1 April 2004, Volume 3, Number 13
U.S. COORDINATOR FOR AFGHANISTAN DISCUSSES BERLIN DONORS CONFERENCEBy Ahto Lobjakas
Despite indications from the European Union and elsewhere that most prospective donors for Afghanistan are unwilling to pledge major new contributions, the United States has made clear it goes to the event with ambitious goals.
William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, on 29 March told journalists a lot more money will be needed over the coming years. "The international community is coming to Berlin to recommit itself to a long-term support of Afghanistan. This will be both in political terms, economic terms, and security terms. On the economic side, it is very clear that a lot more money, a lot more resources are going to be required over a longer period of time than was thought during the previous donors conference back in Tokyo two years ago," Taylor said.
Taylor said the Afghan government estimates it needs $4 billion this year. Over the decade between 2001 and 2010, the country is estimated to need up to $28 billion.
Taylor said the pledging target for the Berlin conference is this fiscal year. He said the United States will cover $2.2 billion of the $4 billion needed. The EU and its member states will add roughly another $1 billion.
The Berlin event is likely to praise Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's recent decision to delay elections until September. Taylor said this gives NATO time to find and deploy the troops necessary to secure the registration process and the elections.
Taylor said between 7 million and 9 million of the total 10 million eligible voters need to be registered for credible elections. He said a major registration drive will begin in May, when the existing 50 sites expand to 4,000 across the country.
Taylor said he believes NATO will play a major role in securing the elections. However, he said, it was still uncertain how many troops the organization can find for what is expected to be a temporary deployment.
"I do not have access to needs assessment at this point. I believe that the military authority in Brussels, the NATO military committee, is taking a look at that, what the requirements are. Again, I've heard estimates of a couple of battalions or a brigade. This would be ambitious, and I don't know that this will be adopted by the NATO military authorities as the statement of need, but I know they are taking a serious look at what kind of support forces they can provide," Taylor said.
The recently arrived 2,000 U.S. Marines, in the country to support the ongoing offensive against insurgents, will also give security for the elections a "very high priority."
Taylor said combating the drugs trade will also feature prominently on the Berlin agenda. He said a new campaign will be launched shortly to eradicate poppy fields.
"There is a plan that will start very shortly, to eradicate fields of opium poppy before they are harvested. That plan will be implemented, as I say, within the next week or so, and will be followed up by another phase that the U.S. government is supporting. Again, both of these plans, both phases of eradication, will be implemented by the government of Afghanistan, with support both from the United Kingdom that is taking the lead on supporting the Afghan government in this counternarcotics effort, [and] the second phase will be supported by the United States," Taylor said.
Taylor said the United States will provide $40 million over two years to help equip and train the eradication force and their security details. He said the operation would be managed directly by the Afghan government and not be dependent on local officials for compliance.
Taylor said problems with local warlords were likely during the campaign. But he praised Karzai's efforts to establish greater control over provincial governors. Taylor said the interim president has already "systematically" changed around 15 of the 32 provincial governors. He also said recent clashes in the western Afghan city of Herat had led to two Afghan battalions being deployed around the city.
Taylor indicated neither the U.S.-led coalition nor NATO is likely to be directly involved in the new counternarcotics campaign (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 12 February 2004).
"Coalition forces are being instructed as to what their role should be when they come across drug-related activity in Afghanistan when they are doing their main mission of tracking down terrorists, defending against attacks from Al-Qaeda, [the] Taliban, other insurgencies. As they undertake those efforts, they will, we are sure, come across people involved in the drug trade. Whether this is stockpiles, whether these are labs, whether these are traffickers, we know that they will come across [them]. These soldiers and these units, these military organizations are being instructed on their response to this, and of course, part of their response to this could be to destroy the labs or the stockpiles, or to apprehend traffickers, or to call the local police or the national police or the Afghan National Army or other national law enforcement organizations to deal with these problems they've come across," Taylor said.
Taylor said the Berlin conference will also address the key issue of providing current poppy farmers with alternative livelihoods. He said compensation schemes in the past had backfired as farmers tend to recultivate their poppy fields the following year in the expectations of more money. Instead, other crops and extensive rural jobs schemes are needed. As part of that effort, Taylor said, the United States has provided significant support to road-building projects to improve farmers' access to markets and mobility in the countryside.
Taylor said he also expects the Berlin conference to produce an agreement among Afghanistan's neighbors to shut off the flow of drugs to Russia and Western Europe.
Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.
