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Afghan Report: June 6, 2005

6 June 2005, Volume 4, Number 18
By Amin Tarzi

The latest surge of violence associated and often claimed by the neo-Taliban brings into question Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation policy with members of the ousted regime. However, the incidents, including the deadly suicide attack inside a mosque in the southern city of Kandahar on 1 June, may involve more actors than the resurgent elements from the Taliban regime, or the neo-Taliban, and, as such, can be a destabilizing factor in Afghanistan's future.

The Reconciliation Policy

In a little-noticed speech before a gathering of the ulema in Kabul in April 2003, Karzai said that a "clear line" has to be drawn between "the ordinary Taliban who are real and honest sons of this country" and those "who still use the Taliban cover to disturb peace and security in the country." No one has "the right to harass/persecute anyone under the name of Talib/Taliban anymore," Karzai emphasized (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003).

In some senses, Karzai speech was an announcement, albeit not formally at the time, of the launch of his reconciliation policy designed to weaken the resolve of the neo-Taliban by breaking their ranks into good and bad Talibs. Moreover, at the time Karzai -- who was leading a transitional administration in which he was not the dominant force -- needed the backing of his co-ethnic Pashtuns who were perceived to be -- or were actually -- marginalized from the Afghan political scene since the demise of the mostly Pashtun Taliban regime in December 2001.

The reconciliation policy, more articulated by Karzai since April 2003, essentially maintains that other than between 100 to 150 former members of the Taliban regime are known to have committed crimes against the Afghan people; all others, whether dormant or active within the ranks of the neo-Taliban, can begin living as normal citizens of Afghanistan by denouncing violence and renouncing their opposition to the central Afghan government.

The list of the unpardonable former Taliban members has never been made public by Karzai despite requests for by the Afghan media and politicians. Moreover, comments made in May by Sebghatullah Mojaddedi -- which were initially supported by Karzai -- have changed the issue of who cannot be pardoned into a contentious political problem.

As the head of the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, an organ established to facilitate the reconciliation process with the former Taliban members, Mojaddedi announced that the amnesty offer from Karzai's government extended to all Taliban leaders, including the regime's former head, Mullah Mohammad Omar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). Both Mojaddedi and Karzai have since backed off of those statements, but distrust has increased and the door of misuse of the reconciliation policy has opened wider.

Upsurge In Violence

In line with the expectations of Afghan authorities and U.S.-led coalition forces, disruptive activities and terrorist acts either committed by or in the name of the neo-Taliban and their allies has increased since the weather improved in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In April, U.S. Major General Eric Olson said that there "has been an increase in Taliban and enemy activity in the spring [compared to the winter months]. And we anticipate that the enemy has the intention of trying to raise the level of activity this spring." However, Olson predicted that these activities would lack cohesion and fade in traditional neo-Taliban strongholds (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005).

While from a purely military perspective -- often no more than sporadic gun battles and launching of small rockets -- engagements between the neo-Taliban and the coalition forces and their Afghan National Army allies have not shown any significant cohesion or an increase that has not been expected, acts of terror have become more organized and, indeed, deadlier.

The well-planned killing of Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar and an ardent opponent of the neo-Taliban, on 29 May and the suicide blast inside a Kandahar mosque on 1 June that claimed at least 21 lives, are gruesome illustrations of the increase in terror activities in Afghanistan.

Dilemma Facing Kabul

Following Fayyaz's killing, the office of Karzai's spokesman issued a statement in which the Afghan president strongly condemned the slaying of the cleric, adding that Fayyaz was assassinated by "the enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity," without mentioning the neo-Taliban by name.

Soon after Fayyaz's assassination, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, a spokesman for the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the act, calling Fayyaz a supporter of the "Americans, [who] preached against an Islamic way of life and intended to lead people away from the path of righteousness."

On 31 May, Karzai responded to Fayyaz's assassination and said that it "is clear that the people who call themselves Taliban and act under the name of Taliban -- whether they are Taliban's representatives or not -- but it is clear that they are enemies of Afghanistan," Radio Afghanistan reported. Indirectly in support of his reconciliation policies, Karzai called on all of those who are "in the ranks of the Taliban, and [are] an Afghan, and belong to this soil," as their "national and religious duty" should act against those people who kill Afghans and their religious scholars. "They should take revenge on them and push them out of this country and prove that they are Afghans and they do not allow foreigners in the country," Karzai added, in an attempt to portray the killers of Fayyaz as non-Afghans.

