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Afghan Report: February 5, 2004

5 February 2004, Volume 3, Number 5
By Amin Tarzi

On 26 January Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai signed into law the new Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2004). Present at the signing ceremonies and sitting next to Karzai was the frail former monarch of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zaher, who had some 40 years earlier in 1964 signed his own constitution for the country.

Those members of the international community that have backed the process of Afghanistan's emergence from years of foreign intervention, civil war, and despotic rulers have rightfully welcomed the new Afghan Constitution as a guideline with which the country can reemerge as nation-state (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004).

Strictly from a textual point of view, the new Afghan Constitution represents a good starting point for the country on its path of forming a pluralistic and inclusive society in which, in due time, true democracy can be fostered. However, as the history of constitutionalism in Afghanistan sadly illustrates, the texts of most of the six previous constitutions that have been promulgated did not truly reflect the aspirations of the majority of the people of Afghanistan. It can be argued that most of the previous constitutions, to varying degrees, were drafted and passed without much input from the Afghan masses. Thus, constitutions of the past fell victim to intrigues and manipulations of various centers of power that viewed those constitutions as threats to their status in the society (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003).

Claims Of Foul Play

Two days after the adoption of the new constitution, a group of around 20 delegates to the Loya Jirga headed by Abdul Hafez Mansur, claimed that the document signed into law by Karzai does not exactly conform to the draft agreed upon by the Loya Jirga. Mansur, a member of the religiously conservative Jamiat-e Islami and one of the staunchest supporters of a parliamentary system, said that "the constitution which was signed by [Karzai], if it is carefully read...compared to the constitution approved and ratified by delegates to the Loya Jirga has changes." Mansur claimed to have personally "discovered more than 15 changes" (see news section below).

The Constitutional Commission rejected Mansur's charges, stating that some misunderstandings may have occurred, due to the fact that delegates to the Loya Jirga were handed a draft of the constitution on the night of 3 January before the assembly made final changes to the document. Kabir Ranjbar, head of Afghan Lawyers Association, said on 29 January that while the draft of the constitution approved by the Loya Jirga, has indeed been altered, these "changes do not affect the content of the constitution and are not something to be taken seriously." Ranjbar suggested that people "should not discredit the document or lessen the interest of the people regarding the document and regarding its enforcement."

While Ranjbar's suggestion that people ought to regard the new Afghan Constitution as a whole as a good framework for Afghanistan to move ahead is valid and ought to be heeded, the history of the country has illustrated that even constitutions that were formulated with the good of the nation in mind, were forward-looking, and were approved in appropriate fashion became tools for the dissenters, who sought to derail the overall process of state building. As such, the wording of the new Afghan Constitution should leave no room for misunderstanding, and the process through which it was adopted should have been very transparent. Any lingering opacity or perception of foul play about the constitution will make the already difficult task of implementation an even thornier undertaking.

Potential Discrepancies In Constitutional Interpretation

Commenting on the draft of the Afghan Constitution, I wrote in November: "The most dangerous legislation here regarding the role of religion remains Article 3...because it might easily be used by conservative religious forces to undermine legislators that they deem to be 'un-Islamic.' The interpretation of which laws might be 'contrary to...Islam' is an open-ended proposition that is not immune to abuse" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003). Article 3 of the draft constitution stipulated that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" and the values enshrined in the constitution. In the approved version of the constitution, Article 3 was amended to read, "In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Omitted in the final text is the reference to the values enshrined in the constitution.

Even before Hamid Karzai signed the new constitution into law, controversy over the vagueness of Article 3 sparked controversy between the conservative Islamists and the more moderate, secular-oriented forces in Afghanistan.

The controversy began when the state-owned Afghanistan Television surprised its prime-time viewers on 12 January by showing a decades-old film clip of a poplar female Afghan singer (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004 and news section below). The broadcast marked the first time since the mujahedin took control of Kabul in 1992 that a female singer was displayed on official Afghan television. Immediately, conservative Islamists cried out that this presentation was against the code of Islam.

