4 February 2005, Volume 4, Number 5
AFGHANS DEMAND RECKONING WITH PAST ABUSESBy Amin Tarzi
A new report on human rights issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) presents Afghanistan's leadership with a dilemma. The report, released on 29 January, asserts that the majority of Afghans want people who have violated human rights in the past declared ineligible for public office. However, the leaders of postconflict Afghanistan are inclined to try to forget, if not forgive, the grave violations of human rights committed by successive regimes, warlords, gangs, and their foreign backers. They want to secure quickly the country's future as a stable and secure society based on law -- without a reckoning with the past.
Afghanistan's recent misfortunes began on April 1978, when the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a bloody coup d'etat and continued through a decade-long Soviet-led occupation, four years of civil war, and five years of Taliban rule that ended in December 2001. Throughout these 23 years, Afghans suffered a variety of abuses on a massive scale. So far, no one in Afghanistan has ever been indicted for human rights violations. Not even a symbolic effort has been made in the country to address the grievances of the Afghan people.
The AIHRC, established by the Bonn agreement of 2001 that charted Afghanistan's transitional period after the defeat of the Taliban regime, was mandated specifically to consider the issue of justice during Afghanistan's transitional period. According to the 29 January press release announcing the report, from January to August 2004 the AIHRC conducted its National Consultation on Transitional Justice by interviewing around 6,000 Afghans on past human rights abuses and by making recommendations on how to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes.
Discussing the report, AIHRC Chairwoman Sima Samar said that "unfortunately, proper attention has not been paid to a fundamental element of peace and stability since the beginning of Afghanistan's transition process. That element is the realization of justice [for past misdeeds] in Afghanistan." The AIHRC believes that realization of peace without examining past abuses is an impossible task. Samar added that "the issue of deciding how and when the justice is to be accomplished is up to the people" of Afghanistan.
According to the AIHRC report, 69 percent of survey respondents identified themselves as victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes; 40 percent desire the prosecution of notorious perpetrators; and 90 percent requested the removal of human rights violators from public offices.
The survey indicated that the majority of people interviewed identified themselves as victims of human rights violations during the 23 years of conflict, and said they believe that such crimes continue today. "The people are of the opinion that continued impunity has given the perpetrators the opportunity to commit further abuses with no fear of prosecution," the AIHRC press release indicated.
In its report, the AIHRC calls on President Hamid Karzai to "articulate a political commitment to justice," initially by implementing "a series of symbolic acts that could serve to acknowledge victims." As overall policy, the report urges Karzai and his team to commit "publicly to redressing the crimes of the past though a long-term and integrated strategy, encompassing vetting, criminal justice, truth-seeking, and reparations."
According to Karzai's spokesman, the Afghan president has "noted the recommendations" in the AIHRC report, and has responded that some "of these can be implemented, while others may need to be discussed further." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the European Union welcomed the report's findings and have called on Kabul to take heed of the commission's recommendations.
The recommendations put forth by AIHRC are an articulation of the wishes of ordinary and voiceless Afghans. If acted upon with diligence and foresight, they could be the most effective and, indeed just, method of disenfranchising those warlords and others who are trying to secure a part of Afghanistan's political future through violating the law and abusing the rights of the country's citizens. Unless human rights violators are identified and brought to justice -- albeit even if only symbolically -- Afghanistan faces the grim prospect of having one of its main democratic institutions -- the soon-to-be elected National Assembly -- filled with people who have records of abuse against the very people they are suppose to represent. After all, the danger exists that those who have used violence and abuse in the past to intimidate Afghans will try to do again to gain votes.
ELECTION SPECIALVisit 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 at http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections.
RELIEF GROUPS CRITICIZE ANTIDRUG PROGRAM.In a 31 January letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 31 international and Afghan civil-society organizations urged the United States to reconsider its opium-poppy-eradication programs for Afghanistan, according to a CARE press release (http://www.care.org).
