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Afghan Report: January 8, 2004

8 January 2004, Volume 3, Number 1
By Golnaz Esfandiari

After three weeks of often contentious debate, Afghanistan's new constitution -- the country's seventh written constitution -- was approved by consensus rather than through a vote.

On 4 January, a majority of the 502 delegates signaled their endorsement of the constitution by silently standing in a huge tent on the outskirts of Kabul. The agreement was a relief for the Afghan government and its allies.

Acrimonious debate, ethnic divisions, and, particularly, the boycott of the voting process on 1 January by more than 40 percent of the delegates had sparked fears that agreement would not be reached.

On 3 January, the UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held closed-door negotiations with rival delegates in order to get the assembly back on track. A compromise agreement was reached, and the constitution was approved.

Dadfar Sepanta is a professor of political science at Aachen University in Germany and an expert on Afghanistan. He considers the Constitutional Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, a success for the people of Afghanistan because it makes the government accountable and guarantees their rights. "The ratification of the constitution is a huge success for the Afghan people for several reasons," he said. "First of all, the structure of the Afghan government, the governmental institutions, also the performance of the government and the rights of the Afghan citizens will have a legal framework."

After more than two decades of war, Sepanta says the fact that delegates representing different ethnic groups and minorities in Afghanistan were able to sit and discuss the constitution should also be considered a victory. "Despite all the difficulties of the past 24 years, where Afghans solved their problems with force and guns, this time -- with the help of the international community -- they could, during 22 days, in a peaceful manner have a dialogue with each other, talk and discuss," he said.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has said the new constitution reflects the views of all Afghans. He also told the assembly: "There is no winner or loser. Everybody has won."

Analysts, however, say Karzai has emerged as the main winner, since the strong presidential system he advocated was finally approved. After much debate, little was changed from the original draft. Rivals of Karzai, led by former mujahedin commanders who wanted to curb the president's powers, did manage to strengthen parliament with amendments granting veto power over key presidential appointments and policies. The president will also have two vice presidents.

Vikram Parekh, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Kabul, raises doubts over whether the new constitution ultimately will be supported by different factions within Afghanistan. "It was a success for...Karzai, and it's also a success for the United States, which was backing him wholeheartedly in this particular respect," he said. "But in terms of whether it will be a document that will be inclusive and gain the support of the different sections of the population, that I'm much more doubtful of."

The main split at the assembly was between two groups -- the Pashtun supporters of Karzai's government and the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other smaller ethnic groups led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Islamic conservative Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf. The status of languages was one of the main issues that delayed the agreement. Dari and Pashto will be the two official languages, but northern minority languages have been granted official status in their strongholds.

Sepanta says the ethnic divides that emerged at the Loya Jirga could bode ill for the future. "The problem is that politics in Afghanistan -- particularly in the last 24 years and specifically in the last week [during the Loya Jirga] -- had a strong ethnic and tribal color," he said. "It means that those ethnic issues that exist in Afghanistan's structure became a political and ideological tool."

Sepanta added: "If these [ethnic issues] are not overcome democratically, then my concern is that the warlords and politicians will take advantage of the ethnic differences, and this is unfortunately the only way you can mobilize people. It's not possible anymore to mobilize people in the name of Islam, communism, or similar ideologies. The only negative and destructive tool that exists in Afghanistan are ethnic issues."

Analyst Parekh says the process of adopting the constitution has sharpened existing ethnic divisions in the country. "My concern really has been that the process of creating the constitution, and most particularly the Constitutional Loya Jirga, has been one that instead of bridging divisions between people -- especially the ethnic divisions, which have been the most polarizing in Afghanistan -- in some ways, it has actually exacerbated these divisions by throwing the major debates on the constitution, by casting these almost entirely on ethnic lines," he said. "That process of adopting the constitution, I think, may have in some ways made the process of implementing it considerably harder."

