4 April 2005, Volume 4, Number 11
MUSICAL CHAIRS WITH AFGHAN SECURITY CHIEFSBy Amin Tarzi
Authorities have shuffled the security commanders in four of Afghanistan's largest provinces in the past two weeks. The moves appear to be aimed at countering the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan's largest cities, and perhaps serve as a response to the demonstrations that took place in March in the southern city of Kandahar and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005).
The security commander of Kandahar Province, General Khan Mohammad, became head of security in the northern Balkh Province, where Mazar-e Sharif is located. Khan Mohammad's predecessor, General Mohammad Akram Khakrezwal, became security commander of Kabul Province. The former security commander of Kabul, General Baba Jan, moved to the western Herat Province. General Mohammad Ayyub Salangi, formerly the security commander of Wardak Province, departed for the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
Salangi told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 27 March that people "who do have permission to carry weapons should not enter Kandahar city," adding that unauthorized armed individuals will be "expelled" from the city. He also announced a new regulation requiring vehicles to be properly registered with the traffic police. Owners who do not register their vehicles in the allotted time will be "dealt with severely." Salangi pledged to curb the recent rise in kidnappings in Kandahar. The increasing number of abductions had sparked the demonstrations in that city last month.
Khakrezwal -- now assigned to the capital -- reportedly had strained relations with Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur and resisted the governor's previous efforts to remove him. It is unclear whether his appointment to Kabul was linked to Nur's efforts or was part of a castling process. Khakrezwal has vowed that his first step in Kabul will be to organize a professional and properly trained police force.
The Herat daily "Etefaq-e Islam" on 27 March hailed the appointment of Baba Jan in that city, citing his experience in security issues. However, the Kabul weekly "Rozgaran" lamented on 23 March that with crime rates rising "every day," Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali opted to confront the crisis simply by transferring certain "security commanders from one province to another."
Pointing to Baba Jan and Khakrezwal, "Rozgaran" asked why the two commanders should be moved to other provinces "if they could not ensure" security in Kabul and Balkh. Quoting an Afghan proverb, "Rozgaran" concluded that rubbing "salt into a wound will not reduce the pain."
The Interior Ministry, which is primarily responsible for maintaining domestic security, represents the single largest recipient of earmarked funds in the budget for the Afghan year 1384 (21 March 2005-20 March 2006), with 24 percent of all planned expenditures. The Defense Ministry, by comparison, is slated to receive 19 percent of all state spending. While those numbers are somewhat misleading -- as foreign assistance and the presence of coalition forces also contribute to domestic security and defense -- it is clear that domestic security is the top priority in the Afghan budget.
Given the importance of maintaining and bolstering security in the country, it seems logical that the best and the brightest of Afghanistan should be appointed to direct the security apparatus. As at least one commentary has suggested, Afghanistan is a country struggling to emerge from the shadow of terrorism; it might therefore require a complete overhaul of the security administration in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of criminals.
"The Guardian" noted on 31 March that "ordinary Afghans" are "alarmed by a swelling crime wave" in which the "line between cops and robbers is becoming increasingly blurred."
Playing musical chairs with security commanders might provide a short-term fix, but it is unlikely to be a long-term solution to the declining security situation in Afghanistan.
UN REPORT FINDS DOWNWARD TREND IN AFGHAN OPIUM CULTIVATION.The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced in Kabul on 27 March that poppy cultivation is expected to decrease this year in three provinces (Helmand, Nangarhar, and Oruzgan) that jointly accounted for more than half of the land given over to poppies in 2004, Radio Afghanistan reported.
The UNODC report, titled "Afghanistan Opium Poppy Rapid Assessment Survey," reveals "a falling trend in opium poppy cultivation in the majority of the 34 provinces, mainly because farmers refrained from planting." The survey expects an increase in poppy cultivation in five provinces in 2005. According to the report, farmers are refraining from planting opium poppies out of respect for the Afghan government's ban and for fear their crops would be destroyed.
Some farmers said their decision to cut back on opium poppies was due to lower yields in 2004, coupled with higher yields for wheat.
