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Afghan Report: November 28, 2002

28 November 2002, Volume 1, Number 1

"RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" is a new weekly publication prepared by Amin Tarzi on the basis of reports from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and other broadcast services, "RFE/RL Newsline," and other news services. The publication reviews and analyzes events in Afghanistan and welcomes guest contributions and comments from its readers. Please direct comments to Amin Tarzi (
By T. Goudsouzian

Foreign geologists and investors are trickling in to the Panjsher Valley to give northern Afghanistan's bountiful natural wealth a second look. Those who have visited the region are impressed with the potential for exploration, but 23 years of war have left the country's gem resources largely untapped and sorely underdeveloped.

For many years, Afghan emeralds were stigmatized as a source of income for the Northern Alliance. Profits from the sale of these gemstones -- found in the very mountains that served as a buffer zone for the Northern Alliance during its war with the Taliban -- were used by slain commander Ahmed Shah Masoud to finance the alliance's military campaign against the Taliban.

His brother-in-law, Rashid Mohammadi, 34, spent the duration of the civil war trading the precious stones. Jet-setting from Asia to Europe and the Middle East, he served from 1994 as the business arm of the Northern Alliance. He was recently appointed charge d'affaires at the Afghan Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, and is determined to develop the country's gem industry.

In a good year, the late Masoud would have collected up to $60 million from the hundreds of gem mines located in the northeastern corner of the country. The jewels were channeled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Tajikistan, then onward in return for hard currency that was used to purchase guns, ammunition, rocket launchers, and second-hand helicopters.

Technically, these transactions were not illegal. Following the events in Sierra Leone, the United Nations mounted an international campaign against the trafficking of "conflict diamonds," but restrictions were never imposed on the sale of Afghan gemstones.

Still, Afghan emeralds were given short shrift -- considered too much of a hassle by many traders who opted for the highly reputed Colombian variety. Today, Afghan traders maintain that their "homegrown" emeralds rival the best from Colombia -- in color, shine, and resiliency.

Mohammadi invited Aleks Rogatinskii, a Russian businessman, and his associate to Panjsher in May. It was Rogatinskii's first trip to Afghanistan and his sole purpose was to study the potential of Afghan emeralds.

After a sumptuous supper consumed Afghan-style on the carpeted floor of a sprawling country house in the village of Bozarak, the host and the prospective investors retired to a dimly lit drawing room, where they huddled around a small table. Several glass bowls were filled to the rim with chunks of dark-green crystalline stone. The Russians pulled out their magnifying glasses to better scrutinize the precious green rocks placed before them like breakfast cereal. The gems were raw, uncut. Their trained eyes searched for fissures that can run very deep into the stone.

Rogatinskii conceded that the emeralds were very high in quality, but he observed one aspect of the trade that might pose some problems. "The biggest problem is the absence of an official regulatory body for emeralds in Afghanistan. There is no commission or consortium that sets the prices. The government does not control the business. It is run by a few families," he said.

Mohammadi dismissed this allegation. The price of emeralds, he stressed, depends on the quality of the stone. "They are not sold by the kilogram!" he quipped.

According to Mohammadi, a sheepherder discovered the mines about 28 years ago, launching an industry in which a single karat (200 milligrams) of premium quality Afghan emerald sells today for more than $2,000, while a lower quality karat can fetch about $500.

"He found a green stone and took it to the village and showed it to his friend. Word spread and about a year later, they started mining operations," Mohammadi explained.

"Under the [Afghan President Muhammad] Daoud Khan government [1973-78], a mining ministry was established to oversee the industry," he said. "But after the fall of that government the mines fell into different hands -- during the Soviet occupation and the Jihad, the mujahedin controlled the mines."

The Afghan Defense Ministry, under Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, now controls the mines, which suffer from the lack of advanced technology to extract the gems. "There are so many emeralds near the surface.... This is an indicator of the wealth that lies deep inside the mountains," Mohammadi explained. "We use drilling machines that are not designed for mining, and we use dynamite. Sometimes, the gems are damaged or lost by the haphazard explosions. We need the new machinery, lasers, and X-rays to check for the emeralds before we set the explosives," he said.