He continues, saying, "I think Karzai's standing as somebody who represents all of the different sections of Afghanistan -- all of the different ethnic [groups] and communities and the Sunnis and the Shias -- this has probably been damaged to a certain degree by the real divide between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns that emerged during this Constitutional Loya Jirga."

The ratification of Afghanistan's new constitution is a key step in the UN-backed Bonn process and paves the way for the country's first democratic elections, tentatively scheduled for June. Analysts say the actual implementation of the constitution, however, will depend on the security situation in the country.

Dadfar Sepanta said, "The acceptance and implementation of the constitution depends to a big extent on whether disarmament [of warlords] will be implemented in Afghanistan, whether there will be an end to the rule of different regional commanders, and whether the authority of the central government will be strengthened."

Some analysts say several articles of the constitution are not clearly defined and that others are open to interpretation. Article 3, for example, says that "no law can be contrary to the belief and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Some believe this may open the door to a strict implementation of Islamic law. Parekh says clearing up these ambiguities will be very important.

"The main challenges, I think, that lie ahead when it comes down to implementing the constitution -- one will be just simply clearing up a lot of the ambiguities in the constitution," he said. "I mean, the draft -- there is a last-minute compromise in it that had a sort of commission for the implementation of the constitution, but it doesn't clarify at all what the powers of that commission are going to be. Conflicts between secular sources of law, like international human rights law and Islamic law, also need to be clarified, as well."

On 5 January, a spokesman for Karzai admitted that putting the constitution into practice in a country that has experienced more than 20 years of war will be a major challenge. "Now that Afghanistan is entering a new era, adoption of a new constitution is vital," spokesman Jawed Ludin said. "But more important now is the implementation of this constitution all over the country."

Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent.

Afghanistan's Constitutional Loya Jirga formally ratified a new landmark constitution in a plenary vote on 4 January, meeting a major goal of the internationally backed Bonn process and potentially paving the way for democratic presidential elections scheduled for June, RFE/RL reported. The constitutional assembly's chairman, former Afghan President Sebghatullah Mojadeddi, called for approval of the document by asking the 502 delegates gathered at a massive tent in Kabul to stand in order to signal their endorsement. Correspondents quoted by RFE/RL and international news agencies reported that an overwhelming majority did so. Mojadeddi said behind-the-scenes negotiations led to a breakthrough on disputes that had threatened to derail the assembly, which spent 16 days amending and debating a document to replace a revised 1964 constitution that came back into force as part of the December 2001 Bonn agreement. (Amin Tarzi)

The UN's special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, called the ratification of the Afghan Constitution a "huge success for the people of Afghanistan," but added that work remains to heal the "bruises" sustained during debates along ethnic and factional lines over the past three weeks, RFE/RL reported on 4 January. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the approval of the constitution a "historic achievement," the BBC reported on 5 January. U.S. President George W. Bush, whose administration toppled Afghanistan's largely unrecognized Taliban regime in late 2001, said the new constitution will help pave the way for a "democratic Afghanistan [that] will serve the interests and just aspirations of all of the Afghan people and help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land," according to the BBC. Brahimi warned that while Afghanistan has managed to approve a new constitution, "there is no rule of law in this country yet." (Amin Tarzi)

According to an unofficial copy of the Afghan Constitution obtained by RFE/RL, Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai and his foreign supporters secured a victory by retaining a strong presidency under the new document. In that respect, the new constitution differs little from the draft released in November that called for a strong presidency despite rival calls -- particularly among former mujahedin parties -- for a parliamentary system with greater checks on the powers of the head of state (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November and 16 December 2003). Karzai had vowed that he would not run for president in the elections scheduled for June if the constitution prescribed a parliamentary system. The new draft adds a second vice-presidential post, however -- with both vice presidents selected by the president. None of the presidential powers contained in the November draft has been reduced. (Amin Tarzi)