Nevertheless, Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin said that songs by female Afghan singers would continue to be broadcast on Afghanistan Television, adding that the new constitution affords men and women equal rights, including in the arts. However, another member of Karzai's government, Deputy Chief Justice Fazl Ahmad Manawi, called the broadcast of female singers an act against the provision of the new Afghan Constitution. Karzai, while supporting the broadcast of female singers, rather ambiguously allowed room for more debate on the matter. He stated that "Afghanistan has had women singing in the Afghan radio and television for now over 50-60 years," and people have welcomed the broadcasting of women singers on television. However, Karzai gave the Islamists room to maneuver by adding that all sides "have to work in the context of today's cultural and social environment and do whatever is suited for that."

Commenting on the issue of the broadcasting of female singers, a Herat-based publication wrote that "as the guardian of Islamic values and the constitution," the Afghan leader "should use his power to prevent any action that contravenes Islamic laws and values and, as a consequence, fulfill his responsibility for Islam, religion, and society."

The problem of Article 3 of the constitution stems from the fact that those who pushed for a presidential system were forced to concede something to the political camp led by the former mujahedin leaders, who initially favored a parliamentary system. The role of Islam in the Afghan Constitution, which many observers predicted would cause much controversy, did not cause significant open debate at the Loya Jirga. This could partly be due to the fact that as a compromise for accepting a strong presidential system, the mujahedin leaders won concessions on various matters related to the role of Islam in the new constitution. This trade-off resulted in the added provision that no law in Afghanistan could be "contrary to the beliefs and provisions" of Islam. This very significant clause basically gives the official and nonofficial religious leaders in Afghanistan sway over every action that they might deem contrary to their beliefs, which by extension and within the Afghan cultural context, could be regarded as "beliefs" of Islam. The use of preemptive symbolic language to secure a relatively smooth approval of the new Afghan Constitution may entail high costs in the future.

A group of delegates to Afghanistan's recent Constitutional Loya Jirga claimed on 28 January that the basic law signed by Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai is different from the draft approved by the constitutional assembly on 4 January, AFP reported. "I myself have discovered more than 15 changes that the government does not have the authority to make," said Abdul Hafiz Mansur, whose claim is reportedly backed by about 20 other delegates to the December-January assembly that approved the constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 January 2004). The group has lodged complaints with the United Nations, the ATA, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It has also encouraged other delegates -- particularly from northern Afghanistan -- to follow suit. (Amin Tarzi)

The director of the secretariat to the Afghan Constitutional Commission that drew up the initial draft, Faruq Wardak, rejected the allegation, according to AFP, saying the text signed by Karzai is identical to the one approved by the Constitutional Loya Jirga. Wardak added that there have been "absolutely no manipulation or changes." Wardak said confusion might have arisen from the fact that assembly delegates were handed a text on 3 January that did not include final changes. Mansur led a bloc of delegates that resisted many of the ideas set forth by Karzai's supporters at the Constitutional Loya Jirga, including a strong presidency. (Amin Tarzi)

Cultural and religious divisions in Afghanistan have been thrust into the international spotlight by debate over whether state-run Kabul TV should broadcast images of female Afghan singers (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004).

The dispute is testing the foundation of Afghanistan's new constitution. On one side, conservative Islamists on Afghanistan's Supreme Court recently ruled that such broadcasts violate a clause in the constitution that says laws must adhere to the provisions of Islam.

But moderate reformists in the Transitional Administration are ignoring the Supreme Court ruling. They say there is nothing in the Koran that forbids women from singing in public. And as the debate goes on, Kabul TV is continuing the musical broadcasts, which consist of decades-old film clips.

In the past week, RFE/RL's Afghan Service has become a forum for the public debate. Listeners have had a chance to express their views, as well as to question different Afghan officials about where they stand.

Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai says such radio programs show there is strong public support for his government's decision to lift a 12-year-old broadcast ban on female singers. But Karzai says the debate also shows that the issue remains culturally sensitive in post-Taliban Afghanistan. "Afghanistan has had women singing in the Afghan radio and television for [some] 50 to 60 years," he said. "This is a policy that the Ministry of Information and Culture decides, and I have [heard] interviews on the radios in the past few days. People have welcomed it. But still we have to work in the context of today's cultural and social environment and do whatever is suited for that."

