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Iran Report: March 25, 2002


25 March 2002, Volume 5, Number 11

NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of the "RFE/RL Iran Report" will appear on 8 April 2002.

TEHRAN OPPOSES TALKS WITH U.S. In an article from Tehran on 18 March, "The New York Times" reported that "Iran's Leader Backs Effort For Talks With U.S.," and it cited government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh's statement that Iranian and U.S. legislators were free to decide on the issue. But on the same day, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of officials that negotiations with the U.S. are out of the question, according to state radio, and President Mohammad Khatami said Iran would never negotiate from a position of weakness. The next day, in an article titled "Iranian Cleric Rejects Talks With the U.S.," "The New York Times" reported that "Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ruled out talks with the United States...as a way to ease threats by Washington against Iran."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is more than an "Iranian cleric." He delineates state polices and supervises their execution. He formalizes the president's election, per Article 110 of the constitution, and he has the power to dismiss the president. Article 57 of the constitution states that the Supreme Leader supervises the functions of the executive, legislature, and judiciary. According to Article 5 of the Iranian Constitution, leadership of the Islamic community will be in the hands of the Supreme Leader during the occultation of the Hidden Imam.

Regarding Senator Joseph Biden's statement of willingness to meet with his Iranian counterparts (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 March 2002), Ayatollah Khamenei seemed skeptical. He said, "[Biden] is telling us that we should be weak and dependent [on the U.S.] if we do not wish to be subjected to [U.S.] attacks. He is saying that if we do not wish to be attacked, we should become a dependent and a puppet regime, and that is impossible." Khamenei said he favors dialogue, but "What kind of dialogue can be held with the side which does not even accept you at all, with the side which is against your existence as the Islamic Republic?"

Supreme Leader Khamenei had preceded these statements with a lengthy discourse about the U.S., accusing it of imperialism, greed, immorality, and hostility to Islam. He decried the treatment of Native Americans and slavery, and he described as terrorism the use of atomic weapons in Japan during World War II. According to Iran's most powerful official, "The visible aspect of American society is violence, sex, promiscuity, bullying, [and] insecurity under the shadow of force."

President Khatami spoke before Khamenei. He said, "The American statesmen must not wrongly assume that some [authorities] in Iran will, from a position of weakness, raise their hands in surrender in the face of [Americans'] threats. This is the message of the Iranian nation to the entire world and to the American statesmen." (Bill Samii)

U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY DISCUSSES IRANIAN WMD. Two different committees of the U.S. Senate on 19 March heard testimony from intelligence community leaders about the threats posed by Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the words of CIA Director George Tenet, the dangers to the U.S. have never been "more clear or more present."

Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Tehran is a "serious concern because of its across-the-board pursuit of WMD and missile capabilities." He added that within the decade Tehran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon or it could flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Foreign assistance -- from Russia or North Korea -- could accelerate this process. It could produce a cruise missile on the basis of unmanned aircraft it has produced already. Tehran also is pursuing dual-use materiel that could be used to make chemical or biological weapons.

(Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Tenet's allegations regarding Russian assistance to the Iranian missile program are "unsubstantiated and not in keeping with the current spirit of Russian-American relations," Interfax reported on 20 March.)