ATA Chairman Karzai on 17 December denied charges that he was exerting undue influence over Afghanistan's continuing Constitutional Loya Jirga, Hindukosh news agency reported. Karzai said members of the Constitutional Loya Jirga have full authority to decide on the draft constitution. The strongest criticism came from members of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e Islami party, who threatened to boycott the Constitutional Loya Jirga if Karzai uses his influence to alter the outcome of the assembly. Karzai countered that Rabbani is a man of understanding and the head of one of the committees of the Constitutional Loya Jirga (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003), so Rabbani would not allow his followers to disrupt the assembly. Jamiat-e Islami delegates want to debate the future form of government before the assembly discusses the text of the draft constitution, Reuters reported on 17 December. (Amin Tarzi)

The official mouthpiece of the Jamiat-e Islami party on 15 December called Chairman Karzai's insistence on a presidential system for Afghanistan a "violation of the democratic atmosphere" of the Constitutional Loya Jirga. Some delegates said Karzai supporters exchanged harsh words with Jamiat-e Islami supporters, Reuters reported. Jamiat-e Islami is the largest party in the anti-Taliban coalition known internationally as the Northern Alliance. A Jamiat-e Islami delegate identified as Mehdi said that the party's "protest will continue until the government and the head of the [Constitutional Loya] Jirga listen to our legitimate demand, which is to specify what type of regime the delegates want before making them debate the government's proposed draft," according to Reuters. He added that delegates loyal to Rabbani and his allies "will not resume discussion until this issue is resolved." During the opening ceremonies of the Constitutional Loya Jirga on 14 December, Karzai defended his efforts to shore up presidential power in the proposed Afghan constitution, saying that centralized government authority is the only way to stabilize the fractious country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003). Journalists working for foreign new agencies were not allowed to attend the 17 December Loya Jirga session. (Amin Tarzi)

Constitutional Loya Jirga Chairman and former Afghan President Mojadeddi on 17 December defended his expulsion the same day of Malalai Joya, a female delegate from Farah Province, Afghanistan Television reported. Joya objected to the presence of former mujahedin leaders in the Constitutional Loya Jirga, calling them "criminals" who should be tried by an international court (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003). Mojadeddi said he "noticed some dissatisfaction following the woman's [Malalai Joya's] comments" and ordered her out. After other representatives intervened, Joya was allowed to return to the assembly hall. Mojadeddi asked Joya to apologize for the comments she had made, but she refused, "The New York Times" reported on 18 December. Safia Sediqi, the only woman among four deputy chairpersons at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, defended Joya's right to express her opinion, saying, "If you are working for democracy here in this country, this is one way, this is one step." Female delegates have complained of de facto disenfranchisement in the assembly. While there are 100 female delegates to the 500-member Constitutional Loya Jirga, all 10 committees are headed by men and Sediqi was appointed to a deputy chairperson's post only after a protest by her female colleagues (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The UN is providing extraordinary protection to Malalai Joya, a female delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga who was ejected from the assembly after she objected to the presence of former mujahedin leaders and labeled them "criminals," the BBC reported on 18 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003). Joya reportedly received threats following the 17 December speech that prompted her ejection, but she attended the Constitutional Loya Jirga session on 18 December. Joya has been relocated from the housing complex reserved for delegates to an undisclosed location under UN protection, according to the BBC. A spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said the UN deplores the decision that nearly led to Joya's exclusion from the assembly and condemns the threats against her. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 17 December press release, Amnesty International called on Constitutional Loya Jirga Chairman Mojadeddi to ensure that all delegates "are able to freely express their views." Amnesty International's statement added that Mojadeddi prevented Joya from continuing her speech on 17 December, while some delegates shouted abuse at her. According to the press release, some people in the Constitutional Loya Jirga heard delegates vowing to kill Joya for calling former mujahedin leaders "criminals." Amnesty International warned that "the Constitutional Loya Jirga presents the people of Afghanistan with the opportunity to turn away from the abuses of the past and create a new system in which the rights of all are ensured." It added, "If delegates are threatened or otherwise prevented from expressing their views, this process of building a new future for Afghanistan will be severely threatened." (Amin Tarzi)

