31 January 2005, Volume 4, Number 4
AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS FACE LEGAL HURDLEBy Amin Tarzi
Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, which were originally slated for June 2004 and have been rescheduled for the month of Saur 1384 in the Afghan calendar (20 April-21 May 2005), may be delayed further because of legal procedural issues.
On 27 January, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah indicated that parliamentary elections will be delayed until the summer, but an official with the election commission said that a final decision has not been made whether to postpone the polls.
At stake in the upcoming elections are not only members of the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) of Afghanistan's National Assembly, which the country's constitution recognizes as "the manifestation of the will of its people," but also members of local councils in provincial and district levels, whose functions vis-a-vis other existing administrative structures are yet to fully determined.
Article 11 of the Electoral Law of 27 May states that electoral "boundaries for election members of the Wolesi Jirga, provincial councils, and district councils...shall be designated and announced by the president in a decree no later that 120 days prior to the election."
If for no other reason, unless the current Electoral Law is amended, the election date set for the month of Saur expired on 21 January. The Afghan government is yet to officially announce a later date for the elections or indicate that the current law governing election procedures is going to be changed. International organizations working on the election process in Afghanistan also have indicated that holding the election on time is not impossible, again, without clarifying whether the existing law will be altered or simply ignored.
As of June, Afghanistan was divided administratively into 34 provinces and 360 or so districts, though the boundaries of these districts are not fully defined.
The issue of electoral boundaries is mainly a demographic hurdle. According to the Afghan Constitution, the number of members of the Wolesi Jirga should be "not more than" 250 -- currently set at 249 -- and be "proportionate to the population of each region."
However, in a country which has not had any census since 1979 -- when an incomplete survey was conducted -- demography determines an ethnic or tribal group's power and as such the country's long-term stability and national cohesion.
Ensuring that the electoral boundaries are demarcated according to reliable data, while taking into account local sensitivities, is a perquisite for having a National Assembly that becomes the country's engine for moving it forward as a nation-state. Adversely, if the electoral boundaries are drawn haphazardly and without due concern, the National Assembly in itself could very well become the focal point of division in the already fragmented state.
While it is vital for Afghanistan's development toward a democratic society to have a functioning and independent National Assembly, before it makes any hasty decisions to meet an already delayed deadline, President Hamid Karzai's government and its supporters ought to make sure that the people are empowered to choose candidates whom they know, and not be forced to accept candidates they fear. Likewise, while the boundary issue is being resolved, the powers and responsibilities of the local councils have to be determined by law. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's newly appointed Independent Election Commission ought to begin a review of the candidates and potential candidates as to avoid having warlords and drug lords as Afghanistan's future legislators and local power brokers.
ELECTION SPECIALVisit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" (http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections) for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Find profiles emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow the upcoming parliamentary campaigns.
AFGHAN WARLORD ESCAPES SUICIDE BOMBER.A suicide bomber blew himself up on 20 January outside a northern Afghan mosque in an apparent assassination attempt against powerful ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum was unhurt in the blast, which injured 20 others, five seriously.
The attack occurred in Dostum's hometown of Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan Province, at the end of open-air prayers to mark the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha. Video of the attack shows the northern Afghan militia commander approaching thousands of worshippers who had gathered outside the mosque. The bodies of his guards and supporters protected Dostum from shrapnel. The general's brother, Qadir Dostum, was among those who sustained minor injuries. More than 20 people were also injured in the assassination attempt, some seriously, and the person who perpetrated the attack was killed.
Dostum blamed Al-Qaeda for the suicide bomb attack in Sheberghan, Aina Television reported on 20 January. "Although it is not yet certain [who the suicide bomber was], I know who my enemy is. The terrorists and Al-Qaeda are responsible for this," Dostum said, without providing any evidence.
Meanwhile, Abdul Latif Hakimi, who serves as a spokesman for the neo-Taliban, said on 20 January that the militia was responsible for the attempt on Dostum's life, "The New York Times" reported. Hakimi told the newspaper in a telephone interview that the suicide bomber was a member of the neo-Taliban from northern Afghanistan, and that Dostum was targeted for his close collaboration with U.S. forces in 2001 against the Taliban regime and for his maltreatment of Taliban prisoners following the regime's collapse.
The Afghan Interior Ministry and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have dispatched separate teams to investigate the attempt on Dostum's life, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 23 January. Jowzjan Province security commander General Mohammad Nader Fahimi told AIP that thus far "no documents have been found that would provide information about or confirm the identity of the attacker."
Fahimi denied reports that Sheberghan police had arrested a large number of people in connection to the attack. "However, I have no information if another security body has arrested anyone," Fahimi told AIP.
In a separate report, Jowzjan Television on 23 January stated that, in addition to the investigation teams from the Interior Ministry and ISAF, the U.S. FBI has also sent a team to Sheberghan.
