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Afghan Report: April 27, 2005

27 April 2005, Volume 4, Number 14
By Amin Tarzi

With the Afghan parliamentary elections set for this fall, many observers are focusing on the successes and shortcomings of the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program. Few would dispute that in the absence of a comprehensive disbanding of Afghan militia forces the elections are likely to be disrupted by voter intimidation and even violence.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Development Program are supporting Afghanistan's New Beginnings Program (ANBP), which is aimed at coordinating DDR efforts in the country.

After initial setbacks, the DDR program began its pilot project in the northern Konduz Province in October 2003. By mid-April, nearly 48,000 members of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF) -- the catch-all label for various Afghan militia units -- had been disarmed, according to the ANBP. More than 43,000 have been demobilized, and more than 42,000 have reportedly been reintegrated into society. Most of the former militiamen have been absorbed into the agricultural and small-business sectors, are undergoing vocational training, or are awaiting job placements.

The ANBP officially recognized some 45,000-50,000 AMF members -- that is, individuals earmarked for the DDR process, suggesting that the program should be nearing completion. The ANBP also reports that nearly 9,000 heavy weapons have been collected.

This is all good news for a country that since 1978 has been a storehouse for weaponry brought in by Soviet invaders, provided to Afghans to counter the Soviets, or offered by other countries in the region to client militias during Afghanistan's brutal civil war in the 1990s.

However, there are two issues that could delay, hinder, or even derail Afghanistan's slow progress toward bolstering the rule of law unless they are addressed by the ANBP or another disarmament program.

The first is connected with the myriad unofficial militias or armed bands with shifting loyalties that the ANBP has not slated for disarmament. Conservative estimates put the figure at 850 such groups, with more than 65,000 members.

Militias outside the DDR program are controlled by warlords, drug lords, or even Kabul-appointed governors. While the Afghan government seems prepared to compromise with many warlords -- or await a more opportune time to either crush them or absorb them into the central government -- the parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. Such militias will likely still exist -- unofficial, but armed and potentially dangerous.

The second major issue of concern is connected with the ANBP's focus on collecting heavy weapons. While the current DDR program lists a number of small arms and light weapons in the inventory of armaments it has collected, there arguably has been no genuine effort to deal with small arms.

In post-Taliban Afghanistan, with a multitude of foreign troops armed with the most modern weaponry as well as total command of Afghan airspace, heavy weapons are not the weapon of choice for local or regional militias. Since early 2002, only once have warlords used main battle tanks against each other. Even antigovernment forces such as the neo-Taliban do not rely on heavy weaponry. The power of warlords, regional commanders, and others in control of armed groups outside the government is determined by the number of fighting men and the availability of small arms.

Discussing the issue of arms and the parliamentary elections in a recent editorial, the pro-government Kabul daily "Anis" wrote that Afghans "cannot set up a healthy parliament reflecting people's expectations and aspirations unless armed men are disarmed prior to the polls." Expressing doubts about the Afghan government's claims regarding progress in the DDR program, "Anis" added that many Afghans believe that "disarming men and certain military units, which are also shown on television, are more cosmetic than practical...[and that] local commanders still own huge arsenals of weapons in their regions" for use when needed.

For Afghanistan to truly emerge from under the rule of the gun, a genuine DDR program needs to tackle the issue of small arms. While there is not enough time before the elections to collect the hundreds of thousands of unregistered small arms, a practical step would be to declare them illegal. This would at least serve to delegitimize those who carry such weapons. Also, by extension, those who command such armed bands may be legally barred from participating in the elections.

Unless a drastic step is taken to make weapons -- especially small arms -- less accessible and illegal before the elections, those controlling the guns are likely to gain seats in the parliament and thus legitimize their tactics -- and perhaps their regional influence.

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, said weakening insurgent forces may attempt dramatic attacks in the coming months, AP reported 17 April. "As these terrorist capabilities grow more and more limited, the hard-core fanatics will grow more and more desperate to try and do something to change the course of events in Afghanistan," Barno said. "Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves and I expect that they will be looking here, over the next six to nine months or so, to stage some type of high-visibility attack." Barno said neo-Taliban forces will likely dwindle as the Afghan government extends amnesty offers to factions within the insurgency. "The diverging organization that I see evolving over the next year or so [involves] much of the organization, probably most of it, I think, collapsing and rejoining the Afghan political and economic process," Barno said. "A small hard-core remnant of the Taliban -- which is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of Al-Qaeda -- [will] continue to wage some degree of a terrorist fight."

Confirming Barno's prediction, suspected neo-Taliban insurgents bombed a fuel tanker outside a U.S. military base in southern Afghanistan, AP reported 17 April.