One hundred and fifty delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga have complained in a letter to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan about the management and control of the assembly by Chairman Mojadeddi, Herat News Center reported on 18 December. The signatories also request that Uzbek be recognized as one of Afghanistan's official languages, in addition to Pashto and Dari. The protesting delegates further demand fairer ethnic representation among the 10 committee-chairmen's posts at the loya jirga; former mujahedin leaders currently head five of those committees. There are no women chairing any of the committees (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, has denied allegations of irregularities in the voting process for delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, the Pakistani daily "The Nation" reported on 18 December. "It is absolutely not true that there was general or widespread rigging," Brahimi was quoted as saying. However, he acknowledged that "there have been irregularities and cases of intimidation and corruption." Brahimi said the Afghan general elections slated for June "definitely cannot be held" that soon. He added that the UN had planned to begin a voter-registration drive on 1 December, but it was unable to do so "because of the security situation." Afghan officials have insisted that the elections will be held by June, as spelled out in the 2001 Bonn agreement. (Amin Tarzi)

The UN's Brahimi has reiterated that he does not consider the security situation in Afghanistan conducive to a general presidential election as early as June, Bakhtar news agency reported on 22 December. Brahimi said the election must be delayed by six to 12 months. Alternatively, he suggested that the term of ATA Chairman Karzai be extended for five years. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington does not agree with Brahimi's views. (Amin Tarzi)

Jean Arnault is expected to replace Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN's special representative to Afghanistan following the latter's departure with the conclusion of the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga on 4 January, dpa reported on 5 January. Arnault, who served as Brahimi's deputy, has been named acting special envoy. (Amin Tarzi)

In his farewell speech in Kabul on 4 January, Brahimi, a veteran UN diplomat and a former Algerian foreign minister, iterated that a lack of security in Afghanistan could derail presidential elections scheduled for June, according to an unofficial copy of those "impromptu remarks" that was obtained by RFE/RL. "There are insecurities [in Afghanistan] that we don't see much of in the press," Brahimi said. He added that there are commanders around the country "who have private jails" and who are terrorizing the population. Brahimi said he has informed the Afghan Transitional Administration of such lawlessness and hopes it "will not only take up measures against these individuals but will take measures so that this kind of misbehavior does stop all over the country." (Amin Tarzi)

In a report issued to the UN Security Council on 6 January, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Afghan peace process has reached a "critical juncture," RFE/RL reported on 7 January, quoting a UN spokesman. Afghanistan has undergone "a deterioration in security at precisely the point where the peace process demands the opposite," he said, according to Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard. Eckhard said the secretary-general warns in the report that "Afghanistan's insecurity problem needs to be addressed and that electoral registration in particular cannot be accomplished if broad geographical access is denied to the registration teams." (Amin Tarzi)

The new commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, said on 21 December that new military bases will be established in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the BBC reported. The bases will be located in areas where terrorist and anticoalition activities by suspected neo-Taliban and their supporters have driven out aid agencies, he added. Barno said the U.S.-led coalition is considering significantly altering its strategy in the south and east of the country. He acknowledged that the increase in military activities might result in more resistance, but he added that enemies will "realize that's the death knell to terrorist organizations in that part of the country." (Amin Tarzi)

Barno said the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan will reach 12 by March, Radio Afghanistan reported on 21 December. He said PRTs will seek to reduce the gap between the people and the government and provide a guarantee of safety. Barno added that the PRT expansion will be implemented once NATO takes command of those teams (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). Some PRTs will be deployed in volatile regions, including the Zabul and Oruzgan provinces, the BBC reported on 21 December. The effort to bring peace and security to most of the country is seen as a prerequisite for a successful presidential election, which is slated for June 2004 in accordance with the 2001 Bonn agreement. (Amin Tarzi)

Former Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer took office on 5 January as the new secretary-general of NATO. De Hoop Scheffer succeeds Lord George Robertson, who stepped down at the end of 2003 after four years as NATO chief. De Hoop Scheffer comes aboard as the alliance is considering expanding its stabilization roles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The issue of the future role and relevance of NATO appears to be uppermost in the mind of the new secretary-general. At a news conference on the morning of his first day in office, de Hoop Scheffer said his predominant concern will be the transformation and modernization of the alliance as seven new member states join in June.

