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Afghan Report: August 15, 2005

15 August 2005, Volume 4, Number 23
By Amin Tarzi

In a commentary titled "Who Is The Taliban Spokesman?" in early August, the government-owned Kabul daily "Anis" questioned how the militants opposing the Afghan government can have a specific spokesman who is seemingly able to communicate with the media with ease from Pakistan. Calling the "freedom of action accredited" to the spokesman "a controversial matter," "Anis" asked why he has not been silenced.

Death Of The Taliban, Rise Of The Neo-Taliban

Since the demise of the Taliban regime in December 2001, remnants and loyalists of that regime, disenchanted Pashtuns, religious conservatives, and increasingly criminals involved in Afghanistan's flourishing narcotics business joined forces to terrorize parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. This loose coalition -- the neo-Taliban -- has its bases of operation in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. And according to Kabul, they continue to receive assistance from elements within the Pakistani military, intelligence, and religious establishments.

The neo-Taliban began their disruptive activities against the Afghan government and its foreign backers in 2002 in a rather disorganized fashion and without any announced structural cohesion.

It was not until early in 2003 that the neo-Taliban issued a public statement of their intentions. In February 2003, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) cited a fatwa signed by "Amir al-Mo'menin, the Servant of Islam, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahed" saying that some 1,600 "prominent scholars from around Afghanistan" adopted two common articles.

The first article stipulated that it was every Muslim's duty to wage jihad "at a time when America has invaded Islam's limits and the Muslim and oppressed nation of Afghanistan." The second article warned that anyone who "helps the aggressive infidels and joins their ranks under any name or task" deserved death.

The statement requested the "Muslim people of Afghanistan" to either wage jihad against the U.S. forces or, if they were unable to join in the struggle, to separate themselves from the Americans, "their allies and their puppet that Muslims are differentiated from Christians."

Finally, the statement warned that after the issuance of the fatwa, people working with the coalition or the Afghan administration headed by Hamid Karzai would "be considered Christians by God and [by] the Muslims," and they would face punishment "in accordance with human society and by the mujahedin of Islam and the scholars."

In June, Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed, who purported be the spokesman for the neo-Taliban, announced the formation of a 10-member leadership council. Three months later, Hamed Agha again reported the establishment of a 10-member leadership council under the chairmanship of Mullah Omar and claimed that he had been appointed as the neo-Taliban spokesman.

Since then, several people have claimed to be speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, often in contradictory terms. The list of people who have purported to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban includes, in addition to Mojahed and Hamed Agha: Mullah Abdul Samad, Mohammad Amin, Saif al-Adl, Ustad Mohammad Yasir, and the person mentioned by "Anis," Mufti Latifullah Hakimi.

In February 2004, refuting some comments made by Saif al-Adl, the neo-Taliban faxed a statement to several news organizations naming Hamed Agha as the movement's only authorized spokesman (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). Increasingly in 2004, Hakimi emerged as the person speaking for the neo-Taliban and unlike Hamed Agha, who usually faxed his statements to news organizations, Hakimi began giving telephone interviews, beginning with Pakistan-based news organizations and then to other outlets, including Western and Kabul-based media.

In December 2004, AIP quoted Hakimi as saying that Mohammad Yasir "has replaced Hamed Agha as the head of the Taliban cultural council." According to "Islam," a jihadist daily published in Karachi, in January 2005 Mohammad Yasir was appointed the chief spokesman for the neo-Taliban while Hakimi was made his assistant. Whereas Mohammad Yasir has appeared on an Arabic television network, Hakimi has been the main voice of the neo-Taliban since the latter half of 2004.

Who Is The Neo-Taliban Spokesman?

Hakimi -- whose first names have appeared in various sources as "Latif," "Abdul Latif," and "Latifullah," and who has been given the religious titles of "mufti," "mawlawi" and "mullah" -- is not an unknown figure. In early 1999, Shari'a Zhagh (Voice of Shari'a) -- the Kabul government radio station during Taliban rule -- mentioned Hakimi as the head of the justice department in the western Herat Province. Later in 1999 and in 2000, Taliban-run media referred to Hakimi as the head of the information and culture department in Herat. In all early references available, Hakimi has been identified as Mufti Latifullah.