In a statement, the Afghan Interior Ministry linked the suicide blast on 1 June, which occurred during a special funeral prayer for Fayyaz and claimed the life of Kabul's security chief General Akram Khakrezwal, to Fayyaz's killing. However, according to Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the suicide bomber was not an Afghan, and was "an enemy of Islam" and an "enemy of peace and stability in Afghanistan" -- using what have recently become the standard official Afghan terms for what once was referred to as the Taliban.

Referring to Fayyaz's slaying, the 1 June statement refrains from mentioning the Taliban by name, referring to those who carried out the assassination simply as "gunmen."

Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi on 1 June contacted the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press, saying that the bombing "shouldn't have occurred" and "strongly" condemning the act. While Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusofzai told Dubai-based Geo TV on 1 June that the militia had claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. In "my view, the Taliban was looking for this opportunity. It believed that important people would visit this mosque to offer prayer for" Fayyaz, Yusofzai told the station. There are reports that two of Karzai's brothers were due to arrive to the mosque later.

Whether the neo-Taliban or a splinter group within their ranks carried out the mosque bombing, the incident has opened a new chapter of violence in Afghanistan, in which mosques are no longer considered sanctuaries safe from violence. Moreover, with the killing of Fayyaz and the possible implications of the neo-Taliban in the mosque bombing, the currency of Karzai's reconciliation policy towards the militia becomes more tenuous. And the tensions created between Karzai and some within his own government regarding his Taliban policy and between the president and some of the opposition parties might lead to a radicalization ahead of the elections for the lower house of the Afghan parliament and provincial councils; that could, in turn, allow the reconciliation issue to be brought into the forefront of the political debate in the country with dire consequences for national unity of Afghanistan and leaving more opportunities for foreign hands to destabilize the country.

At least 21 people were killed and more than 50 injured by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the entrance of Kandahar's main mosque on 1 June. The bomber detonated his explosives during a mourning ceremony for a slain Islamic cleric who had been a strong supporter of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government has confirmed that the Interior Ministry's new security chief for Kabul is among those killed.

RFE/RL's Kandahar correspondent Reshtin Qadiri was standing outside of the crowded Abdul Rab Akhondzada Mosque in Kandahar to report on the mourning ceremony of a slain Islamic cleric when a suicide bomber blew himself up.

Within minutes, Qadiri managed to push her way through the fleeing crowd and make it into the small room at the front of the mosque where the explosion occurred. She found a nightmarish vision of death: "I'm in the area [just at the mosque's entrance], and this place is covered with blood and body parts. The scene here is [horrific and] almost surreal."

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal confirmed that the ministry's new security chief in Kabul was killed. "As a result of the suicide attack, [at least] 17 people were killed and an additional 36 people were injured," Mashal said. "And General Akram Khakrezwal -- the security chief of Kabul -- is among the martyred."

Nasir Ahmad Niazi, the director of Kandahar's Mirwais Hospital, said later that the bodies of at least 20 people had been brought to his facility by the early afternoon. Afghan officials at the scene of the explosion said they fear the death toll eventually could top 50.

RFE/RL's Qadiri spoke to witnesses who had been injured by the blast and who said Khakrezwal appeared to be intentionally targeted by the suicide bomber.

"According to eyewitness accounts, commander Akram Khakrezwal -- who was the [Interior Ministry's new] security chief in Kabul -- had just entered the mosque with his bodyguards [when the attack occurred]," Qadiri said. "The suicide bomber was dressed like one of [his] bodyguards. And as [Khakrezwal] entered, the suicide bomber went in with them. It was when Khakrezwal paused to take off his shoes that this person jumped under [him] and blew himself up."

Khakrezwal was a native of Kandahar who had worked as the Interior Ministry's security chief in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif during the past two years. He had been promoted to the Kabul security post about two months ago.

Afghan officials told RFE/RL that two of President Karzai's brothers -- Ahmad Wali and Shah Wali -- also were due to attend the 1 June mourning ceremony but had not yet arrived when the blast occurred.

Khakrezwal returned to Kandahar today to attend a mourning ceremony at the mosque for Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz -- the chairman of the Kandahar Clerics' Council who was shot dead by a suspected Taliban militant on 29 May. Fayyaz had been a strong supporter of Karzai and had recently issued an edict calling on Afghans not to support the Taliban.