"It's, of course, let's say, pursuing transformation, pursuing transformation first of all, seeing this smooth further integration of the new member states, building bridges across the Atlantic Ocean, focus on NATO's very important role in Afghanistan. Let me stress once again that the world community and NATO cannot afford to lose there," de Hoop Scheffer said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003).

Success in establishing new command structures and a greater focus on fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will be crucial in guaranteeing continued U.S. engagement with NATO.

The most important NATO mission in the foreseeable future will remain Afghanistan. De Hoop Scheffer appeared cautious when questioned on plans to extend NATO activities in Iraq beyond the limited role it already plays in supporting the Polish-led forces in the country.

"The primary focus at the moment should be on Afghanistan. We've heard the news last night on the result of the Loya Jirga, and I think the alliance should pursue what was set in motion, and that is focus on Afghanistan. And about Iraq, we'll see and wait and, of course, influence -- if possible -- political developments there. But first, let's focus on Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said. (Ahto Lobjakas)

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed command of the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz from coalition forces in a ceremony on 6 January, a PRT press release stated. ISAF commander German Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth said he expects "that more PRTs will be placed under the mandate of ISAF in the future." He added that the objective of PRTs "will remain the same: to achieve an enduring stability by supporting the Afghan government to extend its sovereign authority throughout the provinces." The PRT in Konduz is a pilot project for further ISAF expansion, and is the first that permanently establishes ISAF troops outside the capital Kabul and its environs. It is the first step in a progressive process, in accordance with a previous decision by the North Atlantic Council, to expand ISAF in a flexible manner to include other PRTs in the future (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). The expansion of ISAF outside Kabul is in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1510. The German-led PRT comprises more than 170 personnel, with plans for as many as 240 personnel on the ground as the mission matures. (Amin Tarzi)

Five Afghan soldiers were killed on 20 December in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, in an attack on an Afghan border post that was blamed on neo-Taliban fighters, Reuters reported on 21 December. Two Afghan soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in Gardo Serai, Khost Province, on 20 December when the vehicle they were traveling in was blown up by a remote-controlled device, the Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported on 22 December. The neo-Taliban have been blamed for the Khost attack as well. One civilian was killed and five were wounded in a bomb blast near the customs house in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, on 20 December, Hindukosh news agency reported on 21 December. Security officials in Nangarhar blamed "enemies of the people" -- a reference to the neo-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and supporters of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- for that attack. (Amin Tarzi)

Three officials of the Khost Province security department where killed when unidentified assailants attacked their vehicle on 27 December on the Khost-Gardayz road, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. After the attack, a coalition patrol targeted the suspected attackers, killing four. (Amin Tarzi)

Five officials working for Afghanistan's National Security Department were killed by a bomb blast in Kabul on 28 December, Afghanistan Television reported. The officials stopped a group of unidentified suspected terrorists in a vehicle and were transferring one of them to their vehicle when he managed to detonate a bomb, killing himself and the security officers. Two other occupants of the stopped vehicle managed to escape. One of the officials killed, who was identified only as Jalal, was responsible for the security of transitional Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, "The New York Times," reported on 29 December. (Amin Tarzi)

Police in Kabul on 29 December arrested three suspected terrorists with explosives packed into metal cooking pots, amid Taliban claims that it has 200 operatives ready to conduct suicide attacks in urban areas of Afghanistan.