The letter urges the United States not to carry out aerial eradication of poppy fields and not to overemphasize destroying the crops.
Rather, the signatories recommend that the United States should help identify major drug traffickers and fund Afghan law-enforcement agencies in order to arrest them.
The organizations are urging instead that the United States focus its counternarcotics effort on creating an alternative livelihood for farmers.
Paul Barker, the Afghan country director for CARE, told RFE/RL: "We are not so much opposed to eradication as we are a disproportionate focus on eradication. We accept that there will be some eradication this year, but eradication -- if it is the primary mode of combating narcotics here -- is going to negatively impact the poorest people in the country and do very little to actually get at the core of the problem. The problem really has not been driven by the poor farmers in the fields. It's been driven more by the processors and merchants who sell it further up the chain."
Opium-poppy cultivation has soared since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban. The illegal drug trade now accounts for as much as 60 percent of Afghanistan's economy. Last year, the number of families involved in poppy cultivation was estimated at over 350,000 (for more see, "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 September, 18 November, and 3 December 2004).
Experts say Afghan farmers grow poppies because they are more profitable than other crops and have greater resistance to poor weather.
The UN says the drug trade -- and not the risk of a resurgent Taliban or neo-Taliban -- is now the main threat facing Afghanistan.
The United States has taken the lead toward this end, pledging some $780 million in 2005. But only a small portion of that money is earmarked for programs to help farmers cultivate legal crops -- and those efforts are centered on only a few provinces. Meanwhile, Barker said poppies are grown in all 34 Afghan provinces.
"This new American initiative with alternative livelihood funding is targeted only at a few provinces. Whereas poppies [are] now grown in all 34 provinces in Afghanistan. We prefer to see a nationwide program to provide viable alternatives for all poor farmers in Afghanistan, and don't want to provide an incentive for people to grow poppies so that they can then benefit from an alternative livelihoods program," Barker said.
Aid organizations say if farmers are forced to give up their livelihoods immediately it could force them to sell their land or even members of their families to pay off debts.
Barker said in his opinion a better antidrug program would focus on prosecuting corrupt provincial officials and militia groups involved in the drug trade. "We would prefer to see a much stronger focus on interdiction at the mid-level and higher-level people -- getting at the opium-producing labs and at providing alternative livelihoods to the poor farmers," he said. "Unless they have some viable alternative, it doesn't do much for the country to just make poor people get poorer."
After eyewitnesses reportedly saw U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in Nangarhar Province in early November, the Afghan government said that it would not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides. At the time, the United States denied that it had carried out the spraying (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). (Golnaz Esfandiari and Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN COUNTERNARCOTICS MINISTRY REBUKES UN DRUG CZAR...The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry in a 2 February statement objected to a suggestion by UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa that international aid to Afghanistan be made conditional on the elimination of the country's opium-poppy cultivation. Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said that while his country is fully committed to comprehensive antidrug programs, his government "will not accept the suggestion that international aid to Afghanistan be tied, in any direct or indirect way, to the fight against narcotics." Qaderi urged Costa to encourage international donors to provide in a timely matter resources that would allow farmers who rely on the cultivation of poppy to find alternative means of supporting themselves.
Costa was quoted by AFP on 30 January as saying that "I want to introduce and I want the international financial lenders to introduce a negative pledge in their lending...so that the resources will be made available [only] if there is a pledge that no opium will be cultivated" in any given area of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHO SAYS OPIUM PRODUCTION COULD FALL IN AFGHANISTAN...The UN's top antidrug official said opium production will likely fall soon in Afghanistan, AP reported 30 January. "After a few years of bad news, I believe that 2005 may finally deliver some good news," Costa said. He added that counternarcotics efforts carried out by the Afghan government and backed by the UN seem to be gaining ground. "The information we have from different sources...shows that the effort is significant and the impact on the actual surface under cultivation could be important." Costa refused to predict how much opium production might fall in Afghanistan, which is the source of about 90 percent of the world's heroin.
