Afghanistan's interim government, Western military officers, political analysts, and international human-rights monitors all see a recent rise of violence in Afghanistan as part of a struggle by marginalized factions in the country. They say radical militants that were left out of peace talks in Bonn last December -- and therefore have no role in the current interim administration -- are now trying either to gain power within the next central government or to derail the entire process of political transition.
Prague, 10 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The process of naming the electors who will determine the composition of Afghanistan's emergency Loya Jirga is not a story that has garnered large headlines and lengthy coverage in the international media. Instead, most recent stories about Afghanistan in the foreign press have focused on an upsurge of apparent political violence in the country.
Nevertheless, many officials and observers see a link between the violence and the local politics that surround the creation of the Loya Jirga. Among those who see such a link are members of Afghanistan's interim administration, Western military officials, political analysts, and international human-rights monitors.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said an apparent assassination attempt on Monday against interim Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim was the result of "internal tensions" between Afghanistan's rival factions rather than a plot by ousted Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters.
Clarke says Afghanistan is going through "challenging times" as the interim administration attempts to unify the "fiefdoms" of rival warlords under the political process outlined in December's Bonn agreement.
In Monday's attack, four children were killed and at least 18 people were injured when a bomb exploded at a roadside kiosk in Jalalabad just as Fahim's motorcade was passing. Fahim was not injured.
Kerramuddin, the chief of staff at the Defense Ministry, told RFE/RL that militants from the fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami party are the primary suspects in that blast. The attack comes less than a week after some 160 members of Hezb-i-Islami -- the party of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- were arrested on charges of plotting an alleged coup against the interim administration.
Kerramuddin told RFE/RL that investigators think there is a link. "The arrests that were recently made in Kabul were groups from Hekmatyar's intelligence, which are committing acts of sabotage. The attempt [against Fahim] in Jalalabad also was most probably the work of Hezb-i-Islami intelligence networks."
Kerramuddin says a combination of several possible motives are suspected for the attack on Fahim. Among them, he said, are the goals of derailing the Bonn process and preventing the scheduled return of former King Zahir Shah early next week.
Under the Bonn accord, Zahir Shah is to inaugurate the first session of the Loya Jirga in mid-June. But the Bonn agreement does not contain an alternative plan for launching the Loya Jirga if the former king fails to return to Afghanistan.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad admits that the attack on Fahim could raise fresh security concerns for Zahir Shah. But he said that a political motive is only one possible explanation behind Monday's bomb attack:
"It could probably be from opposition groups who are resorting to violence. That's something the interim administration takes very seriously because we think that any opposition should be confined to a political action, not to violence and armed action in Afghanistan. But it is [also] possible that [the bomb attack] could be something that was instigated by the drug mafias that still operate in Afghanistan. As you know, the interim administration is cracking down very hard on poppy cultivation and drug production," Samad said.
But Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RFE/RL it is not an accident that alleged coups and assassination attempts against ministers are occurring at the same time that electors are being chosen to vote on the composition of the Loya Jirga.
"From the point of view of these groups [that have been marginalized by the Bonn agreement], the time to assert their presence -- and assert the fact that they cannot be left out and cannot be disregarded -- is now. Because this is the time when the deals are being made [on the composition of the Loya Jirga]," Ottaway said.
Ottaway also said that with only seven days set aside in June for the Loya Jirga to meet, the task of the grand national council will be to rubber stamp the political deals that are already being worked out in advance. "There is no doubt that in the preparation for the Loya Jirga, the deals are being made now. The idea is not to wait until the Loya Jirga [is established] to reach some agreements [on the 18-month transitional authority that will follow]. I think the attempt is to try [to] get to the Loya Jirga with pacts already made so that then the Loya Jirga can confirm what has already been negotiated."
Ottaway also said that she thinks the international community is trying to create a coalition of support for the future transitional authority that includes Afghanistan's more moderate factions. She said that external pressure partly explains why more militant factions are being left out of the process.
In an exclusive interview, interim-administration leader Hamid Karzai told RFE/RL yesterday that ordinary Afghans do not want the future of their country to be determined by warlords and militant extremists.
"It is the will of the Afghan people to put an end to warlordism. People wanted us to do two things: first, develop their respective provinces and regions and areas, and second, liberate them from oppression and arbitrary treatment by armed groups and individuals," Karzai said.
Attacks have also been launched this week against international peacekeepers in Kabul and against Afghan troops in southeastern Paktia Province who form the embryonic core of a future Afghan national army.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Flight Lieutenant Tony Marshall, says the force suspects that Hezb-i-Islami militants loyal to Hekmatyar are responsible for a rocket attack against an ISAF base during the weekend.
ISAF spokesman Colonel Neal Peckham went a step further, saying that the upsurge of recent violence is probably part of a coordinated campaign to disrupt the process of creating the Loya Jirga.
"We are coming toward the return of the king; we are coming toward the start of the Loya Jirga process. There are elements within the society here who are opposed to it," Peckham said.
In the wake of the recent violence, UN special envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi today issued a call for international donors to help fund the national army and a police force for the country.
With the United States and key European countries unwilling to approve a geographic expansion of the ISAF mission beyond the borders of Kabul Province, Brahimi says that the establishment of a "well-trained, properly equipped national security force" is the only way to ensure security.
He said it is an absolute priority that an all-Afghan security force be created quickly in order to counter security threats against the central government.