Ironically, it was not the conservative Taliban regime that imposed the ban on female singers. Rather, the ban was first issued in 1992 by the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin militia who fought for a decade against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. When the Taliban captured Kabul from those same mujahedin commanders in 1996, they banned all television broadcasts -- as well as private performances of music -- as part of an even stricter interpretation of Shari'a law.

Afghan Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sarabi was on RFE/RL's Afghan broadcasts last week as a member of a guest panel. She told listeners that attempts by the Supreme Court to keep female singers off the air will not lead the country back to the kind of restrictions against women that were typical of the Taliban era. "The government policy is quite clear and does not wish to regress to the dark ages of the Taliban era," she said. "And thus, there is no apprehension on our side and in our governing policy."

Broadcasts of female singers have been routinely shown on local television in Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif since the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Sarabi said she does not expect the Supreme Court's ruling on the Kabul broadcasts to discourage international financial aid to Afghanistan. "There were a few rumors here and there that if the rights of women were not observed in the draft constitution, that the international community would cease their [financial] assistance," she said. "But we see clearly, with God's grace and the Afghan's highest endeavors, that women's rights have been reaffirmed and that women did express their bravery at [the Constitutional] Loya Jirga."

Mohammad Sadiq Patman, a member of Afghanistan's Constitutional Drafting Committee, said as a guest on the RFE/RL panel that he sees nothing in the Koran which forbids women from singing in public, even when "namahram" -- or men eligible for marriage -- are among the listeners. "I analyzed that from the religious point of view," he said. "It is OK for a woman's voice to be heard by a namahram. I am not an expert, but what I have told you is what I understand of religion, women's rights, and the provisions [in the Koran] on a woman's voice. [The Koran says] that when a woman goes to the courts to testify as a witness, a judge has to see her face and hear her voice. So a woman's voice is heard by a namahram. Hence, it is not forbidden."

Patman said the dispute really centers on different interpretations of the Koran's symbolic language. "Political matters are not mentioned in detail in the Koran," he said. "The resolution of political disputes depends entirely on how a nation determines those issues. If you study Islam from its inception, these issues have not been addressed. Just as now, different clerics have different perceptions and issue different religious decrees. Political matters vary in different [historical] eras."

But the fervor of Afghans who support the Supreme Court ruling could be heard from listeners such as Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, who called the moderators of the RFE/RL broadcast to criticize Patman's remarks. "The Koran has forbidden women from singing and dancing," he said. "For a woman to testify in court, this is a different issue. Singing for women is forbidden in Islam. But being a witness is another matter. You, [Mr. Patman], are not well versed. You have not read the Koran and have no knowledge of it."

It does appear that many residents of the Afghan capital welcome the broadcasts of female singers as a sign that life is returning to what was considered normal before the Soviet invasion. But the view is different among rank-and-file soldiers from Islamist factions of the former Northern Alliance that have controlled large parts of the capital since they helped U.S. forces oust the Taliban in late 2001. Several of those fighters have told RFE/RL they think the Kabul TV broadcasts are un-Islamic and that the ban on female singers should be reimposed. (Ron Synovitz)

According to a representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), few women have registered to participate in the upcoming Afghan elections, Radio Afghanistan reported on 2 February. UNAMA representative Zuhra, speaking at a voter registration center in Kabul, said that lack of awareness among Afghan women is one of the causes of low registration figures. She also cited illiteracy and the burden on women of looking after their families as causes of the problem. Zuhra said that some women fear their photographs, which are taken during the processing of voter-registration cards, could fall into the wrong hands, even though only one photograph is taken from each person and there are no negatives. There are also rumors that the election results have already been set, and so there is no reason to vote, Zuhra added. The UNAMA representative pointed out that if women have not registered in sufficient numbers in Kabul, which has the highest literacy rates, then there will be much bigger problems in the provinces. (Amin Tarzi)

Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan said on 2 February that Afghans can achieve national unity through belief in Islam, Herat Television reported. Afghans should "stick" only to Islam, leaving "no need for national unity and so forth," Ismail Khan added. Ismail Khan added that all issues dealing with nation building are addressed within Islam. One of the former resistance leaders against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Ismail Khan is also favors a radical application of Islamic doctrine. (Amin Tarzi)

In order to increase the influence of the central government, the ATA has announced that it plans to transfer or replace about 10 provincial governors, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 2 February. The provinces involved include Badakhshan, Konduz, Jowzjan, and Badghis in northern Afghanistan; Ghazni in the center of the country; and Zabul in the south. Oruzgan, also in the south, might be affected as well. (Amin Tarzi)

At the initiative of the Interior Ministry and with the approval of ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai, Mohammad Yusof has been appointed governor of the western province of Farah, and Azizullah Afzali as been named governor of Badghis Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 2 February. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai said on 30 January that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is alive and is still in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, AP reported the next day. He said the location of bin Laden's hideout is "not known," adding that he could be "inside or outside the [Afghan] border." Karzai did not indicate the source of such information, saying only that recent video recordings testify to the fact that bin Laden is alive. (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan said U.S.-led forces are planning a military operation aimed at capturing Osama bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Hizb-e Islami head Gulbuddin Hekmatyar by the end of 2004, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 January. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Brian Hilferty identified bin Laden and Mullah Omar as serious threats to security in Afghanistan and around the world, according to AP. AP also quoted an unidentified U.S. "defense official" as saying the Department of Defense has ordered equipment and supplies to support the upcoming operation -- which AP dubbed a "spring offensive." (Amin Tarzi)

Commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno said he hopes to capture bin Laden and Mullah Omar by the end of 2004, "The New York Times" reported on 4 February. Speaking about the two men, General Barno said that "their day has ended, and this year will decisively sound the death knell of their movements in Afghanistan." (Amin Tarzi)

The Tripartite Commission comprising military and diplomatic representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States held its sixth meeting at Bagram's Camp Phoenix on 31 January, the Afghan Foreign Ministry announced. Participants discussed recent developments concerning security along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including practical measures to counter cross-border infiltration and terrorist activities, and ways to enhance the security relationship between Kabul and Islamabad. The commission is next scheduled to meet in March in Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

The Dutch government has decided to contribute six combat helicopters to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, "NRC Handelsblad" reported on 31 January. The Apache helicopters will be stationed in Kabul, with the 135 Dutch troops already stationed there, and would operate around Kabul on rapid-response or ground-support missions. According to the report, the Dutch helicopters "in principle" are not required to operate outside of the reasonably safe zone around Kabul, despite the fact that ISAF has been extended to Konduz in northern Afghanistan. Dutch Defense Minister Henk Kamp said his country would "consider requests for missions outside the Kabul area on an ad-hoc basis," but will retain "the right to pull the red card and decline such a request." When NATO was planning to expand ISAF into Konduz in late 2003, it faced a severe shortage of helicopters and some observers have noted that NATO's political ambitions in Afghanistan do not match the alliance's troop and material contributions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Six members of a single family and two other Afghans were killed when a bomb destroyed their vehicle in the village of Deh Rawud in Oruzgan Province on 30 January, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 1 February. No suspects have been identified, although AIP hinted at a possible neo-Taliban link, saying such elements are based in Oruzgan Province. Abdul Rahman, head of Chahar Chino district in which Deh Rawud is located, said that "planting mines and targeting public vehicles is evil and should be condemned." (Amin Tarzi)