In a statement on 27 March, President Hamid Karzai welcomed the UNODC survey. "I'm extremely pleased to note that the people of Afghanistan have responded positively to the call for jihad against the evil of narcotics," Karzai was quoted as saying. Karzai said he hopes the international community also fulfills its responsibility "by providing assistance toward alternative livelihoods" for farmers.
Faced with his country's growing narcotics problem, Karzai in December declared a holy war, or jihad, against drugs (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004).
Doris Budenberg, head of the UNODC in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL that the trend shows many farmers are taking the government's antidrug commitment and policies seriously. "It is a respect for the government's ban on opium poppy cultivation -- but also fear of [crop] eradication," she said. "The government is very committed to drug control and has announced strict eradication measures. And the farmers are aware of that, and there's also a fear of potential loss of the harvest."
She added that low yields of opium poppies, rising wheat prices, and the end of the drought in Afghanistan also influenced farmers' decisions to cut back on poppy growing.
The UN survey was carried out in February among more than 200 villages that represent more than half of Afghanistan's districts. Work for the detailed annual UNODC opium survey for 2005 will start in April.
The current survey gives trends rather than statistics.
Budenberg noted that there are rising poppy figures in five provinces -- including Kandahar in the south and Farah in the west. She suggests that farmers in those areas have not taken eradication warnings seriously.
"It has to be taken into account that these five provinces in 2004 only covered 10 percent of the total area under opium-poppy cultivation," she says. "So their contribution to the overall poppy harvest is rather limited -- about 10 percent. The increase has probably happened because the farmers did not believe that the government ban on poppy cultivation would be definitely enforced."
Budenberg says international help is needed if the downward trend is to continue.
"The test case will be next year and particularly the years after [as to] whether this reduction in cultivation is sustainable," she said. "Currently, there are a number of factors that play on the decision of the farmers. Whether at one point in time the international community is ready to support the farmers with sufficient funds for alternative development and alternative livelihoods and help them to sustain the reduction in poppy cultivation remains to be seen over the next years. But, of course, to have a reduction in this year is definitely a sign [for] optimism."
Precise figures on Afghan poppy cultivation and production will be included in the UN's Afghan poppy survey for 2005. That report will be released in the fall. (Golnaz Esfandiari)
DISTRICT COUNCILS TO HELP IN FIGHT AGAINST DRUGS.Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi and Rural Rehabilitation Minister Hanif Atmar discussed the role for district development councils in counternarcotics efforts at a news conference in Kabul on 24 March, the Hindukosh News Agency reported.
Such councils have already identified district-level development priorities in eastern Nangarhar, Konar, and Laghman provinces, the two ministers said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" 7 March 2005). District development councils, which also will determine local-level economic-development priorities, are also being planned for northeastern Konduz, Takhar, Baghlan, and Badakhshan and southern Kandahar, Helmand, and Oruzgan provinces.
Qaderi said the Afghan government is determined to eradicate narcotics and to help farmers switch to alternative crops, and he added that the district development councils can play an important role in the implementation of these policies. "Personal desires and individual priorities should not undermine development priorities," Atmar recommended.
According to Atmar, 2.2 million Afghans, in addition to opium farmers, earn their livelihood from narcotics. Of the estimated $6 billion annually generated by Afghanistan, $2.8 billion is generated from opium trade. (Amin Tarzi)
RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS KYRGYZ SITUATION SHOULD NOT EXACERBATE AFGHAN DRUG TRAFFICKING.Russian Federal Antinarcotics Service Deputy Director Aleksandr Fedorov said on 29 March that the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan is unlikely to lead to an increase in the outflow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. If the Kyrgyz government controls the country's territory and the work of law enforcement agencies continues to be effective, "an increase in the drug traffic should not be expected," he said, as Kyrgyzstan is a "country that consistently pursues an antidrug policy." One of the main Afghan drug routes leads through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Russia and Europe. (Amin Tarzi)
INSURGENCY BECOMES MORE ACTIVE IN SOUTH AND EAST.Five unidentified insurgents were killed on 22 March in clashes with coalition forces in Khost Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 March. According to the official Bakhtar News Agency, the men were killed in Gorbaz District, near the Pakistani border.