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson, also addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 19 March and said that some 25 countries possess or are pursuing WMD or missiles, as are some nonstate actors. Wilson said that Iran already is sharing its missile propulsion technology with Syria, and it could acquire nuclear weapons in about the next 10 years. It possesses Chinese CSS-8, Scud-B, and Scud-C missiles, is buying longer-range missiles, has chemical weapons, and it is pursuing nuclear and biological weapons capabilities.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research's assistant secretary of state, Carl W. Ford, Jr., discussed chemical and biological weapons threats with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 19 March. Referring to previous use of such weapons, he said, "The threat is real, dangerous, and likely to occur again." Ford said that more than a dozen countries, including Iran, are capable of producing chemical and biological agents. Tehran has manufactured and stockpiled blister, blood, choking, and probably nerve agents, as well as the bombs and artillery to deliver them. It seeks production technology, training, expertise, equipment, and chemicals to help manufacture nerve agents, and it seeks dual-use biotechnical materials, equipment, and expertise. According to Ford, "Iran may have some limited capability to weaponize [biological weapons]." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT IN BEIRUT TO DISCUSS ARAB SUMMIT. Iranian Vice President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi arrived in Beirut on 19 March, having traveled overland from Damascus. Abtahi delivered a letter from President Mohammad Khatami to Lebanese President Emile Lahud that described Tehran's position regarding regional developments in light of the upcoming Arab Summit in Beirut. The Iranian vice president said that the Palestinian issue should be the basis of the summit, according to the Lebanese National News Agency. Abtahi said that Tehran does not know the details of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative yet (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 March 2002), but it supports anything that would restore the Palestinian people's rights. Abtahi went on to say that Arab and Islamic states must coordinate their efforts in order to stop "barbaric Israeli practices" in the occupied territories and to "stop the U.S. policy, the decisions of which -- according to him -- are all made in Tel Aviv," Beirut's Tele-Liban reported. Abtahi met several Lebanese officials to discuss the pending summit. These individuals include Hizballah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah and Lebanon's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigres Mahmud Hammud. Abtahi said that President Khatami would visit Lebanon this year. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS CALL FOR UNITY AT INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION... In a message to delegates at the 107th Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Marrakech, Morocco, Iranian Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi warned that Israel has stepped up its "carnage and relentless massacre of women and children in Palestine," IRNA reported on 18 March. Karrubi said that Israel plans the genocide of the Palestinians and wants to force them from their homeland. Karrubi warned that the Western and Israeli media are engaged in a "propaganda campaign against the Islamic nations and the Palestinians," so they must adopt a common stance. Karrubi also urged the IPU to encourage the UN to send observers to the occupied territories and the EU to put a halt to Israeli activities in Palestine. The Iranian delegation is headed by East Azerbaijan representative Hussein Hashemi and includes Jamileh Kadivar, Mustafa Khanzadi, Ramazan Vahidi, Mohammad Saqqai, Vali Azarvash, and Ali Qanbari. (Bill Samii)

...AND THEN WALK OUT. The Iranian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference staged a walkout to protest a proposal to recognize Israel as an independent state, Tehran radio reported on 19 March. Morocco proposed voting in favor of UN Security Council resolution 1379, which deals with children and conflict, but according to Tehran radio a last-minute addition to the proposal called for recognition of Israel. The Iranians therefore left before the voting began. The Iranians also walked out on 18 March, when the speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, began to address the conference. Delegations from Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen also left the meeting. Nevertheless, the Israelis met their counterparts from the Palestinian National Council, according to Reuters and AP. (Bill Samii)

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL RULES ON BUDGET... The Expediency Council held an extraordinary meeting on 16 March to discuss the budget because the Guardians Council and the parliament could not resolve their differences on this issue. In the end, it sided with the Guardians Council on two specific points and with the parliament three times.

Initially proposed by the executive branch, the budget was reviewed by the relevant committee and discussed in an open parliamentary session on 16 February. The total budget was set at 693 trillion rials (about $396 billion at the official rate), parliamentarian Rasul Sadighi told the 14 February "Resalat," which is 30 trillion rials (about $17 billion) more than the executive branch requested. Sadighi explained that the extra money is for a 16 percent pay hike for government employees and a 7 percent hike in retirees' pensions. The additional expenditures will be paid for with the proceeds from oil sales and the sale of stocks in government firms. The budget was approved on 27 February and forwarded to the Guardians Council, according to IRNA. The Guardians Council and the parliament subsequently resolved nine out of 14 cases about which they disagreed.

The Guardians Council objected to the part of the budget that focuses on oil and gas buy-back deals, saying that this contravened Islamic law. An editorial in the 16 March "Iran News" complained that buy-backs are the only means by which Iran has been able to "circumvent international sanctions and finance our oil and gas projects." The editorial accused the council of playing factional politics, since in the past it never questioned the validity of buy-backs and "skipped the finer points of international finance and interest rates which Islam forbids and condemns as usury."

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said that the Guardians Council objected to the "usurious nature" of buy-backs, and it also said that the ceiling for credits was too high. These were the most controversial points in the Expediency Council's deliberations, and the Expediency Council eventually sided with the legislature, said Rezai, according to state television on 16 March.