An explosion at a weapons cache in the village of Deh Hindu in the central Afghan province of Ghazni on 29 January claimed the lives of seven U.S. soldiers and injured three others and an Afghan interpreter, international news agencies reported. An additional U.S. soldier remains missing in the wake of the blast. The explosion occurred as U.S. troops worked near a weapons cache. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said that "there is no indication" of whether the blast was an accident or planned. Hilferty added that an investigation has been launched, AP reported on 30 January. Ghazni Governor Asadullah Khan claimed the blast was accidental, adding that he is "sure it wasn't a plot by the Taliban," since his side knows the area of Deh Hindu where the "people are good." The U.S. deaths come at the end of a bloody month, during which "about 80 people have died in violent incidents in Afghanistan, including civilians, militants, police officers, [and] international peacekeepers," AP commented. (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of ousted Taliban forces, identified the two suicide bombers who carried out attacks against the ISAF in Kabul, London-based "Al-Hayah" reported on 29 January. Hakimi claimed that Sayyed Mohammad Ahmad, a Palestinian carrying an Algerian passport, was responsible for a 28 January attack against British troops, while Hafez Abdullah, an Afghan from Khost Province, carried out the attack against Canadian forces on 27 January. Those two suicide attacks against ISAF forces in Kabul took the lives of a Canadian and a British soldier, along with two Afghan civilians (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2004). Suicide operations are a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, Hakimi said, adding that the neo-Taliban has "hundreds" of fighters ready to carry out further suicide missions. Hakimi warned that the Taliban are planning to carry out new suicide attacks in the "coming days." (Amin Tarzi)

Speculation is rife in Kabul about the meaning of two suicide bomb attacks directed at foreign troops in the city on 27 and 28 January.

The blasts -- which killed one Canadian and one British soldier, as well as an Afghan civilian -- have led some observers to draw parallels between the Taliban-led rebellion in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, 30 January 2004).

That's because, until this week, there had been only one other successful suicide attack against foreign troops in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime. That attack came last summer when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a bus, killing four Germans soldiers in the ISAF.

The identities of this week's suicide bombers -- or even their nationalities -- have not been disclosed by investigators. Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, says the lack of information about the bombers is contributing to speculation about whether the perpetrators were foreign members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. "It's obviously a new development -- the use of suicide bombers," he said. "Consequently, it does raise the possibility that this might be something externally planned or driven. [What remains to be seen in the weeks and months ahead is] whether the frequency of such attacks is going to rise to such a degree that will force a scaleback of the international presence [in Afghanistan]."

The commander of the British ISAF contingent, Colonel Mike Griffiths, says this week's attacks bore similarities. He says both attacks were well planned, and he is certain that neither attacker was acting on his own.

Griffiths said he believes the upsurge in violence can be "directly linked" as part of a pattern. He explained that the British soldier who was killed on 28 January was attacked by a suicide bomber who drove a taxi into a British Rover jeep as it was patrolling on the outskirts of Kabul. On 27 January, a suicide attacker killed a Canadian ISAF soldier and an Afghan civilian by walking up to a Canadian ISAF vehicle and detonating an artillery shell he was carrying.

Deputy ISAF commander Major General Andrew Leslie also thinks the attacks could be linked. Leslie says military officials usually plan for a worst-case scenario. He said the worst-case scenario in this instance is to assume that the two attacks are part of a coherent terrorist strategy. If that is the case, Leslie says, yesterday's suicide attack may not be the last one in the Afghan capital.

A man claiming to be a spokesman for the ousted Taliban regime told the French news agency AFP via satellite phone that both suicide attacks had been organized by the Taliban.

The man, who called himself Abdul Samad, said the attack on the British vehicle had been carried out by a 28-year-old Palestinian man with an Algerian passport. Samad said the attack on the Canadian patrol was carried out by a young Afghan man from Khost Province who was among 60 suicide bombers that infiltrated Kabul in December. The Taliban claimed last month that dozens of suicide bombers -- rarely seen in Afghanistan -- had infiltrated the capital and intended to attack foreign targets.

Parekh told RFE/RL on 29 January that more suicide attacks could damage the presidential election process due to take place across Afghanistan this summer. "It's going to make it much more difficult for international monitors to be deployed, or others involved in implementing the election process," he said. "...Karzai has basically requested the UN's assistance in administering the elections. But right now, I think it would be very difficult for security officers to give clearance for UN volunteers to go monitor election sites at a time when the UN itself is restricting the movements of its staff -- even within Kabul."

On 28 December, a suicide bomber blew himself up along with five Afghan intelligence agents near Kabul's airport. The Taliban also has claimed responsibility for that attack, saying the bomber had been trying to kill ISAF troops based at the airport.

