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Afghan Report: December 4, 2003

4 December 2003, Volume 2, Number 42

"RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" will next appear on 18 December 2003.
By Ed Grazda

The giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan made the Bamiyan Valley a travelers' destination for centuries. In the 1960s and 1970s tourists stayed in yurts at the government tourist hotel, looking across the valley at the statues. Since the statues were destroyed on orders of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who was urged on by Osama bin Laden, many plans have come forward to rebuild them (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 November 2003).

I have a different idea. I suggest that a small museum be built that would tell the story of the history of the Bamiyan Valley and the Buddhists who once were there. The Buddha statues were photographed countless times over the years -- an exhibition of photographs over time ending with the video footage shot by the Taliban of the destruction would show clearly what was there and what was destroyed.

During the day visitors could tour the museum and see the empty spaces formerly occupied by the statues. In the evening a three-dimensional light projection could recreate the images of the Buddhas in the now empty spaces. From the hotel across the valley, tourists could sit outside, drink tea, and see the projection of the now lost statues.

In this way people could understand what was once there and remember the destruction of these world cultural monuments by the Taliban.

With the coming of Islam to Afghanistan, the Buddha statues were many times at risk of being defaced or destroyed. When they were reproduced on Afghan postage stamps there were some protests from religious circles, but in general Afghans were proud of these historic monuments and Bamiyan was one of the most important stops for visitors to Afghanistan. During the Jihad years (1978-92) a Hizb-e Islami (Hekmatyar faction) commander fired a tank round at one of the statues.

With the coming of the Taliban the danger became greater. A story I heard in Kandahar says that when Mullah Omar invited Sam' ul-Haq - the head of the Akora Katak Madrassa (the "Taliban University") in Pakistan to Kandahar, he was given an Ariana Afghan Airlines ticket to Kabul -- on the back of the ticket was a photo of one of the Buddhas. Sam' ul-Haq was offended by this image and complained to his former student Mullah Omar. The seeds of the destruction were planted, although the final act was due to pressure from bin Laden and the actual engineering of the explosives was carried out by Arabs and Pakistanis as the local Talibs would not, or could not successfully plant the explosive charges.

Ed Grazda is the author of "Afghanistan Diary 1992-2000" and "Afghanistan 1980-1989" and has been covering Afghanistan since 1980.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry responded sharply on 24 November to Pakistan's suggestion that Kabul "put its [own] house in order" before criticizing Islamabad, calling a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement "irresponsible," according to a copy of a statement issued by the Afghan Foreign Ministry. The ministry says that Masood Khan said on 23 November that "what the Afghan leaders can and must do is to talk less and do more in putting their house in order." Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai had recently suggested that his country cannot stop terrorism without cooperation from Islamabad. The Afghan Foreign Ministry's latest statement said that to "lecture another country about its internal challenges, while the shadow of the recent history of foreign meddling and destructive policies toward Afghanistan looms large in the background, falls outside diplomatic norms and the bounds of the new friendly relations" that Kabul hopes to establish with Pakistan. Islamabad was the main supporter of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, something which most Afghan authorities regard as direct interference in their country's internal affairs. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistan's increased cooperation aimed at ending the activities of Taliban loyalists and terrorists would have a considerable effect on Afghanistan's stability, the official Afghan news agency Bakhtar opined on 24 November. Bakhtar said Pakistan's "interference in Afghan domestic affairs abated" with the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, but noted that "fresh activities" by the Taliban or their supporters began in parts of Afghanistan after the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration. "A lack of cooperation on the part of the Pakistani government in arresting warring Taliban and terrorists once again puts a question mark over Pakistan's role," the news agency commented. Bakhtar concluded that Islamabad does not appear to be "supporting enduring stability and peace in Afghanistan," adding a call for Pakistan to cooperate with authorities in Kabul in ensuring those goals. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad on 30 November rejected claims by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai that former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar offered prayers in a mosque in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 1 December. Ahmad called Karzai's claims "nonsense" and advised Karzai to concentrate on solving the internal problems facing Afghanistan. Ahmad warned that Karzai "should be careful about leveling baseless charges against Pakistan," which he said might "create misunderstandings in the relations between" the neighboring countries, Reuters reported on 30 November. (Amin Tarzi)