National security agents say one of those arrested in a crowded district of Kabul was a man from Pakistan who was wearing a red dress and hiding beneath a burqa -- the all-encompassing veil that was mandatory for women in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban and which is still widely worn.

The agents say a second Pakistani man and an Afghan also were detained. They say the three claimed to be working for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and were allegedly planning attacks similar to a suicide bombing that killed five Afghan security agents, including intelligence chief Abdul Jalal, near Kabul airport on 28 December.

A security official who declined to give his name told RFE/RL that the explosion was caused by a bomb hidden in a cooking pot -- the same kind of improvised explosive device discovered with the suspects arrested on 29 December. "A group of terrorists were being watched by security officials. After one of the terrorists was arrested and transferred to a car, the car was driven toward the security office [near the airport]. On the way, a bomb that was hidden in a pressure cooker exploded," the official said.

Afghan authorities have refused to say why a suspected terrorist was allowed to carry a bomb into a crowded police car. When asked by reporters yesterday, Kabul garrison police chief Del Agha said authorities are not sure where the bomb came from. "We need to investigate this to determine who was behind this, whether [the bomb] was placed in a car or whether somebody outside of the car threw it. It is very early to say anything about it now," Del Agha said.

An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said today that the 28 December attack appears to have been the work of two attackers -- one more than initially reported. He said one suspect was carrying explosives in a cooking pot and that another had set off explosives that were wrapped around his body. He offered no further explanation about why the suspects were not properly searched before they got into the police car.

Kabul police officer Abdul Jamil says the bodies of both suspects were not identifiable after the blast. But he said he thinks both men were either Arabs or Pakistanis.

From somewhere in Afghanistan's mountainous south, the Taliban's deputy operation commander, Mullah Sair Momin, told Reuters in a satellite-telephone interview that 200 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters have recently penetrated cities in Afghanistan.

Momin claimed that some 130 trained Taliban are now in Kabul and are ready to conduct suicide attacks against Afghan government buildings, foreign troops in the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition, United Nations employees, and aid workers from nongovernmental agencies. Momin also said that although Taliban fighters have limited resources, they are able to manufacture powerful improvised bombs like the one that caused the Kabul blast.

Analysts say that if Momin's claims are true, the switch in tactics by the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda could cause concern for the 12,000 foreign coalition soldiers and nearly 6,000 members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Most of the deadly guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan since the summer have been in remote parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. (Ron Synovitz)

Two powerful bomb blasts in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on 6 January claimed the lives of 17 people, including eight children, "The New York Times" reported the next day. The blast also injured more than 40 people. The explosions appeared to have been coordinated to maximize the number of causalities. The first blast, a small charge that injured one person, was followed minutes later by a more powerful explosion, apparently set off by remote control, which claimed many victims among those who had rushed to the scene of the first blast. Kandahar Province Governor Yosuf Pashtun blamed loyalists of the ousted Taliban regime for the blast, the daily reported. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban regime in 1994. (Amin Tarzi)

In a commentary on 27 December commemorating the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union on 27 December 1979, the Herat daily "Etefaq-e Islam" demanded that Russia pay compensation for the suffering of the Afghan people. The commentary added that when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, all "political or clear-sighted people" believed that one day the Afghans would oust the Red Army from the country. However, the cost of this victory was very high on the Afghans, the paper added. Therefore, Afghan authorities have a "legal responsibility" to demand compensation from the "invaders." In September, the Russian Federation asked that $2 billion of the aid earmarked for Afghanistan be paid to it for debts owed to Moscow by Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January and 25 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

1 January 1994 -- General Abdul Rashid Dostum cancels his alliance with President Burhanuddin Rabbani and takes side with his rival, Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; about 70 killed in newly flared-up fighting.

7 January 1997 -- A U.S. delegation meets with Mullah Hasan, vice president of the Taliban council, to discuss the elimination of drug trafficking and the termination of international terrorism.

2 January 2001 -- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar decrees that conversions from Islam to Christianity are to be punishable by death.

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