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Afghan Report: January 22, 2005

22 January 2005, Volume 4, Number 3
By Amin Tarzi

When Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced his cabinet on 23 December, most observers hailed it as a technocratic team mostly devoid of warlords and other unsavory elements among Afghanistan's powerful personalities.

On the other hand, human rights advocates pointed to the appointment as energy minister of former Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan as a disappointment (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 December 2004).

The inclusion of Ismail Khan in the cabinet -- provided that the former militia leader concentrates on his current job -- can be viewed as the successful conclusion of one of Karzai's most daring maneuvers.

Until September 2004, Ismail Khan, the self-styled "amir," or ruler, of western Afghanistan, was one of the thorniest obstacles facing Kabul's plans to expand the central government's sway over the outlying provinces. While Karzai publicly announced his policy to rein in various warlords -- referred to by Kabul as "regional commanders" -- in May 2003, he had little success with Ismail Khan, who continued to rule his fiefdom of Herat virtually independently.

While most petty -- and some of the more powerful -- warlords could have been regarded as rather easy targets for a Kabul diplomatic campaign, since most had very bad human-rights records and did not have large popular support, Ismail Khan was a very tough target.

Compared to other warlords who in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001 roamed Afghanistan as ministers, governors, presidential candidates, or commanders, Ismail Khan's rule arguably had a positive side. He was not merely interested in enriching himself and his immediate associates; unlike most of his peers, there is no hard evidence that he was involved in the narcotics industry. Under Ismail Khan's dictatorial "emirate," Herat witnessed a reconstruction boom that included clean and efficient roads -- something still sorely lacking in Kabul.

While Ismail Khan initially kept from Kabul all -- and later at least a large portion -- of the tax revenues generated by Afghanistan's main border crossing with Iran, he spent a generous portion of it on public projects and as such had a substantial popular-support base in Herat. Lastly, Ismail Khan's past was not tainted with gross human rights abuses and he maintained his legendary status as a mujahedin commander during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

These attributes and his substantial military power rendered Ismail Khan a tough challenge for Karzai.

Finally, in September, through several smart political moves and perhaps some luck, Karzai managed to remove Ismail Khan from power and appointed him minister of mines and industry in his transitional administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).

Ismail Khan opted not to assume his ministerial post in Kabul and remained in Herat as a "private citizen." However, and more importantly, he did not cause any trouble, and tried to help calm the situation after some of his supporters, angered by his dismissal, went on a rampage in Herat city.

Karzai's decision to include Ismail Khan in his first postelection cabinet ought to be viewed not only from the prism of Ismail Khan's bad behavior while ruling Herat, but from the broader picture of the relative peaceful ending of warlordism throughout Afghanistan.

The fact that Ismail Khan now sits in the cabinet and takes orders from Karzai is a significant victory in itself. Regardless of the fact that he is not an energy expert, if Ismail Khan manages to run his department efficiently, relying on expert help for technical matters, the decision to include the decommissioned warlord into the cabinet may lead to positive repercussions on ending other warlords' careers.

Of course, Ismail Khan did not choose to be part of Karzai's cabinet; he simply had no better options. Recent Afghan history has illustrated that those who rule with the gun, respect force. Also, history shows that these figures only fight when cornered with no other options. Thus, removing the warlords while leaving them an option to save face, or in some cases even serving the state, may be the best available option to Karzai, who has yet to have anything resembling a military capable of projecting his orders by force.

Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" 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 next year's parliamentary campaigns.

President Hamid Karzai on 12 January promised to ensure that the parliamentary elections that were slated for April are held as soon as possible, Reuters reported. "We will make every effort so that this crucial pillar of Afghanistan's government, which is the legislative power, is prepared as soon as possible," Karzai told reporters in Kabul. Without offering details, Karzai said that he will appoint the independent election commission to oversee the parliamentary vote "in the coming days."

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, which were due to take place alongside the presidential elections in October, were postponed until April in order to disarm the militias and warlords and to determine the electoral map of the country. The April date is no longer valid as Karzai has not issued a decree that would define the electoral constituencies, which must be issued at least 120 days before the election. In addition to defining constituencies, Afghanistan has yet to have a scientific census to determine the number of voters in each constituency. Afghan authorities have opted not to have a statistics-based estimate in lieu of a census.

