Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Report: July 11, 2005

11 July 2005, Volume 4, Number 20
By Amin Tarzi

In two recent private and candid discussions with RFE/RL, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, leader of the 12-party coalition National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM), spoke about the Afghan opposition's election strategy and his own personal reflections about the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as relations between Kabul and Washington. Part 1 of a two-part analysis of Qanuni's views focuses on JTM's election priorities and polices.

By virtue of securing 16 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential elections, second only to Karzai's 55 percent, Qanuni has become the strongest opposition leader in Afghanistan and has been chosen as the leader of JTM, which was formed in late March (see RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 April 2005) as the main opposition front against the Karzai government.

In his talks with RFE/RL, Qanuni made it clear that he still believes, though he currently leads a "loyal political opposition," that during the October elections many irregularities occurred, robbing him of certain victory. "On the whole we accepted the current government, despite the fact that I won 53 percent of the votes to Mr. Karzai's 24 percent," Qanuni asserted. A U.S. government official whom Qanuni chose not to identify told him that he had "secured the votes while Karzai got the victory."

Afghanistan In Crisis

According to Qanuni, since the October elections Afghanistan's overall situation has regressed because the current "leadership has failed" to take advantage of a "golden opportunity" presented to Afghanistan in the form of strong international support. Karzai's former interior and later education minister added that his "friend" Karzai is a weak leader who presides over a "weak cabinet" and that his government lacks a "strategic, national agenda." Karzai's policies are "driven by ethnicity and private gains," Qanuni said.

As such, Afghanistan's main opposition leader asserted that his country was moving toward "a crisis."

Unlike Karzai, Qanuni predicted that the elections for the lower house of the Afghan parliament and the provincial councils scheduled for September will not end the government's malaise or the increasing levels of violence in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan.

Qanuni said that the only way to address the current crisis is through implementation of reforms, which he emphasized should be "real, not symbolic." If the Karzai government initiates reforms, especially in the electoral procedures, prior to the September polls, "we shall have a united parliament." Otherwise, Qanuni warned that the parliament might be factionalized.

Yunos Qanuni listed "national unity, stability, and security," as the three main essential steps to get Afghanistan out of its current quagmire and as broad goals of the JTM.

The Opposition's Goals

Repeating that JTM was a "legal opposition," Qanuni said the front he is leading is "against mistaken policies of the [Karzai] government," but that it did not want "the government to fall," which he stressed would be "tantamount to giving Afghanistan to Pakistan."

To achieve its goals, prior to the September polls the JTM plans to strengthen the positions of individual candidates representing any of the 12 political parties; enhance cooperation between the parties; and observe the election process for irregularities, which according to Qanuni were widespread during the October presidential elections.

In order to ensure that the September elections are fair and free, Qanuni suggested that the UN-Afghan Joint Election Management Body and the Election Commission are independent; that the votes be counted in the polling stations rather than being transported to counting centers; that the office for lodging complaints about election irregularities be independent of government control; that larger cities be divided in electoral districts; and that the population estimates be made more fair.

JTM's goals during the elections will be obtaining a larger majority of the seats, Qanuni explained, adding that his front wants the "politicization of the struggle rather than the use of gun," and the "rationalization and legalization of the struggle."

Once the JTM has secured enough seats to become the main opposition to Karzai's government, Qanuni said that his party and his coalition partners will demand the reforming of the cabinet, which he said was "not based on equality." He also emphasized working to accelerate the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs under way; deal with the narcotics problem in Afghanistan -- Qanuni added that currently the "police are a mafia"; and reform the Afghan National Army and National Police.

Constitutional Change

The most controversial plan of the JTM, as explained by Qanuni, is changing the current Afghan government system as enshrined in the constitution from a strong presidential system to a prime-ministerial system. "How can we help Karzai's weakness?" Qanuni asked, and then answered his own question, "by creating the post of a prime minister through a Loya Jirga."

Whether the "loyal opposition" headed by Mohammad Yunos Qanuni will be capable of achieving all of its stated goals is impossible to predict at the moment. Surely his call for national unity, stability, and security will go over well with not only Karzai's government, but with Afghanistan's foreign backers. However, Karzai and his supporters fought hard and made some difficult compromises to write a constitution with a very strong presidency -- power the current president does not seem likely to relinquish.

The fact that, after decades of Afghanistan's politics being determined by violence and intimidation, the main opposition figure sits in his villa on the outskirts of Kabul and, while clearly expressing his disappointment with the political process, confirms his loyalty to the system in place, is a major leap forward for Afghanistan. It would be a disservice to Afghanistan's long and difficult march toward becoming a democratic nation-state to have elections in September that are not transparent and are not deemed by a majority of Afghans as being fair. In this, the burden first falls on the shoulders of the Afghan government and only then on its foreign supporters and the "loyal opposition."

