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Afghan Report: February 28, 2006

28 February 2006, Volume 5, Number 6
By Amin Tarzi

During his recent trip to Islamabad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan and Pakistan are "joined together like twins" and are "inseparable." But for all the diplomatic gestures, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are now at their lowest ebb since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Karzai's main stated grievance is that his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf is, at best, unable or, at worst, unwilling to curtail the activities of the neo-Taliban inside Pakistan and to break up the support network created by Pakistani religious and military groups for the militants.

Afghan officials and the media have consistently accused Afghanistan's eastern neighbor of backing the violence perpetuated by the neo-Taliban. Recently, too, the Afghan public has taken up the call, in anti-Pakistani protests.

Karzai himself, though, had maintained a more diplomatic line. That has since changed, due to a wave of around 30 suicide attacks that killed nearly 100 people since mid-November. During a weekly radio program in late January, Karzai charged that "a neighbor" of Afghanistan has had a hand in the recent upsurge in violence. "The reason for these attacks is the continuation of subversive endeavors" by foreigners whose aim is "to dominate" Afghanistan, Karzai said. The former Taliban regime was, the Afghan president continued, part of a "hidden invasion" of Afghanistan "by a neighbor for the second time" since the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979.

While clearly pointing to -- but refraining from directly identifying -- Pakistan, Karzai added that since the collapse of the Taliban regime following the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, those "who controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime have not altered their intentions." Karzai went on to say that the unnamed neighbor has continued to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs and, for "this reason, terrorism and attacks [are] still widespread."

Militants And Secret Services

Islamabad may itself have voiced displeasure of its own at the 15 February meeting. Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan suggest that Pakistani officials handed Karzai evidence that Indian security agents have been operating in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province and tribal areas along the Afghan border. The reports suggest the agents had been using India's consulates in Afghanistan as bases.

Those reports are unofficial. However, Karzai was very empathetic when he stated on 15 February that Afghanistan's "relations with India in no way, no way, no way will impact" on ties between Kabul and Islamabad.

Islamabad has on a number of occasions since 2003 alleged that India is using Afghanistan as a base from which to interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs. In 2003, Pakistan's then interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, accused India of running camps in Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis as terrorists (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 October 2003).

The confusion that followed Afghan officials' announcement that they had given Pakistan a list of 150 former Taliban members living in Pakistan seemed, therefore, to be symptomatic of a broader divergence in views between the two countries. On 20 February, Pakistan denied receiving a list. The next day Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao acknowledged that Islamabad had indeed received a list of "about 150 terrorists." But this was, he said, a routine exchange of intelligence. Differences persist. Most Pakistani officials say the list named Al-Qaeda members. Afghan officials say the list names members of the Taliban. Neither Afghan nor Pakistani officials have revealed any of the names.

A Separate But Equal Partnership

There are, though, glimmers of hope that Kabul and Islamabad might at least find it beneficial to work together to promote trade and transit opportunities.

On 15 February, Afghan and Pakistani officials met in Turkmenistan to discuss a proposed pipeline that would carry Turkmen gas to both countries, and perhaps onward to India. There is also talk of running a railroad through Afghanistan that would connect the republics of Central Asia with Pakistan and, through Pakistan's ports, to overseas markets. Similarly, there are ongoing discussions about bus links between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, while resistant, Pakistan has not flatly rejected a proposal to allow an overland transit route between Afghanistan and India through Pakistan.

However, one proposal made by Karzai during his trip to Pakistan -- to adopt an open-border policy as a prelude to other confidence-building measures -- will have roused anxiety in Islamabad, as it is Afghanistan's longstanding policy not to recognize the Durand Line, the disputed boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003).

Afghanistan has never officially recognized the Durand Line, and Pakistan has therefore always regarded Afghanistan as a potential threat and sought to retain leverage in Afghanistan. It has done so partly by nurturing political opponents who could, in time of need, serve Pakistani interests.

The support that Pakistan is alleged to be providing the neo-Taliban is therefore part of a long-term strategy that predates the current war on terrorism and overreaches Musharraf's stated goodwill towards the Karzai government. And that also suggests that if the inseparable twins are to become separate but equal states, they will need to agree where exactly their borders lie.

The international community and Afghan delegates emerged from the two-day London conference on Afghanistan with a clutch of documents. They include a five-year Afghanistan Compact that assures continued global support for Afghanistan until 2010. All sides celebrated agreement on various issues, but questions remain over the feasibility and measurability of tasks in the Afghanistan Compact (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 February 2006).

Adhering To The Compact

The compact states that democratic "governance and the protection of human rights constitute the cornerstone of sustainable political progress in Afghanistan."

The Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (I-ANDS) -- which underpins the compact on the Afghan side -- is realistic about the country's problems in the governance sector. According to I-ANDS, Afghanistan "does not yet have the capacity or resources to govern effectively."

In the compact, Afghanistan pledges to adhere to a list of public administration reforms, including implementing anticorruption mechanisms and empowering women to participate "in all Afghan governance institutions," in its five-year plan. Such steps are feasible -- at least to a measurable degree -- if acted upon by the Afghan side in strategic coordination with the donors.