A spokesman for the neo-Taliban, Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, claimed on 23 March that the militia killed 10 Afghan government soldiers in the Sher Ali area of Khost on 22 March, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Hakimi also claimed that the neo-Taliban attacked government forces in Gorbaz District. According to Hakimi, reports on the casualties from the Gorbaz operation would be made public later, but no reports were available as of 1 April.
In his telephone interview with AIP on 23 March, Hakimi also said U.S. forces on 22 March killed a neo-Taliban commander in southern Paktika Province. According to Hakimi, Raz Mohammad Khanjari was killed along with his wife and six children when their house in Waza Khwa District came under attack. According to Hakimi, U.S. forces transferred the body of Khanjari and the bodies of two of his sons to Bagram air base north of Kabul. Hakimi also claimed there were U.S. casualties in the operation, but his claim was not confirmed by U.S. or other sources.
In an unrelated incident, according to information from the Afghan Interior Ministry, two members of the neo-Taliban were arrested on 22 March in Mizan District of Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 March. Some weapons and a motorcycle were confiscated during the operation.
An apparent car bomb exploded on 30 March in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The driver of the vehicle was killed in the blast, which occurred near the governor's office. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi, in a telephone call to AIP on 30 March, claimed responsibility for the explosion, which he said killed eight troops. He also claimed that the driver of the vehicle was not killed, and he apologized "if any passersby were killed." No other source has confirmed Hakimi's claim.
Meanwhile, Abdul Wahed, who is described as a "famous" Taliban commander, has accepted the Afghan government's reconciliation program and will support the government, AIP reported on 31 March. Abdul Wahed, who is also known as Ra'is Boghran, on 30 March voiced his support for the Afghan government in the southern Helmand Province. According to the report, Abdul Wahed is "without a doubt the most important Taliban" to have accepted the government's peace offer (for more on the reconciliation program, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," (4 March and 24 October 2004; 12 January and 11 March 2005). (Amin Tarzi)
FOUR U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED SOUTH OF KABUL.A U.S. military vehicle was destroyed in Logar Province on 26 March when it hit a land mine, AIP reported. Initially, a spokesman for the Logar administration said he could not confirm the report. In a different report on 26 March, AIP quoted Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as confirming four U.S. servicemen were killed in a mine blast. She said that while the incident is under investigation, the U.S. military thinks the mine "had been planted some time ago." It was the deadliest incident for U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan in the last 10 months, "The Indianapolis Star" reported on 27 March. The four soldiers were attached to an Indiana National Guard unit. (Amin Tarzi)
INTERIOR MINISTER EXPLAINS NEW SECURITY ARRANGEMENT.At a news conference in Kabul on 22 March, Ali Ahmad Jalali explained provincial administrative changes following riots in the southern city of Kandahar earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005 and feature above), Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali explained that some of the complaints he heard from residents of Kandahar were that the "administration had changed from a government and national administration to a tribal administration." This problem is not limited only to Kandahar, Jalali explained. The first step to rectify this problem is to replace the heads of departments, as has been done in Kandahar. Jalali added that a 400-member police force was dispatched from Kabul on 21 March to ensure that the administrative changes in Kandahar are implemented. He listed several other provinces, including Herat in the west and Balkh in the north, where similar administrative reforms will be implemented. Jalali blamed the system, not individuals, for the problems, adding that "the purpose of replacing individuals [therefore] is to establish a [new] system."
Meanwhile Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin on 22 March dismissed rumors that Jalali will be fired as interior minister, the "Kabul Times" daily reported on 24 March. "The government has no program for changing or dismissing the interior minister," Ludin told a news conference.
Rumors of Jalali's dismissal began to circulate after the riots in Kandahar and complaints about the deteriorating security situation. (Amin Tarzi)
PROTESTERS IN NORTH DEMAND REMOVAL OF OFFICIALS.Protesters estimated in the hundreds marched in Hayratan in Balkh Province on 28 March demanding the removal of Mohammad Sa'id, commander of the border forces, and Habibullah Qorayshi, security commander of Kaldar District, AIP reported. Hayratan is the main town in Kaldar and the main crossing point between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The demonstrators accused the two officials of involvement in killings and other brutalities. In a 28 March report, state-run Radio Afghanistan said 3,000 people marched in Hayratan. Demonstrators say they have complained to Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, but that he has not taken any action. Earlier, a demonstration in Balkh's provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, called for the removal from office of Nur himself (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005).