The Law Enforcement Forces had proposed selling surplus and obsolete equipment to generate extra revenues, but the Guardians Council said this was against Islamic law. The Expediency Council determined that the LEF could sell such items, but the money should go to the state treasury, which then would distribute it to the LEF, Rezai said. Another subject of the deliberations was the amalgamation of the budgets of the Armed Forces' counterintelligence organization and its ideological and political organization. A fourth subject was giving the provinces responsibility for 50 percent of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee budget. And a fifth subject was the parliament's call for greater use of the Internet and "information dissemination serves" in high schools and the educational sector, according to Rezai. (Bill Samii)

...AND MOVES FURTHER TO THE RIGHT. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed four new conservative members to the 34-man Council for the Discernment of Expediency on 16 March, and he reappointed Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the council's chairman. The conservative nature of this body was demonstrated last August when it adjudicated in the dispute between the parliament and the Guardians Council in an effort to eliminate the deadlock that postponed President Mohammad Khatami's inauguration, (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 August 2001).

Ex officio members of the council are the heads of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches (Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi). Other ex officio members are the clerics on the Guardians Council (Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Ayatollah Mohammad Daneshzadeh Momen-Qomi, Ayatollah Gholamreza Rezvani, Ayatollah Mohammad Hassan Qadiri, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, and Hojatoleslam Sadeq Larijani). Many other members are prominent hard-liners, and the Council includes two former ministers of intelligence and security, the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, a former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the head of the Armed Forces General Staff, and the head of the Islamic Coalition Association.

Pushing the Expediency Council further to the right is the appointment of four more conservatives. They are former Education Minister Hussein Mozaffar, former Speaker of Parliament Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, former Economics Minister Mohammad Javad Iravani, parliamentarian and Khamenei son-in-law Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and former parliamentarian Mohammad-Reza Bahonar. The two new reformists are parliamentarian Majid Ansari and Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref-Yazdi.

The personnel changes are not just a reflection of a conservative tendency in the leadership. The removal of Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh reflects developments in Iranian party politics. Tehran-based journalist Mohammad-Reza Balideh told RFE/RL's Persian Service that Nurbakhsh was named to the Council because of his membership in the Executives of Construction Party, which was a force in the late-1990s. The ECP is not as influential nowadays, Balideh said, so Nurbakhsh was removed from the council and he may lose his job at the Central Bank.

Before the announcement of the appointments there had been calls for a more diverse membership in the Expediency Council. Tehran parliamentarian Mohsen Armin said there should be greater factional diversity in the council, IRNA reported on 13 March, as did Vafa Tabesh of the Islamic Iran Participation Party and Fayzollah Arab-Sorkhi of the Mujaheddin of the Islamic Revolution Organization in interviews with the 12 March "Noruz." Parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur said that the Council should include women. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CUTS INTERNET ACCESS. Just days before the two-week Norouz (New Year) holiday, the Telecommunications Company of Iran (which is part of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) cut the phone lines of scores of Internet Service Providers. Mohammad-Amir Forughi, a Tehran-based expert on the Internet, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the ISPs would not be able to question the legality of this action because the courts will not be in session during the holiday period. When a number of Internet cafes were closed in May 2001 there was speculation that it was because young Iranians were using Internet cafes (also known as "coffee-nets") to make cheap international telephone calls, which deprives PTT of revenues (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 May 2001).

In August 2001, Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolution Council decided that the government would control Internet access and it made the Telecommunications Company and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting the main Internet distribution centers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 September 2001). A December article in "Aftab-i Yazd" expressed regret that President Khatami had signed the act restricting Internet usage by people under the age of 18. The act also restricts public access to some political websites, according to the article. The article asked if the next step would be the banning of radios, since Khatami was silent on the banning of satellite reception equipment.