Mohammadi, dressed sharply in Western attire, likened the business to a "casino." "You can spend $100,000 over the course of many years, and come up with nothing. And another time, in one single go, you can make millions. We don't have the proper equipment to predict the productivity potential of our mines."

There are about 800 to 1,200 Afghan laborers working in the quarries. The workers, aged 12 to 65, toil at the end of claustrophobic tunnels, using metal bars, sledgehammers, crowbars, and shovels to sift through the rubble caused by dynamite blasts. They spend five days a week on the mountainside because the trek to the mines is too long to make daily. The nearest village is a two-hour hike away.

The workers receive a small cut of whatever they dig up, but the entrepreneurs who provide the tools and pay the expenses get a significantly larger cut. About 30 families are involved in the Panjsher emerald trade, the vast majority of which belong to the Tajik tribe predominant in the northeastern region.

Taxation from the mining of emeralds in Panjsher Valley had been a source of revenue for Masoud since the Soviet occupation, but in recent years the commander had consolidated his control over the mining and marketing of the gems. The system he set up remained in place after his assassination last September.

Asked who is controlling the trade today, Mohammadi responded, half-jokingly: "Somebody!"

T. Goudsouzian is a journalist who covers Afghanistan.

During a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 25 November as part of his trip to Afghanistan, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, California) pledged that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 26 November. He said that those Afghan forces that helped topple the Taliban regime and oust the Al-Qaeda terrorism network from Afghanistan should become part of Afghanistan's national army. Rohrabacher added that the United States wants to see the establishment of a strong Afghan national army so the presence of international troops become unnecessary He added that the United States owes a debt to the Afghans both for driving the Soviets out of their country and for their help in defeating the Al-Qaeda.

Commenting on the student protests of 11-12 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 20 November 2002) in which two students were killed and five were injured when police opened fire on protestors, Rohrabacher said he believes the tragedy occurred because the Afghan police force was not trained to handle such a situation, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. (Amin Tarzi)

At a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on 26 November that Afghanistan requires more assistance from the international community for its reconstruction projects and security needs, Radio Free Afghanistan reported the same day. Fischer said Germany will host a conference near Bonn on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002) to address these issues and to ensure that the world does not forget Afghanistan, the radio station added. Fischer told Karzai that Germany will support the efforts of nongovernmental organizations working in Afghanistan and will continue to help train the Afghan police force. (Amin Tarzi)

The UN Security Council on 27 November unanimously adopted a resolution extending the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mandate in Kabul for one year, beginning on 20 December, international media reported. In addition, it approved handing joint command of the force over to Germany and the Netherlands. The two countries are expected to take over command of the ISAF by mid-February, despite Turkish lobbying for an earlier handover, dpa and Reuters reported. Turkey had been scheduled to command the force only until 20 December, but many analysts had speculated that Turkish command would be extended to allow Germany and the Netherlands to receive the necessary approvals from their parliaments and adjust their force structures in Kabul. "To the new leadership, I wish them to have success," dpa quoted Turkish General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, the outgoing commander of the ISAF, as saying on 27 November.

President Karzai and UN officials in Afghanistan have been calling for amendments to the current ISAF mandate that would allow the force to expand its area of operations beyond Kabul into other major Afghan cities, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 26 November. However, UN Security Council members have indicated that there is no support for this proposal among states that are contributing troops. (Amin Tarzi)

Turkish General Zorlu, the outgoing commander of the ISAF, said on 27 November that continued international commitment is vital to preventing the country from slipping back into instability and factional rule, RFE/RL reported on 27 November. General Zorlu made the comments during a UN news conference as the UN Security Council was preparing to authorize the extension of the ISAF's mandate.

General Zorlu said pockets of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters continue to pose a threat in Afghanistan and that arms remain widely available throughout the country. "In all places of Afghanistan it's full of mines, explosive material, rockets, missiles," he said. "You can buy rockets or missiles all over the country if you need them," RFE/RL quoted him as saying.

Zorlu said international assistance must be accelerated on political, economic, and technical levels in order to keep the reconstruction process moving forward. He said there must be a sustained international commitment to support the fledgling transitional authority's efforts to establish a democracy. Otherwise, he said, other factions will be capable of seizing power.

