11 April 2005, Volume
OPPOSITION ALLIANCE RECEIVES OFFICIAL PRAISE, POPULAR DOUBT
On 31 March, former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni announced the formation of the National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM) as the main opposition group to President Hamid Karzai's government. A day after formation of the JTM, Karzai issued a statement welcoming the formation of "an opposition to the government." The 1 April statement added that Karzai believes that in a democratic system the existence of an opposition "committed to reform and the true application of law" is essential (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 April 2005 and news items below).
Afghan media in general have been less enthusiastic about the aims and prospects of the new front.
The independent Kabul daily "Cheragh" on 3 April commented that some believe that the JTM is "manufactured by the [Afghan] government and foreign elements" to have a symbolic opposition and also to "paralyze" the political parties represented in the front. "Cheragh" labeled the leadership of JTM as "second- and third-rate members" of the former mujahedin.
The pro-government Kabul daily "Eslah" on 2 April commented that the JTM is not an opposition party to help the country move forward; rather, it is a group that will only try to "criticize the government and disrupt its work."
Pajhwak News Agency reported on 5 April that a sampling of Kabul residents showed that they blamed the founders of JTM for the destruction of their city. Mohammad Qasim Akhgar, identified as a political analyst, told Pajhwak that the people of Afghanistan have reached the maturity level to distinguish the truth from lies and accused the founders of JTM of being "criminals." Habibullah Rafi', director of the Ariana Encyclopedia, said that while the existence of an opposition was a necessity in a democratic system, those associated with JTM have been known to heighten discord among Afghans based on ethnic and linguistic differences. A Kabul resident named Aminullah told Pajhwak that members of JTM should be brought before the court for their crimes.
The JTM is a coalition of 12 individuals belonging to 11 registered and unregistered political parties, which, according one of three deputy leaders of the front, Mohammad Mohaqeq, was formed based on an agreement during the Afghan presidential elections in October 2004. Mohaqeq told the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 1 April that some of the presidential candidates agreed to "form an alliance and the candidate who receives the most votes would lead the alliance."
As such, Qanuni, who finished second to Karzai with more than 16 percent of the vote, became the leader of JTM. Mohaqeq finished third with close to 12 percent of the vote, while another deputy chairman of the JTM, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, despite a rigorous campaign aided by his considerable personal financial assets, secured only 0.8 percent of the vote, finishing eighth. The third JTM deputy chairman, and the only female in a leading role, Najia Zahra, is a relatively unknown political figure and was not a presidential candidate.
Qanuni, Mohaqeq, and Ahmadzai, along with Sayyed Ali Jawed, the front's spokesman, all have their own political organizations and all were members of the mujahedin groups that were formed to fight the Soviets and their puppet regimes in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Most of these mujahedin groups also took part in the destructive and divisive civil wars that engulfed Afghanistan after the collapse of the communist regime of President Najib in 1992. After the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, most of the top leaders of the JTM joined hands in the loose anti-Taliban alliance that later become known as the United Front of the Northern Alliance.
Ethnically, the JTM's leadership can best be regarded as an alliance of Tajik and Hazarah political ambitions with a symbolic Pashtun presence in the person of Ahmadzai.
Missing from the JTM is the fourth-place finisher in the presidential elections, namely Abdul Rashid Dostum. According to a 3 April report in "Cheragh," he has "formed an unofficial opposition" alliance with Abdul Latif Pedram, another former presidential candidate who came in fifth.
While Pedram is not important to the JTM's larger plans to become the most viable opposition to Karzai's government, the absence of Dostum, who secured 10 percent of the vote for president -- almost the same level as the number of his co-ethnic Uzbeks in Afghanistan -- is major loss, especially among the Uzbeks, unless another viable leader emerges among Afghanistan's Uzbek population.
While Dostum -- after switching sides in 1992 -- eventually became part of the United Front against the Taliban and thus earned international recognition, both he and Pedram were associated with the communist regimes of the 1980s and as such have a different past than the current leadership of the JTM.