In addition to using the Internet for international calls, some people in Iran use Internet chat rooms to communicate in real time with their counterparts in other countries. Contributors to a Persian-language "weblog" http://www.hoder.com/i/ agreed that the major newspapers -- "Iran" and "Kayhan" -- had published reports about the interruption of telephone service for ISPs. They offered conflicting views on the impact of this. "Ehsan," for example, said he would not be able to send his message if the reports were true, and "Sina" said that he had used several ISPs successfully. "Alireza" and others confirmed the report about the phone cuts but said it was being unevenly enforced. "Omid" said that so far there is no problem, but "God forbid if this happens." (Bill Samii)

SERIAL MURDERS LAWYER SENTENCED TO PRISON AND LASHES. Attorney Nasser Zarafshan, who represented the families of Jafar Puyandeh and Mohammad Mokhtari during the trial of Ministry of Intelligence and Security officials who murdered them, said in the 17 March "Azad" that the Military Tribunal's 2001 verdict in the serial murders case had been overruled by the Supreme Court and returned to the same tribunal for an explanation regarding errors and for further investigation. Zarafshan added, in a 19 March interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service, that he intends to appeal his sentence of five years in jail and 70 lashes for supposedly revealing government secrets, because he did not have access to such secrets. Zarafshan said that many writers and political activists are imprisoned on similarly bogus charges. In his opinion, this demonstrates that powers beyond the imprisoned MOIS killers (members of the "Said Emami Gang") are responsible for the serial murders, and there are far more victims than the ones who were listed in the trial. (For similar statements by Zarafshan, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 January 2001 and 27 August 2001). (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT MOVES AGAINST SMUGGLERS. Recent reports indicate that smuggling -- in all its forms -- continues to be a serious problem in Iran and it could be getting worse. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security prepared a report stating that "the phenomenon of smuggling has greatly expanded, and thus requires serious confrontation, because the country's economy will face dangerous threats in the future." President Mohammad Khatami reacted by creating a committee to determine where smuggled goods were entering the country, "Entekhab" reported on 18 February.

Many goods come to Iran from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The secretary of the headquarters for combating smuggling, Haji Abdovahab, said on 10 March that there are dozens of abandoned piers in southern Iran that could be used easily by smugglers, according to state television. He warned that a team consisting of personnel from the Armed Forces headquarters, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Interior Ministry, the Law Enforcement Forces, the customs administration, and the Organization of Ports and Shipping would go to the region to investigate the situation.

One of the goods smuggled into Iran is tea. The domestic tea industry is in a decline, therefore, as people turn to foreign brands. Parliamentarians from the tea-growing provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran urged the parliamentary presidium to take action against the smugglers, IRNA reported on 6 January.

Computer parts are smuggled into Iran, too, and according to "Seda-yi Idalat" last July, "the majority" of computer wholesalers get their components this way. The relevant legislation is badly written and this has led to an increase in smuggling. According to "Seda-yi Idalat," the anti-smuggling campaign led to instability in computer prices, and the sellers took advantage of this situation to charge higher prices.

Recent draft legislation on money-laundering also targets smugglers. It defines any money or assets accrued through smuggling as "illegal," and states that any money or assets gained in this way will be confiscated. Furthermore, a fine of one-fourth of the principal amount will be levied. All pre-existing related laws would remain in force. The draft legislation would also create a "Supreme Council Against Money Laundering," according to the 3 February "Mardom Salari."

Customs Administration chief Mehdi Karbasian believes that smuggling networks move about 10 billion rials ($5.7 million at the official rate) on which they do not pay any taxes or duties. This money is of little benefit to the national economy, he said in an interview with "Noruz" in August, and it actually hurts the economy and contributes to corruption. Karbasian refused to say that other governmental organs were involved with smuggling, but he conceded that his agency is present only in a limited part of the border markets and it works only during office hours. The security forces are responsible the rest of the time, and the Customs Administration is not kept fully informed about its activities. Moreover, many items are brought into the country legally through licenses issued by the Agricultural Jihad Ministry, the Commerce Ministry, or the Industries Ministry, and they suddenly appear on the open market after bypassing the Customs Administration. (Bill Samii)

ARMY USED AGAINST SMUGGLERS IN NORTHWEST. Much of the alcohol consumed in Iran comes from the country's western provinces, and the government is taking strenuous action to stop this problem. Regular army troops from the Sardasht base in West Azerbaijan Province attacked and occupied the Nokan marketplace in the Qasmah Rash border area because it had become a center for illegally importing alcohol to Iran. The army seized 16 vehicles and 70 weapons, and they arrested 50 people, Suleimanieh's "Hawlati" reported on 10 March. Abdullah Azimi, the police chief in the western city of Nahavand, Hamedan Province, told IRNA on 14 January that the police had seized more than 10,000 bottles of alcohol during a routine check of a truck. In Kermanshah over the last nine months, said customs official Mohammad Parsa, 50,000 bottles of alcohol have been confiscated. Some 5,650 smugglers of various goods were arrested in the northwest from March-September 2001, West Azerbaijan police chief Brigadier-General Ahmad Garvand told IRNA in September.

