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Afghan Report: February 11, 2005

11 February 2005, Volume 4, Number 6
By Amin Tarzi

The report on human rights abuses issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on 29 January, which claimed that the majority of Afghans want people who have violated human rights in the past to be declared ineligible for public office, has generated a heated debate in the Afghan media and official circles.

The AIHRC report stated that 69 percent of respondents identified themselves as victims of human rights violations during the past 23 years of international and internal conflict in Afghanistan. The majority of respondents -- 90 percent -- called for the removal of human rights violators from public office, while 40 percent wanted the prosecution of notorious perpetrators (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 February 2005).

Claims Report Biased Against Mujahedin

In an unattributed article on 5 February, the independent Kabul weekly "Thabat" criticized the AIHRC report for its finding regarding human rights abuses during the "mujahedin period" -- when various anticommunist resistance groups (known as the mujahedin) and some former communist henchmen took control of the country from 1992 to 1996 and fought for power.

The "Thabat" article begins by calling into question the independence of the AIHRC and asks how one can "accept the views of a person who does not believe in God's orders on human rights?" The article does not refer to any specific person on the AIHRC by name.

Additionally, the article criticizes the AIHRC's scope of survey in proportion to the total Afghan population. According to "Thabat," 4,000 Afghans out of a population of 30 million were interviewed by the AIHRC, and the paper argues this is an inadequate number to claim that the views expressed represent those of a majority of Afghans.

The article calls on the Afghan government and the United Nations to "form a truly independent commission that can safeguard human rights and whose members themselves are not involved in crimes against humanity." "Thabat" bases its last argument on the allegation that some members of the AIHRC, while having a "strong bias against the mujahedin," have sympathies with the former communists who ruled Afghanistan from 1978 until 1992 and caused the deaths of "2 million compatriots."

The article in "Thabat" concludes by focusing on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, commenting that the AIHRC report "will create another obstacle" to holding the polls (the election were scheduled to be held before 21 May, but have been delayed; see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). According to the weekly, the aim of AIHRC report is to prevent the mujahedin from winning an "adequate number of seats in parliament."

Call For Trials Of Violators Before Elections

In an editorial on 7 February, the Kabul independent daily "Erada" focuses on the timing of the AIHRC report and the upcoming parliamentary elections. Saying that the elections will play a key role in determining the fate of the Afghan people, "Erada" notes that those guilty of human rights abuses may be preparing to run for parliament.

According to "Erada," Afghans have recently been disclosing names of those involved in human rights violations over the past 23 years. These people "should be prosecuted under the supervision of the members of [the AIHRC and the UN] ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary election," the paper suggests.

The editorial recommends that if convicted, these individuals "should not only be sacked from their government posts [if they are currently employed as such] and barred from taking part in the election, but they should face severe punishment before the people."

Let Bygones Be Bygones

In an interview with the Afghan Voice Agency on 9 February, the chief of the criminal court for domestic and foreign security, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, said that the people of Afghanistan have already left the pain of the last 23 years behind them, and the AIHRC reports will lead "Afghanistan toward a new crisis."

Bakhtyari added that it's "not a proper time to bring the human rights violators and war criminals to court, because those who have had a hand in civil wars" are now powerful people or religious leaders. Thus, if convicted, "they will play a significant role in destabilizing the country," he added. According to Bakhtyari, some of the same individuals seen by one group as war criminals are regarded by others as national leaders and heroes.

Discussing various dimensions of human rights, such as freedom of speech, belief, security, and so on, Bakhtyari argued that if violations of all of these are considered, "more than 90 percent of the people of Afghanistan are violators of human rights."

Undoubtedly, the issue of human rights violations is a very sensitive subject in Afghanistan, and as Bakhtyari has pointed out, some of the alleged perpetrators of these crimes hold great power in Afghan social and political life. However, the very fact that Afghanistan has developed to a stage where its own indigenous human rights commission dares to discuss the horrors committed by powerful forces in the country, some of which continue to yield much power; and that this is done without the use of guns is in itself a major step in the country's progress toward the establishment of a civil society based on laws, accountability, and responsibility.

To continue this progress, Afghans deserve recognition of their untold suffering, not necessarily by putting more people in jail and creating chaos, but perhaps by following the example of post-apartheid South Africa.

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 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.

Helmand Province Governor Sher Mohammad Akhondzada claimed on 6 February that opium-poppy fields in Nawzad District have been sprayed with a "poisonous substance," the BBC reported.