Afghan security forces, based on intelligence reports provided by coalition forces, have arrested five Pakistani nationals in Shahr-e Safa, southern Zabul Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 June. Gholam Rasul, Shahr-e Safa's security commander, told AIP that during interrogations, the captives "confessed that they were sent for jihad by a certain Mullah Taher in Quetta [Pakistan]." According to Gholam Rasul, four of the detainees spoke Urdu, however the fifth spoke a language he did not recognize. The Pakistani captives have been handed over to U.S. forces.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal said that the detainees are "terrorists" who were involved in the recent clashes in Kandahar Province, southwest of Zabul, Kabul-based Tolu television reported on 30 June.

Later, on 6 July, speaking with Tolu, Mashal said that Al-Qaeda and "all terrorist networks receive financial and logistic support in the Pakistani border areas" before entering Afghanistan for subversive activities.

"A few days ago, we arrested five Pakistani nationals in Zabul Province. They confessed that they had received training in the Pakistani city of Quetta and provided information about the people and the places where they were trained. They confessed that they had entered Afghanistan to kill the Americans and all those who are involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The evidence we have is strong enough," Mashal added.

According to Mashal, Osama bin Laden and "the majority of the leaders" of terrorist groups are living in Pakistani tribal areas.

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jillani on 6 July rejected allegations made by Mashal that Osama bin Laden and former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar are in tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghan frontier, Lahore-based "Daily Times" reported on 7 July.

"These accusations are baseless and some people with vested interests are giving such statements to harm the strong trade, economic, political, and diplomatic ties existing between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Jillani said without clarifying who the people with "vested interests" are.

According to Jillani, Islamabad will play a "positive role" in the September parliamentary and local elections in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan's "supreme national interest," Jillani added.

Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency Corps Commander Lieutenant General Safdar Hussain said on 6 July that certain foreign countries are fuelling insurgency inside Afghanistan to meet "their nefarious" designs, adding that "such countries are our enemies," the Islamabad daily "The Nation" reported on 7 July. Hussain said that his troops had arrested six alleged terrorists, one of whom he described as being a "foreigner." He said that the arrested foreigner spoke neither Pashto or Urdu "or any other local language." According to Hussain, the person might be an Arab or an Uzbek.

The Pakistani general said that it has been proven by now that almost all the terrorists are entering Pakistan from the Afghan side, therefore, Afghan authorities need to fulfill their responsibilities. "They need to restore peace inside Afghanistan and, for this purpose, they must fence off the border," Hussain suggested.

Pakistan's Interior Ministry on 5 July announced that bin Laden and other terrorist leaders are hiding in southeastern Afghanistan, Tolu reported on 6 July. Afghanistan has rejected Pakistan's claims.

To add to the confusion, a statement issued in the name of Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao on 7 July clarified that Islamabad does not know where Osama bin Laden might be, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, the Islamabad daily "Pakistan" reported. Sherpao said reports regarding the presence of bin Laden "in Afghanistan that was carried by some electronic media channels" is not correct.

A war of words between two U.S. allies, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has intensified in recent weeks, with each side accusing the other of not doing enough to protect its borders (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 July 2005). While Kabul has charged that bin Laden and other terrorist leaders are in Pakistan, Islamabad has countered that terrorists come to Pakistan from Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 7 July to set up a special court to try people accused of past war crimes, including some who are serving in his government. The call comes in a report titled "Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity" ( The report documents war crimes and human rights abuses from April 1992 to March 1993. During the time covered by the report whole sections of Kabul were reduced to rubble by fighting between Afghan factions. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and at least half a million people were displaced. HRW says bringing those responsible to justice is a key step for creating stability in Afghanistan.

In its report based on two years of research, Human Rights Watch names several Afghan officials implicated in war crimes and human rights abuses during the early 1990s.

They include Abdul Rashid Dostum who is currently Chief of Army Staff in the Defense Ministry; Karim Khalili, who is now one of Afghanistan's two vice presidents; and Abd al-Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf, an Islamist commander who currently advises President Karzai and reportedly has major power over the Afghan judiciary.

Those named also include former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Islamic party leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who is currently at large.

Brad Adams is the executive director of the Asia division of HRW. He says the Afghan officials cited in the report were members of different faction which committed extensive human rights abuses while fighting for power following the collapse of the Soviet-backed government in Kabul in 1992.

"In the year that we look at, the various factions that were trying to take power after the Soviets left started shelling each other in Kabul, they started attacking members of the civilian population that were apparently allied to these factions, they were killing them, they were abducting them, there was lots of sexual violence. Our report shows that even in the fog of war, even in chaos, one can still pinpoint responsibility," Adams said.