If the current composition of the newly formed opposition front remains unchanged, it will have to find a platform to attract popular support other than their standing in provinces dominated by Tajiks and Hazarahs, where Qanuni and Mohaqeq did well during the presidential elections. A representative opposition alliance requires credible representation from Afghanistan's main ethnic groups and different political opinions, not only the mujahedin parties of the 1980s. As such the JTM can best be described as an attempt by some of the former mujahedin who have been sidelined in the current Afghan political landscape to make a joint reentry, not a comprehensive and representative opposition platform. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN DEVELOPMENT FORUM MEETS IN KABUL
President Hamid Karzai on 4 April opened the three-day Afghan Development Forum 2005 in Kabul, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.
In January 2002, the Afghan government agreed to meet with donors ever year to review Afghanistan's development priorities, and two forums were held in 2003 and 2004 (http://www.adf.gov.af).
Karzai said that Afghanistan needs a "more aggressive agenda for economic growth," and a two-sphere economic agenda, focusing on infrastructure rebuilding and development of human and institutional capacities. Afghanistan has made significant progress in the field of security, human rights, politics, education, infrastructure, and health care, as well as economy, Karzai said, but he added that problems still remain in terms of human development indicators, which remain among the worst in the world (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005).
Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov addressed the forum in Kabul on 4 April, saying that counternarcotics was the main agenda for the meeting, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Nazarov, terrorism and drugs in Afghanistan are causing concern in the region and trafficking of illegal drugs from Afghanistan via Tajikistan has increased greatly.
Nazarov's Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, said that the drug problem is not only an Afghan problem and he contradicted Nazarov by saying that narcotics production has decreased in 2005. While the UN has issued a report indicating a downward trend in the cultivation of opium poppies in some Afghan provinces in 2005, the level of production of opium and heroin is unlikely change until the decrease in cultivation becomes sustainable (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 April 2005).
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told the forum on 4 April that his country will support Afghanistan in what he called its "crucial juncture, moving from chaos to order," Xinhua news agency reported. According to Li, there are four key factors for Afghanistan's reconstruction, namely a stable domestic environment, a fully functioning state structure, stable regional cooperation, and the continuation of international assistance. China is delivering on its $150 million pledge to Afghanistan, Li pointed out. This was the first trip by Li to Afghanistan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, visited Kabul to attend the forum and on 5 April met with President Karzai, Afghanistan Television reported. Machimura said his country will continue to support Afghanistan's reconstruction projects until the country stands on its own feet. Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Japan has provided $900 million to Afghanistan. Karzai expressed his gratitude for Tokyo's policies toward his country and indicated that Afghanistan supports Japan's ambition for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Jiji Press reported on 5 April. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN PRESIDENT AND NEO-TALIBAN REACT TO POPE'S DEATH
President Hamid Karzai's office released a statement on 3 April calling the death of Pope John Paul II on 2 April a major loss, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai expressed his personal grief over the death of the pope, adding that the Afghan people respect his efforts for peace, coexistence, tolerance, and understanding among the world's religions. "We remember" the pope's support for the Afghans following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Karzai is quoted as saying in the statement. According to Karzai, while the pope was the leader of Roman Catholics, he "showed concern for all human beings." Karzai expressed the condolences of the Afghan nation to the world's Catholics.
President Hamid Karzai left Kabul for Rome on 7 April to attend the funeral ceremonies for Pope John Paul II, Tolu Television reported. Karzai is the first Afghan leader to ever attend the funeral of a pope.
In a 3 April telephone message, neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said that the pope's "moderation and his championship of peace is worth appreciating," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Hakimi, however, said that the pope was the leader of the Catholics, "which is not the one true religion" and Catholics "are determined in their enmity toward" Islam. The neo-Taliban statement called on Christians to "give up oppressing others," and to replace the pope with a figure "who could lead them toward the true path of deliverance."