"Ordinary Taliban soldiers, [it] seems to us, have left the Taliban leadership and come back to their villages, their cities," he said. "But if the international community leaves Afghanistan alone again, it might be possible to see another -- either Taliban or any other -- faction as a power," Zorlu added. (Amin Tarzi)

Zalmay Rasool, President Karzai's national security adviser, on 21 November welcomed NATO's decision that day at its Prague summit to provide military and logistical support to the ISAF in Kabul when Germany and the Netherlands take joint command of the force sometime this winter. "As long as Afghanistan lacks a competent national army, it will be dependent on such help to ensure [its] security," VOA quoted Rasool as saying. VOA reported that it is not clear what kind of support NATO will provide for what would be its "first formal involvement in the Afghan operation." NATO's involvement would require modification of the current mandate of the ISAF, which was established under UN Security Council Resolution 1386 in 2001.

Prior to the NATO Prague summit, Germany asked NATO to provide logistical and communications support to the ISAF in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 November 2002), but the 21 November Prague Summit Declaration of NATO (full text is available at, is more vague on what sort of support it will provide to ISAF. According to the declaration, "NATO has agreed to provide support in selected areas for the next ISAF lead nations, showing our continued commitment. However, the responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout Afghanistan resides with the Afghans themselves." It is unclear how the Afghans would be able to provide security and law throughout the country under circumstances in which the government in Kabul has only a nascent police force and no national army. (Amin Tarzi)

Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, referring to his country's invitation to join NATO at the alliance's Prague summit on 21 November, said that "Romania's way to Prague was via Kandahar," dpa reported the same day. "This is obvious, as it was there [in Afghanistan] that we could show we were prepared for the level of the alliance's missions," Rompres quoted Pascu as saying. (Amin Tarzi)

Ishaq Nadiri, a professor of economics at New York University and a counselor minister in the Karzai administration, said now is a crucial time for the international community to prove it is committed to Afghanistan's security and reconstruction, RFE/RL reported on 27 November. "The general public will see it as commitment of the international community not only to Kabul but throughout the country," he said, adding that it would also have a psychological effect and a substantial impact on the behavior of various forces throughout the country.

Nadiri told RFE/RL that security is especially important to help revive what he said was a once-vibrant private sector in Afghanistan. He said there are many Afghan businessmen in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East who would invest in the country if it succeeds in strengthening its institutions and establishing the rule of law. It is Afghans themselves who are most capable of rebuilding their country, Nadiri said. He added that the fledgling public sector must develop programs to ensure that the private sector takes the lead in reviving the economy. "This country is so destroyed that it's only its people as a whole [who] can rebuild it, brick-by-brick. Nobody else can" accomplish this, Nadiri said, and "the international community should provide the means to do that." (Amin Tarzi)

World Bank Chief Economist and a senior Vice President Nicholas Stern, during a visit to Kabul, "strongly endorsed Afghanistan's development strategy with its focus on the private sector and community empowerment," according to a World Bank press release issued on 26 November. "Afghanistan's leadership is striving to build an effective and accountable state from the ruins of more than two decades of war and destruction," Stern said, adding that these "efforts deserve the international community's strong and continuing support." It "is the local communities that best understand the local priorities," he said. "If they are empowered to shape projects and programs, these are likely to be much more effective and sustainable over the longer run."

During his visit, Stern met with Karzai, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Rural Development Minister Hanif Atmar, and other government ministers, businessmen, members of rural communities, donor representatives, and the media. At an informal seminar for senior government officials, he shared his experience in developing strategies to promote growth and poverty reduction.