A tripartite commission comprising representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States convened in Kabul on 2 December for their fifth meeting since its inception, the Afghan Foreign Ministry announced. The commission discussed the security situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and it established a subcommittee on the exchange and coordination of military information to help develop a common operational picture of the terrorist threat in the border region. The tripartite commission was established in April by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff, and held its first meeting in Islamabad in June. The commission is tasked with investigating the increasing number of border incursions from Pakistan into Afghanistan by elements opposed to the Afghan administration, along with other security matters involving the Afghan-Pakistani border. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan repeated recent accusations that India is using its consulates in Afghanistan for anti-Pakistani activities, Associated Press of Pakistan reported on 20 November. Responding to Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha -- who is reported to have said that if "any harm comes to any member of Indian consulates either in Jalalabad or Kandahar," New Delhi will hold Islamabad responsible -- Khan said that Indian intelligence agencies kill their own people and blame such violence on Pakistan. Islamabad has voiced concern at the reopening of Indian consulates in Afghan cities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 May 2003). Afghanistan had no official relations with India during the Islamabad-backed rule of the Taliban. One of Pakistan's strategic objectives in supporting the Taliban was to foment disagreement between Afghanistan and Islamabad's archenemy, India. At the time, New Delhi accused Pakistan of training Kashmiri terrorists inside Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Work began on 23 November to prepare an Indian satellite to broadcast the programming of Afghanistan's official state television station, Afghanistan Television reported. The project, which should be completed in May and is being supported by the Indian government, would enable Afghanistan to broadcast its programs throughout the country and even into parts of Central Asia. India is also likely to help set up a 100-kilowatt radio transmitter to strengthen Radio Afghanistan's shortwave capabilities. (Amin Tarzi)

Three soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration were killed and three others were injured on 19 November in the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 20 November. The soldiers were manning a security checkpoint when they were attacked by a group of armed men in a pickup truck. According to Hindukosh, the attackers were loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime. (Amin Tarzi)

Suspected neo-Taliban militants attacked a security post in the Greshk District of Helmand Province on 19 November, killing a government soldier, Radio Afghanistan reported. In addition to the pro-government soldier, one member of the neo-Taliban group was killed and three unspecified individuals were reported injured. (Amin Tarzi)

An Afghan national who worked as a security guard for a Japanese-funded road-construction project was killed on 19 November, Kyodo World Service reported the next day. An unknown assailant or assailants killed the unidentified guard some 50 kilometers from the city of Kandahar. It was unclear whether the man was on duty when he was attacked. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press's coverage of the same incident on 20 November reported that the slain Afghan was working for a U.S.-based private-security firm. The project to repair the badly damaged 500-kilometer highway between Kabul and Kandahar began one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002) but has proceeded slowly due to security problems along the route. (Amin Tarzi)

Two U.S. soldiers and one Afghan serviceman working with coalition forces were injured in Konar Province when they were fired upon by unidentified assailants, Radio Afghanistan reported on 30 November. On 7 November, U.S. and Afghan forces launched Operation Mountain Resolve to clear antigovernment and anticoalition forces from areas of Konar Province and neighboring Nuristan Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Samad, speaking on behalf of the Taliban, has accepted responsibility for the 16 November slaying of Bettina Goislard, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 November. Goislard, a French national who worked for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was shot while in her car at a bazaar in the town of Ghazni (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 November 2003). Abdul Samad said his group killed the French woman because she was spying on the Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)

A statement from Hamid Agha, who identified himself as a spokesman for the Taliban movement, denied reports that the group has claimed responsibility for the killing of Bettina Goislard on 16 November, Al-Jazeera television reported on 20 November. In the statement, Hamid Agha said news reports asserting otherwise are groundless. The fact that two different people appear to have spoken, in contradictory terms, in the name of the Taliban suggests that supporters or leaders of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan are not a unified group and that militant and terrorist cells -- neo-Taliban -- are carrying out activities in the name of the "Taliban." (Amin Tarzi)

In an interview with the Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat" on 19 November, a man who identified himself as a commander in the "Taliban Movement's Army of Muslims" said his group is holding Hasan Onal, a Turkish engineer abducted while working on the reconstruction of the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). Agha said his group kidnapped Onal "because Turkey is part of the international coalition," adding that his group is "demanding that 18 Afghan detainees who have no connection with the Taliban be released." Agha said Onal is "in good health" and will not be hurt. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali has said the Afghan Transitional Administration will not negotiate with Onal's kidnappers. (Amin Tarzi)