Other goods are smuggled in western Iran, too. Kurdistan Province police announced the arrest of smuggling gangs in Sanadaj, Bijar, and Saqez in late October, IRNA reported, and the authorities added that they had apprehended over 2,000 traffickers in Kurdistan from March-September 2001. Indeed, the provincial police described the seizure from June-September of 5.13 billion rials (about $3 million) worth of goods, including household appliances, foodstuffs, audio/video equipment, automobile parts, satellite receivers and dishes, and alcohol, "Iran Daily" reported on 10 September. (Bill Samii)

NORWAY INCREASES INVOLVEMENT IN IRANIAN ENERGY SECTOR. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jon Petersen said during a meeting with Iranian Ambassador Noqrehcar-Shirazi on 18 March that "Norway is ready to expand ties with Iran in all areas," IRNA reported. Noqrehcar-Shirazi expressed optimism about Statoil's participation in the Iranian oil and gas market. In Tehran, meanwhile, an unnamed Statoil official and the deputy governor general of Tehran exchanged views on the Norwegian firm's investments in southwestern Khuzestan Province, IRNA reported on 16 March.

Ten days earlier, Oslo's main daily newspaper, "Aftenposten," reported that two Norwegian firms had won a contract worth 53 million kroner (about $6.08 million) from Iran's state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). The two companies -- SINTEF Petroleum Research and Reinertsen Engineering -- will work on increasing oil production in seven oil fields in western Iran by analyzing data about their geological structures and reservoirs. According to "Aftenposten," the seven fields have a combined production capacity of 13,000 barrels per day, and NIOC wants to increase this to 80,000 barrels a day. (Bill Samii)

VIKINGS REACH AFGHANISTAN. "The world is a safer place than it was on the second of March when we inserted several thousand coalition forces, including soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, who put their lives on the line to confront Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists," said the 10th Mountain Division's Major General Frank Hagenbeck on 19 March at the conclusion of Operation Anaconda in Paktia province. Norwegian special operations forces were among the coalition's troops, and Norwegian soldiers are involved in other aspects of the conflict, too.

Allon Groth, first secretary at the Norwegian embassy in Prague, told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that there are two reasons for his country's military involvement in Afghanistan. "First, Norway is a NATO member. Since the operation in Afghanistan is an Article 5 operation under NATO, we have the obligation to assist any member of the alliance being under military attack." Article 5 states that an armed attack against a NATO member in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all NATO members. Should such an attack occur, each NATO member will assist the country that was attacked by taking whatever action it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.

NATO decided on 12 September 2001 that if it is determined that the previous day's attacks against the U.S. were directed from abroad, it would be regarded as an action covered by Article 5. This was the first time in NATO's history that Article 5 was invoked. The North Atlantic Council -- NATO's top decision-making body -- was briefed on 2 October by U.S. officials on the results of investigations into the 11 September attacks. It was determined that the individuals who carried out the attacks belonged to the worldwide terrorist network of Al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden and protected by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold said, "I'm proud to say a certain number of Norwegian special forces are in place in Afghanistan to support the Americans in the military operation Enduring Freedom." The U.S. requested the Norwegians because of their expertise in winter warfare, according to Norwegian Central Military Command spokesman Dag Aamot, NRK reported on 4 March. Oslo will not say how many Norwegian special forces are in Afghanistan, but the contingent consists of Royal Marine commandos from the Ramsund naval base near Harstad and soldiers from the Norwegian Army Special Operations Command stationed at Rena.