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which oversaw the October presidential elections, said that the parliamentary elections lack funding, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 13 January. According to the report, the JEMB has $35 million left over from the presidential election fund of $200 million. However, the JEMB estimates the total cost of holding parliamentary elections will be $165 million.

Ariane Quentier, a spokeswoman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said that a budget for holding parliamentary elections will be worked out now that Karzai has appointed a new election commission; soon donor countries will be requested to contribute.

Mohammad Sadeq Modaber, speaking for the JEMB, said that the estimated budget for parliamentary elections does not include extra security measures that will be undertaken by the U.S.-led coalition forces or the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Karzai is expected to announce the new commission soon. (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai said on 12 January in Kabul that he is considering offering an amnesty for drug traffickers, AFP reported. According to the report, "many" of these traffickers "allegedly hold senior government positions and are making millions of dollars from the opium trade." Karzai said that while the idea of offering amnesty to the traffickers has not been brought before his cabinet, the plan "is not a bad idea." However, any such plan "has to be done with very careful thought, with very careful guarantees...that it is going to discourage the traffickers," he said.

Afghan Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Hanif Atmar had earlier echoed that Karzai was debating whether to offer an amnesty to drug traffickers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 January 2005).

However, the Afghan Supreme Court has rejected suggestions made by Karzai to grant a pardon to the country's drug traffickers, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 17 January. Supreme Court spokesman Wahid Mujhda said that such a move would be against international norms and Islamic laws.

Meanwhile with Afghanistan's opium-poppy cultivation rising, Kabul is facing a dilemma of curbing narcotic production while keeping the farmers from losing their livelihood.

Farmers in the southern Helmand Province complained on 11 January that after their opium-poppy fields were bulldozed, local young people had to leave the country in search of employment, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 12 January.

Helmand Governor Mullah Sher Mohammad Akhund echoed the poppy farmers' views in a meeting with counternarcotics authorities from Kabul.

An opium-poppy farmer in Helmand's Nad Ali District told Pajhwak that two of his sons left for Pakistan "and became bricklayers" after antinarcotics authorities destroyed his fields. General Daud, the head of the counternarcotics department in the Interior Ministry, assured "authorities and farmers in Helmand Province that they will receive more help than other provinces."

Besides the United Kingdom and the United States, other foreign backers of Kabul are reluctant to help the Afghans tackle the narcotics problem.

According to the German Defense Ministry, that country's troops stationed in Afghanistan will have to confront greater risks in 2005 as the war on drugs intensifies, "Der Spiegel" reported on 10 January. German intelligence sources have warned the country's military that if the drug lords see their sources of income diminish as a result of the efforts by the U.S., U.K., and Afghan governments to confront the growing narcotics problem in Afghanistan, German troops stationed in the opium-poppy-growing northeastern provinces of Konduz and Badakhshan could come under increasing threat.

The Bundestag mandate permitting German participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) explicitly excludes counternarcotics efforts.

Afghanistan accounts for 87 percent of the global supply of opium, but NATO has ruled out tackling the issue thus far (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004).

The fears by German intelligence sources were indirectly confirmed by Oruzgan Province security commander Rozi Khan, who said on 18 January that the neo-Taliban is trying to disrupt the opium-poppy-eradication program in the southern province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Rozi Khan told AIP that, despite attempts at disruption by the neo-Taliban, 98 percent of opium-poppy crops in Oruzgan have been destroyed. He also said, however, that he narrowly escaped being killed while engaged in the eradication programs.

According to Rozi Khan, a land mine planted by the neo-Taliban nearly destroyed his car and slightly wounded him. According to the security commander, the opium-poppy-eradication program in Oruzgan is being spearheaded by the local farmers who have yet to receive assistance from Kabul or international organizations. (Amin Tarzi)

A tribal delegation led by Paktiya Province Governor Hajji Asadollah Wafa is in Kabul to confer with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, AIP reported on 13 January. "I have come to Kabul with a delegation of representatives from all tribes in Paktiya Province to discuss the Taliban issue with" Khalilzad, Wafa told AIP.

According to Wafa, Khalilzad has assured him "that the Taliban could return home and resume their lives and that they would be given amnesty." The delegation of Paktiya elders "would like to play a mediators' role between the [Afghan] government and the Taliban," Wafa added. Wafa said that he believes that all of the Taliban "will return home, except a few ones," and also he believes "that the government will give them amnesty in a real way."

Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, in a 16 January telephone interview, however, denied the neo-Taliban have held negotiations with the Afghan government through Governor Wafa, AIP reported.

According to Hakimi, the neo-Taliban "central council" held a meeting recently and decided against any negotiations with Karzai's government or the United States. The council instead issued an order to continue the "jihad" until the last U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan, Hakimi added.

Commenting on Wafa's claims, Hakimi told AIP that he is "sure all these things are lies, and now the [Afghan] government wants to exploit tribal leaders." Hakimi added that former leader of the Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is still in charge of the insurgent Taliban, but the meetings of the council are mostly chaired by Mullah Obaidollah and Mullah Bradar.

In an effort likely linked to the recent efforts of the Karzai government, backed by the United States, to promote reconciliation with most of the former Taliban members, 81 suspected Taliban members held captive at the U.S. military base in Bagram were handed over to Afghan authorities on 16 January, international news agencies reported.

Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said that the release of the prisoners was part of the process to bring peace and stability to the country. In a report on 16 January, Radio Afghanistan added that President Karzai has expressed his satisfaction with the release of prisoners.

Shinwari said that the prisoners will be provided with clothing and then will be sent home, Reuters reported on 16 January. U.S. authorities have promised to release more Afghan prisoners suspected of belonging to the ousted Taliban regime. Abdul Latif Hakimi, a neo-Taliban spokesman, told Reuters that the United States should release all Afghan prisoners held inside or outside of Afghanistan, who he claimed are "innocent people...[and] are not Taliban."

The Afghan prisoners released from U.S. captivity have complained of being abused while in custody, international news agencies reported.

A 19-year-old prisoner named Shah Halim, who claimed that he was arrested "on the basis of wrong information," said that his captors poured water over him and beat him, Reuters reported on 16 January. Abdul Manan, 35, said that during the "interrogation" his captors were "torturing" him but, after "the interrogation period was over, everything was all right." Mohammad Osman said that he was first detained in a U.S. detention center in eastern Konar Province and was later moved to Bagram, north of Kabul, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 16 January. "In Konar, they forced us to stand in water or in the winter to stand in the rain and they beat us, but in Bagram they didn't beat us and they gave us loaves of bread," he added. Chief Justice Shinwari warned the released prisoners not to talk about their experiences while in detention, Reuters reported.

The issue of reconciliation with most members of the former Taliban regime was raised by Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated on by Khalilzad since April 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 25 April, 25 October, 8 November, 8 and 17 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The bodies of six policemen were found in Helmand Province on 13 January, AIP reported.

Unidentified kidnappers had abducted the policemen on 12 January in Helmand's Washir District. Provincial officials have blamed the neo-Taliban for the incident, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 13 January, though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. (Amin Tarzi)

State-run Afghanistan Television plans to broadcast programs in several of Afghanistan's minority languages, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 11 January. The television station currently only broadcasts programs in Dari and Pashto, the official state languages. Under the new plan, which has been approved by President Karzai, Afghanistan Television would allocate 20 percent of its total airtime to other languages recognized by the Afghan Constitution, while dividing the remaining 80 percent of the airtime equally between Dari and Pashto. In addition to the two official languages, the constitution recognizes Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, and Pamiri as official third languages of the country in areas where the majority of the people speak those languages. It is unclear which of these languages would be used in Afghanistan Television broadcasts. (Amin Tarzi)

During a meeting between a European Commission delegation and Afghan Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin in Kabul on 11 January, ways to improve the professional and technical capabilities of Afghanistan's official media outlets were discussed, Afghanistan Television reported. The European Commission promised to provide technical assistance to Bakhtar News Agency and Afghanistan Radio and Television for the next five years. In addition, the European Commission is planning to enhance the capabilities of the official radio and television stations to reach the country's provinces. (Amin Tarzi)

The all-women Voice of Afghan Women radio station resumed transmission in Kabul on 18 January, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The station, which is run by women and has programming on issues related to women, originally began broadcasting in March 2003 with limited funding provided by UNESCO. The radio's director, Jamila Mojahed, has said the station intends to become self-sufficient through selling advertisements (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 March 2003). The radio station hopes to expand its broadcasting to provinces outside Kabul. It is not clear when the radio station first stopped its broadcasting. (Amin Tarzi)

Three deputy ministers and two other appointments in the Information and Culture Ministry have been approved by President Karzai, Radio Afghanistan reported on 12 January.