In an unconfirmed report, AIP on 31 March quoted "informed sources" who indicated that the Afghan Interior Ministry has removed Mohammad Sa'id from his post as the security commander of border forces in Hayratan. (Amin Tarzi)
WATCHDOG URGES PRESIDENT TO CLARIFY STANCE ON MEDIA.In a 29 March press release (http://www.rsf.org), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on President Karzai to "take a clear and definitive" stance in support of cable television and diversity in the broadcast media in Afghanistan. RSF warned that Afghanistan's Ulema Council, which is headed by Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, is leading a campaign to ban television stations that are considered "anti-Islamic." "It is up to the [Afghan] public to decide about television programs," RSF wrote to Karzai. According to the press release, a member of the council told an Afghan news agency that "telecasts that have dances" are "absolutely contrary" to Islamic jurisprudence and are therefore banned under Article 3 of the Afghan Constitution, which prohibits anything that is contrary to the tenets of Islam
While assessing the draft of the Afghan Constitution, "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" warned of the dangers of this article, stating that "the most dangerous legislation here regarding the role of religion remains Article 3, however, because it might easily be used by conservative religious forces to undermine legislators that they deem to be 'un-Islamic.' The interpretation of which laws might be 'contrary to...Islam' is an open-ended proposition that is not immune to abuse" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003).
Meanwhile the Chief Prosecutor-General's Office summoned the editor in chief of "Arman-e Melli" on 23 March and interrogated him, the daily reported on 24 March. Mir Haydar Motahar, who also owns "Arman-e Melli," answered all the questions posed, according to the report, and the paper plans to publish all the questions and answers in future issues. The interrogation of Motahar is being carried out at the request of the Commission for the Evaluation of Violations of the Mass Media Law, which was established by the Ministry of Information and Culture, the report added. The report did not elaborate on any possible charges against Motahar. (Amin Tarzi)
DAM BURSTS IN SOUTH-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN.An irrigation dam near Khwaja Omri village in Ghazni Province burst on 29 March AIP reported. Ghazni Governor Asadullah Khaled told AIP that part of Sultan Dam burst "due to flood water," and flooded a large area before reaching Ghazni city. Khaled put the initial death toll at six, but in a later report, AIP quoted Ghazni security commander Abdul Rahman as saying that at least 14 people were killed. Ghazni city Mayor Hakimullah Ghazniwal said that 2,000 to 2,500 people have been displaced by the flooding, which also destroyed an estimated 2,000 shops and two bridges, Kabul-based Tolu television reported on 29 March.
The Afghan Interior Ministry in a 29 March press release indicated that it has dispatched 120 personnel to assist those who are affected by the flooding. According to the statement, the intensity of the flood has decreased but it has devastated agricultural land, houses, and shops
A statement issued on 29 March by the presidential press office indicated that President Karzai was "deeply disturbed" by the news of the bursting of the Sultan Dam, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai was quoted as saying that it is sad that heavy rains, while a blessing for the drought-hit country, are causing unexpected calamities. Karzai praised the rapid response from authorities, who saved lives by providing early warning to villagers in the path of the flood. Karzai pledged assistance to the affected people in Ghazni. (Amin Tarzi)
OPPOSITION FIGURES FORM ALLIANCE.A dozen Afghan political personalities have formed a political alliance that was announced on 31 March in Kabul, international news agencies reported. The National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli) is led by former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni and three deputies: Mohammad Mohaqeq and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, both former presidential candidates, and Najia Zhara, Tolu Television reported on 31 March. Former Transportation Minister Sayyed Ali Jawed is the alliance's spokesman.
"A government without a parliament or opposition will drift toward dictatorship," "The New York Times" quoted Qanuni as saying on 31 March. According to Qanuni, the goal of the alliance is "not war against the government," but establishing a "legal body, and monitoring and serving as a check on the government as a political bloc."
