6 January 2005, Volume 4, Number 1
CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM EMERGES FROM PAST 12 MONTHSBy Amin Tarzi
By most accounts and in light of the previous quarter of a century, the past 12 months have been good for Afghanistan.
In January 2004, the Constitutional Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) gave the Afghan state its basic law by approving a new constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004). The constitution prescribes a strong presidential system, spawning fears that a head of state who so chose might abuse the presidential powers. It also includes an article stipulating that no law may contradict the beliefs or provisions of Islam, thus inviting interference by conservative religious elements into nearly every aspect of Afghan state functions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). But on the whole, the new Afghan Constitution is a forward-looking and inclusive document that should be examined with the country's current realities in mind.
Also in January 2004, NATO finally fulfilled its pledge to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul when it took command of the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). At its Istanbul summit in June, NATO decided to further expand the ISAF by agreeing to assume command of more PRTs in northern and western Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June and 1 July 2004). While NATO has tiptoed cautiously in assuming greater responsibility in Afghanistan and material support from many of the military alliance's members has fallen short of the political rhetoric, NATO seems to have agreed to stay the course in Afghanistan for the long haul. ISAF might eventually take charge of much of the security assistance rendered by the international community to Afghanistan, but that plan appears to have more than a few foes in Brussels at the moment.
One of most important achievements of the Afghan Transitional Administration, albeit with considerable support from its foreign backers, was putting a dent in the armor of invincibility of major warlords. The decision by then Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in July to skip over his first deputy, Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, in selecting his running mates in the presidential election provided a tremendous boost and opened the way to confrontation with other warlords (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 5 August 2004). Fahim, who commanded his own militia and was regarded by many as the strongest individual in Afghanistan, was originally on the ticket out of security concerns. Karzai's maneuvering took Fahim and his supporters by surprise and effectively ended the supremacy that the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) had enjoyed on the Afghan political scene since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
The removal of General Mohammad Ismail Khan in September as governor of the Herat Province, where he ruled as the self-styled "amir" of western Afghanistan, afforded Chairman Karzai's central administration further confidence to exert its authority in areas where major warlords had reigned supreme (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).
Perhaps the most recognizable and celebrated achievement of Afghanistan and its foreign backers during the past 12 months was the successful and relatively peaceful presidential election in October. While more than a dozen people were killed on election day, 9 October, the specter of large-scale disturbances did not materialize; more than 8 million Afghans -- often braving inclement weather -- stood in long lines to cast their votes in the country's first-ever direct election of a national leader. The election, while imperfect, gave Afghans a legitimate leader and, perhaps more importantly, diminished the threat posed by the neo-Taliban militia and their allies.
Having secured more than 55 percent of the popular vote, Karzai was declared the winner of the presidential election in November. His closest rival had been Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, who garnered 16 percent of the ballot. The division of ballots revealed an unfortunate -- albeit not wholly unexpected -- ethnic divide among Afghans. Ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, for instance, won 10 percent of the vote -- a figure that is only slightly lower than the estimated number of ethnic Uzbeks in Afghanistan.
President Karzai announced his cabinet within weeks of his inauguration in early December, paring further the power of the warlords (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 December 2004). The cabinet looks good on paper but might face intense scrutiny by the National Assembly once that parliamentary body is formed in the spring. Some non-Pashtuns already are crying foul and claiming that the cabinet's so-called power ministries are almost exclusively in the hands of Pashtuns.
While Afghanistan's record of achievement in 2004 might have earned it passing grades, and even a few top scores, the country fared miserably in its counternarcotics efforts. A report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in November revealed that opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased 64 percent year-on-year in 2004, a figure that some regard as conservative. President Karzai has declared a "jihad," or holy war, on narcotics, and some of Afghanistan's foreign allies are trying to assist the Afghans or even beef up their own counternarcotic programs.
Afghanistan's prognosis for 2005 is not good in terms of opium cultivation or heroin production.