ISAF bases in Kabul, as well as bases for Provincial Reconstruction Teams in southeastern Afghanistan, have repeatedly come under rocket attack. Afghan officials have blamed most of those attacks on the remnants of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda fighters, or loyalists of the renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Ron Synovitz)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said on 31 January that civilians, including children, were killed in a U.S. air strike on 18 January, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. U.S. military sources initially rejected the claims by local Afghan leaders that women and children were among those killed in the air raid near Chahar Chino in the central Afghan province of Oruzgan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004), adding that only five armed militants were killed. Karzai contradicted that statement, saying that "now that the investigation [of the incident] is complete," it indicates that there were "casualties unfortunately...of civilians, of children and men and women." Karzai placed the number of casualties at "about 10 people." The Afghan leader pledged that he will talk to family members who suffered losses and "try to seek ways to help them." A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan indicated on 31 January that the coalition has received the Afghan report and will study it, AFP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, rejected on 3 February an Afghan report claiming that approximately 10 civilians were killed in a U.S. air strike on 18 January in the central Afghan province of Oruzgan, AP reported. Barno said the Afghan report was inadequate, adding that he has asked the U.S. military for more information and is waiting for "detailed reports...that would indicate the investigation has been complete." Barno added that he has "seen nothing [in the Afghan report] that would" cause him to change the initial report, which claimed that five militants were the only people killed in the incident. (Amin Tarzi)

ATA Chairman Karzai met on 28 January with Senator Akram Shah Khan, the secretary-general of Pakistan's Pakhtun Khah party, Radio Afghanistan reported. Akram Shah conveyed congratulations from his party's leader, Mahmud Khan Achakzai, on the adoption of the new Afghan Constitution. Pakhtun Khah is based in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and advocates Pashtun-minority rights in Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Many of the 30,000-strong militia forces stationed along the Afghan-Pakistani border have complained that they have not been paid salaries or benefits since June, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported on 28 January. The militia members say they have been protecting Afghanistan's border with Pakistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in December 2001 and that they are included in the military structure of the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Ambassador to Iran Ahmad Moshahed said on 29 January that the international community is not doing enough to help Afghanistan fight the increasing cultivation of opium poppy, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Moshahed specifically singled out countries near Afghanistan for not acting to prevent poppy cultivation or helping to prepare conditions in Afghanistan for alternative crops. Afghanistan, without international help and cooperation from its neighbors, cannot effectively combat the problem, Moshahed said. He blamed the rising drug problem in Afghanistan on poverty. (Amin Tarzi)

Customs officials in Pakistan have reported the seizure of the largest-ever single haul of heroin, weighing in at 1,600 kilograms, the BBC reported on 29 January. The drugs were found in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, near the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is believed to be a key transit route for heroin from Afghanistan. BBC added that since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, heroin production is approaching record levels in Afghanistan due to poverty and the rule of warlords over large swaths of the country. (Amin Tarzi)

According to the list released by the Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia of pilgrims who died during the 1 February stampede in Mina, two Afghans were killed, SPA reported on 2 February. Of the total 244 who died, 53 remain unidentified. (Amin Tarzi)

The Ghan north-south transcontinental railway's was inaugurated on 1 February, the BBC reported. The railroad that was first suggested in the1850s is 3,000 kilometers long. The journey from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north takes three days. The name of the railway, "Ghan," is derived from the Afghan camel drivers who helped travelers go into the interior of Australia after European colonization of the country. According to the official website of Rail Australia (, the Ghan train's "emblem of an Afghan on a camel is in recognition of their efforts in opening up the harsh interior to the rest of Australia." (Amin Tarzi)

5 February 1963 -- Afghan cabinet approves the establishment of country's second university, Nangarhar University, in Jalalabad, to be started with a medical school.

30 January 1977 -- President Mohammad Daud covens the Loya Jirga to approve the draft of a new constitution.

2 February 1990 -- An estimated 10,000 Afghan refugees stage a rally in Quetta, Pakistan, demanding the return of the former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," by Ludwig W. Adamec (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991).