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Afghan Report: November 28, 2005

28 November 2005, Volume 4, Number 28
Afghan voters went to the polls in mid-September to elect representatives to the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the Afghan National Assembly. At the same time, and with a fraction of the international attention afforded the national legislative contests, they picked members of Afghanistan's 34 provincial councils from among some 3,000 candidates.

While the functions of the 249 members of the national People's Council are enumerated to large degree in the country's constitution, the functions of the provincial councils remain largely unclear. Until the duties and authorities of those provincial bodies are more firmly enumerated and their members given official space in which to operate, there is a risk that a potentially effective mechanism for local government might be forever marginalized -- and an opportunity lost.

Both the National Assembly and the provincial councils are expected to begin their work around the beginning of December, after the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) announces the final certified results of the polls, which is expected next week.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stipulates in Article 138 that "a provincial council is to be formed" in each of country's 34 provinces that should "take part in securing the developmental targets of the state and improving its affairs in a way stated by law" and give "advice on important issues falling within the domain" of each province.

The article adds that the councils are to perform "their duties in cooperation with the provincial administration."

The JEMB website ( likewise states that the "provincial council will take part in the development and improvement of the province and advise the provincial administration on related issues."

The breakdown of membership of the provincial councils is based on the population of each province, with a requirement that at least one-quarter of the members of each council be women. Provinces with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants will form nine-member councils; provinces with 500,000 to 1 million inhabitants, 15-members councils; provinces with 1 million to 2 million inhabitants, 19-member councils; provinces with 2 million to 3 million, 23-member councils; and provinces with more than 3 million inhabitants will have 29-member councils.

The provincial councils will have a direct impact on the make-up of the National Assembly, as each of the 34 councils will select one delegate to send to the 102-member upper chamber of the National Assembly, the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga). Moreover, according to the constitution, an additional one-third of the House of Elders is to be selected from the members of district councils. However, the election of those councils has been postponed indefinitely because of disagreements drawing the district boundaries. As a result, the cabinet decided recently to fill the district council seats in the House of Elders temporarily with additional representatives from the provincial councils. Those members should be replaced by district-council representatives as soon as those bodies are formed.

Under the constitution, provincial council members who are selected to join the House of Elders will forfeit their seats on the local body and be replaced by the candidate of the same gender who received the next highest number of votes. According to the cabinet's decision, those provincial-council members who temporarily assume district-council seats in the House of Elders will be temporarily replaced on the provincial councils until they return to the local body.

Draft papers outlining the responsibilities and powers of the provincial councils were circulated among Kabul's power elite and representatives of donor states through the summer, and the final version was released in August, less than a month before the elections. Most Afghans, therefore, went to the polls on 18 September and voted for provincial council members with little idea of exactly what those councils would be empowered to do. Even in the document that was accepted in August, the outlined responsibilities of the provincial councils remain disturbingly vague.

While much of the attention in Afghanistan has been focused on power plays surrounding the National Assembly, the country's most significant local representative organ -- the provincial council -- is in danger of becoming a marginalized institution. The firmly entrenched positions of many of the country's provincial governors, with whom the councils will have to contend and cooperate, further highlight that risk.

It seems clear that the framers of the Afghan Constitution sought to steer the country toward a highly centralized state. However, if the provincial councils had more a clearly defined role and stronger authorities, they could become a powerful democratic force -- bringing the center into closer contact the periphery and fostering a genuine feeling of connection between average Afghans and the structures of government. (Amin Tarzi)

The Court of Law in The Hague sentenced two former Afghan generals in mid-October to imprisonment for war crimes committed in Afghanistan and violating the Torture Act and the Dutch War Crimes Act. The case can be a prelude to more arrests and could have an unintended influence on the soon-to-be convened National Assembly of Afghanistan.

According to a press release on 17 October from the National Policy Agency of the Netherlands, the two men -- Hesamuddin Hesam and Habibullah Jalalzoy -- had applied for asylum in the Netherlands, where they have been residing since 1992 and 1996, respectively. Both men were sentenced for involvement in torture while working for military intelligence when Afghanistan was ruled by the Soviet-backed communist regime.