The fact that the neo-Taliban have issued a statement regarding the pope's demise is part of their determination to be seen as a political organization. (Amin Tarzi)
VIOLENCE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN CONTINUES
In an attack by the neo-Taliban on the headquarters of Deshu District in Helmand Province, nine Afghan security personnel were killed and three injured, AFP reported on 3 April. Deshu District head Mohammad Rahim told AFP that a group of neo-Taliban stormed the district headquarters on 2 April and took control of the headquarters for two hours before being forced out. Mohammad Rahim said on 2 April that as a result of the attack, the head of Deshu administrative affairs and two policemen were killed and four others were injured, AIP reported. "Blood at the scene shows that nine Taliban were killed in the clash," Mohammad Rahim told AIP.
However, neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP that only one of their number was injured. According to AFP, there was no word on neo-Taliban casualties. Commenting on the increasing activity attributed to the neo-Taliban in recent days in southern Afghanistan, a Western source on the condition of anonymity attributed the unrest to opium-poppy eradication programs, AFP reported.
Hakimi in a telephone interview on 6 April claimed that the militia has killed five Afghan government soldiers in Zabul Province, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, the soldiers were killed when the neo-Taliban attacked their convoy on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. Hakimi said that the militia destroyed one vehicle and took another one with them.
An unidentified official in Zabul's security command confirmed to AIP that a clash took place on the highway, but said that he did not have further information.
A day later, Hakimi told AIP, on 7 April that the militia has shot dead six people in the Zamburi village in Oruzgan Province on 5 April on charges of spying for the United States.
"In the course of interrogation from the accused it was proved that they were spying for the Americans," Hakimi said. While Hakimi did not provide the names of the alleged victims, he said anyone who is caught "spying" for the United States will see a similar fate.
Spokesman Hakimi also claimed on 7 April that the neo-Taliban on 6 April attacked "commander [Mohammad Naim] Garanay, a prominent supporter of the Americans," in Kandahar Province, AIP reported. "We do not know whether he [Garanay] is dead or alive, but he was attacked," Hakimi added. According to the report, Garanay was an important pro-government regional commander operating in Kandahar, and neighboring Oruzgan and Zabul provinces.
Garanay was second in command of the Kandahar military corps that was disbanded recently under the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program.
AIP confirmed that Garanay was wounded in an attack and taken to the U.S. airfield in Kandahar for medical treatment.
Meanwhile Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi on 3 April dismissed current reports that the neo-Taliban and their allies are threatening Afghanistan's security, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Azimi, a closer examination of the current activities by the "enemy" illustrates that such activities are "purely for show." The small-scale acts of subversion by the enemy notwithstanding, they are not in any position to pose a serious threat to the security of Afghanistan, Azimi claimed.
Attacks mostly attributed and often claimed by the neo-Taliban have increased noticeably in southern and eastern Afghanistan recently (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 April 2005). (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. HELICOPTER CRASH
At least 16 people are confirmed to have died on 6 April when a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in the south-central Ghazni Province, "The New York Times" reported. Initial reports blamed the crash on bad weather. Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the U.S. forces, said that 18 people were listed as having been on board the aircraft but it is unclear if the two people unaccounted for had actually boarded when the helicopter took off. Moore did not have information on the identity of all of the passengers or whether they were all military personnel. Ghazni police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said that the crash was "most probably" caused by bad weather with very low visibility.
Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said that the militia shot down the U.S. helicopter in Ghazni, AIP reported on 6 April. Speaking to AIP, Hakimi claimed that the neo-Taliban fired an 82-millimeter round at the helicopter, causing it to crash.
The neo-Taliban have in the past also taken responsibility for actions that were either accidents or done by other groups.
Ghazni Province Governor Asadullah Khaled told AIP on 7 April that bad weather caused the crash. He added that the neo-Taliban claim of having shot down the helicopter "is completely without foundation."
Eyewitnesses in Ghazni, however, claim to have seen smoke coming out of the helicopter before it crashed, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 7 April. According to one eyewitness, the helicopter's rotor blades lost their balance as flames appeared in the rear of the aircraft.
The Ghazni crash represents the single largest loss of U.S. life since the coalition forces began operating in Afghanistan in October 2001. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER REITERATES DESIRE FOR 'ENDURING ARRANGEMENTS' WITH U.S.
Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has reiterated Kabul's desire to reach long-term military and political arrangements with the United States.
General Wardak made the remarks in London on 5 April to a gathering of military analysts.