The most important aim of the alliance, he added, is to try to change the strong presidential system enshrined in the Afghan Constitution into a parliamentary system to create a more representative system (for more on Afghan elections, see http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections). (Amin Tarzi)
KARZAI INAUGURATES ROAD PROJECT IN WEST.In a rare trip outside Kabul, President Karzai paid a short visit to Herat Province on 31 March to inaugurate the reconstruction of the Herat-Kandahar road, Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported. "We hope that all Afghanistan's roads will be reconstructed," Karzai said. The 557-kilometer road is to be rebuilt at a cost of $250 million, AIP reported on 31 March. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. FIRST LADY TRAVELS TO AFGHANISTAN.Laura Bush paid a five-hour, previously unannounced visit to Afghanistan on 30 March, RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Bush said that she has wanted to visit Afghanistan for the past two years, but security concerns prevented her from making the trip. Bush and her accompanying delegation met with President Karzai.
Bush also visited the Teachers Training Institute and the Ashiana Organization, which supports orphans and children without guardians, Afghanistan Television reported on 30 March. Afghanistan Television reported that Bush met with Zinat Karzai, the wife of the Afghan president, who requested U.S. assistance in improving the health sector for Afghan women.
The Afghan first lady is rarely seen in public and never with her husband. Bush had lunch with U.S. troops based in Bagram air base, north of Kabul, international news agencies reported. (Amin Tarzi)
PRESIDENT SAYS NO TO POSSIBLE USE OF AFGHAN TERRITORY FOR STRIKES AGAINST IRAN.Hamid Karzai said on 29 March that "there is no room" for the possibility of the United States using Afghan territory for attacks against Iran, IRNA reported. Karzai added that there is no evidence to "prove" that this could happen and that neither American nor Iranian officials have discussed the issue with the Afghan side.
Karzai said his country has friendly relations with both the United States and Iran, and emphasized that one "should not forget that the Americans are the vanguard of reconstruction in the war-shattered country of Afghanistan." (Amin Tarzi)
TRIAL FOR SUSPECTS LINKED TO ASSASSINATION OF AFGHAN COMMANDER OPENS IN PARIS.The trial of eight alleged Islamists, four of whom are suspected of having links to the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masud, opened on 29 March in Paris, LCI Television reported. Assassins believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda killed the military leader of the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) on 9 September 2001. The four are suspected of giving logistical support to two Tunisians who, posing as journalists, killed Masud. The suspects include two Frenchmen, a Franco-Algerian, and an Algerian. (Amin Tarzi)
KARZAI APPOINTS ECONOMIC ADVISER.President Karzai issued a decree on 30 March naming Mohammad Ishaq Nadery his senior adviser on economic matters, Radio Afghanistan reported. Nadery, a longtime professor of economics at New York University, will be in charge of establishing a department to support of national economic programs. (Amin Tarzi)
FIRST FEMALE GOVERNOR TAKES OFFICE.Governor Habiba Sorabi assumed her post as governor of central Bamiyan Province on 23 March, Radio Afghanistan reported. President Karzai appointed Sorabi as the first female governor of an Afghan province earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005). (Amin Tarzi)
NATIONALIST PASHTUNS IN PAKISTAN DEMAND ABOLITION OF DURAND LINE.Speakers at a political gathering in Peshawar, Pakistan, called on 30 March for the abolition of the border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan, known as the Durand Line, Karachi-daily "Dawn" reported on 31 March. The Pakhtunkhwa Qaumi Party, which organized the gathering, advocates a single homeland for all Pashtuns living on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). Mufti Kifayatullah, a representative of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal party, spoke against the abolishment of the Durand Line, saying such a move would be tantamount to the breakup of Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY26 March 1936 -- Treaty of friendship signed by Afghanistan and the United States.
29 March 1955 -- Prime Minister Mohammad Da'ud warns Pakistan of "grave consequences" if Pashtun areas of North-West Frontier Province are included in a unified West Pakistan.
31March 1991 -- Khost captured by mujahedin forces headed by Jalaluddin Haqani.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).