The 133 page HRW report is based on more than 150 interviews with witnesses, survivors, government officials, and combatants.

The report says several other commanders implicated in past war crimes are now candidates for parliament or are serving in the police and military. According to the human rights group, others are serving in important security and judicial posts.

HRW has urged the Afghan government and international community to prioritize efforts to hold past perpetrators accountable for their crimes by creating a special court to try offenders.

As an immediate first step, HRW recommends that the Afghan government implement a vetting mechanism to sideline past abusers from the government

A survey released in January by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) showed that the majority of the respondents believe that bringing human rights violators to justice will bolster peace stability and justice.

The poll also showed that most Afghans see themselves as victims of war crimes. Many are of the opinion that continued impunity has given the perpetrators the opportunity to commit further abuses with no fear of prosecution.

Following the release of the poll the AIHRC, the UN and the EU called on the Afghan government to do more to bring war criminals to justice.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has adopted a conciliatory approach of giving government posts to former commanders and warlords. Karzai has also offered amnesty to former Taliban members who were not involved in human rights abuses.

Rangin Dadfar Sepanta is an advisor to President Karzai. He says the Afghan government supports the idea of an accountability process -- but in the long term.

"For us what is important is the issue of justice and national reconciliation so that we can -- through some truth finding commission like in South Africa, Mexico and East Timor, by using their experiences -- find out which persons were responsible and why wide-spread human rights abuses occurred. What is today important in Afghanistan is how we can make this fragile peace last and I accept the HRW view that peace without justice has no meaning but what is important is the issue of amnesty should be in the center of all our policies because we are moving toward national reconciliation," Sepanta said.

But Brad Adams of HRW believes that if Afghanistan doesn't begin a process of addressing its bloody history now, the past may repeat itself.

"They have to take some actions or they might lose credibility, second the risk is that while people are being quiet now -- a lot of people who are involved in these past crimes -- they are quiet because they are under a lot of pressure and scrutiny but that scrutiny is going to decrease over time and the question is will the international community leave a time bomb in its wake when it pulls out of Afghanistan and will you see these people start fighting for power again and there isn't really a good reason to think that they won't; their desire to destroy their enemies remain, they still commit massive human rights abuses around the country today," Adams said.

The international human rights group says renewed respect for human rights and the rule of law can help to create sustainable stability in Afghanistan. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban on 7 July, said that the militia will kill a U.S. Special Forces solider who has been listed as missing in action since 28 June, AIP reported. The neo-Taliban have claimed to be holding the missing soldier captive.

"At the time of the fall of the Taliban emirate, the ulema of the country had decided that any aggressor soldiers and their collaborators would be punished by death. On this basis, the Taliban Council met at an undisclosed location two days ago, on Tuesday [5 July], and confirmed the decision of the ulema council regarding the captured American," Hakimi told AIP. According to the spokesman, there can be compromise in the ruling of the council. Hakimi said that the U.S. solider will be killed "very soon," and the "entire world" will be notified of his name and place where he is to be executed. "We will behead [the U.S. captive] in order to [make] an exemplary lesson to others," Hakimi told Cairo-based MENA on 7 July.

The serviceman in question is the fourth member of a U.S. Navy SEAL commando unit that came under attack in northeastern Konar Province. Bodies of two members of the team were later found, while the third was rescued. A helicopter trying to rescue the SEAL team was apparently lured into an ambush by the neo-Taliban and shot down on 28 June, killing 16 U.S. servicemen (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 July 2005). (Amin Tarzi)

The chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association, Rahimullah Samandar, in a letter to President Hamid Karzai asked for the release of two journalists working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, AFP reported on 7 July.

Rohullah Anwari and Shershah Hamdard were detained by Afghan security personnel on 1 and 2 July, respectively, in Konar.

"If the journalists have been arrested in connection with their professional duties," then they should be released immediately, Samandar wrote in his letter. If there are charges against the two, then these should be "made public immediately so that the journalists can be provided with legal representation," the letter continued. Afghan security officials have declined to comment on the cases.

In a statement released on 7 July, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission called on the Special National Security Prosecutor-General's Office to take steps to release the two journalists, the official National Radio of Afghanistan reported. (Amin Tarzi)

1 July 1962 -- Pakistan accepts shah of Iran's offer to mediate its dispute with Afghanistan.

6 July 1996 -- Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar forms his cabinet.

2 July 2001 -- U.S. State Department officials meet with Taliban representatives in Islamabad to threaten reprisals if Osama bin Laden attacks any U.S. interests.

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