According to Akhondazda, elders from the area told him that following the alleged spraying, "children in their area suffered from itching" and that wheat fields were damaged. "We do not know who sent [the aircraft] and consequently we were unable to identify the country that did this," Akhondzada said. A delegation dispatched to the area confirmed the elders' claim, the governor added.

Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi told the BBC that he has no information about the alleged incident, adding that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is opposed to the practice of aerial spraying to destroy opium-poppy crops.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said in an 8 February statement that it has launched an investigation into the "recent unconfirmed reports of aerial spraying" of opium-poppy fields in Helmand.

Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Daud, who is responsible for counternarcotics efforts, said that despite "some media reports, allegations of spraying have not been verified." According to Mohammad Daud, "it is the firm policy of the Afghan government to not use these methods for the eradication of poppies."

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul in an 8 February statement denied any involvement in the alleged aerial spraying in Helmand.

According to the statement there "is no credible evidence that aerial spraying has taken place in Helmand." Moreover, the statement added that no "agency, personnel, or contractors associated with the U.S. government have conducted or been involved in any such activity in Helmand or any other province of Afghanistan."

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 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004 and 31 January 2005).

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said in a 9 February press release that it has found no evidence to support claims that opium poppy fields were recently sprayed in Helmand.

General Daud, said the ministry team that investigated the situation "found that a naturally occurring disease affected" the areas in question. According to Daud, the claims of aerial spraying of herbicides was "propaganda disseminated by enemies of the Afghan government" to create mistrust between Kabul and the provinces and between Afghanistan and its "friends in the international" community. (Amin Tarzi)

Nangarhar Province officials have declared that nearly all of the opium-poppy plantations in the province have been eradicated, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 February. Provincial security commander Hazrat Ali told Pajhwak on 6 February that a "poppy-eradication campaign started throughout the province following a presidential decree and so far 99 percent of the poppy cultivations have been eradicated." It is not clear which presidential decree Hazrat Ali was referring to.

According to Deputy Interior Minister General Daud, 70 percent of Nangarhar's land has been cleared of opium poppies.

Nangarhar Province is one of Afghanistan's major opium-poppy-growing regions, and such levels of eradication would be a major success for Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts. (Amin Tarzi)

Search crews found the wreckage of the passenger airliner operated by privately owned Kam Air that went missing on 3 February during a flight from the western Herat Province to Kabul, RFE/RL reported on 5 February.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfollah Mashal told RFE/RL that "some parts of the plane were found" near Kabul, but unfortunately, "the plane was completely destroyed. All the passengers -- mostly Afghans but including some foreigners -- were killed."

The Boeing 737 was approaching Kabul airport when it was turned away because of heavy snow, but it disappeared from radar screens, sparking a nearly two-day search involving hundreds of Afghan and international troops. "The area is covered by snow, the bodies have not yet been recovered, they are all under the snow. The police that reached the wreckage are still working there and our quick-response forces with Kabul police are in the area. They will work to collect the bodies. The number will be announced later," Mashal said.

Teams of Afghan National Army soldiers and members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were unable, due to bad weather, to reach the crash on 8 February, Pajhwak News Agency reported

The wreckage of the Kam Air flight lies strewn on a frozen mountain range 28 kilometers southeast of Kabul.

An Afghan government statement issued on 8 February said that "the search-and-rescue operation is complete," and that a recovery operation will be conducted when possible, as "no one was left alive from the crash," AP reported.

In addition to heavy snowfall, the crash site is also believed to have been mined by Soviet troops who had a military outpost in the area during the Soviet-Afghan conflict.

With all 104 on board confirmed dead, the incident is Afghanistan's worst-ever aviation disaster. It is believed that 23 foreigners were on board the plane -- nine Turks, six U.S. nationals, four Russians, three Italians, and one Iranian, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 February. (Amin Tarzi)

An unidentified spokesman for the neo-Taliban said that the militia did not shoot down the Kam Air passenger plane that crashed near Kabul on 3 February, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 February. No official explanation has been provided as to what caused the crash, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Hikmet Cetin, the chief civilian representative of NATO in Afghanistan, on 6 February promised to equip Kabul International Airport with a radar system that meets international standards by May, Afghanistan Television reported. Cetin made the promise during a meeting with Afghan First Vice President Ahmad Zai Masud. (Amin Tarzi)

Four suspects have been identified in connection with the failed 20 January assassination attempt on General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 8 February (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005).

An Afghan government source told Pajhwak on condition of anonymity that two Afghans, an Arab, and a Pakistani organized the suicide attack against Dostum in which 20 people were injured, but Dostum escaped unharmed. According to the source, authorities are searching for the suspects.