Hesam, who was the director of the Military KhAD, or Khad-e Nezami (KhAD was the acronym for State Intelligence Service) from 1982 until 1990 and also served as the deputy intelligence minister was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Jalalzoy was head of the interrogations department of the Military KhAD from 1979 until 1990 and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

According to the Dutch court, Hesam had knowledge of the practice of torture, was involved in torture, and did not act to prevent the torture, while Jalalzoy was actively involved in torture.

Criminal investigations involving the two Afghans began in 2003 leading to the arrest of Hesam a year later. According to the press release, during the investigation the Dutch National Crimes Squad spoke with witnesses in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Norway, and Afghanistan.

The sentencing of the two former Afghan communist generals in the Netherlands follows sentencing of a former Afghan warlord to 20 years imprisonment by a British court in London in July on charges of torture and hostage taking.

Zardad Sarwar Faryadi, a former member of the radical Hizb-e Islami party, was convicted of crimes he committed while in the Sarubi area along the road from Kabul to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996. After the fall of the communist government in 1992, former mujahedin resistance groups turned their guns against one another in a bloody fight for power, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and chaos.

In Faryadi's case, which was tried based on the UN Convention on Torture, witnesses testified via a video link from the British Embassy in Kabul. Following Faryadi's conviction, Nader Naderi, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told RFE/RL that he welcomed the British action as a positive step "toward increasing [the Afghan] people's trust in the peace process in Afghanistan and ending impunity."

The conviction of two communist generals and a mujahedin commander on torture charges in two European countries could have consequences inside Afghanistan, and even in the National Assembly which was elected on 18 September and is due to begin its work soon.

While Afghan and international human rights organizations have called for a mechanism under which those who are accused of committing crimes against humanity on a mass scale during 25 years can be brought to trial, the Afghan authorities have taken no organized steps to address this issue. The cases in the Netherlands and in Britain could make it more difficult for Kabul to avoid acting on this potentially divisive issue much longer.

Moreover, and perhaps more challenging, is the fact that among the representatives who will be sitting in the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the country's National Assembly, there are a few who have records that seem to link them directly with torture and other crimes against the Afghan people. If Afghanistan is ever to heal the wounds of its past, the legislative assembly that must lead such an effort could have to begin by examining its own members. Alternatively, these few members of the People's Council may become a factor in convincing their colleagues to let bygones be bygones. Under such a scenario, those who were victims of such crimes must either forgive their tormentors and move on or try to raise their cases in foreign countries in their quest for some measure of justice. (Amin Tarzi)

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on 24 October announced the extradition of alleged drug kingpin Baz Mohammad from Afghanistan to the United States on charges of heroin trafficking.

Baz Mohammad is suspected of having manufactured and distributed some $25 million worth of heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as arranging for the drug to be imported into the United States and other countries. Earlier this year, his name was included by the Bush administration in the so-called Foreign Narcotic Kingpin Designation Act.

"We've made history today," a DEA statement quotes agency administrator Karen Tandy as having said in New York on 24 October, while being flanked by Major General Sayyed Kamal Sadat, the director-general of Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Police.

The Afghan authorities, however, were less upbeat. On 25 October, Afghan presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told a news conference in Kabul that Baz Mohammad's extradition was a routine issue involving a person who was on "the international criminal list." Rahimi did not discuss details of the case or whether the decision by his government to extradite one individual reflected a change in the policy that has so far not allowed the extradition of Afghan citizens. Article 28 of the Afghan Constitution that was approved in January 2004 states, "No citizen of Afghanistan accused of a crime can be extradited to a foreign state unless according to mutual agreements and international conventions that Afghanistan has joined."

Baz Mohammad's is not the only case involving an Afghan citizen with narcotics-related charges pending in the United States in which Afghan authorities have either chosen to stay on the sidelines or tried hard to disassociate their country from involvement in the case.

In the DEA's case against Baz Mohammad, Bashir Rahmani is mentioned as someone who was "among other things" responsible for distribution of heroin produced by Baz Mohammad's organization. According to the DEA, Rahmani was arrested in New York in July and "remains in custody awaiting trail."

The Afghan authorities have made little mention of Rahmani's arrest; nor has the DEA detailed the way Rahmani ended up in New York or whether Afghan authorities have provided any assistance in the case.