Sayyed Aqa Hussein Sangcharaki has been named as the deputy minister for publication and broadcasting, Nasrollah Stanakzai as deputy minister for tourism, Omar Sultan as deputy minister for cultural affairs, Mirwais Zaher as general adviser to the ministry, and Azam Rahnaward Zarib as the head of the High Council of Press and Culture. Former Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez resigned in December in protest of what he described as censorship of the media by Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 January 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Pakistan reached an agreement in Islamabad on 11 January to conduct a census of all Afghan refugees in Pakistan, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The census, which is to be finished in 30 days, will provide the first detailed information on the number and background of Afghans living in Pakistan.

Pakistani Minister for States and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind said that all Afghans who have arrived in Pakistan since 1979 must participate in the census and anyone "who does not participate...will be considered illegal and treated according to Pakistani laws." The census will assist Pakistan and the UNHCR to develop policies for those Afghans who do not leave Pakistan before the end of the UNHCR voluntary assisted-repatriation program in March 2006.

Since early 2002, the UNHCR has assisted 2.3 million Afghans to return home from Pakistan and it is expected that an additional 400,000 will be repatriated in 2005. However, according to UNHCR estimates, around 1 million Afghans currently live in refugee camps and an unknown yet significant number are living in Pakistani cities. (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Interior Minister and Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs chief Ahmad Husseini on 17 January dismissed accusations that Iran is forcibly repatriating Afghan refugees, IRNA reported. UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers said in Kabul on 15 January, "We think that the Iranian authorities have gone too far...we are not going to be instrumental in forced repatriation," AFP reported. If the forced repatriations continue, Lubbers said, the UNHCR will not renew its agreement with Iran and Afghanistan.

Husseini said the UNHCR does not have the right to interfere in Iranian affairs, and he added that the UNHCR has not provided any funding "since last summer." He said that the repatriation of Afghan refugees has been suspended for three months because of the cold weather. Husseini said that since April 2002, 1.3 million Afghans have gone home. Also on 17 January, Yazd Province Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs chief Mohammad Kazem Sadeqi said 31,600 Afghan refugees have left the province since April 2002, IRNA reported. Another 27,000 Afghans still live there and are expected to go back to Afghanistan in the coming year, he said. (Bill Samii)

Hamid Karzai met with a U.S. Senate delegation in Kabul on 12 January, Radio Afghanistan reported. The head of the delegation, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican, Tennessee), assured Karzai that the United States will continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan until the country can stand on its own feet. Karzai told the delegation that Afghanistan hopes to "pay back the U.S. government for its services in Afghanistan," Afghan Voice Agency reported on 12 January. (Amin Tarzi)

The library at Kabul University, which was destroyed during the Afghan civil war, was reopened on 13 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported. The library was rebuilt with help from the United Kingdom. (Amin Tarzi)

During a 17 January cabinet meeting, several members of Afghanistan's new cabinet renounced their dual citizenship, in line with the constitutional requirement that ministers should only have Afghan citizenship, Afghanistan Television reported. President Karzai praised those members of his cabinet who renounced their foreign citizenships, adding that these individuals "who had immigrated to foreign countries because of the difficult conditions in the country...were at the service of Afghanistan."

The ministers in question include Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin, and Mines and Industries Minister Mohammad Sediq, who hold U.S. citizenship; Economy Minister Mohammad Amin Frahang, Public Works Minister Sohrab Ali Safari, and Refugees Affairs Minister Azam Sadfar, who hold German citizenship; and Communications Minister Amirzai Sangin, who has Swedish citizenship.

A number of other Afghan cabinet ministers also hold citizenships of other countries and it is not known from the report whether they had renounced their dual citizenships earlier or will do so at a later date. (Amin Tarzi)

A woman in Kabul's 8th District burned herself to death on 17 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported the following day. According to an unidentified police source, the woman burned herself because of problems with her husband. According to the report, in the past year 60 to 70 women have self-immolated themselves in western parts of Afghanistan, mostly because of family problems and a lack of respect for women's rights within families (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

14 January 1929 -- King Amanullah renounces the throne.

18 January 1985 -- The U.S. announces that it will increase its aid to Afghan mujahedin in 1986 to approximately $280 million. Saudi Arabia, Israel, and China are also reportedly assisting the mujahedin.

21 January 2002 -- An international conference in Tokyo agrees to provide $4.5 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).