An Afghan man claiming to be a spokesman for the Taliban phoned news organizations in Kabul today to claim responsibility for the attack. But Interior Ministry spokesman Mashal told RFE/RL that the claim has not been confirmed.

"The investigation is under way. It is not clear [who is behind this attack]," Mashal said. "But one thing is clear. These are people who are enemies of Islam as well as the enemies of Afghanistan. This is the first time that a suicide attack has been committed inside a mosque. And people who have come to pray have been killed."

Correspondents say a suicide bomb attack on a mosque -- particularly during a mourning ceremony for a Muslim cleric -- is a cause for outrage among ordinary Afghans.

Witnesses who were injured in the blast were reluctant to give their names. But they told RFE/RL's Qadiri just moments after the explosion that the attack had the hallmarks of the "enemies of Afghanistan" -- an expression used by Karzai and his supporters to describe the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

"This morning I went to the mosque to attend the mourning ceremony for Mawlawi Fayyaz," one eyewitness said. "As I was entering the mosque an explosion took place. My shawl and clothes were thrown up in the air. I received a few injuries on my hands and legs. I can't hear anything right now. But I can tell you that this is not Islam. This is the killing of Muslim brothers, of innocent people. This is done by the servants of the foreigners who are against Afghanistan's security."

Mawlawi Kashaf, a Muslim cleric and member of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, condemned the attack as un-Islamic. "These suicide and terrorist attacks are all rejected from a humanitarian point of view," Kashaf said. "They are rejected by Islam. Those who are against security in Afghanistan do such things. They don't want security and stability to come to this country."

Afghan officials also say a prominent former mujahedin commander from Kandahar named Mullah Naqibullah was inside the mosque and injured by the blast. Naqibullah fought against the Taliban as a member of the former Northern Alliance and is a supporter of Karzai's central government. There were no immediate details on the extent of his injuries. (Ron Synovitz, with contributions from RFE/RL Afghan correspondent Reshtin Qadiri in Kandahar and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan staffers Hashem Mohmand, Sharifa Sharif, and Haifizullah Asefi; and RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari)

Human Rights Watch is calling for NATO to send more security forces to Afghanistan following a marked deterioration of the security situation throughout May. In the past month, Afghanistan has seen a series of political killings, violent protests, attacks on humanitarian workers, and bombings targeting foreigner civilians and troops. The flare-up is attributed partly to Taliban militants in the southern and eastern parts of the country after a winter lull. But Human Rights Watch is warning about the potential intimidation of candidates and voters ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Afghan officials say the latest violence in Kabul -- a roadside bomb blast on 30 May on the main road going east from the capital -- was a failed attempt to attack soldiers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Seven Afghan civilians nearby were injured by the blast, which appears to have been detonated by remote control just seconds after a NATO vehicle passed. District police chief Mohammad Akbar said the bomb was attached to a bicycle parked near a crowded market.

"It was at 9 a.m. that a bomb placed on a bicycle exploded here at the bazaar wounding seven people -- four people inside a passing taxi and three people passing by this road," Mohammad Akbar said. "We are investigating at the moment."

A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility. Taliban attacks in Kabul are not common. But the city has seen periodic rocket attacks and bomb blasts since U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Taliban government in late 2001.

Sam Zarifi, a researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said there are concerns about an increase in violence across Afghanistan during May.

"We've seen in the last few weeks an upsurge of violence in Afghanistan," Zarifi said. "We're not quite sure exactly what all the reasons for it are. But with the end of the cold season and with upcoming parliamentary elections, unfortunately, the outlook is that the violence could increase. So it's even more important than before for the United States and its allies -- NATO really, which has taken over responsibility for providing security in Afghanistan -- to step up to the plate and to finally fulfill their commitments to Afghanistan."

Just a few months ago, before the spring thaw began in Afghanistan, U.S. military commanders were boasting that the Taliban was practically defeated and no longer posed a threat to the central government. Zarifi said there has been a tendency among U.S. officials to declare Afghanistan a complete success. And he said such declarations are premature.

"It's very clear that as the snows melted in Afghanistan and as the weather cleared up, there is some movement afoot," Zarifi said. "Whether it is for political reasons or economic reasons, the month of May just was a particularly bad month in Afghanistan after several months of relative quiet. The overall outlook for the summer has now been put into doubt."