In fact, Norwegian special forces have been active in Afghanistan for several months and, according to a 26 February U.S. Department of Defense fact sheet, their "exploitation missions have yielded valuable human intelligence." Moreover, Norway has provided ground vehicles that are supporting special operations forces' missions in the area of operations. Norway has contributed C-130 aircraft to resupply the special forces, too. Norway also is one of the countries contributing troops to the International Security Assistance Force. Norwegian Explosive Ordinance Disposal experts and mine clearing vehicles are working in Kandahar. Staff officers and a supply control unit are in Afghanistan, too, and other officers are assigned to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. The Norwegian defense minister added that more troops are on their way to Afghanistan.

The Norwegian embassy in Prague's Groth said that tradition is the second reason for Norwegian involvement in Afghanistan. "Norway has been active in trying to restore peace and security all over the world before, through the UN, and later also in the Balkans, through NATO. So we certainly have a certain tradition in contributing forces to peacekeeping operations or even now, it is more like peace-enforcement." (Bill Samii)

...AS DOES NORWEGIAN AID. Norway's involvement with Afghanistan is not just in the military arena. Oslo provided $6 million (out of $19 million) that the Afghan interim administration had received from international donors by mid-February, and at the end of the month Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said that his country would work for more international support for Afghanistan. Oslo has provided about another $40 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid in 2002. In 2001, Norway allocated a total of 306 million Norwegian kroner ($35.09 million) to the crisis in Afghanistan, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Norway also chairs the Afghanistan Support Group, which was established in 1997. The ASG is an informal group of donors that focuses on coordinating international assistance efforts and ensuring the consideration of human rights in the provision of aid. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen said at the opening of the 4 March meeting of the ASG in Geneva that "The humanitarian challenges are at the top of our list and must be met if we are to succeed in building a better future for Afghanistan." Afghan interim administration representatives, representatives from Afghanistan's neighbors, and representatives of NGOs participated in the meeting.

Helgesen identified three areas requiring immediate action: enhanced access to persons in need of food and medicine by strengthening local distribution networks, mine clearance, and mobilization of female teachers and distributing basic school materials in advance of the 23 March start of the school year.

Helgesen had announced during a November visit to Geneva that Norway would allocate 80 million Norwegian kroner ($9.17 million) for humanitarian measures in Afghanistan. The money would be shared by the UNHCR, the World Food Program, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the UN's mine-clearance program. The Red Cross will receive another 17.6 million Norwegian kroner ($2.02 million), and Norwegian NGOs will get a total of 14 million Norwegian kroner ($1.6 million) for use in Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)

CHANGES IN AFGHAN BROADCAST LANDSCAPE. Commando Solo, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's EC-130 aircraft that were conducting civil affairs and psychological operations broadcast missions into Afghanistan, arrived home on 20 March, according to AP. The unit flew over 300 nine-hour missions. One day earlier, Kabul television announced the donation by the Iranian embassy of 485 videocassettes. Tehran has contributed much of Afghanistan's broadcasting equipment. (Bill Samii)

DETAINEES ARE ACTUALLY AFGHAN SHIA. U.S. military officials released on 20 March 12 members of Afghanistan's Hizb-i Wahdat party who were accused of being members of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 March 2002), "The New York Times" reported the next day. The detainees were led by Hizb-i Wahdat official Musa Rezai, and a political rival told "The New York Times" that he believed Rezai was an Iranian general because he had seen Rezai bring supplies from Iran during the anti-Soviet jihad. Regardless, several Afghan commanders insisted in interviews with "The New York Times" that Iranians were in the region trying to generate opposition to the central administration. Two of them, Amanullah and Abdulrouf, said that three Iranian visitors offered them weapons, food, and money if they would cooperate with Herat Governor Ismail Khan. (Bill Samii)

AFGHANISTAN SETS OUT TO FORM A NATIONAL ARMY. Afghanistan's new national army joined battle for the first time when Kabul's interim administration on 7 and 8 March began the dispatch of 1,000 heavily armed troops to assist U.S. forces fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants holding out in the mountains near Gardez in Paktia Province.

The Afghan reinforcements were Tajiks led by a veteran Northern Alliance commander, and some local Pashtun fighters expressed dissatisfaction, the "Guardian" and "The Washington Post" reported on 9 March, saying that Tajik help was not needed and fearing that the newcomers might claim credit for Pashtun fighting. At least one local commander, however, showed his good faith: "I am proud to have a small brother ensuring security in our area," Reuters reported on 9 March. With the Afghan army in place, U.S. troops began returning to their base in Bagram. Regardless of the outcome of this battle, building a military organization that serves the entire country and acknowledges the authority of the central government will likely be the measure of Afghanistan's peaceful reconstruction.