And unless a rigorous counternarcotics plan is put in place that keeps in mind the livelihood of Afghan farmers while at the same time including strong enforcement measures against major drug kingpins, Afghanistan could see a reversal of some of the gains of the past 12 months.
ELECTION SPECIAL.Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage at http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Find profiles of emerging political parties and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow this year's parliamentary campaigns.
AFGHANISTAN PLANS TO HANDLE ITS OWN SECURITY.In his first news conference since being named defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak said in Kabul on 29 December that the Afghan National Army must be capable of carrying out its missions "without the cooperation of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the [U.S.-led] coalition forces," Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak said that it will take two years to reach the goal of having 70,000 National Army personnel, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 29 December. Wardak said he plans to complete the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program by the end of March. However, according to Wardak, until the National Army's ground and air forces reach their full operational capacity, no exact date can be set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 29 December.
Afghan officials have said that about 60 percent of the heavy weapons possessed by various armed groups have been collected under the DDR program. If the new Afghan government succeeds in disarming the militias, it would eliminate one of the greatest threats to the state's ability to exercise its power throughout the country. (Amin Tarzi)
ONE KILLED IN PAKISTAN-AFGHANISTAN BORDER SKIRMISH.A Pakistani paramilitary was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Afghan militiamen on 2 January along the border with Pakistan's North Waziristan region, Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 3January. Major General Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Army, said Islamabad was not "sure who fired from the Afghan side, but naturally this could be miscreants" -- an apparent reference to neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda, AFP reported on 3 January. Pakistan has asked coalition forces that are active in the Afghan side of the border to launch an investigation to "find out who fired from their side," Sultan added. According to Sultan, three Pakistani paramilitaries were injured in the incident.
General Khialbaz, commander of the militia forces in Khost Province in Afghanistan, said that on 2 January he received reports indicating Pakistani troops were moving toward the Afghan border, and therefore ordered his "troops to prepare their equipment and go toward the border," AP reported on 3 January. According to Khialbaz, after several artillery rounds hit the Afghan side of the border, his side "gave the same answer by mortar." An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said that he was unaware of any skirmish between Afghan and Pakistani forces.
Coalition forces often work with militia forces in Afghanistan, including the one commanded by Khialbaz. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN MILITIA COMMANDER, U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN.Dost Mohammad, security commander of Herat Province's Shindand District, and a U.S. soldier were killed on 2 January during a search operation, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. According to eyewitnesses, fighting began when Dost Mohammad opened fire on U.S. forces seeking to search his home.
According to the report, Dost Mohammad was an ally of former Herat Governor and current Energy Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan. Reuters on 2 January reported that a U.S. soldier and "an Afghan citizen" were killed in the incident, without identifying the Afghan. (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACK THAT KILLED U.S. SOLDIER IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN.A U.S. soldier was killed and three others wounded on 3 January during a clash with unidentified militants in Konar Province, international news agencies reported. Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 3 January that the militia attacked U.S. forces in Konar with light artillery and mortars. Hakimi claimed four U.S. soldiers were killed. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN DEPUTY MINISTER RESIGNS TO PROTEST CENSORSHIP.Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez confirmed in an interview on 29 December with Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" that he has handed in his resignation. "I am against the censorship exercised by the minister on the media," he said. "I can never agree with Dr. [Sayyed Makhdum] Rahin's censorship and anticultural activities," Mobarez told the daily, without elaborating further. According to "Arman-e Melli," the differences between Mobarez and his boss are not just about Rahin's "inclination toward censorship and interference in media affairs" and that there are "other contentious issues between them." The newspaper did not mention what these issues might be. Rahin, who until recently championed freedom of the media, in November backed a call by the Supreme Court to ban cable-television broadcasts.