In another twist, a Sheberghan security official involved in the investigation of the attempt on Dostum's life said that the plot was engineered by people inside Pakistan, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 23 January.
The official, identified as Fayzollah, said on 22 January that a telephone number was found in the pocket of the suicide attacker. "I dialed the number, and the person who answered the phone congratulated me on the start of [the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha], but hung up when he became suspicious," Fayzollah said. Jowzjan security commander General Fahimi told AIP on 23 January that, while a telephone number was found in the attacker's pocket, he had "no information about that number."
Security forces reportedly thwarted an earlier attempt on Dostum's life in Sheberghan in January 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi and Peter Baumgartner)
KARZAI APPOINTS ELECTION COMMISSION, AS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS MAY BE DELAYED.President Hamid Karzai has appointed an election commission to organize the country's forthcoming elections, Afghanistan Television reported. "I approve the formation of an independent commission to organize and monitor any kind of elections and refer to general votes in the country," Karzai stated in a 19 January decree.
Besmellah Besmel has been appointed chairman of the nine-member Independent Election Commission and Mohammad Ayyub Asil its deputy chairman. The members of the commission are: Mastura Stanekzai, Same'ollah Taza, Abdul Hakim Morad, Keshen Singh, Honaryar, Najla Ayyubi, and Mo'mena Yari.
The commission's first task is to organize Afghanistan's parliamentary elections scheduled for the month of Saur in the Afghan calendar (20 April to 21 May).
Before the parliamentary election can be held, Karzai has to set the electoral-district boundaries, a decision that is dependent on knowing the number of people living in each area. The country will not have a scientific census, rather it will rely on statistically based estimates -- something that could lead to disagreements between various ethnic groups who have overstated their numbers.
"We are currently working on the district boundaries. It has not been finished, it is not finalized," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfollah Mashal, AFP reported on 24 January.
While Afghan authorities, including President Karzai, have indicated that they would like to hold the elections as soon as possible, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in Berlin on 21 January that there "are indications that Karzai considers postponing the elections until the fall."
Citing technical and security problems, Afghan political figures expressed doubt that Afghanistan's parliamentary elections can be held before the 21 May deadline, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 25 January.
Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed, deputy leader of Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan and a former cabinet minister in Afghanistan's Transitional Administration, said that only after a census is taken and "people's representatives are elected on the basis of the proportion of the people in each province and district" can parliamentary elections be held successfully.
While Afghan government officials have said that population estimates for 30 out of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are complete, many people in those provinces have complained about the counting process.
Abdul Rashid Aryan, head of the National Party of Afghanistan, told Pajhwak News Agency that in many provinces warlords still hold power and, unless these people are disarmed and disenfranchised, the elections will be delayed further. (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN ESCALATE ATTACKS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.In recent days, the neo-Taliban has increased its attacks against government officials in southern Afghanistan, especially in Helmand, Oruzgan, and Kandahar provinces
Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, claimed that the militia killed five Afghan soldiers in Khakrez District of Kandahar Province on 19 January, AIP reported. Hakimi also told AIP that in a separate attack the neo-Taliban have killed Commander Asadollah, who he said was spying for U.S. forces. AIP could not confirm Hakimi's claims.
An Afghan National Army soldier was killed and five others wounded on 19 January when their vehicle hit a land mine in Deh Rawud District of Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 23 January. General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, confirmed the report about the incident and said another Afghan soldier was killed and two militants detained in a separate military operation in Oruzgan. Azimi did not provide a date for the second incident nor give details on the identity of the militants.
Wazir Mohammad, security commander of the Chahar Chino District of Oruzgan, was killed on 22 January when a remote-controlled device targeted his vehicle, AIP reported. Wazir Mohammad's father, brother, and one of his bodyguards were also killed in the blast. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan blamed the neo-Taliban for the attack, adding that an investigation is under way to find the perpetrators. In a separate report on 23 January, AIP indicated that a neo-Taliban spokesman, Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, had called the news agency and claimed that the militia carried out the attack against Wazir Mohammad.
Hakimi also claimed on 24 January that the militia had killed Mohammad Nabi, a resident of Greshk District of Helmand Province, Hindukosh News Agency reported. "He was charged with spying for the Americans," and killed in public on 23 January, Hakimi said. Mohammad Nabi was killed in public so that others would refrain from aiding U.S. forces operating in the area, the report added.
The security commander of Ghorak, Azim Khan, was injured in a 24 January attack in which his two bodyguards were killed, AIP reported on 25 January. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP on 25 January that Azim Khan and seven other people were killed in the militia attack.
Ghorak military commander Esa Jan said that government forces killed 10 members of the neo-Taliban on 25 January, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 26 January. Two Afghan government soldiers were also killed and one wounded. According to Esa Jan, government forces launched a retaliatory attack on a neo-Taliban camp following an attempt on the life of Ghorak security commander Azim Khan on 24 January.
