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Afghan Report: August 5, 2005

5 August 2005, Volume 4, Number 22
By Amin Tarzi

On 26 July, a crowd of at least 1,000 people chanted anti-American slogans outside the main U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, which is located at Bagram in the northern Parwan Province. People had gathered at the gates of the heavily guarded facility to protest the detention of a local commander and seven others -- including a local mullah.

The commander whose arrest sparked the riot has been identified as Hamidullah, an engineer who was once associated with the radical Hizb-e Islami group led by fugitive former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

While most sources have described the commander at the center of the Bagram riot as Hamidullah, Kabul-based Tolu Television in a 26 July broadcast identified the commander as Hajji Mohammad Hashem, also formerly associated with Hekmatyar's party.

Hekmatyar is currently considered the third party of the triumvirate fighting against Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and its foreign backers. The neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda account for the other two parties in this axis. In 2002, Hekmatyar declared jihad against the United States for its presence in Afghanistan. The following year the U.S. State Department named Hekmatyar as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003).

Most of the protesters where from Deh Mullah, a village east of the base, and were -- according to Parwan police chief Major General Mawlana Abdul Rahman Sayyedkhayli -- "enraged" by the "raid on Hamidullah's residence and his subsequent arrest in the "still of the night" by U.S. forces.

According to Sayyedkhayli, the former commander renounced armed opposition a decade ago and was working as a farmer.

Cindy Moore, a U.S. military spokeswoman, told Pajhwak Afghan News on 27 July that U.S. forces had recovered explosives from Hamidullah's residence and that the he was arrested on suspicion of planning an attack on Bagram. According to Moore, Afghan intelligence and police personnel were accompanying U.S. forces when the arrests were made -- a request made by Karzai to involve his government in cases involving Afghan citizens.

After less than one day in custody, the United States handed the eight men over to provincial authorities in Parwan on 27 July.

While the handover of the eight detainees to the Afghans might very well have quelled the anger of local residents of Bagram District, the longer term question of counterterrorist activities in Afghanistan, and the standing of the United States in that country, remains an open question.

There has been no credible accounting as to which of Afghanistan's former warlords have sincerely traded in their swords for plows, nor has any of them thus far been identified or arrested for their past deeds. Moreover, the Afghan judicial system remains in shambles with little hope of it returning soon to something that can be remotely regarded as a transparent and fair system in which cases can be tried. This situation is especially true in provinces where local loyalties often overpower any respect there is for the central Afghan government's laws and commitments, including its counterterrorism efforts. The Bagram riot clearly points to this problem, as no protests have targeted that base since late 2001 when some locals were arrested.

As such, the task for the United States in leading the war against terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan becomes very complicated. On one hand, with more intrusive operations the U.S. faces the possibility of dealing with more hostility to its presence in Afghanistan while on the other hand, in the absence of a robust Afghan commitment to investigate, arrest when needed, and incarcerate suspected terrorists, the chance for an Afghanistan free of the menace of terrorism might fall victim to short-term local expediencies.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in the Russian Far East city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii on 28 July that "most Afghan territory is not controlled by anybody but the Taliban," Interfax reported.

Ivanov suggested that Afghanistan was the only "excuse" for the presence of U.S. military forces in Central Asia. Ivanov said the situation in Afghanistan is very "contradictory" because, while the Taliban roam free in much of Afghanistan, there are "no active military" operations taking place.

Discussing the duration of the U.S. presence in Central Asia, Ivanov said that "it would be good to define for how many years the war in Afghanistan is going to last: 23, 30, or 250 years." Ivanov also claimed that "other countries are actively interfering" in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. Although he did not say which countries he was referring to, Pakistan is the only country that borders the geographical area mentioned by Ivanov.

Ivanov also said there is a lack of action against the drug trade in Afghanistan. "Nobody is lifting a finger to address drug production in Afghanistan," he added.

At their July meeting, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization called on the United States and its allies to withdraw their troops from Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 July 2005). Uzbekistan recently asked the United States to leave a military base it is using in that country.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told a news conference in Kabul on 31 July that Ivanov's remarks about the Taliban controlling most of Afghanistan and on the narcotics problem in the country were "irresponsible" and were "political adventurism," Afghan Voice Agency reported. Afghanistan hopes that the "remarks of Ivanov only represent his personal view and not Moscow's official stance," Azimi added, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 31 July.

A commentary posted on the website of the official Bakhtar News Agency on 31 July in response to Ivanov's remarks suggested that the "Russians should have gained good experience from their defeat in Afghanistan" and that Moscow should stop interfering in the affairs of Afghanistan by making "irresponsible" speeches. According to Bakhtar, Ivanov's claim that the neo-Taliban have established control over the majority of Afghan provinces "recalls" the "realities" that existed during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89), when Moscow's "puppet regime" governed only Kabul. In the same manner that the "dreams" of the former Soviet Union to conquer all of Afghanistan did not come true, Moscow's recent propaganda on instability in Afghanistan and the existence of the Taliban in several provinces will also prove untrue, Bakhtar concludes.