Some farmers in opium-poppy-growing areas like northeastern Afghanistan have recently planted wheat instead of poppies, prompting Afghan and Western officials in Kabul to estimate that cultivation could fall by 30 percent from a record 323,700 acres (130,997 hectares) in 2004.
Costa acknowledged, however, that some farmers may have held off planting opium poppies this season because of lower opium prices rather than pressure from counternarcotics authorities. (Marc Ricks)
...WHILE SOUTHERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR ISSUES WARNING ON POPPY CULTIVATION.Gol Agha Sherzai, the newly reappointed governor of Kandahar Province, threatened his district chiefs with dismissal if they do not eradicate opium-poppy fields in their areas, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 27 January. "I will severely punish the person responsible before dismissing him if poppy is seen in his district," Sherzai warned.
Sherzai served as governor of Kandahar from late 2001 until 2003, when he became minister of urban development. In December, Sherzai was reappointed to his old post (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
INTERIOR MINISTRY MOVES TO CURB ALCOHOL ABUSE.The Interior Ministry on 31 January launched an initiative to crack down on the serving of alcoholic beverages by hotels and restaurants in Kabul, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The country's religious scholars' councils and some citizens have complained about establishments that serve alcohol and where guests "were involved in illegal moral offenses," according to the news agency.
A meeting held on 31 January between senior officials representing the Interior Ministry and the governorate of Kabul decided to set up a task force to check suspected establishments for wrongdoing. "We start our work from tonight [31 January] and will pay visits to the guest houses," said Abdul Jabar Sabit, a legal adviser to the Interior Ministry.
Following raids in two Kabul neighborhoods, the Afghan Interior Ministry on 31 January ordered that three Chinese-owned guest houses be closed down, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 1 February.
Sabit, a legal adviser to the Interior Ministry, told Pajhwak that the three establishments were ordered to shut down because of "immoral practices."
While consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam, and Afghanistan is officially an "Islamic State," many restaurants and hotels in Kabul freely serve such beverages and alcoholic beverages are readily available in many shops in the city. (Amin Tarzi)
UNCERTAINTY CONTINUES OVER DATE FOR AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.Besmellah Besmel, head of Afghanistan's Election Commission, on 29 January said that his team will do its utmost to ensure that the country's parliamentary elections are held as scheduled during the Afghan calendar month of Saur (20 April-21 May), Pajhwak News Agency reported on 30 January.
President Hamid Karzai said on 28 January that he would be "very, very happy if they [the electoral commission] manage to hold" the elections at the scheduled time.
However on Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters on 27 January in Davos, Switzerland, that his country's parliamentary elections will be delayed until the summer, AP reported. "Even if it is not on time because of technical preparations, which are needed, it will be around one or two months from the original time," Abdullah told AP.
Meanwhile, Besmel said that the country still lacks a precise census and that some donors have yet to provide funding they pledged for the elections, thus leaving the door open for a delay of the election.
According to the Afghan electoral law, the boundaries of electoral districts should be determined at least 120 days before the election can take place. Unless that law is amended, the possibility of holding elections on 21 May has already passed (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). Besmel did not mention the current Afghan election law. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DEMANDS JUSTICE FOR VIOLATORS.The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has issued a report calling for a special court to prosecute those who carried out rights abuses in Afghanistan in recent decades, Radio Afghanistan reported on 30 January (see feature above).
Commission head Sima Samar unveiled the report at a press conference in Kabul alongside UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
"After having conducted a questionnaire-based survey in various parts of the country, the [commission] came to the conclusion that a special and powerful court should be established in order to assess the cases of war crimes and human rights violations in this war-torn country," Samar said. "The government should draft a list of perpetrators." Samar added: "It is the duty of the Afghan government and the international community to bring to court those who violate human rights. The commission has passed the message and proposals of the people to President Hamid Karzai."