The initial bomb attack set off a string of explosions that left five tankers destroyed and injured three drivers. "I was sleeping at the time and suddenly I heard an explosion," said Sher Alam, one of the injured drivers. "When I woke up there was a huge fire engulfing the fuel tanker near mine. We all ran away and there were more explosions."

The tankers, driven by Pakistani and Afghan drivers, were lined up waiting to deliver fuel to the U.S. military base at the Kandahar airport. Neo-Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility.

"The oil tankers which caught fire 18 April were not destroyed by fire, but by the Taliban's rocket attack," said neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, who spoke to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency. "The Taliban carried out the attack early this morning. They fired rockets and destroyed two tankers, which were carrying oil for the Americans."

Oruzgan Province Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said on 18 April that government forces have killed a "prominent" neo-Taliban commander while arresting another, AIP reported. Jan Mohammad identified the slain commander as Mullah Sardar Mohammad and the one arrested as "Malollah." He said that two soldiers were wounded in the incident.

Hakimi told AIP on 18 April that four government solders and two militiamen were killed in the Oruzgan clash but he did not elaborate on the identities of the neo-Taliban members killed in action.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Zabul Province's governor identified as Alikhail claimed that 17 neo-Taliban militiamen have been killed and 16 others arrested in the Daichopan district, AIP reported on 19 April. According to AIP, Alikhail said a prominent neo-Taliban commander named Mullah Abdul Rahman was killed along with Chechens, Arabs, and Pakistanis.

Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP that just four militia members were killed in Daichopan in addition to four civilians. Hakimi claimed that 500 neo-Taliban militias are continuing a siege of Afghan and U.S. forces, a claim that could not be confirmed independently.

Abdul Qayyum, head of Arghandab District in Zabul, told AIP on 18 April that neo-Taliban fighters have abducted four government employees. The abductees include the district head of property affairs and three other workers who were taken from their homes. There "is no report about their life or death," Abdul Qayyum said.

In neighboring Kandahar Province, the neo-Taliban captured eight Afghan policemen in an attack on a security checkpoint in Shah Wali Kot district, Hakimi told AIP on 19 April. "The policemen are still alive, and the [neo-Taliban] leadership will decide about their fate" The neo-Taliban fighters destroyed three vehicles in the attack, and seized a vehicle and weapons, Hakimi claimed.

On 22 April, Hakimi claimed that the militia has released their captives, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, local "scholars and elders guaranteed" that the captives would not work with the Afghan government, therefore they were released. AIP commented that this incident marks the first time that the neo-Taliban have released captured government security forces.

More to the east, in a retaliatory mission, U.S. forces killed at least 12 neo-Taliban insurgents on 19 April in Khost Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 21 April. According to a U.S. military statement, U.S. forces using aircraft and artillery attacked an area from where suspected neo-Taliban militants had launched rockets on a U.S. military facility in Khost.

"We were able to see the launching point of the rockets and we brought everything we had to bear on it," U.S. Major J.R. Mendoza said, AFP reported on 21 April.

Khost Governor Me'rajuddin Pattan told AFP that the neo-Taliban were killed inside Pakistani territory along the ill-defined border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, an unidentified Pakistani military spokesman rejected Pattan's claim, adding that there was "no intrusion into Pakistani territory."

Back in Zabul, six suspected neo-Taliban militants were killed on 24 April in Zabul Province when they encountered a group of Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) security guards, AIP reported. The PRT unit reportedly arrested one militiaman.

The PRT in Zabul is led by the United States. It is rare for PRTs, which are primarily established to help maintain security for reconstruction projects and provide assistance for such projects, to engage in firefights. The report could not be independently verified.

On the political front, a former provincial governor during the Taliban regime has accepted the Afghan government's reconciliation offer, AIP reported on 21 April.

Governor Sher Mohammad of the southern Helmand Province told AIP on 21 April that "former Taliban Governor Mohammad Nasim joined the government after talks" held on 20 April. Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi confirmed the fact that Mullah Mohammad Nasim did serve "for some time" as the governor of Zabul Province," adding that since the demise of the Taliban regime he had not been in contact with the resurgent Taliban elements -- or the neo-Taliban.

According to AIP, the acceptance of the truce offer from Kabul by Mohammad Nasim and earlier by "key" commander Ra'is Abdul Wahed can be "considered a major success for the local administration in Helmand."

Helmand and its neighboring Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabul provinces are considered the hotbed of the neo-Taliban insurgency. (Amin Tarzi and Marc Ricks)

According to neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, the militia's radio station has resumed broadcasting, AIP reported on 18 April.