The same source told Pajhwak on 9 February that two suicide bombers were involved in the attempt to assassinate Dostum. The source told Pajhwak that an Afghan identified as Nuroddin and an Arab identified as Qutboddin blew themselves up during the attack, not one bomber as previously disclosed. According to the source, the two bombers entered Afghanistan from Pakistan and stayed in the northern Balkh Province before carrying out their attack in Jowzjan Province, west of Balkh.

Immediately after the attack, Dostum blamed Al-Qaeda, although the neo-Taliban subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack. The official investigative team dispatched by Kabul has yet to comment on the case. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 3 February press release, the Canadian Embassy in Kabul supported the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's (AIHRC) report calling for a special court to prosecute those who perpetrated rights abuses in Afghanistan in recent decades (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, 4 February 2005 and feature above), Radio Afghanistan reported. Ottawa stands ready to assist the Afghan people to achieve social justice and hails the report as a very significant step in that direction, the statement added. Canada urged the international community and the Afghan government to pay attention to the recommendations of AIHRC.

When asked by the Bakhtar News Agency whether Canada would hand over any Afghan residing in Canada charged with crimes against humanity, an unidentified spokesman for the embassy said that while Afghanistan and Canada do not have an extradition agreement, Ottawa would "act in accordance with international conventions," Radio Afghanistan added. (Amin Tarzi)

Islamic Movement of Afghanistan leader Ayatollah Sheikh Asef Mohseni has indicated that he will resign as his party's leader, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 February. According to a statement issued by the party, Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed will be the party's new leader. The Islamic Movement of Afghanistan was one of the resistance groups opposing the Soviets and their client regimes in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992. The party was "involved in internal fighting in some parts of the country," the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

The independent Aina TV based in Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan Province, has extended its broadcast range, Aina TV reported on 6 February. Three receivers and transmitters of Aina TV have been set up in Konduz, Samangan, and Takhar provinces to the west of Jowzjan. Broadcasting to the capitals of the three provinces has already begun. (Amin Tarzi)

A new radio station began broadcasting in Zabul on 5 February, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Zabul's Information and Culture Department installed the radio transmitters with help from coalition forces operating in the area. The station will broadcast four hours daily and has a range of 25 kilometers. (Amin Tarzi)

Kabul Governor Sayyed Hosayn Anwari has asked President Hamid Karzai to expand his authorities so he can better manage the province's affairs, Afghan News Agency reported on 9 February. In an official petition, Anwari complained about the divisions and disorganization of affairs in Kabul's administrative system and said that the province cannot move forward until these issues are addressed. Anwari, who previously served as agriculture minister, was appointed governor of Kabul Province in December 2004. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 3 February press release, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Sayyed Tayeb Jawad hailed U.S. President George W. Bush's expression of support for liberty in his State of the Union address. "I appreciate President George Bush's words of praise for liberty, elections, and democracy in Afghanistan," Jawad said. The Afghan envoy added that Afghanistan's October elections were a clear testament to Bush's stand to uphold freedom and replace hatred with hope. "Today, Afghanistan is emerging as a model of success of international cooperation. We appreciate the United States' commitment to stand with us to see the freedom journey through," Jawad added. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistan on 2 February rejected claims made by a U.S. military official that the country is helping U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan to aim artillery fire against militants across the border in Pakistan, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 3 February. Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said that remarks made by U.S. Colonel Cardon Crawford, director of operations for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan, were "baseless" and had "no truth," AFP reported on 2 February.

Earlier, Crawford told reporters in Washington that Islamabad took a "huge step forward" in its cooperation with U.S. forces when "the Pakistanis have adjusted our artillery fire into the Pakistani side of the border to go after any coalition militias."

According to Sultan, U.S.-Pakistani cooperation is "in terms of intelligence sharing." (Amin Tarzi)

The Indian cabinet has given the green light for negotiations with Turkmenistan on the possibility of laying a trans-Afghan gas pipeline to India, All India Radio reported on 9 February. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) natural-gas pipeline project, if realized, would bring Afghanistan enormous financial benefits. However, without Indian markets the plan to build the pipeline will not be economically feasible.

TAP project members invited India to join in April 2003 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). India is reportedly planning to import gas from Myanmar through Bangladesh and from Iran and Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

5 February 1963 – The Afghan cabinet approves the establishment of the country's second university -- Nangarhar University, to be started in Jalalabad with a medical school.

7 February 1989 – A mujahedin commander says that the "Pakistanis are pushing us not to do an all-out attack on Jalalabad," but the mujahedin want to wait to prevent a bloodbath.

8 February 1991 – Afghan resistance sends 300 mujahedin to Saudi Arabia in war with Iraq -- Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf protest.

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