The fact that Hakimi was a known personality in the ousted Taliban regime was one of the complaints that "Anis" presented and also one with which the Afghan government has been uncomfortable. In June, Jawed Ludin, who was then spokesman for Afghan President Karzai, called on Islamabad to curb the activities of the neo-Taliban, including their media access. Ludin charged that Hakimi had lived in the Pakistani city of Quetta. In its commentary, "Anis" goes further, charging that Hakimi maintains an office with a "specific" telephone number in Quetta.

Neo-Taliban Media Campaign

Recently the neo-Taliban have not only managed to increase their terrorist and disruptive activities, but have also become bolder in their use of the media.

In April, residents of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar were once again able to hear Shari'a Zhagh from what Hakimi claimed were mobile transmitters (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 May 2005). Although the radio was no longer detected after a few broadcasts, the fact that the neo-Taliban dared to transmit radio waves, even for few hours, was seen by their supporters as an accomplishment.

The neo-Taliban also flirted with a website in July, though it is no longer accessible.

The area where the neo-Taliban have made great strides is in using outside media to portray themselves as a legitimate opposition group in Afghanistan, not a as a terrorist group set on destroying the government. Hakimi seems to have no fear of being found through his telephone number and gives almost daily and lengthy interviews to an array of news organizations.

As "Anis" asks with some surprise, with the available technology to trace the location of telephone calls, why has Hakimi not yet been arrested?

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, leader of the 12-party coalition -- National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM) -- spoke recently with RFE/RL about Afghan foreign relations, in particular with the United States (also see, "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2005). By virtue of securing 16 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential elections, second only to Karzai's 55 percent margin, Qanuni is has become strongest opposition leader in Afghanistan and has been chosen as the leader of JTM, which was formed in late March as the main opposition front against the Karzai government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 April 2005).

Qanuni told RFE/RL that Afghanistan has never before witnessed the level of international support it has since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. He said that the U.S.-led coalition forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) serve the interests of Afghanistan.

Specifically on the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, Qanuni said that his country needs a "strategic partner which could be the United States" to protect Afghanistan from its neighbors. However, he added, it is in Afghanistan's long-term interests to maintain a balance between the United States and EU member states in such a partnership.

Discussing the possibility of the United States establishing a longer-term military presence in Afghanistan based on the declaration of strategic partnership between the two countries signed in May by Karzai and his host, U.S. President George W. Bush, Qanuni said that while he was not opposed to the idea of U.S. military bases in his country, he was concerned about the "wrong Afghan policies of the United States."

Referring to the United States as "our best friend," Qanuni lamented that Washington's Afghan policies are guided by "Pakistani influence" and by those members of the Afghan cabinet who are "holding green cards" -- a reference to members of the Afghan cabinet how have established permanent residency in the United States.

Pakistan Singled Out

Of all of Afghanistan's neighbors, Qanuni singled out Pakistan as the greatest threat to his country's stability. "There are special groups in Pakistan who want to destroy Afghan stability," Qanuni said.

Reviewing the recent history of Afghanistan, specially the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-1990s, Qanuni blamed Islamabad for following a systematic policy of undermining Afghanistan's sovereignty. The successes of the Taliban, emerging as a "bad joke" in 1994 but then emerging to control of Afghanistan by 1996, were not accidental, Qanuni claimed. Returning to the recent increase of insurgent and terrorist acts carried out by the neo-Taliban in cooperation with their allies in Al-Qaeda and Hizb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Qanuni said that what began as "pocket of insurgencies" has been transformed into "fronts." This transformation, Qanuni contended "is not accidental," but a "strategic" plan formulated in Pakistan.

Returning to the issue of U.S. military bases, Qanuni said that Pakistan will not accept a more permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, something that he argued would diminish Islamabad's regional importance.

Faced with the current close ties between Kabul and Washington and challenged with the prospects of warmer U.S.-Indian relations, Pakistan is set on destabilizing Afghanistan, Qanuni concluded.

Gradual Democratization Preferred

Another aspect of U.S. policy in Afghanistan that Qanuni criticized was the rush to democratize and secularize his country.

"The United States wishes to have a 45-year-old newborn," Qanuni said, referring to the expectation that he thought Washington has that Afghanistan quickly match the social and political experience of the United States.

The Afghan opposition leader agreed that there Afghanistan and the United States share some common goals in building democracy in Afghanistan. However he challenged the pace at which this policy is being pushed forward. Democracy has to "grow up from a small tree," rather than by bringing in a fully grown tree and placing it somewhere, Qanuni added.