Zarifi noted that it is not just the number of violent attacks that have been proliferating. He said the types of attacks also are increasing.

"We've seen in May a kidnapping and attempted kidnapping in Kabul of foreigners working there," Zarifi said. "We've seen a suicide-bomb attack -- something really rarely seen -- which targeted an internet cafe where foreigners worked. We've seen protests that really rocked the country -- focusing on the southeast. But protests against the U.S. presence there. And we've seen some factional fighting again in the northern part of the country."

In fact, Zarifi said, factional fighting between local militia commanders could pose the biggest threat to parliamentary elections in much of Afghanistan.

"Because of the nature of parliamentary elections -- because of how intensely local they are and because of the role of the future parliament -- we expect these races to be very competitive in a lot of places in Afghanistan," Zarifi said. "With the presidential elections, there wasn't as much competition. And even then, we had some serious cases of intimidation and efforts to sway the vote one way or the other. We expect this to be much more serious with the parliamentary elections as different groups jockey for power."

Human Rights Watch has noted that at least one parliamentary candidate and former delegate to Afghanistan's recent Loya Jirga has been killed. Akhtar Mohammad Tolwak was killed along with his driver on 11 May while driving in the eastern part of Ghazni Province.

An Italian aid worker for CARE International has been a hostage since she was abducted from her car in central Kabul on 16 May. Earlier in May, armed men failed in their attempts to kidnap three foreign World Bank employees under similar circumstances in Kabul.

Periodic rocket attacks against foreign military bases in Kabul and Kandahar have continued after a lull during the winter.

At least 11 Afghan employees of a Washington-based agricultural firm were shot and killed by suspected Taliban fighters in Zabul Province during the last two weeks.

Human Rights Watch has called on the United States to lead efforts to speed the deployment of additional international security forces to remote Afghan provinces. The group also says there needs to be more international human rights monitors and election monitors for the parliamentary elections. (Ron Synovitz)

Amnesty International says in a new report that Afghan women face the risk of abduction, rape, and forced marriage on a daily basis. The report, entitled "Afghanistan: Women Under Attack," says women in Afghanistan face discrimination from all segments of society as well as by state officials. The report comes a day after Afghan election authorities announced that about 10 percent of the candidates who have registered for the country's upcoming parliamentary and provincial elections are women.

Throughout Afghanistan, hundreds of women and girls continue to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Afghan women are also abused by armed individuals, state institutions such as the police, and the judicial system.

These are some of the findings of a new report by Amnesty International based on extensive interviews with Afghan women. Amnesty International says that, throughout Afghanistan, "few women are exempt from violence or safe from the threat of it."

The publication comes more than three years after the fall of the Taliban regime, which barred women from public life and forced them to wear burqas, a garment that covers the face and body. Since the overthrow of the hard-line regime, women have returned to schools and the workplace, but Amnesty International says that abuse against women is still rife -- especially in rural areas.

Forced marriages have reportedly increased and some women have killed themselves by self-immolation to escape.

The report states that "societal codes, invoked in the name of tradition and religion, are used as justification for denying women the ability to enjoy their fundamental rights."

Jamila Mujahed is the director of Voice of Women, a Kabul-based radio station that is dedicated to women's issues. Mojahed -- who was the first female presenter to appear on television announcing the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 -- told RFE/RL that insecurity is one of the main reasons for widespread abuse against women.

"The disarmament process hasn't been completed yet, and it hasn't been successful," Mujahed said. "There are still irresponsible armed people in charge in Afghanistan's provinces. The have power. And in such conditions, of course, the situation of women has not improved."

Amnesty International has called on the Afghan government to condemn publicly violence against women and to change laws and practices that permit gender discrimination.

Amnesty International has also called on the international community to support the Afghan government's efforts to prevent crimes against women through its efforts to rebuild the country.

The report's author, Nazia Husayn, told Reuters that there are glimmers of hope -- noting that women are entering politics and starting to make their voices heard.

Afghan officials have encouraged women to run in the upcoming elections in order to have a say in future laws and policies.

The latest figures by Afghanistan's Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) show that out of the some 3,000 candidates who have registered for the 18 September parliamentary elections, about 350 are women. Approximately 300 women have also registered for the provincial council elections that are scheduled to take place the same day. More than one-fourth of the seats in the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly) are reserved for women.