What seems unrealistic -- yet its implementation is crucial to Afghanistan's state-building process -- is the pledge to have "functioning institutions of justice" fully operational in each of the country's 34 provinces.

Lack Of Progress

Of all the vital sectors and issues in Afghanistan that need to be addressed -- military, police, judicial, counternarcotics, and disarmament -- the least progress, if any, has been made in the justice institutions.

Unlike the other issues -- where various degrees of reform has taken place since the Bonn agreement, Afghanistan's judicial sector remains more or less dysfunctional and, at the moment, no long-term nationwide plan to fix this problem has been debated -- at least not publicly.

In the I-ANDS, Afghanistan is taking on a lot when it pledges to "establish a sustainable and affordable system of justice" acceptable to all Afghans and "in conformity with international standards." The Afghan Justice Ministry plans within five years to regulate the role of formal and informal justice mechanisms and their areas of jurisdiction.

Fresh from winning the presidential elections in October 2004, Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have lost an opportunity to appoint a reform-minded head of the Supreme Court instead of reaffirming ultraconservative Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. Shinwari seems to have enough support among conservatives in the National Assembly who, like him, view the judicial sector as their prerogative. They are likely to retain him as chief justice knowing that he is likely to undermine most of the reforms that do not fit his worldview.

Judicial sector reform can only begin when Afghanistan starts in earnest to train judges, defense lawyers, and other court functionaries both in secular and Islamic legal systems.

Incidentally, the realm of informal justice mechanisms -- while very important in the Afghan context and with some regulatory measures a viable means to solve disputes in lieu of state courts in certain circumstances -- requires more understanding before it can be fully utilized.

While reform in the judicial sector is urgently needed, to achieve all that Afghanistan has agreed to in the I-ANDS -- and which the supporters of Afghanistan have accepted in signing their names to the compact -- seems overly optimistic.

Establishing Stability

While the compact is a political document rather than a binding treaty, it is, according to Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin of New York University, an attempt to make functional the governing institutions that the 2001 Bonn agreement reestablished. As such, rather than agreeing to benchmarks with a very low probability of completion on time, the compact might have planned a less ambitious but more realistic plan of action. The judicial sector problem appears to be a glaring underestimation of the amount of changes required.

The Afghan government wrote in the I-ANDS that Afghanistan "mobilizes less domestic resources as a percentage" of its gross domestic product than any other state in the world. As such, direct-aid money accounts for the bulk of Afghanistan's budget.

However, Kabul complains in the I-ANDS that less than 25 percent of that aid money goes through Afghanistan's national budget.

Under the new arrangement, Afghanistan is to receive larger portions of the aid that, in theory, should enhance Kabul's control of the country's fiscal policies.

More direct distribution power over the aid should also compel the Afghan government to aid its pledges -- something that Kabul also stated in 2003 and 2004 -- to downsize and professionalize its administrative system and to overtly and -- without regard to the culprit -- fight corruption, beginning with any senior government officials that may be involved in such activities. That, however, is something that cannot be accomplished without an accountable and functional judicial system. (Amin Tarzi)

The UN Security Council on 15 February unanimously expressed its support for the "Afghanistan Compact," under which international donors promised on 1 February to provide long-term help to the Afghan government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 February 2006). That sign of support for the Kabul government comes at a time when a rise in violence and renewed strains in Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan are again throwing the spotlight on the fragility of efforts to rebuild the country. Nazira Karimi of RFE/RL's Afghanistan Service asked a member of the U.S. Congress familiar with Afghanistan, James Kolbe (Republican, Arizona), for his reflections on the overall situation in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: How do you see Afghanistan now, almost four years after the reconstruction process started? Do you think it has benefited the population at large, especially women and the young?

James Kolbe: Well, I have been in Afghanistan on several occasions, most recently two months ago, in November and December. We had an opportunity to visit some of the schools that have recently been opened. I was struck by what I regarded as the courage of some of the teachers that we listened to and heard from, who all through the Taliban years -- secretly in their homes -- continued to teach young girls. They would put a sign out that would say 'Cooking Lessons' or 'Sewing Lessons' or 'Koran Lessons' but they were also teaching them academic subjects. They were teaching them reading and writing and math. So they kept the kernel of education alive for these girls in those years so the Afghan nation did not lose as much as it would have done otherwise. Many of these teachers suffered greatly when they were caught by the Taliban. Some died, others were imprisoned and punished in other ways.... Today it's wonderful to go to schools and see the girls learning -- at a younger age -- right alongside the young boys, and, as they get older, in their own schools of course but having the same educational opportunities, the same programs for learning that young men have.

RFE/RL: The government of President Hamid Karzai has never had very easy relations with Pakistan due to the recent history of relations between the two countries. However, during his latest trip to Pakistan, President Karzai appeared to take a harder line than before. What do you think could have caused that? And how does that reflect on relations between the United States and Pakistan?