Qanuni affirmed that Afghan democracy should be secular. However he argued against "the green-card holders" who insist on the immediate secularization of the entire Afghan society. Rhetorically, Qanuni dared those members of the Afghan cabinet who have come from the United States or Europe to walk into any mosque in the most secular city in the country -- Kabul -- and openly call for secularism.

During his conversations, Qanuni reiterated that Afghanistan needs a strategic partnership with the United States and that the coalition he leads does not oppose the possibility of the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

However, he repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the "Afghan policy of the United States" for its purported over-reliance on Pakistan and Afghans who once lived in the West. He said the relationship between Kabul and Washington should not be used for advancing political agendas favored by these Afghans. He concluded that Washington's policies in Afghanistan would be better served if it abandoned supporting a single individual, Karzai -- whom he accused of promoting an ethnic agenda -- and focused on a broader relationship with a greater number of Afghans. (Amin Tarzi)

An unnamed Pakistani government official said on 3 August that Islamabad has decided to move Afghan refugees living in and around the Pakistani capital through voluntary repatriation or by relocating their camps to other areas of Pakistan, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 4 August. Additionally, the UN said Pakistan will close all Afghan refugee camps in tribal areas by 31 August. The UN said those closings will mean some 105,000 refugees being sent back to Afghanistan.

The decision to move the Afghans in and around the capital was made during a meeting headed by Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao and it was made for security reasons, the source told "Dawn."

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has formed a committee headed by Sherpao to shift the Afghans out of an area that covers Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The committee is also to conduct a survey of Afghan-owned businesses and matrimonial relations between Afghan refugees and Pakistani nationals.

Sherpao on 8 August gave further detail saying that the three Afghan refugee camps will be relocated or their inhabitants repatriated between 15 August and 1 September, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Sherpao said the other camps slated for closure are in Kurram and Bajour tribal agencies close to the border with Afghanistan.

If the Afghan refugees in these three camps do not repatriate to their country, "or voluntarily shift to other camps within the deadline we shall have no other choice than to shift them," Sherpao threatened.

Engineer Omarzada, an official at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad who oversees Afghan refugees, said on 9 August that Pakistan failed to consult Afghanistan regarding a deadline it imposed for the removal of refugees from the Islamabad region, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Omarzada said that Sherpao had given assurances that Afghan officials would be consulted before any such deadline was imposed.

According to Pajhwak Afghan News, the deadline for the removal of refugees in Islamabad region has been set for 15 September.

Sherpao on 8 August said that other "stakeholders involved in the repatriation and relocation process have also agreed to" Islamabad's decision.

Over one million Afghan refugees are estimated to still be living in more than 100 camps throughout Pakistan while one and half million Afghan are living in Pakistani towns, the Islamabad daily "The News" noted on 8 August.

The timing of the decision by Pakistan to send the refugees to Afghanistan so close to the crucial 18 September election, has been questioned by observers as the issue has become yet another contentious issue between Kabul and Islamabad. (Amin Tarzi)

In Central Asia, as in much of the Muslim world, religious education is carried out in institutions known as madrasahs. Those institutions can be on a university-size scale, as in some of the ancient but still functioning madrasahs in Bukhara, or in premises as small as a village schoolroom. Today, after decades of decline under communism or due to war in Afghanistan, madrasahs throughout the region are reviving as a central part of Muslim life.

In a madrasah in Ghazni, south-central Afghanistan, a turbaned and bearded teacher sits on the floor of a bare classroom, surrounded by a half-circle of young men aged 16 to 21.

The teacher is Mawlawi Hajji Mohammad, a local cleric who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. At this moment, he is teaching a class in the "Hadith," that is the collection of sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammad. The Hadith and the Koran make up the Sunna, the base of Islamic law.

Mawlawi Mohammad chooses a boy to read a passage in Arabic and corrects his mistakes. Then the teacher reads the text in Pashto: "Rafi bin Khudaig narrates that when Prophet Mohammed came to Medina, he found people there artificially inseminating date palms, and you know Medina was a place of date palms, gardens, and wide agriculture.

"While referring to the artificial insemination, the Prophet --Peace Be Upon Him -- asked the people, �why are you doing that?"

"�This has been our custom for a long time,� the people answered.

"�It may be better if you leave them without artificially inseminating them,� Prophet Muhammad said."