Hasan Onal was released on 30 November, "The New York Times" reported on 1 December. Onal said his captors believed that he was an American and, "when they found out" that he was Turkish, treated him very well, Ankara Anatolia reported on 30 November. Militants with presumed ties to the former Taliban regime kidnapped Onal and his driver on a road in Ghazni Province and subsequently demanded the release of six formerly senior Taliban prisoners (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003). Afghan authorities claimed that they obtained Onal's release without offering to release any neo-Taliban prisoners, according to "The New York Times." Mullah Rozi, a self-described Taliban and presumably among Onal's kidnappers, said his forces released Onal after two neo-Taliban members were released from a prison in Ghazni, the paper reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Neo-Taliban sources claimed on 30 November that they captured Mizan District in Zabul Province after killing eight soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported on 1 December. Zabul Province has been the scene of several attacks blamed on neo-Taliban elements in recent months, and some of the province's districts have been controlled for short periods of time by such forces. (Amin Tarzi)

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai called on the international community to investigate possible sources of financial support for neo-Taliban forces, the BBC reported on 25 November. According to Ahmadzai, such investigations should probe whether the funds are coming from individuals or a foreign government is involved. While Ahmadzai avoided naming a country, the BBC commented that Afghan officials have blamed Pakistan for failing to take adequate measures against the neo-Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)

In a commentary on 17 November, the Kabul-based daily "Anis" charged that local commanders are protecting opium-poppy fields across Afghanistan. Discussing reasons behind the continuing cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan, "Anis" said farmers in eastern Afghanistan have cited a number of reasons that include: the opium-poppy harvest sells exponentially better than any other crop; money that was earmarked for farmers to encourage alternative crops has been handed over to tribal elders, not small land owners; and narcotic smugglers give the farmers advance payment, forcing them to grow opium poppies to compensate for funds already received. The "Anis" commentary concludes that the situation will not improve until international organizations and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) take measures to curb the influence of "armed men and local commanders, who protect their poppy plantations with their weapons and are involved in the trafficking and trade" of narcotics. Afghanistan leads the world in opium-poppy cultivation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, 5 June, and 25 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Leaflets denouncing U.S. military activities in Afghanistan have been distributed in parts of the Nangarhar Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 November. The leaflets claim that the U.S.-led coalition has killed hundreds of Afghans during bombing raids but claimed that the number of casualties was much lower. According to Radio Afghanistan, many people in the region blame Pakistan for the distribution of such materials. (Amin Tarzi)

A rocket exploded outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on 22 November, international news agencies reported. According to a hotel official, the blast shattered a glass wall surrounding the hotel lobby and blew out many of the windows in the 140-room hotel, AP reported. No injuries have been reported, but many of the hotel's occupants reportedly checked out for fear of another explosion. Police and NATO officials were on the scene shortly after the explosion to investigate the damage. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but this incident highlights security concerns in the capital. (McKensey A. Smith)

Afghan Interior Minister Jalali said a Kabul-led disarmament program to collect heavy weapons in northern Afghanistan began on 21 November, Balkh TV reported. Jalali, who was in Mazar-e Sharif, said rival commanders Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad have given assurances that the disarmament plans will continue and that they will "ensure peace" in the region. Jalali declined to provide details on the type or number of heavy weapons collected so far from forces loyal to those rival warlords, saying, "the issue is confidential." He said, however, that "some tanks and heavy weapons have already gone" to a collection depot. Generals Dostum and Ata Mohammad, who were present with Jalali when he made the announcement, refused to provide details on the disarmament program. Dostum merely confirmed Jalali's comments, while Ata Mohammad added that his side will stick to the agreements it has signed. Troops loyal to Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party have fought against troops loyal to the Jamiat-e Islami party, led in northern Afghanistan by Ata Mohammad, since the demise of the Taliban in 2001. If the Afghan Transitional Administration is able to disarm the two, it will have taken a major step toward consolidating its power in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Sixty-nine tanks have been collected from two rival military units under the disarmament program in northern Afghanistan that began on 21 November, Bakhtar news agency reported on 1 December. General Mohammad Eshaq Nuri, deputy chief of staff of the Afghan armed forces, said his team has been able to collect 70 percent of the heavy weapons controlled by the 7th Army Corps but very little from its rival, the 8th Army Corps. General Nuri said that of the 69 tanks handed over, 65 belonged to the 7th Army Corps and just four came from 8th Army Corps -- which he called an insignificant number, given the inventory of heavy weapons that the 8th Army Corps possesses. General Dostum heads the 8th Army Corps, while General Ata Mohammad heads the 7th Army Corps. (Amin Tarzi)