Kolbe: We believe that President [Pervez] Musharraf of Pakistan has been a good ally for the United States in the war on terror, since, less than three days after the terrible events of 11 September, President Musharraf pledged his support for this fight against terror. And while not everything perhaps has been perfect, at least as it relates to the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, we've seen enormous changes take place in Pakistan. The Pakistani-Indian relationship is infinitely better today than it was then and I think the Pakistani-Afghan relationship is better today. But there are literally centuries of hard feelings and enmities that have to be overcome. But in the end Pakistan has to understand that it is in [its] interests to have a stable government in Afghanistan [and] a stable and growing economy because they will have great opportunities to trade and export to that country.

RFE/RL: In Afghanistan we heard for years about wars, interethnic and interregional fighting but never about suicide bombings. Is this an effect of the war in Iraq?

Kolbe: Suicide bombers are something that it is very hard for those of us in the West to understand; [it is very difficult to understand] the mentality of [people who] would destroy themselves, kill themselves, and -- more importantly -- kill innocent women and children who have done nothing that is wrong. So we deplore that and we hope that this does not become a trend that becomes larger in Afghanistan, as it has in Iraq. We believe we are going to defeat this insurgency, this suicide bombing, in Iraq. But we certainly hope it does not begin in Afghanistan in a major way.

RFE/RL: With Iraq proving a bigger burden on the U.S. budget than anticipated, how committed will the United States remain to Afghanistan?

Kolbe: There is no question that this government is committed to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan and I am certain that, regardless of what administration follows [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush, there will be a similar commitment. This a commitment that we understand is there for the very long term.

A school was set on fire by militants in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on 20 February, the most recent in a series of attacks on schools and educational institutions in the country. Afghan officials say the remnants of the Taliban are responsible for the attacks, which have bred insecurity and led to the closing of other schools. Many are concerned that the attacks could undermine the educational system in Afghanistan's southern provinces.

It's a very worrying trend: in recent months more than a dozen schools have been set afire in southern Afghanistan, including some 10 schools in Helmand Province.

The latest torching took place on 20 February when unidentified perpetrators set fire to a boys' high school in the Zarghon village of the Nadali district in Helmand. All the books and furniture were destroyed but no one was hurt.

Burnings And Killings

In several other cases, however, schoolteachers have been killed, including a high school teacher who was beheaded in a school in Zabul Province in January.

In mid-December another teacher was dragged out of his classroom and shot dead outside of the gates of his school in Helmand. He had reportedly received threats and warnings to stop teaching boys and girls.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has expressed serious concern over the attacks on schools and teachers.

AIHRC spokesman Nader Nadery tells RFE/RL that as a result of the violence, many schools in the southern provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, and Oruzgan have closed. He says many parents are reluctant to send their children to school.

Closing Out Of Fear

"Unfortunately, in less than six months more than 300 schools have been burned or, for the major part, have been shut down," he said. "Most of the schools have been closed because of the fear of attacks by Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. And, due to the insecurity that the people in the region [feel], parents are refusing to send their kids to schools."

The United Nations has said that incidents such as the burning of schools fly in the face of efforts to rebuild Afghanistan's shattered education system and the "desire among the Afghan people to see their children educated."

Afghan officials have condemned the attacks and blamed "the enemies of Afghanistan," a term used by Afghan leaders to refer to Taliban militants and other insurgent Islamist groups.

On 9 February, a leading Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, told the French news agency AFP that the group has burned down some schools. But he added that the militants only targeted those "where Christianity is being taught."

Taliban Proclaims Innocence

A purported Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Hanif, denied in an interview with the "Christian Science Monitor" that his group is behind the attacks and said that the Taliban supports education.

During the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, girls were banned from attending school and the emphasis in school curriculum was on religious subjects and the study of the Koran.

Wahid Mozhdah, an Afghan writer and security expert based in Kabul, believes that militants consider schools a government target. He believes schools are being attacked to force people to send their children to madrasahs.

"They want everybody to attend madrasahs and become a Talib [someone who seeks religious knowledge], religious madrasahs are a place where they can recruit," Mozhdah said. "But in the main schools, pupils can be influenced by the government so that they burn schools to prevent that. When there won't be any schools in these areas, as there aren't any religious schools either, then families will have no other solution than to send their children to the other side of the border to study in religious schools that are a source of recruitment for the Taliban. [The torching of schools] can have only one reason: attracting young people from schools to attend religious schools."

Some observers believe that schools are being targeted because they are an easy target, others say the attacks on schools are aimed at undermining public trust in the government and creating fear.

Keeping Afghanistan Undeveloped

Nadery notes that by attacking schools, militants are targeting the country's future. "Education and learning make up one of the main pillars that can guarantee the future of Afghanistan as a democratic country that can solve its problems by itself," he said. "The Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces follow the policy of burning schools as a long-term strategy to preserve Afghanistan as an [undeveloped] country."

The AIHRC has called on the Afghan government to ensure the safety of teachers, pupils, and schools. The organization says the increasing number of international troops in the restive southern parts of Afghanistan can play a key role in getting the schools to reopen. (Golnaz Esfandiari)