The EU Presidency, currently represented in Kabul by the Netherlands Embassy, in a 29 January press release expressed its support for AIHRC's report.
According to the statement, the EU is impressed by the results of the national consultation undertaken by the AIHRC, which it said shows that the Afghan people have a clear sense of justice and are aware of "past and present human rights abuses to which they have been subjected."
The statement added that the EU "sincerely" hopes that the Afghan cabinet "will take the AIHRC's recommendations into account and develop a strategy...to tackle issues of transitional justice" in the country.
President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin in a 1 February press release expressed the first official reaction to the AIHRC report.
Ludin said Karzai was "very satisfied" with the AIHRC's efforts in consulting with Afghan citizens regarding injustices they suffered in the course of recent wars and conflicts in the country. Ludin said Karzai has taken note of the recommendations in the report. "Some of these [recommendations] can be implemented, while others may need to be discussed further," Ludin concluded, without further elaborating.
AIHRC's report, titled "A Call for Justice" can be seen in its entirety at http://www.aihrc.org.af. (Amin Tarzi and Marc Ricks)
NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Hajji Mohammad Wali, spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said on 27 January that a high-profile neo-Taliban commander named Mohammad Allah was killed on 26 January by police in Musa Qala District, AIP reported. In addition, another neo-Taliban commander identified as Abdul Ghafar was wounded and captured in the operation, in which one policeman was also killed. In a separate report, AIP noted that Latifollah Hakimi, speaking on behalf the neo-Taliban, confirmed to the agency on 27 January that Mullah Mohammad Allah has been killed. Hakimi described Mohammad Allah as commander of "only 10 Taliban." Hakimi claimed that Mullah Abdul Ghafar was placed "in a well and later he was also martyred." According to Hakimi, two policemen were killed in the attack. (Amin Tarzi)
FIVE KILLED IN AFGHAN MINE EXPLOSION.Five people were killed in a land-mine explosion in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 30 January. Nine others were injured in the blast, which happened when a vehicle drove over a mine apparently laid by neo-Taliban insurgents outside Kandahar. "Fourteen kilometers north of Kandahar city a pickup truck ran over a mine," provincial spokesman Khaliq Pashtun said. "It was a new mine placed in the road. It was put there by the Taliban." U.S.-led coalition military officials confirmed the attack as well. (Marc Ricks)
PAKISTAN REPORTEDLY ARRESTS NOTABLE NEO-TALIBAN FIGURE.Authorities in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province have arrested Agha Ahmad in Chaman, a city on the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Rawalpindi daily "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 31 January. The report only mentioned that Agha Ahmad is an "important Taliban leader" without providing further details. According to Pakistani police sources, Agha Ahmad will be extradited to Afghanistan if it is determined that he has not been involved in any major activity against Pakistan. Pakistan has also detained and is interrogating three former Taliban officials identified as former Interior Minister Mullah Abdul Razaq, former Helmand Province Deputy Governor Mullah Khoshdel, and former Kabul police chief Mullah Ebrahim. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN SOLIDER KILLS FIVE OTHERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.An Afghan National Army soldier killed five of his comrades and injured six others in a base used by U.S. troops in Greshk District of Helmand Province on 27 January before he was shot by other soldiers, international news agencies reported. General Abdul Halim, deputy commander of the Army Corps No. 205, to which all of the soldiers belonged, indicated that the soldier who opened fire "was mentally ill," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 27 January. A statement issued by the U.S. military on 27 January indicated that no "evidence indicates this attack was conducted by any anticoalition militia forces," AP reported. (Amin Tarzi)