While strongly endorsing the government's overall strategy and policy framework, Stern warned of the need for policy coherence and consistency both within the government and among donors and assistance agencies. He cautioned against actions that could inadvertently hinder private-sector development and said that well-meaning donors could detract from the pivotal role of the private sector if government agencies receiving aid felt pressure to make purchases from public enterprises. "The private sector cannot grow strongly without demand," Stern said, according to the press release. He added: "Donor-funded activities at present are a major source of demand. Second, a positive investment climate, with good conditions for business activity, is crucial for economic activity to flourish. This means building a working infrastructure and avoiding bureaucratic burdens. Growth is crucial for poverty reduction, and Afghan entrepreneurship will drive economic growth, particularly farmers and small businesses." (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai decreed on 26 November the formation of a commission to draft the procedure for establishing the National Assembly (Jirga-ye Melli in Dari, Melli Jirga in Pashtu), Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. According to the radio station, the issue of establishing a National Assembly was discussed during the June Loya Jirga, "but lack of consensus resulted in no decision being taken in this regard." Thereafter, a proposal was presented to the delegates "to reach understanding among themselves after the conclusion" of the Loya Jirga, according to the report. The proposal called for the delegates to "elect five people from each constituency from among influential personalities with a respectable record," but the radio station commented that "unfortunately, so far members have not been nominated from all constituencies and provinces."

While Radio Afghanistan did not state how or on what basis the commission was formed, it listed the names of its 19 members, including two women. They are: Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi, Deputy Head of Supreme Court Morad Ali Morad, Deputy Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Mohammad Qasem, Deputy Mines and Industry Minister Mir Mohammad Mahfuz Nedai, Azizullah Wasefi, Mahbuba Hoquqmal, Soraya, Solayman Yari, Abdul Baqi Khaled, Mohammad Faruq Baraki, Homayun Shinwari, Mohammad Sharif Arzesh, Mohammad Jan Bawari, Khodadad Erfani, Yusof Waezi, Sayed Mohammad Ebrahim, Mawlawi Mohammad Osman, Ajab Khan Khosti, and Haji Khan Kakozai. (Amin Tarzi)

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful commander of northern Afghanistan who officially holds the post of deputy defense minister in President Karzai's transitional administration, told Radio Free Afghanistan on 26 November that he has ordered the collection of arms, both from his own fighters belonging to the Jumbish-e Islami party and from those belonging to its rival Jamiat-e Islami party. Dostum said the collection of arms began five days ago in Dara-ye Suf District of Balkh Province, adding that rival commanders have gone to the 7th and 8th Army Corps and are not allowed to take their troops out of military camps without authorization and without possession of "weapons cards." Dostum added that he sees no difficulties in collecting arms from people in the cities. However, he said there might be problems with the armed groups in the mountainous areas. He told the radio station that arms collection in Jawzjan, Sar-e Pul, Samangan, and Balkh Provinces "will be done in 10 to 15 days." In response to a question from Radio Free Afghanistan about his views on the formation of an Afghan national army and the position of his rival, General Mohammad Ata, regarding the arms collection, Dostum said he thinks a 70,000-strong army will be needed to protect "Afghanistan's territorial integrity and its people." Dostum added that all sides agreed upon the disarmament program, including Ata.

The rivalry between Dostum and Ata, who represents Jamiat-e Islami in the northern areas of Afghanistan, has been a source of concern for the U.S. and for President Karzai. Both Kabul and Washington have recently tried to bring the two sides closer.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which also tried to facilitate the disarmament program in northern Afghanistan, has not been very satisfied with the results. UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said on 21 November that the "disarmament exercise is not going well. The speed of the process and the amount of arms collected is not the expected one. It is the result of an agreement between the factions in the north and they are not living up to it. Disarmament is the sort of thing that you do not impose on the parties. They have to do it themselves."

The last armed clash between the two parties, according to Radio Free Afghanistan, occurred on November when two fighters loyal to General Dostum were reportedly killed by General Ata's forces in the northern Samangan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

20 November 1980 -- The UN General Assembly approves a resolution by a vote of 111 to 22, with 12 abstentions, calling for the "unconditional" pullout of "foreign troops" from Afghanistan without naming the Soviet Union. A day later, Afghan Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Dost calls the resolution "a flagrant interference" in his country's internal affairs.

22 November 1990 -- Afghan President Najibullah meets in Geneva with representatives of mujahedin parties to find a political solution for Afghanistan, possibly involving the return of former King Mohammad Zaher.

25 November 1995 -- Taliban attack Kabul with parachute bombs, killing 41 and wounding more than 140.

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