"We are trying to reach some sort of enduring security arrangement with our international friends and that definitely includes the United States," Wardak said. "At the moment, it is just a concept and a wish. We think that there are common interests, there are common problems and there are common objectives. We can come up with common solutions for it -- to come up with some sort of enduring arrangement, in effect, a framework in the security sector and also the political [sector]. And also maybe with some other nations too."
But Wardak said it is too early to say that any new security arrangements will include the authorization for permanent U.S. military bases. He also said it has not been determined whether the Pentagon should be allowed to pre-position military equipment in Afghanistan that could be used by rapidly deployed U.S. forces in a future crisis.
"The details have not been worked out yet as to what arrangements should be included, as far as air basing or pre-positioning and other [issues] are concerned, but [a long-term security arrangement with Afghanistan's international friends] is a definite requirement because in the 1990s -- when the international community disengaged -- there was a vacuum of power and an imbalance of forces which everybody tried to utilize. And the result was that we went through all of this suffering," Wardak said.
Back in Kabul, Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told RFE/RL that Washington has not made any formal request for permanent military bases. "Up to now the United States has not officially put a request to the Afghan government," Azimi said. "Only a few American officials and representatives of Congress and a few U.S. commanders have raised this issue and said they want permanent bases in Afghanistan."
Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said that if Washington does make a formal request for permanent bases, any decision would first be discussed by the government and then voted on by the Afghan parliament that is due to be elected in September.
The issue of the United States' long-term military relationship with Afghanistan surfaced in February when U.S. Senator John McCain said during a visit to Kabul that he supports the establishment of what he called "permanent joint bases" for U.S. and Afghan troops (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005).
General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also has acknowledged that the Pentagon is considering such a move. The United States is currently upgrading the status of its main logistical center in Afghanistan -- the Bagram airfield -- by building a new runway. Teams of engineers have been removing unexploded bombs and land mines from Bagram's vast unused acreage during the past two years in preparation for what U.S. military officials have said is an expected expansion.
Bagram is considered the most likely location for a permanent U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told RFE/RL during her visit to Kabul on 17 March that Washington has not decided whether it wants a permanent military presence in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 March 2005).
"Well, we have not yet determined what we would do in terms of a presence here, but we are committed to a long-term relationship -- whatever that might mean," Rice said. "And we understand that it was not a good thing the last time -- when the Soviet Union left, the United States did not stay by the Afghan people. This time, the Afghan people can be certain they will have friends and partners for a long time to come."
Christopher Langton is a senior defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London who organized 5 April's lecture by Wardak. He said there were two important themes in the Afghan minister's remarks.
"Firstly, that the long-term threat to Afghanistan is not seen to be the Taliban, but is seen to be organized crime, the narcotics trade and so on. Secondly, the reformation and building of the new security structure is going ahead relatively smoothly. And integration of ethnic groups, for example, into the armed forces is happening across the board. And it is hoped that the new Afghan National Army will be fully manned by the end of 2006," Langton said.
Langton said Wardak also brought an underlying message to London from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That message is that Afghanistan does not intend to remain dependent on the assistance of the international community any longer than necessary.
Langton concludes that Kabul's stated goal is to become fully independent -- albeit with regional, international, and bilateral arrangements -- as soon as possible. (Ron Synovitz)
WOMEN ATTACK GERMAN SOLDIERS IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan women and children attacked vehicles carrying German soldiers on 3 April in Qara Moghol village, Badakhshan Province, the Kabul daily "Cheragh" reported on 4 April. The angry crowd hurled stones at the vehicles, breaking windows and injuring two Germans attached to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) based in Fayzabad, the provincial capital. Afghans claimed they attacked the Germans for taking photographs of women returning from a wedding party -- an act in contradiction with traditional Afghan culture -- while the Germans deny that claim.
Leaders from Qara Moghol and other villages in Badakhshan called on Governor Abdul Majid to assure that local representatives or members of the Afghan security forces travel with the German-led PRT when it goes to the area. Abdul Majid met with representatives of Qara Moghol and assured them there will be no more problems. He said the Germans traveled to the village without notifying local authorities beforehand. (Amin Tarzi)
SUSPECT ARRESTED IN KILLING OF BRITISH CITIZEN IN KABUL
An Afghan man identified as Omara has been arrested in connection with the shooting death of Steve MacQueen in March, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). MacQueen, who worked with the Afghan Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, was shot in his car in Kabul.