BODIES FOUND IN AFGHAN WOMAN'S HOUSE.Police in the eastern Nangarhar Province on 2 February found nine additional bodies in a house owned by a woman named Shirin Gol, Pajhwak News Agency reported. Police had discovered four bodies in the same house on 1 February. The total number of bodies discovered in Shirin Gol's Nangarhar house and a house she had rented in Kabul total 21. Shirin Gol and two others have been arrested. Kabul police sources said the perpetrators of the crime would bring drivers to the house and kill them in order to sell their cars. Shirin Gol, who has been under arrest for some time, told Pajhwak that she was "only making tea for the people [victims] and pouring a white power into it," but did not kill them. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN AUTHORITIES OPEN NEW DRIVE TO COLLECT MISSILES.Afghan authorities have renewed efforts to collect shoulder-launched Stinger antiaircraft missiles in Afghanistan, AP reported on 30 January. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided some 2,000 Stingers to Afghan guerrillas fighting Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s but has tried to buy them back in recent years in the hopes of keeping them out of the hands of terrorists in the region or Iran. The Afghan intelligence service is offering to buy Stingers, but the price remains undisclosed. Hussein Fakhri, a senior intelligence official, confirmed a report of the offer on Afghan state television but refused to offer further details about the effort. How many Stingers remain in Afghanistan is unclear. The going price for one is reportedly as high $150,000. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi acknowledged that many would hesitate to sell Stingers even with prices high. "Stingers are valuable and important weapons," he said. "Nobody gives up such a weapon easily." (Marc Ricks)
WOMEN'S RADIO STATION INAUGURATED IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Afghan Deputy Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Hosyan Fazel Sangcharaki on 31 January inaugurated the first independent women's radio station in Maymana, the capital of Faryab Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. The FM radio station, called Qoyash (the Sun in Uzbek), is funded by the Canadian government and has a broadcast radius of 25 kilometers. Station director Rana Sherzai said it will broadcast programs that reflect the social realities of women in the area. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN PRESIDENT VISITS EASTERN IRAN.President Hamid Karzai, accompanied by his Iranian counterpart, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, traveled to Iran's eastern Khorasan Province on 27 January, international news agencies reported. While there they inaugurated the new highway linking Herat and Dogharun. Karzai said at the ceremony, "Today, with the inauguration of the Herat-Dogharun road, not only do we facilitate travel and transit for the people of Afghanistan and Iran but also for our neighboring countries," Radio Farda reported. "Peace and stability in Afghanistan and the reconstruction of Afghanistan are in the interests of Afghanistan, its neighboring countries, and the region." Officials from the two countries signed cooperation documents relating to the highway's inauguration, Iran's provision of electricity to Herat Province, and the construction of checkpoints along the border. On 26 January, IRNA reported, the handover of seven such checkpoints along the shared border of Iran's South Khorasan Province and Afghanistan's Farah Province took place. Farah Governor Asadollah Falah expressed his gratitude. (Bill Samii)
KABUL AND ISLAMABAD HOPE TO BOOST TRADE.In a meeting on 1 February in Islamabad with Afghan Commerce Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that his government is taking steps to enhance trade between the two countries, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. "We are increasing the trading points up to ten[fold] at the border area that would be equipped with modern equipment to expedite clearance of goods," Aziz said. According to Aziz, Pakistan is also planning to provide preferential, "low-cost and hassle-free" access to landlocked Afghanistan, and Pakistani investors will be willing to invest in Afghanistan once the required infrastructure and security are in place. Arsala said that Afghanistan is considering establishing an industrial park to boost investments and industry. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER PRAISES IRAQI ELECTIONS.President Karzai in a 31 January press release said Iraq's national elections the previous day constituted a "great victory" for Iraqis and that the level of voter participation was encouraging, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai also expressed his hope for the return of peace in Iraq. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY4 February 1968 -- Chakhansur Province renamed Nimroz, the name given to the area in the Pahlavi language.
2 February 1990 -- Some 10,000 refugees demonstrate in favor of the return of former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher Shah in Quetta, Pakistan.
2 February 1997 -- Taliban delegation visits the United States.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).