Lutfollah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, while confirming an attack on the militia's camp, told Pajhwak that only two militiamen were wounded.
It is not clear whether Lutfollah Hakimi, Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, and Abdul Latif Hakimi (see Dostum article above) are the same person. It could very well be that different news organizations refer to Hakimi by different, but similar, first names.
Meanwhile, the former leader of the Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has rejected any reconciliation with the Afghan government, AIP reported on 20 January. In a statement faxed to the news agency, Mullah Omar offered holiday greetings on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha. He went on to say that "Americans are continuing their occupation" of Afghanistan, while at the same time "they are proposing peace and negotiations with the Taliban." "We make it clear to the occupiers and the puppet administration that the Taliban leadership will not negotiate unless the last occupying solider has left Afghanistan," the statement read.
The issue of reconciliation with most members of the former Taliban regime was raised by President Karzai in a speech in April 2003 and has been elaborated by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad since April 2004. However, senior members of the Taliban such as Mullah Omar are not considered part of the deal (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003 and 25 April, 25 October, 8 November, and 8 and 17 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
ISAF TO EXPAND TO COVER ALL OF AFGHANISTAN.The outgoing commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), French Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py, said in Kabul on 26 January that the force will expand to cover the entire territory of Afghanistan, Pajhwak News Agency reported. Py said that in the next phase of its expansion, ISAF will deploy units in Herat, Farah, Ghor, and Kandahar provinces in the spring or summer, after which it will cover all the Afghan provinces. Py did not give a timetable for the final expansion of ISAF.
In February, Turkey will take over command of ISAF from Eurocorps, a European force made up of troops from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain.
In a related event, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced on 25 January that New Zealand is extending its force deployment in Afghanistan until September 2006, New Zealand's government website indicated (http://www.beehive.govt.nz). In addition to the extension of the deployment of the 120-strong New Zealand-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in the central Bamiyan Province, "two police officers will be deployed to assist with the training of Afghani police officers," Clark said. "Failure to stabilize Afghanistan would have consequences for the campaign against terrorism," she added. In addition to personnel in Bamiyan, New Zealand has a small number of personnel working with the coalition forces and helping the Afghan National Army.
Likewise, the Greek government has decided to increase the number of its personnel in Afghanistan, Athens News Agency reported on 24 January. Greece will send an additional medical unit to the ISAF for a period of 18 months. Currently, Greece maintains 122 military personnel in Afghanistan, the majority of whom are engineers and medical staff, dpa reported on 24 January. The number of additional Greek medical teams going to Afghanistan is not clear from the reports. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. BACKS AWAY FROM AERIAL SPRAYING OF OPIUM FIELDS.The United States has backed off from plans to destroy Afghanistan's opium-poppy fields using aerial spraying of herbicides, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 22 January. The U.S. decision is based on the wishes of President Karzai. "Aerial spraying is postponed," U.S. Representative Mark Steven Kirk (Republican, Illinois) said. "Karzai has not ruled it out. He said he will revisit the issue if the current efforts fail," Kirk added.
After aircraft were witnessed spraying opium-poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan, Karzai's government stated that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial sprayings in the country and the United States at the time denied that it had carried out the spraying (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November and 8 December 2004).
Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department will donate eight helicopters to help Afghanistan in its counternarcotics efforts, Afghanistan Television reported on 26 January. According to an unidentified Interior Ministry spokesman, two of the aircraft will be handed over to the Afghan side in the near future. The Afghanistan TV report did not clarify whether the Afghan authorities will be using the helicopters for spraying or in other counternarcotics operations. (Amin Tarzi)
KARZAI ARRIVES IN IRAN.President Karzai and an Afghan delegation arrived in Tehran on 26 January, Radio Farda reported. On their first day they met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Karzai and Khatami are scheduled to inaugurate the 122-kilometer road between Iran's Dogharun and the Afghan city Herat, as well as a 132-kilowatt power station that will supply Herat with electricity, Radio Farda reported. Rangin Dadfar, a German-based expert on Afghanistan, told Radio Farda that three issues are important for the two countries: trade and economics, Iran's promise of $500 million for reconstruction in Afghanistan, and the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Dadfar added that Tehran will seek reassurance from Karzai that U.S. military forces will not use bases in Afghanistan to attack Iran. He said the outposts Iran built along the Afghan border are important for counternarcotics activity. Khamenei told Karzai that Iran would like to see an end to the so-called "occupation of Afghanistan," IRNA reported. He added that stability in Afghanistan will have a regional impact. BS