Interior Minister Jalali said on 22 November that the central government's disarmament program to collect heavy weapons in northern Afghanistan will be implemented in other parts of the country, Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali added that the Afghan Transitional Administration has formulated a program for the collection of heavy weapons from Kabul and the Panjsher Valley, as well as the Kandahar, Paktiya, Herat, Farah, and Nimroz provinces. The disarmament program was begun in northern Afghanistan because of persistent fighting in the region, Jalali said. He warned against any expectation that the collection of weapons alone will provide for peace and security. Jalali said the "culture of violence" must be overcome. (Amin Tarzi)

NATO defense ministers, meeting on 1 December in Brussels, agreed to extend the alliance's mission in Afghanistan. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will consolidate its control over five Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 16 October 2003). These are teams of soldiers who support and secure development work outside Kabul.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also announced the creation of new PRTs, and said that if NATO's handling of them proves satisfactory, the alliance could at some stage in the future assume overall control of all military operations in Afghanistan. This would include the present U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which currently fields about 11,500 troops in the country.

"We discussed the progress in Afghanistan and the implementation of the alliance decision to expand ISAF beyond Kabul by creating additional Provincial Reconstruction Teams," Rumsfeld said. "If this proves successful, we also discussed the possibility that NATO might take over military operations in Afghanistan sometime in the future, although that remains to be seen."

NATO officials, speaking privately, said up to 17 PRTs might be created, possibly comprising "thousands" of soldiers. However, they also pointed to significant shortfalls in ISAF capabilities. At least 3,000 new troops were said to be needed to run all of the planned PRTs.

More immediate concerns, however, dominated the talks. Officials said NATO is in dire need of 400 additional personnel to continue operations as planned. One official said ISAF urgently needs three counterintelligence teams, five human intelligence teams, as well as 14 helicopters -- eight "utility" craft, three light and three attack helicopters (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003).

The helicopters were said to be crucial for NATO's mission. Their absence so far has proven an embarrassment for the alliance. NATO's strategic reserves contain more than 7,000 helicopters, but the alliance's secretary-general, Lord George Robertson, has so far only succeeded in persuading the German contingent in ISAF to leave three medical-evacuation craft in Afghanistan longer than initially intended.

Nevertheless, some offers for contributions were made. Belgium, Iceland, and Turkey offered vital personnel to help NATO take over the Kabul airport next spring. Turkey and Spain offered intelligence teams, as has Romania -- but its offered contingent of 30 people is still being certified. The Czech Republic offered 150 people, half to help secure the Kabul airport, the other half to join Enduring Freedom.

NATO officials yesterday said alliance members need to improve the coordination of their assets in Afghanistan, so that "efforts go where the need is greatest." Currently, many allies invest most of their resources in the PRTs they are most closely involved with. (Ahto Lobjakas)

The United Nations began registering Afghan citizens on 30 November for the 2004 national elections called for by the Bonn agreement, "Tehran Times" reported on 2 December. The registration process began in the southern city of Kandahar and was extended to seven other cities on 1 December. Catarina Fabiansson, spokeswoman for the UN election office in Afghanistan, said the speed of the registration process will depend on the availability of donor funds and security but should be completed by early 2004. All Afghans who will be 18 or older by June 2004 are eligible to register (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 November 2003). (Rhiannon N. Miller)

Jowzjan Province has elected General Abdul Rashid Dostum as one of its representatives to the Constitutional Loya Jirga that is scheduled to begin in Kabul on 10 December, Radio Afghanistan reported on 2 December. Dostum was the leading vote getter among 10 representatives from the province. According to the report, a rival candidate named Payman said the elections were not conducted properly. Dostum, who heads the Junbish-e Melli party and its military units, is also nominally a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. According to a July decree from Karzai establishing procedures for the Constitutional Loya Jirga, military and national-security-department personnel are ineligible to run for election as representatives (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

22 November 1990 -- President Najibullah negotiates in Geneva with Mujahedin representatives a political solution, possibly aiming at a return of former King Zaher.

24 November 1956 -- Prime Minster Mohammad Da'ud discusses "Pashtunistan" question with Pakistani leaders during visit to Karachi.

30 November 1987-- Loya Jirga confirms President Najibullah's "Islamized" constitution.

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