"After a six-month break, Radio Shari'ah Zhagh [Voice of Shari'a] broadcast for one hour this morning," Hakimi said. The radio plans an hour of broadcasting in the evening and will air "the message of Amir al-Mo'menin Mullah [Mohammad] Omar," the former leader of the Taliban regime, Hakimi claimed. "Foreign radios claim independence and freedom, but they are not actually free," Hakimi said. "Therefore, we established this radio station, through which we could report to people on the realities and facts in all the cities and villages of the country and introduce them to the goals and objectives of the Islamic Movement of Taliban."

The radio station is broadcasting from an undisclosed area inside Afghanistan, Hakimi said. Hakimi claimed the broadcasts can be heard in four southern Afghan provinces. Nader Nawadi, security assistant for the World Food Program, confirmed to news agencies that Taliban broadcasts are back on the air.

Radio Shari'ah Zhagh broadcast two one-hour segments on 20 April in Kandahar. In its opening statement the broadcast said: "Dear fellow countrymen, Shari'ah Zhagh Radio raises the voice of Islamic brotherhood against the superpower, United States of America, and its associates who have been insulting the honor of the Muslim world and its religion and who harmed the Islamic rule."

Hakimi told AIP on 21 April that U.S. forces based in Afghanistan will not be able to locate the Shari'ah Zhagh broadcast station.

"For one thing, Shari'ah Zhagh is a mobile station. For another, it broadcasts programs at dawn and sunset. No one can detect the station's frequencies during these times," Hakimi added.

According to Hakimi more such radio stations will begin operating in other areas of Afghanistan and broadcast in local languages such as Uzbek and Turkmen. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistan's Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Safdar Hosayn said on 20 April that no joint operation has taken place in Pakistan's Waziristan Agency with the U.S.-led coalition forces based in Afghanistan, the official Pakistan TV 1 reported.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, reportedly told journalists in Islamabad on 18 April that the United States would provide intelligence to Pakistani troops engaged in an operation in Northern Waziristan while conducting their own operation on the Afghan side of the border, Dubai-based Geo TV reported on 19 April.

Hosayn called Barno's comments "unwarranted and irresponsible," adding, "I condemn his [Barno's] statement," AFP reported on 20 April. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told Geo on 19 April that "no [operation is] taking place in North Waziristan, nor it has been planned." However, an unidentified spokesman for Pakistan's military Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) said that while Pakistan will decide on its own "what needs to be done, when and where," he did not rule out a military operation in North Waziristan, Karachi daily "Dawn" reported 20 April.

A statement issued on 19 April by ISPR asked the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to check border violations from the Afghan side, "Dawn" reported on 20 April. The attention of coalition forces has been "drawn to the increase of incidents of miscreants' movement from Afghanistan" to the Pakistan side of the border, the statement read. The coalition forces are asked by Pakistan to "address the issue and check the movement of miscreants," the statement continued.

Pakistani General Hosayn told AFP on 20 April: "I told [U.S.] General Barno he should better take care of Afghanistan and we can do [this] ourselves in Pakistan."

Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, most concerns have focused on the infiltration of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The latest claim by Pakistani officials, if accurate, signifies a reversal of tactics by militants along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. (Amin Tarzi)

Commenting on the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program in Afghanistan, the Kabul daily "Erada" wrote on 23 April that both the Afghan government and the international community have failed "to implement the process successfully." Acknowledging that armed groups have been disarmed under the DDR program in some areas of the country, "Erada" complained that the program "has not encompassed all of the rogue armed men." The rogue elements not covered by the DDR program are involved in "illicit trade and smuggling of drugs, historic relics, timber, and looting private and public assets in rural areas," the commentary added.

Meanwhile a mother and her child were killed in a clash between two local commanders in Shahr-e Bozorg District of northeastern Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province, the official Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 April. The cause of the clash was reportedly a disagreement between a local armed commander and the district head.

According to the report, "hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded in armed clashes between local commanders in various parts" of Afghanistan.

In a related issue, residents of northern Faryab Province have complained that local warlords are illegally occupying the shops, homes, and land of local residents, Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 April.

Faryab Governor Abdul Latif Ebrahimi admitted that the warlords pose a threat to civilians in his province, but he said that Faryab is not the only province where such incidents occur (for more on the DDR process, see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

In a statement released on 20 April, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the UN Commission for Human Rights to keep Afghanistan on its agenda and increase the number of human rights monitors in that country. "There is still a human rights crisis in Afghanistan," Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW said, adding that warlords "and armed factions still dominate many parts" of Afghanistan and "routinely abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and girls."