JEMB spokesman Sultan Ahmed Bahin told RFE/RL that the turnout of women -- who compose slightly more than 10 percent of the candidates -- is favorable.

"For the Wolesi Jirga, the number of women who have registered is enough," Bahin said. "For example, in Oruzgan, there are three women candidates for one seat. But, for example, in Kabul, for nine seats we have 45 [female] candidates. For the provincial councils, in Oruzgan we don't have any female candidates. In Zabul Province, Niagara, Konar, and Nuristan, we do have candidates but their number is not enough."

Jamila Mujahed said she believes security issues have prevented many women from registering their candidacies for the elections.

"Yesterday [29 May] in Kandahar, a prominent Afghan personality, Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, was killed in the open daylight by armed men. He was a man of fame," Mujahed said. "A poor woman with no name and no fame and without real support, how can such a woman feel responsible? It's very difficult with the current insecurity for women to have enough courage to come forward and become a candidate or have enough courage to defend their rights."

Mujahed said security must be improved if women involved in politics are to be successful in bringing about changes.

"It is possible that the presence of women in the parliament will bring some small changes, but as long as security is not guaranteed all over Afghanistan, it will be very difficult. Until then I'm not hopeful," Mujahed said. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

In a statement read out by a neo-Taliban member to Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 25 May, Mullah Mohammad Omar criticized the "strategic partnership" declaration signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush in Washington on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 May 2005). With the agreement, Afghanistan "has been sold out forever" to the United States, Mullah Omar's statement read. "This is not just a Taliban issue...[but] an issue for every independent Afghan," the statement declared. According to Mullah Omar, Afghan government authorities "should be ashamed" for referring to Afghanistan as an independent country and for "turning a blind eye" to the "occupation" of their country. "Our resistance will grow stronger and become more organized," Mullah Omar's statement added.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi on 25 May said that the long-term military presence of the United States in Afghanistan agreed by Bush and Karzai will cause instability in the region, IRNA reported. "Undoubtedly, the issues [included in the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership declaration] would inflict heavy military costs on the people in Afghanistan and regional states," Assefi said. Assefi alleged that the United States is storing weapons of mass destruction in Afghanistan. Referring to the deadly student-led protests -- ostensibly in reaction to allegations of desecration of a Koran at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- Assefi said that Afghans have proven to be against the U.S. presence in their country.

While Karzai has pointed to foreign hands in the demonstrations that left 16 Afghans dead, analysts and some Afghan media sources have specifically named Iran as fomenting anti-U.S. sentiments in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

Much of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent four-day visit to the United States was dominated by talk about security issues and Kabul's strategic partnership with America. But Karzai also used the occasion to discuss his government's economic goals -- including the dream of becoming a regional trade hub by building transit routes linking ports in Pakistan and Iran with the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Karzai wrapped up his four-day visit to the United States on 25 May with a visit to the state of Nebraska. He stopped at a cattle farm to see how agriculture in his own country might be strengthened as farmers are weaned off opium production.

It was one of several events during Karzai's U.S. visit that focused on how Afghanistan might achieve its goals of economic reconstruction.

On 24 May, at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Karzai said the development of a reliable trade network is central to his vision of a prosperous Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is now thinking of evolving a regional cooperation between the countries in that part of the world -- in terms of linking infrastructure, in terms of linking trade, in terms of also developing mechanisms that would foster this cooperative environment. We are in the early stages. [Afghan Foreign Minister] Dr. Abdullah is working on it with the foreign ministers of the neighboring countries. I believe a formalized structure of cooperation would take us a long way forward toward a secure psychological environment for all of us. That's what we need," Karzai said.

He said building roads is particularly important so that Afghanistan can become a link between Central Asia and key ports in Pakistan and Iran.

"The money that we get, we plan to spend on major reconstruction projects. Afghanistan wants to be the hub of trade and transit in that part of the world. Afghanistan's highways and roads will [shorten] journeys by weeks for that part of the world. The journey from Tashkent [Uzbekistan] to [Pakistan's] port of Karachi will be less than 32 hours -- for cargo, for transportation of goods. The same will be to [the Iranian port city of] Bandar-Abbas. And that is the future we are seeking," Karzai said.