DEFENSE MINISTRY REJECTS REPORTS OF U.S. COMMANDOS ENTERING IRAN THROUGH AFGHANISTAN.Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi rejected on 19 January recent reports that U.S. special-operations forces had entered Iran through Afghanistan, Afghan Voice Agency reported. Azimi told reporters in Kabul that Afghanistan will never allow other countries to use its territory to intervene in neighboring states. The report about U.S. special-operations personnel carrying out missions in Iran was reported in a recent article of "The New Yorker" magazine, a claim which, Afghan Voice Agency added, has been rejected by the U.S. Defense Department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANS UNWELCOME IN IRAN.Ahmad Husseini, Iranian deputy interior minister and the chief of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs, said on 19 January that Afghan refugees can no longer stay in Iran because there is no more aid from international organizations, IRNA reported. Husseini said Iran cannot bear the costs alone. Husseini said 1 million Afghan refugees remain in Iran. Two days earlier, Husseini dismissed allegations that Iran is forcibly repatriating Afghans. BS
AFGHANS IMPRISONED IN IRAN GRANTED AMNESTY.The Iranian judiciary has announced an amnesty for imprisoned Afghans, including those on death row, Mashhad radio's Dari service reported on 20 January. Afghans who are being sued by others will not be eligible for release, unless the complainant pardons them. Supreme Court official Ali Qahramani said the released Afghans will be repatriated, adding that if they return to Iran and commit another crime the remainder of the previous sentence will be added to the new sentence. Qahramani said he does not know how many Afghan prisoners are currently being held in Iran. He described the amnesty as a measure intended to improve good-neighborly relations between two countries sharing a common religion. "Furthermore, this act will encourage Afghan refugees to return to their country," he said. BS
WHOOPING COUGH KILLS CHILDREN IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN.Twenty-five Afghan children have died of whooping cough (pertussis) in Daykundi Province, AP reported on 24 January. Since the roads to Daykundi have been blocked by heavy snow, the U.S. military airlifted 10 medics to the area on 23 January to vaccinate children against the disease. In January 2003, pertussis was blamed for the deaths of more than 60 children in northeastern Badakhshan Province, where in January 2004 reports indicated that 16 children died of the disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003 and 20 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
HOSPITAL DIRECTOR SAYS SOME 30 PERCENT OF AFGHANS SUFFER FROM DISEASE, ADDICTION.Dr. Ahmad Khattab Kakar, head of Kabul's mental hospital, said on 19 January that according to recent statistics around 30 percent of the Afghan population is suffering from mental illnesses and drug addiction, Afghan Voice Agency reported. Kakar attributed the high level of addiction to the migration of Afghans to neighboring countries. Two patients in Kakar's hospital blamed their addiction and subsequent psychological problems on associating with the "wrong people" while abroad. (Amin Tarzi)
ONE OF LAST TWO AFGHAN JEWS DIES.Yitzhak Levi, one of the two remaining Jews living in Afghanistan, has died, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 24 January. According to AP on 25 January, Afghanistan's Jewish community once numbered up to 40,000. At the request of Levi's family, his body is being flown to Israel via Uzbekistan for burial. (Amin Tarzi)
DUTCH COURT RELEASES FORMER AFGHAN COMMUNIST OFFICIAL.A local court in The Hague on 20 January ordered the release of a former head of Afghan military intelligence who was arrested in November on war crimes charges, AFP reported, citing the ANP news agency. The man, identified only as Hesamuddin H., was released due to unspecified personal circumstances. However, he remains a suspect, according to the report. Hesamuddin H. is accused of involvement in war crimes while he headed Afghanistan's military intelligence between 1983 and 1991 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). The Netherlands has been a favorite destination for former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92. (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER ELECTION CHIEF APPOINTED PRESIDENTIAL FINANCIAL ADVISER.President Karzai issued a decree on 20 January appointing Zakim Shah as his adviser on financial affairs, Radio Afghanistan reported. Shah previously served as the head of the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body that oversaw the country's presidential elections in 2004. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. NOMINATES NEW MILITARY LEADER FOR AFGHANISTAN.U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 24 January that President George W. Bush has nominated Major General Karl Eikenberry to be appointed to the rank of lieutenant general and assigned as the commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, a U.S. Defense Department press release indicated (http://www.defenselink.mil). (Amin Tarzi)
ELECTRICITY DELIVERY FROM UZBEKISTAN RESUMES.Following an interruption in the delivery of electricity from Uzbekistan to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, the flow of electricity was resumed on 26 January, Afghan Voice Agency reported. An Afghan Energy Ministry press release indicated that, based on an understanding signed between Kabul and Tashkent, the agreement by which Uzbekistan supplies electricity to Mazar-e Sharif has to be extended annually. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY25 January 1968 – Education commission organized to decide national education policy.
15 January 1989 – The United States decides to close its embassy in Kabul.
21 January 2003 – The Afghan Supreme Courts prohibits cable television broadcasts in Afghanistan.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).