Warfare in Afghanistan has traditionally been the prerogative of local militias organized at a tribal level, and allegiance was a local or tribal matter that often disregarded larger political issues. Afghanistan's kings and emirs achieved military dominance to the extent that they attracted local and tribal leaders to their side. The experiences of the British army in three Afghan Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries taught the rulers of Kabul the value of a national army at the command of the central authority. By the time of the Communist takeover in 1978, Afghanistan's national army was estimated at 90,000 officers and men. Command of this army was usually kept within the royal family, although by this time it had become dependent on the Soviet Union for equipment and training. With the Soviet invasion in 1979 the national army became, in fact, a tool of foreign occupation and lost legitimacy in the eyes of most Afghans. Years of resistance spawned new factional militias whose conflicting loyalties kept them fighting among themselves. Arguably this fragmentation of military authority played an important role in frustrating Soviet occupation, but after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal it was the main source of destructive conflict throughout Afghanistan.

The American bombs that so swiftly ended a widely unpopular Taliban regime also focused international attention on the quest for a vehicle by which the very dangerous anarchical conditions in Afghanistan might be regularized. In accordance with last November's Bonn conference, this vehicle was a six-month mandated interim government placed in the hands of Hamid Karzai, a titular tribal leader with neither military experience nor militia of his own. Among the mightiest tasks with which he was charged was the re-creation of a national army. This month the first formal steps have been taken in this undertaking.

Karzai may be the beneficiary of Pashtun loyalty to a national army. Organized resistance to the mostly Pashtun Taliban regime was centered on the Northern Alliance of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara groups. Naturally these groups have asserted their own right to prominence in the interim government. As a result of the Bonn agreement Karzai is the main Pashtun government official. The fact that he has no personal military following may make allegiance to his government seem less threatening to those who have.

On 6 March, Karzai addressed a gathering in Kabul of almost all of Afghanistan's militia leaders. He told them, "It is your duty to revive the fundamental and historical task of creating a national army," Reuters reported on 6 March. In the presence of officials from the UN and the international security force, militia leaders who warred with each other for years for their own ends promised obedience to Karzai. Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, a Tajik and successor to the assassinated war hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, promised, "there will not be chaos and war in this country again." He also promised an army independent of political alignment, Reuters reported on 6 March. Fahim and the Jamiyat-i Islami, of which he and the larger number of cabinet ministers are members, may think that a national army is the best hope for Afghanistan's large Tajik minority.

The country's smaller Uzbek minority in the north, however, looks to Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum to speak for its interests. At the 6 March meeting Dostum selflessly declared, "I have no desire for power. I only want to serve my country," according to "The Washington Post." He also made a subtle reference to the fact that Afghanistan is not a homogeneous land, saying according to Reuters, "Whether from north, south, east, or west, we are all brothers. I am willing to give my blood for this army." Dostum has delivered for a national army in the past when his "Uzbeks" were known from north to south as the scourge of the Communist puppet regime in Kabul.

From Herat in the west, militia leader Ismail Khan claimed a place for his followers in the new national army on the basis of their "talent to fight," according to "The Washington Post." Somewhat remote from Kabul and neighbors to Iran, the people of western Afghanistan are mostly non-Pashtuns.

All of this makes it likely that the exercise of a national military authority will depend at first more on a concurrence of interests than on an integrated command. An attempt last month to organize and train a core unit whose command would not be subject to local loyalties was able to recruit barely one-third of the 600 men needed to form an initial battalion, Reuters reported on 25 March. Projections on the eventual size of the national army stand at about 50,000 to 60,000 men, according to "The Washington Post" on 6 March. It may be that the non-Afghan nature of Al-Qaeda as an enemy will have a cohesive effect on Karzai's new army.

It is estimated, furthermore, that there are as many as 200,000 armed militants at present, but it is not clear how those who are not in the new army will be dealt with. Afghanistan's emirs of the 19th and 20th centuries labored for generations to build the country's first national army. Hamid Karzai's mandate ends in June -- just three more months. (Steve Sego)

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