of people armed with explosives and guns were arrested on 28 July in Kandahar on charges of plotting to assassinate General Akram Khakrezwal, security commander of Kandahar, Hindukosh news agency reported on 29 July. The report did not provide the number of people arrested or on whose orders they were attempting to kill Khakrezwal. Hindukosh commented that differences between Khakrezwal and Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai "have continued for a long time, and both sides have always made efforts to weaken each other," but did not overtly suggest that Sherzai may have had a hand in the plot. (Amin Tarzi)

One person was killed on 28 July as fighting flared up in Samangan Province's Dara-ye District, RFE/RL reported the next day. Forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security and military affairs to Chairman Karzai, have been battling Army Corps No. 7 commander General Ata Mohammad's forces for control of areas of the province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003). General Mohammad Sabur, a senior lieutenant loyal to Ata Mohammad, said the area was quiet on 29 July. Eleven people were killed on 3 July in the factional fighting in Dara-ye Suf. (Amin Tarzi)

One person was killed and two were injured in clashes between rival wings of Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, the largest Shi'ite political party in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 29 July. The fighting occurred in the Gawak and Balkhab districts of Sar-e Pol Province. According to the report, clashes between the rival groups, represented by Mohammad Karim Khalili and Mohammad Akbari, have been ongoing in the two districts for over a month. Khalili serves as a deputy to Chairman Karzai. (Amin Tarzi)

A plane belonging to Afghanistan's national Ariana Airlines was hit by gunfire on 26 July as it took off from Mazar-e Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported on 28 July. The plane was hit twice, apparently by small-arms fire, but it landed safely and no passengers were hurt. The attack has forced Ariana to temporarily suspend flights on its Kabul-Mazar-e Sharif route. (Amin Tarzi)

27 July 1973 -- President Mohammad Da'ud abrogates the constitution of 1964 and dissolves parliament.

28 July 1975 -- Afghan security forces capture a "terrorist" group in Panjsher Valley that was allegedly armed by Pakistan.

31 July 1995 -- Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto refuses Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's accusation of meddling with intra-Afghan affairs.

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