The teacher interprets the passage�s meaning. He says the Prophet was only giving a personal opinion to the farmers and never claimed people should follow his guidance on nonspiritual questions. That left the final decision for the farmers to make based on their own best judgment.

The scene in Mawlawi Mohammad�s classroom repeats across Central Asia, where madrasahs provide religious education to thousands of students. The students range from early school-age to university-age, and some will go on to become clerics and religious scholars in their own turn.

The scene is also timeless, reproducing many of the details seen in Persian miniatures dating to the Middle Ages. One such miniature shows a classroom inside a mosque complex. There is a small garden with a pool of water. The students and teachers study together and prepare together for prayer.

Historians say the madrasah system was once widely established in the region from Naishapur in Khorasan, to Balkh and Bukhara in Central Asia. Today it remains widespread in Afghanistan and is progressively returning to many of the Central Asian states, with the exception of Turkmenistan. There the government has actively discouraged madrasahs as part of its efforts to control Islam.

Madrasah studies traditionally focus on religious law, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, classic logic, literature, and interpretation of the Koran. Some also teach mathematics and the discoveries of the classic Muslim astronomers.

In recent years, some Central Asian states have also encouraged madrasahs to broaden their curriculum to include studies of modern sciences and to offer some educational opportunities for girls.

Dr. Abdul Hakim Jowzjani, professor of law at Tashkent Islamic University, says the madrasah system produced some of the greatest scholars of Islam�s golden age of science (the 8th to 16th centuries on the Western calendar).

"Very famous scholars of theological law, history, grammar, literature, Arabic language and practical science, like Abu Raihan Beruni, Avicenna, Abu Sahl Masihi, and hundreds others belong to the region. They were very famous in the Islamic world, and some of them are well-known by international standards -- like Abu Musa al-Khwarazmi, the founder of algebra," Jowzjani says.

But if the madrasahs once fostered scientific as well as religious studies, over time they gradually became more exclusively focused on theology.

Dr Abdul Salaam Azimi, a former president of Kabul University, explains to RFE/RL: "The interpretation which says that the practical sciences, like chemistry, physics, and algebra, do not belong in religious teachings prevailed. The scholars believed that they were not obliged to study [the practical sciences] any more, and that the only [necessary] knowledge is religious knowledge."

He adds that some scholars event went to the extreme of arguing that if God cures all diseases, there is no need for medicine.

Other factors � including foreign invasion and domination -- also contributed to the madrasahs' decline as centers of broad learning. Professor Jowzjani says they included civil wars and the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. A renaissance in the 14th to 16th centuries was followed by Russian colonization of much of Central Asia and, finally, the marginalization of religious institutions under communism.

"National and religious institutions sustained big blows and losses during the expeditions of Russia into the region and following the creation of the Bolshevik state," Jowzjani says. "Large [collections chronicling] achievements in the arts and science were looted, books were closely monitored, the people who had books with red or yellow pages [religious books] used to be taken to court, or sent to exile in Siberia or, if the book was about religious doctrine the owner used to face even harder punishments."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both governments in the region and Da'wah groups (private Islamic charitable organizations) elsewhere in the Muslim world provided money for restoring and reopening madrasahs. That created a competition for influence in which regional governments said foreign groups were seeking to spread fundamentalist Islam to the region. Most governments have since taken over, or put tight restrictions on, all madrasahs on their territory.

The tight restrictions reflect some governments� view that madrasahs can become centers of extremism should their directors hold radical views. In Uzbekistan, some directors have been removed from their posts. Madrasahs have also been barred from receiving funding from states like Saudi Arabia, which are perceived as promoting a fundamentalist form of Islam potentially threatening to the status quo.

In Uzbekistan, Tashkent limits religious school graduates to competing for positions as imams in state-controlled mosques. Their studies are not considered adequate to enter the state�s civil bureaucracy, in contrast to graduates of the secular state education system�s Islamic University of Tashkent.

By contrast, in Afghanistan some madrasahs are not controlled by the government and are funded by local charities. Their graduates can become imams, judges in the national legal system, which is based on Shari'a law, or teachers in religious schools. (Sarwar Sultan - RFE/RL's Afghan Service stringer Jawad Omiad contributed to this report.)

8 August 1965 -- First census of Kabul finds population of 435,203.

8 August 1987 -- Soviet troops begin withdrawing from Kabul.

7 August 1998 -- Car bombs destroy U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attacks are blamed on Osama bin Laden, residing in Afghanistan.

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