There was speculation at the time that Rahin was championing a conservative stance in an effort to secure a place in the Afghan cabinet (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November 2004). Previous reports also suggested that Mobarez would be replacing Rahin as minister of information and culture, but Rahin retained his position in the new cabinet. (Amin Tarzi)
SENIOR AFGHAN FINANCE MINISTRY OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY RESIGN.According to an unidentified senior official in the Afghan Finance Ministry, four officials have resigned from their positions following the appointment of Anwar al-Haq Ahadi as finance minister, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 29 December. The officials are listed as: Abdul Salam Rahimi, a deputy minister; Gholam Jailani Popal, head of customs; Sima Ghani, head of budget department; and Nargis Nagahan, head of cashiers. Aziz Shams, a spokesman for the Finance Ministry, confirmed the resignations of Ghani and Nagahan but said that Rahimi and Popal, while absent from their offices, will return to work soon. "The way of working and the principles will change with the new appointment, and the [new] minister will have his own polices," Ghani told reporters. "I perhaps will not agree with that, so I have decided to step down."
The report did not indicate whether there is any familial relationship between former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Sima Ghani. (Amin Tarzi)
WARLORD, DEMONSTRATORS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN DISAPPOINTED WITH NEW CABINET.General Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of the Junbish-e Melli party, on 3 January expressed his disappointment with the new cabinet chosen by President Hamid Karzai, Jowzjan Aina Television reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 and 30 December 2004). Dostum said people in northern Afghanistan who "took active part in the fight against terrorism...had high expectations of Hamid Karzai. "However," he said, "those expectations changed to disappointment after the announcement of the new cabinet." Dostum said "fairness and equality" are not "reflected in the new cabinet," nor is the role of people from northern Afghanistan.
On 1 January, an unknown number of "public representatives" from northern Faryab, Jowzjan, Balkh, Sar-ePol, Samangan, Baghlan, Konduz, and Takhar provinces gathered in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, to express their objections to the composition of the new Afghan cabinet, Jowzjan Aina Television reported. The rally called for a review of the new cabinet and recommended the inclusion of "the entire nation living" in Afghanistan, as well as those "who fought the enemies in hard times"-- an apparent reference to anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leaders. Dostum, an ethic Uzbek, came in third in Afghanistan's presidential election with 10 percent of the vote -- a number that more or less corresponded to the percentage of ethnic Uzbeks living in Afghanistan, most of whom reside in the north of the country (see feature above).
The text of the resolution of the rally held in Mazar-e Sharif as broadcast by Jowzjan Aina Television is as follows:
"We, the representatives of the northern province including scholars, elders, women, youths, businessmen, enlightened men, and traders from different nationalities of these provinces, held a big rally on 1 January 2005 in Mazar-e Sharif [the provincial capital of Balkh Province]. We will discuss and investigate the outcome of the first presidential election of Afghanistan, the formation of the new cabinet and the current situation, in detail. After further consultation, we passed this resolution, which contains the viewpoints and legitimate expectations of millions of inhabitants of the northern provinces of Afghanistan. As everyone knows the northern people fought against the foreign invasion and played a key and vital role in the successful jihad of the Afghan people. After that they bravely stood against international terrorism and the Taliban regime. They had an active role in eliminating the Taliban in cooperation with the world community and counter-terrorism coalition forces led by the United States of America. They prepared the ground to set up a temporary government and ensure security and stability in the country. They did their utmost to hold the emergency and constitutional Loya Jerga [grand councils], strengthen national unity, maintain peace, stability and security, carry out the DDR [the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration] process, approve the rule of law and hold presidential elections. They spared no effort to cooperate with the new government led by Hamid Karzai.
"The maintenance of peace and stability and active participation of a large number of northern people in the presidential elections showed that our people are seriously thinking about the present and the future. Hamid Karzai was elected on the basis of his promises that he would fairly maintain a national contribution in the new government. The hopes of the majority of people of Afghanistan, especially the northern people, changed to disappointment after the announcement of the new cabinet.