When the United States announced in April that it had arrested Bashir Nurzai, who has been on the U.S. kingpin list since 2004, in New York, the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry issued a statement that emphasized that the arrest was made on U.S. territory and did not indicate Afghan involvement in the case. At the time, the case marked the most significant arrest to date of a major player in Afghanistan's growing narcotics industry.

After welcoming Nurzai's arrest, the Counternarcotics Ministry, in its April statement, noted that Kabul "with support of the international community, is committed to the fight against narcotics, and is working hard to reform law enforcement, the judicial sector, and prisons to ensure more and more people like Bashir Nurzai are arrested, prosecuted, and [imprisoned] here in Afghanistan."

The ineffectiveness of the Afghan counternarcotics police -- in a country plagued by inadequate law enforcement -- is unsurprising. And Afghanistan's judicial sector is arguably in worse shape. But despite such shortcomings, Afghanistan can do more to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate major drug lords on its own. While trying to avoid the perception that they are totally dependent on foreign countries to rein in drug lords, Afghan officials have shied away from taking such steps.

Perhaps Afghanistan's counternarcotics efforts were instrumental in both Nurzai's and Rahmani's cases, but Kabul chose not to take credit for political reasons. It is possible -- and seemingly more plausible -- that these two men did not fly to New York to be arrested but rather were extradited (like Baz Mohammad) or arrested in or around Afghanistan by Afghan or foreign law-enforcement agents.

The fact that Afghanistan has decided publicly to extradite Baz Mohammad to the United States is unprecedented. The true test, however, will be whether representatives in the new Afghan National Assembly will be prepared to name and prosecute major drug kingpins -- even if some of those individuals have links to, or are part of, the very institutions that should by trying to put them out of business. (Amin Tarzi)

In an unprecedented interview in Kabul with a reporter from Tel Aviv daily "Yedi'ot Aharonot," Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted at a desire to establish formal relations with Israel. While the euphoria that accompanied presumptions of imminent full diplomatic relations was quickly tempered by preconditions, the warming of ties between Afghanistan and Israel sets Kabul's policies in sharp contrast to those of neighboring Iran, where President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

In the interview, which was conducted on 7 October but published a week later, Karzai welcomed Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and said that once "there is further progress [in the Mideast peace process], and the Palestinians begin to get a state of their own, Afghanistan will be glad to have full relations with Israel." Furthermore, while Karzai ruled out meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Afghanistan or in Israel, he said he hoped to meet the Israeli leader "somewhere else...soon." Karzai also revealed the he had met Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres "several times," referring to him as "a dear man, a real warrior for peace."

One day after the publication of Karzai's interview, Lahore's "Daily Times" quoted a report by Pakistan's ARY news channel asserting that Kabul had decided to recognize Israel, with an official announcement forthcoming "in the next few days." While official Israeli reaction to news of an imminent establishment of formal ties with Afghanistan was muted, "The Jerusalem Post" on 16 October quoted unidentified "senior diplomatic" sources as saying that they were pleased with events but "not surprised."

Also on 16 October, the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" quoted unnamed Israeli political sources as saying such a move by Kabul would represent "another important step on the road to recognition of Israel by the Muslim world."

Karzai spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi clarified his country's position regarding the issue on 18 October, saying that Afghanistan would not recognize until an independent Palestinian state had been established.

Unidentified Israeli sources indicated that they clearly understood the pressure that Kabul was under from the Arab and Muslim world and that no one in official circles had thought it realistic that Kabul would officially recognize Jerusalem immediately. However, "Yedi'ot Aharonot" quoted sources as having acknowledged the existence of a dialogue between the two countries and said the process would be a long one.

In contrast to Karzai's seemingly warm words for Israel, Iranian President Ahmadinejad on 26 October called at a conference in Tehran called "A World Without Zionism" for the destruction of the state of Israel. During the conference and without mentioning the Afghan leader by name, IRNA reported, Ahmadinezhad warned countries or leaders who had taken steps to "acknowledge the Zionist regime under pressure or due to lack of sound understanding that they will be confronted with the wrath of the Islamic ummah [community] and will forever be disgraced."