The war of words between Kabul and Moscow has gone on for some time and usually has involved Ivanov, but it has also reached new heights since May -- when Russian officials began pointing to Afghanistan as the origin of the demonstrations in Andijon that were violently suppressed by government forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 May 2005). Moscow has also openly criticized the policy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in trying to grant amnesty to neo-Taliban aside from 100 or so who have committed grave crimes against the Afghan people. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan National Army (ANA) and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 26 neo-Taliban militiamen and arrested 49 others during joint operations in the southern provinces of Oruzgan, Helmand, and Zabul in late July, Bakhtar reported on 31 July, quoting Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi.

U.S. and Afghan forces previously reported killing some 50 suspected neo-Taliban fighters.

The fighting erupted when U.S. and Afghan forces attacked a neo-Taliban camp in Oruzgan Province's Dihrawud District, according to provincial Governor Jan Mohammed Khan. Roughly 25 suspected neo-Taliban fighters were captured, AP reported on 26 July.

A U.S. military statement said one U.S. soldier died in the fighting. The statement added that U.S. fighter jets and attack helicopters hit insurgent positions after a U.S. patrol came under attack.

On 22 July, three neo-Taliban commanders were captured in a joint operation by the ANA and U.S.-led coalition forces in Oruzgan, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 23 July. The commander of Military Corps 208 of ANA, Major General Mohammad Moslem Hamid, named the three as Mullah Daud, Mullah Jalil, and Mullah Sa'dullah.

According to Hamid, "500 propaganda leaflets" and some ammunition was also captured during the raid.

Two days later, Afghan security forces arrested 12 suspected neo-Taliban fighters in Zabol Province, south of Oruzgan, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 26 July.

According to Golabshah Alikhayl, a spokesman for the Zabol governor, "security forces arrested 10 Taliban fighters who entered Shinkai District from across the border in Pakistan on 10 motorcycles." Alikhayl added that two other Taliban fighters were arrested, both in possession of arms.

Meanwhile, without providing details, the official Bakhtar News Agency on 27 July quoted the Afghan Defense Ministry that internal disputes have arisen within the leadership of the neo-Taliban leadership.

While counterinsurgency operations against suspected neo-Taliban elements and their allies have intensified, the Afghan government has been quiet regarding its reconciliation program to reintegrate former Taliban and insurgents fighting under the banner of the ousted regime. (Amin Tarzi)

The leader of the ousted Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar, called on supporters of the ousted Taliban regime to put aside their differences and "continue jihad against the invaders" in an audio message released on 25 July, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" reported.

If the tape is authentic, it marks the first time Mohammad Omar has sent an audio message, "The News" commented. Neo-Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi (also known as Latifullah Hakimi) told "The News" that the "tape is to prove that Mullah Omar is alive" and to contradict "rumors" spread by anti-Taliban forces that he has been killed.

The speaker on the tape says the neo-Taliban has formed two military councils to coordinate the militia's activities and has expanded the group's leadership council from 10 to 18 members. Each military council comprises 14 members, Hakimi told AIP on 25 July.

The voice asserts that the West has "invaded us and we resisted the aggression, but now we are on the offensive," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 25 July.

Still on the political front, literature in the name of the Taliban has appeared in eastern Afghanistan in which the militia is purportedly demanding funds from individuals or groups to further their activities, Pajhwak reported on 27 July.

Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Deobandi, described by Pajhwak as a senior figure in the movement, acknowledged the existence of a fund-raising campaign by neo-Taliban elements. "Despite Taliban's unflinching belief in Allah's help, they are also reliant on people's support for resolving their cash problems," Abdul Rahman told Pajhwak, who added that such requests have been made from Afghans in different parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the neo-Taliban continued their terrorist activities by killing a judge in Panjwai District of southern Kandahar Province on 23 July, AIP reported.

Panjwai district chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi told AIP that Ne'matullah, who was appointed in early July, was killed by "three or four armed people who were riding motorcycles" while he was walking to a mosque.

The neo-Taliban have taken responsibility Hakimi for killing Qazi Ne'matullah.

Abdul Jabbar, the district chief of Chahar Chino in Oruzgan, and three of his bodyguards were killed when their vehicle was blown up by a remote-control explosive device on 30 July, Pajhwak reported the next day. Hakimi told Pajhwak that the militia carried out the attack.

Earlier on 23 July, Hakimi claimed that the militia had killed an election official and a government administrator in two separate attacks in Kandahar, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, the head of the election affairs office in Mohmand village in Daman District as well as the administrator of Shah Wali Kot District were killed.

Two policemen and a civilian were wounded on 25 July in a blast that occurred in the Makroyan area of Kabul, Afghan Voice Agency reported. Hakimi claimed responsibility for the blast, which he said killed four people, Pajhwak reported on 25 July.

In a statement issued on 28 July, the Ulema Council of Afghanistan called on all opponents of the Afghan government to stop violence in the country.