Karzai noted that Afghanistan currently produces enough electricity for about 6 percent of its population. He said his country has the potential to produce much more by using hydroelectric dams, wind power, and untapped coal resources:

"It's the biggest need in that part of the world. Right now, we are buying electricity from Iran, from Turkmenistan, from Tajikistan, from Uzbekistan. We have tremendous hydro-capabilities, and coal and windmills and all of that. So [the funds also are] going to build the infrastructure for Afghanistan on which this machine will move towards a better future," Karzai said.

Karzai received new pledges of economic support from U.S. President George W. Bush. One is a promise to help Afghanistan become integrated into regional and international trade organizations. Another is to help develop the legal framework for a thriving private business sector. Bush also promised to encourage U.S. businesses to become more involved with Afghan firms. But details on new U.S. financial aid commitments made to Karzai are unclear.

Anatol Lieven, an Afghan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the real issue is how much U.S. financial aid actually reaches the Afghans who need it most.

"Well, [Karzai] has been pledged more money. But whether that money will ever be provided -- or whether, if provided, it will actually be distributed to ordinary Afghans -- is a very different matter," Lieven said.

Bob McMullin, an American who manages the largest Internet provider in Afghanistan, told Karzai at Johns Hopkins University that corruption is the biggest impediment to the development of Afghanistan's private business sector -- and therefore, the Afghan economy.

Karzai says Afghan courts are just beginning to deal with corruption. He notes that the recent corruption convictions against two deputy officials from the Hajj Ministry mark the first time Afghan government officials have been sent to prison on such charges. He also notes that another corruption trial is under way against officials from the Ministry of Transportation.

But Karzai admits it will take a long time to make the kind of changes that have a broad and lasting impact on corruption.

"Corruption? It is a problem, indeed. It is a serious problem. It's one of the problems that we are trying to fix and that will take time to fix, unfortunately. The reasons we know. It's a country without institutional strength. It's a country with a lot of poverty. And yet it's a country with a lot of money flowing into it. That's the best recipe for corruption. An end to corruption will come when we are able to improve the salary structure in Afghanistan and bureaucracy's own structure -- and regulate it in a manner that politics will not intervene in it. I'm a very strong believer in stopping political interference in appointments of the civil service," Karzai said.

When asked about reports of unfulfilled aid pledges, Karzai said there is a widespread misunderstanding about the Tokyo donors conference of early 2002.

"What was promised to us in Tokyo, which was close to $5 billion, has been delivered to Afghanistan by all those who promised -- the Japanese, the Europeans, the Americans, and others. We are not complaining that the money has not come to Afghanistan. It has come to Afghanistan. It has been spent on Afghanistan. We are complaining about the way that money has been spent in Afghanistan. That money has not come to the Afghan government. A little bit of it, very little of it was spent [that way]. Perhaps in the range of $200 million of it came to [the Afghan government.] The rest of it is spent through NGOs. That is what we have a disagreement about," Karzai said.

Karzai told journalists in early 2002 that his government did not have the financial institutions needed to accept direct aid disbursements from foreign governments. But he now says this is no longer the case.

"The only thing we want is that that money should be spent with a higher accountability in Afghanistan, preferably through the government of Afghanistan. And then hold us accountable to what we do. If our performance as a government is not satisfactory, then tell us: 'Well, you have failed. You have no capacity. You have no ability to spend it, and there is no transparency.' Unless we do that, it will be very difficult for the Afghan government to gain capacity. Therefore, our request is that the international community spend the money through the Afghan system, or through a transparent, strong process through the private sector. And if they give us more money, we will be happier," Karzai said.

Another major economic challenge for Karzai is to eliminate the widespread cultivation of opium poppies, the raw material for heroin. To do so, he says Afghan farmers need support so they can grow other crops, such as fruits and vegetables.

Speaking at his final stop in Nebraska on 25 May, the Afghan president said he hopes his country can eliminate opium production in about five or six years. (Ron Synovitz)

25 May 1879 -- Treaty of Gandomak signed by Amir Mohammad Yaqub Khan and Sir Louis Cavagnari.

28 May 1963 -- The Shah of Iran announces that Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to reestablish diplomatic and commercial relations.

24 May 2001 -- The Taliban government orders Afghan Hindus to wear a yellow sign on their dress and their women to wear Afghan burqa.

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