"A comprehensive look at history shows that most of the problems and socio-political crisis are the result of racial discrimination and lack of national contribution to the government system. It is time to put an end to the once experienced and failed program by reviewing the tough and tyrannical years in the country.
"Unknown figures have been appointed for unimportant and symbolic ministries in an unfair manner. Representatives of everyone, from every part of Afghanistan, including the north, should be included in the government. As it seems the new cabinet of Afghanistan is a kind of linguistic and regional monopoly. The presidency and key ministries like the ministry of defense, interior, foreign affairs, finance, commerce, communication, rural rehabilitation and national security and some others have been given to one nationality [the text does not mention that these ministers are Pashtuns]. The extent of participation of others is trivial.
"The representatives of a large number of people such as the Uzbeks, northern Tajiks, Arabs, Aymaqs, and Turkmans cannot be observed in the cabinet or those who have been appointed in the new cabinet cannot represent these people in an effective way. Therefore, we announce our legitimate and peaceful objection against the unfair composition of Hamid Karzai's new cabinet. We ask him as the president of Afghanistan, who belongs to all Afghans, to revise his administration by taking into consideration the above-mentioned issues and historic experiences of Afghan society.
"First of all, he should employ real representatives of people in the government system in order to maintain and strengthen national unity, stability and democracy and rebuild the united country. Secondly, he should rid his cabinet of the narrow-minded and nationalist figures who create racial and linguistic discrimination.
The president can be hopeful and his program can be carried out successfully and he will be supported by the people if he does so." (Amin Tarzi)
INTERIM SUPREME COURT FORMED.President Karzai on 3 January decreed the formation of an interim Supreme Court, Afghanistan Television reported. Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari remains in his position of chief justice of the nine-member court, but Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi lost his job. According to Article160 of the Afghan Constitution, if the presidential election precedes parliamentary elections, the president must form an interim Supreme Court. (Amin Tarzi)
Members of the interim Supreme Court are:
1- Fazl Hadi Shinwari - Chief Justice and Chairman
2- Mawlawi Fazl Wahab
3- Mawlawi Qiamoddin Kashaf
4- Mawlawi Sayyed Omar Monib
5- Mawlawi Abdul Razaq Mosamem
6- Mawlawi Samar Gol Ashraf
7- Mawlawi Morad Ali Morad
8- Mawlawi Mohammad Azim Jalili
9- Mawlawi Mohammad Hashem Safi
COUNCIL OF AFGHAN RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS CONDEMNS USE OF ALCOHOL AND DRUGS.The Ulema Council of the southeastern Paktiya Province issued a declaration on 29 December demanding a stop to the cultivation of opium poppies and the consumption of alcohol, Radio Afghanistan reported. Since "narcotics are prohibited by the sacred religion of Islam and the [Afghan] Constitution," the Ulema Council "makes an urgent appeal to the brave and religion-loving Muslims of Paktiya to stop cultivating them and dealing in them," the declaration stated. The council also declared that the Koran has "clearly prohibited" consumption of alcohol, which according to the declaration is the "mother of all narcotics." Therefore, "Muslims must definitely abstain from importing, selling, and drinking it." The declaration "once again" asked Muslim citizens of Afghanistan to "abstain from immorality and not to watch or sell immoral films."
As Afghanistan's opium cultivation reached new records in 2004, some antidrug agencies have considered using Islam as a way to curb the problem (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 September, 18 November, and 3 December 2004). However, Islamic scholars voicing their opinions on narcotics would also likely oppose alcohol and films they deem inappropriate, a scenario that could be used as a pretense to ban cable and satellite broadcasting. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY:1 January 1965 -- Founding of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan.
2 January 1972 -- An agreement is concluded with the Soviet Union for the development of the Jarquduq gas fields and the provisions of gas production and processing facilities.
1 January 1994 -- Forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar attack Kabul forces.
Source: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).