The Iranian president called that Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip a "trick" aimed at encouraging Islamic states to recognize Israel.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 28 October, senior Karzai adviser Dadfar Sepanta declined to discuss Ahmadinezhad's comments regarding Israel. But Sepanta said that Afghanistan's position was that "a policy of eliminating nations or states helps neither regional peace nor international stability." Sepanta said he views Israel "as a reality" like all other states. Israel has "the right to live in peace with their neighbors, just as the Islamic Republic of Iran has the right to live without any foreign threat," he added.

It would undoubtedly take some time for Afghanistan to recognize Israel, as the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis remains unfinished business. But the Afghan government's desire to break the ice and its willingness to engage the Israeli media -- and the prospect of possible contacts with Israeli leaders -- have clearly placed it on a drastically different platform than the Iranian government. In light of the increasingly vociferous Iranian condemnation of the presence of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with Kabul proclaiming policies so markedly different from Tehran's, Karzai's government might have to brace itself for the "wrath" of its western neighbor in the form of greater interference or even attempts to destabilize Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

A request by a lawyer of a U.S. soldier led to the identification of Omar al-Faruq as one of the four suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists who managed to escape in July from the U.S. detention facility at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, leading to calls for better security at Bagram and leaving a sense of unease in Indonesia, where al-Faruq had mainly operated.

On 11 July, the four escaped from Bagram, the main base for more than 18,000 U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan and also the detention center for most of the some 500 terror suspects held in Afghanistan by U.S. forces.

The four escapees were identified as threats to Afghan and international security by the United States, which conducted a massive but unsuccessful manhunt to recapture them. The subsequent arrests made in an attempt to recapture the four apparently led to large protests on 26 July at the gates of Bagram Air Base by locals protesting the detention of a number of people, including a local commander.

Three days after their escape Mullah Mahmud, who identified himself as the neo-Taliban's commander in southern Afghanistan, claimed that the four were in good health and were with Afghan militants. While the possibility of al-Faruq making his way back to Indonesia remains a dangerous possibility, it is more conceivable that he may have joined the remnants of Al-Qaeda in or around Afghanistan or has made his way back to his country of heritage, Iraq.

The four escapees were identified as Muhammad Ja'far Jamal (al-Misradi) al-Qahtani (also known as Abu-Nasir al-Qahtani), from Saudi Arabia; Abdullah al-Hashemi (or Abu-Abdullah al-Shami) from Syria; Mahmud Ahmad Muhammad (or Al-Faruq al-Iraqi) from Kuwait; and Muhammad Hasan (also known as Abu-Yahya) from Libya.

In October, a Jihadist website showcased al-Qahtani, who is supposed to have participated in two beheadings in Iraq and also operated against U.S. forces in the eastern Afghan province of Khost with the Taliban, among other activities. Also in October, Doha-based Al-Jazeera television broadcast a videotape showing all four of the Bagram escapees discussing their breakout.

In August, the U.S. military blamed failings by guards and their supervisors to follow standard operating procedures for the escape from Bagram.

As the Bagram jailbreak began to become history, a military lawyer defending a U.S. serviceman accused of abusing prisoners in Bagram requested on 1 November the presence of al-Faruq as part of his client's defense.

It was at this point that Omar al-Faruq's full identity became known. Al-Faruq was born to Iraqi parents in Kuwait and known to be the main Al-Qaeda representative in Southeast Asia. He was arrested by the Indonesian government in June 2002 and almost immediately transferred to U.S. custody, which took him to Bagram. While in Indonesia, al-Faruq allegedly liaised between Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda sympathizers in Southeast Asia and reportedly was able to unite several militant Islamist groups in that region. While in U.S. custody, al-Faruq apparently cooperated with his interrogators, providing them with information about possible attacks in Southeast Asia and the United States coinciding with the first anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. His information prompted the United States to issue its first code-orange terror alert.

Information that al-Faruq was among the four who escaped from Bagram has worried Indonesia, which has asked Washington why it did not inform Jakarta that al-Faruq was on the loose. The revelation about al-Faruq has also prompted U.S. authorities to discuss the jailbreak in Bagram and talk about improvements in securing the detention facility.

While the possibility of al-Faruq can make his way back to Indonesia remains a dangerous possibility, it is more conceivable that he may have joined the remnants of Al-Qaeda in or around Afghanistan or has made his country of heritage, Iraq. Wherever he is, the jailbreak at Bagram could become a very costly incident. (Amin Tarzi)