Omara is also suspected of masterminding the kidnapping of three UN employees in October who were released unharmed amidst confusion in November (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). At the time, a self-proclaimed breakaway faction of the neo-Taliban, calling itself Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.
Omara's possible motive for killing MacQueen was not reported. (Amin Tarzi)
CHIEF JUSTICE ASKS U.S. PRESIDENT TO KEEP AFGHAN ENVOY, SPARKING CONTROVERSY AND NO RESULT
Afghanistan's top judge, Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, has written an open letter to U.S. President George W. Bush requesting him not to transfer current U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to Iraq before the parliamentary polls in Afghanistan scheduled for September, AFP reported on 4 April. Khalilzad is "needed more than ever" in his native land, Shinwari wrote to Bush. "No one else can work as he has been doing or has done in the past," Shinwari wrote about Khalilzad.
There are unconfirmed reports that President Karzai made a similar request to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Kabul in March.
The newly formed National Understanding Front objected on 5 April to Shinwari's letter.
The opposition party's spokesman, Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed, described Shinwari's request as "undiplomatic and unreasonable," adding that the judiciary should be neutral.
Shinwari reiterated his call for an extension of Khalilzad's term on 6 April and defended his action by saying that he is not only the chief justice, but also the head of the Ulema Council and his comment was made in this capacity, Pajhwak News Agency reported.
The objection to Shinwari's letter is the first public act of the new opposition party (see feature above).
Despite Shinwari's request and reportedly Karzai wishes for Khalilzad to remain in Afghanistan, Rice announced on 5 April that Khalilzad will be nominated as the next U.S. envoy in Iraq. (Amin Tarzi)
NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD MEETS WITH U.S. ENVOY
General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 4 April met with departing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul, Jowzjan Aina Television reported. Dostum, who was recently appointed as the chief of staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces of Afghanistan, discussed the country's armed forces with Khalilzad. According to the report, Dostum is expected to begin his new position "in the very near future."
When Karzai appointed the controversial Dostum to the largely symbolic post in March, human rights activists questioned the move (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005).
Despite his government appointments, Dostum has thus far refused to leave his northern stronghold and relocate to Kabul, even when he was officially deputy defense minister. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES NEW OPPOSITION FACTION
In a statement released on 1 April, President Karzai welcomed the formation of the new opposition alliance announced by former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni on 31 March, the National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 April 2005).
Karzai's statement said that he "appreciates" Qanuni's initiative to establish an opposition front to the government "within the democratic framework" and he regards the move as "an important step towards strengthening democracy" in Afghanistan. Karzai wished Qanuni and his colleagues success. (Amin Tarzi)
SOUTHEASTERN REPRESENTATIVES CRITICAL OF AFGHAN PRESIDENT
Elders from Paktiya Province have criticized Hamid Karzai for not addressing the problems of their province, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 5 April. Malak Modir, identified as a tribal elder, complained at a community gathering that Paktiya is not represented in the Afghan government and officials from Kabul ignore the provincial problems. Wakil Gol Mangal and Aminullah Zazi told the gathering that 94 percent of the voters in Paktiya supported Karzai's presidential bid, but "he hasn't even given 40 percent of his time and efforts" to address the problems of the Paktiya region. A female attendee at the gathering, Sharifa Zurmati Wardak, discussed the issue of women's rights and warned that "old habits from the past eras," such as forced marriages, are returning to Paktiya. Paktiya supported Karzai's candidacy with 95.6 percent of votes, second only to Khost Province, south of Paktiya. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY:
4 April 1955 -- The United States, United Kingdom, and Turkey protest an attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul.
5 April 1966 -- "Afghan Millat," a Pashto newspaper owned by Gholam Mohammad Farhad, starts publication.
8 April 2002 -- Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim survives an attack during a trip to Jalalabad.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).