The religious scholars specifically called for a halt to the killing of their colleagues. Recently, several high-level pro-government ulema have been killed or attacked, most often in southern or eastern Afghanistan. In their statement, the ulema, without specifically naming any country, called on religious scholars of neighboring countries to help prevent terrorists from carrying out their plans in Afghanistan. Mawlawi Fazl Ahmad Ma'nawi, a member of the council, said that the statement has been endorsed by representatives of ulema from all of Afghanistan's provinces.

Meanwhile, Major General Jason Kamiya, a senior U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, warned on 1 August that the neo-Taliban could further escalate their disruptive activities as the date of the Afghan elections, scheduled for 18 September, draws closer. "They are targeting [Afghan] government officials and religious scholars. We are seeing an increased threat of the rebels using suicide bombers and child soldiers," Kamiya said of the neo-Taliban.

Enemies of Afghanistan's government know that the elections are a crucial step in establishing a stable future for the country and therefore are expected to put up a fight to disrupt the polls.

Prior to the October 2004 presidential election, similar concerns were voiced by Afghan and foreign observers. However, the neo-Taliban did not, or were unable, to launch any large-scale attacks on election day. (Amin Tarzi)

Yakin Erturk, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, says forced marriages are the prime source of violence in Afghanistan. Erturk returned at the end of July from a 10-day visit to Afghanistan, where she met with judges, prosecutors, aid workers, and women living in shelters and prisons. In an interview with RFE/RL, Erturk says violence against women -- in both private and public life -- remains dramatic in Afghanistan.

Erturk, a sociology professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, was appointed to the UN human rights post in August 2003.

Since then, she has visited a number of countries, including Russia, Iran, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, and most recently Afghanistan.

Professor Erturk told RFE/RL that among all these countries, Afghanistan faces perhaps the most daunting challenge in terms of women's rights. She said poverty, lack of education, and the damage left by decades of conflict are often cited as the prime causes for the current situation in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is very unique in terms of the destruction it has experienced, physical as well as social destruction. All of the countries that I have been to have a working system -- we may not be satisfied with the way it is working, we may be critical of the legislative structure, and in many countries of course there is the problem of gender discrimination, but there is at least a system within which one can work and which offers ways to intervene and improve things. In Afghanistan, this is lacking," Erturk said.

During her trip to Afghanistan, Erturk visited Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar, and met with government and judiciary officials, as well as members of nongovernmental organizations.

She said the majority of the people she met pointed to forced marriage and child marriages as the primary source of violence against women.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that between 60 percent and 80 percent of marriages in the country are forced marriages that the woman has no right to refuse. Many of those marriages, especially in rural areas, involve girls below the age of 15.

UN rapporteur Erturk said forced marriages make it far more likely that women will be subjected to domestic violence, including sexual abuse.

"Little girls as young as 6 years old can be married off in return for bride money, and of course this is a very exploitative, vulnerable situation. So this seems to be the root of the problem, but of course we have to put it in the context of Afghanistan's overall destruction, where not only physical infrastructure but the social fabric of the society has been seriously damaged. All protective mechanisms have withered away. So a rule of power has really become reinforced at all levels. And of course, women and children -- who hold the least power -- have suffered the most," Erturk said.

Erturk said that for the majority of Afghan girls and women, there is no alternative to enduring the violence they encounter. Afghanistan's law-enforcement and judicial systems offer no special protection from female victims of violence, and officials often subject such women to humiliation before returning them to the abusive environments from which they are trying to escape.

Many of the women in the country's prisons are wives who have run away from home or been charged with adultery. Erturk said these women have little reason to expect their lives will improve.

"When a woman is away from home, even if it's not her fault, her reentry into normal life is very difficult, because she's already been tarnished with a stigma that she is no longer pure -- especially the runaways, who have dared to run away from their husbands or their abusive fathers. They have no place to go," Erturk said.

Despite the devastating statistics about violence and abuse against women and Afghanistan, the UN rapporteur told RFE/RL that some progress has been seen in the country during the past three years.

She said Afghanistan's new constitution, which calls for equal rights between men and women, is a "promising sign."

"The constitution also places a responsibility on the government to comply with international human rights law, and there is also a quota system for women in the electoral process. In addition to this, they have created the Ministry for Women's Affairs, which is doing considerable work, but it needs to be strengthened. Another very positive sign I found was the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which is doing really invaluable work in defending human rights and providing options for people who are searching for help," Erturk said.

Erturk said the elimination of violence against women should become a priority in Afghanistan.

She said she believes that those involved in organizing child marriages should be prosecuted and punished. She also said that international aid to Afghanistan should be contingent on respect for human rights and protection for women and children. She said the global community entered Afghanistan with a lot of commitments and moral claims. Now, she suggested, it's time to deliver results. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

27 July 1964 -- Afghan cabinet approves new Constitution.

28 July 1992 -- Sebghatullah Mojaddedi surrenders Afghan presidency in favor of Burhanuddin Rabbani.

28 July 2000 -- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar forbids the cultivation of opium poppies.

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