The statement added that there "are indications" that the United States opposes continued UN monitoring in Afghanistan by UN human rights experts. Adams added that Washington "should be helping" UN monitors to "do more in Afghanistan, not less." (Amin Tarzi)

Commander Mohammad Aref on 18 April vowed to stop antigovernment activities and surrendered to the authorities in Konar Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. Konar Governor Asadollah Wafa said that Mohammad Aref contacted him after another commander identified as Najmoddin decided to stop his antigovernment activities.

Mohammad Aref was affiliated with Mohammad Yunos Khales' Hizb-e Islami, one of the mujahedin parties that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. After his disavowal of violence, he was released, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum stepped down as head of his powerful militia in northern Afghanistan to take a ranking military post under President Hamid Karzai, AFP reported on 17 April. Karzai appointed Dostum chief of staff of the high command of Afghanistan's armed forces, a largely ceremonial government position. One of the country's most powerful warlords, Dostum headed the Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami party, which is essentially an Uzbek political organization backed by Uzbek fighters. "Yes, General Dostum has resigned," said Abdul Majid Rozi, the group's deputy leader. Dostum plans to begin work in his new position in a few days, Rozi said.

The same day that Dostum resigned from his party's leadership position, Junbish, as the party is best-known in Afghanistan, was officially registered with the Afghan Justice Ministry, Jowzjan Aina TV reported.

Party spokesman Fayzollah Zaki said that until Junbish convenes its congress, First Deputy Chairman Sayyed Nurollah will act as chairman, Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 18 April.

Dostum, running as an independent candidate in the presidential elections, received 10 percent of the vote and finished fourth. The party, which had its own militia, has officially declared itself disarmed but still unofficially maintains a considerable number of military and paramilitary units, equipped mostly with small arms and light weapons. (Amin Tarzi and Marc Ricks)

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, the leader of newly formed National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM), told the "Kabul Times" on 17 April that the opposition alliance is "aiming to bring better socioeconomic, political, and cultural life" for the Afghan people (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 April 2005).

The JTM intends to win the "majority of seats" in the upcoming parliamentary elections, Qanuni told the Kabul daily. Calling the formation of political parties a "positive sociopolitical step," Qanuni said that moving his country toward a civil society would not be possible without the existence of political parties.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not belong to a political party and has not held such institutions in high regard.

Qanuni said he hopes that the parliamentary elections will be free of a "repetition of signs of fraud" and the "bitter experiences" of the October presidential election. Qanuni, who was second to Karzai in the presidential race, lodged protests afterward about improprieties in the election (for more on the Afghan elections, see (Amin Tarzi)

German soldiers will be involved in training counternarcotics forces in Afghanistan beginning this fall, AFP reported on 17 April. German Defense Minister Peter Struck disclosed the initiative in an interview with the German daily "Berliner Zeitung" to be published on 18 April. German troops will offer Afghan antidrug forces logistical support in their operations as well as training, Struck said. He said drug traffickers in Afghanistan view foreign troops as the driving force behind a crackdown on the drug trade by the Afghan government. "That means more danger for our soldiers," Struck said. "We are prepared." Currently about 2,000 soldiers from Germany are serving in Afghanistan. (Marc Ricks)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Kabul on 20 April for an official visit, Anatolia news agency reported. Erdogan met with Karzai and with former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher, constitutionally known as the "Father of the Nation." Erdogan said that Afghans and Turks have stood "side by side" in their recent history and that Turkey will continue to support Afghanistan in areas of education, health, and infrastructure as well as peace and security. Kabul and Ankara signed an agreement on the expansion of cooperation in the development of health services, Tolu television reported on 20 April.

Prior to departing for Kabul, Erdogan told reporters on 20 April that Turkey's "political relations with Afghanistan are perfect," Anatolia reported. In February, Turkey assumed the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for the second time (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005).

Erdogan met with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the newly appointed chief of staff of the high command of the armed forces of Afghanistan, in the presidential palace, Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 21 April. In addition, Dostum held separate meetings with Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul and Health Minister Recep Akdag. (Amin Tarzi)

A Romanian soldier died and two others were injured when their vehicle detonated a land mine in Kandahar Province, Pro TV reported on 24 April. The Romanians were serving with the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

25 April 1842 -- Afghan King Shah Shuja' assassinated at Kabul.

24 April 1947 -- Afghan delegation arrives in Tashkent to start demarcation of the Soviet-Afghan border.

18 April 1963 -- Prime Minister Mohammad Yosuf says introducing democracy and improving economic conditions are major aims of his government.

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