KARZAI CONFIRMS ELECTIONS WILL BE DELAYED...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 28 March confirmed recent reports suggesting that general elections scheduled for June will be postponed until September, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "We are focused on having both presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time," Karzai told a news conference, "[However,] the UN and the electoral commission said, 'If you want the presidential election, we can have it on time [in June], but if you want both the presidential and parliamentary elections together, it is not possible due to some technical problems.' That is why we have decided to have them both in September." Karzai said the main theme of his own presidential campaign will be "the question of security for the Afghan people now, [and] in the future the building of national institutions that will enable" the Afghans to provide for their own security. UN and some Afghan officials have been calling for a postponement of general elections in Afghanistan due to lagging voter-registration efforts and a lack of security in parts of the country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 26 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...WHICH WOULD ALLOW TIME FOR DEMOBILIZATION PROCESS, ACCORDING TO UN...UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnold, told a news conference in Kabul on 28 March that the delaying of Afghan elections will allow time for the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program to disarm a large number of militiamen, Radio Afghanistan reported. Arnold said free and fair elections are impossible as long as unauthorized armed factions exist. The DDR program in Afghanistan has proceeded slowly, with large numbers of armed troops still under the control of warlords and regional commanders. The UN, which is overseeing the planned elections, estimates that just 1.57 million Afghans of the estimated 10.5 million eligible voters have registered. Women account for roughly 28 percent of the registered voters, numbering some 445,000. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT IS HAILED AS A VICTORY BY NEO-TALIBAN.Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the resurgent Taliban, said the recently announced postponement of Afghan national elections is "a humiliation and defeat" for Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers, the London-based daily "The Independent" reported on 29 March. Hamid Agha also claimed that the elections will be rigged. (Amin Tarzi)
ICG WARNS THAT AFGHAN ELECTIONS ARE IN JEOPARDY.The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a briefing released on 30 March that lack of security, slow progress in the disarmament of militias, and a weakly developed legal and institutional framework for democratic politics are endangering the success of Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held in September. "The international community's failure to expand security beyond the capital is perpetuating and even deepening the political and economic power of regional commanders," Vikram Parekh, ICG senior analyst on Afghanistan, said. "NATO's appeal to member states to contribute a modest three battalions in the north to cover the first two phases of their proposed four-phase expansion has yet to result in a single firm commitment." The 10-page ICG briefing, titled "Elections and Security in Afghanistan" (http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?id=2554&l=1), warns of the risk that elections under the present conditions might merely confirm an undemocratic and unstable status quo. (Amin Tarzi)
KABUL CALLS FOR INCREASED AID.Afghan officials have stepped up appeals for increased international aid ahead of a donors conference scheduled for 31 March-1 April in Berlin, AFP reported on 26 March. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said higher levels of aid in the near term "will save hundreds of millions and then billions of dollars tomorrow." Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan urgently needs donor funds to prevent the country from sliding into the "type of chaos, misrule, and conflict which made our lives miserable and cost us two generations." He added, "Investment now will have a pay-off and a dividend that will not be possible in the future because circumstances change." Afghan officials say the government needs $27 billion-$28 billion in aid over the next seven years in order to raise per capita annual income from less than $200 to $500 by 2015. "The needs of Afghanistan are much greater than anticipated," said Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. (Marc Ricks)
HIGH AFGHAN EXPECTATIONS FROM BERLIN CONFERENCE.Hamid Karzai is expected to ask the two-day (31 March-1 April) donors conference in Berlin to give his country $27.5 billion over the next seven years, the BBC reported on 31 March. The Berlin meeting is a follow-up to a donors meeting held in Tokyo in January 2002 at which $4.5 billion was committed, dpa reported on 29 March. After talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 30 March, Karzai said that his administration has plans to take Afghanistan "by the year 2014 to higher income per capita, a higher state of legitimacy, a direct democracy," and more stability, the BBC reported. Afghanistan is expected to receive pledges of upwards of $10 billion -- far short of what Karzai is requesting -- due to the high cost of maintaining peacekeeping and military operations in Afghanistan, estimated at around $13 billion per year, and competing needs such as the ongoing reconstruction of Iraq. (Amin Tarzi)
JAPAN PLEDGES MORE AID.Japanese special envoy Sadako Ogata, who is co-chairing the Berlin conference, told Chairman Karzai on 30 March that Tokyo will give an additional $400 million to Afghanistan in 2004-05, Kyodo News Service reported on 31 March. Those funds are in addition to Japan's pledge of $600 million already earmarked for Afghanistan. The new funds should be used for road construction and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed militias. The Berlin conference is being co-chaired by Afghanistan, Germany, and Japan. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER WANTS GERMAN INVESTMENT.Chairman Karzai asked German firms to invest in Afghanistan during a speech to a trade and investment conference in Berlin on 30 March, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said his administration is doing everything in its power to prepare the ground for trade and investment in Afghanistan. Bureaucratic hurdles and administrative corruption remain major problems for investors and traders in Afghanistan, Karzai conceded, but he said measures have been undertaken to solve those problems, Afghanistan Television reported. Beyond the problems listed by Karzai, major disincentives to investment in Afghanistan include a lack of security in large parts of the country and the inability of the central government to exercise full sovereignty and apply the law in some provinces. (Amin Tarzi)
THREE CONFESS TO KILLING AVIATION MINISTER...Afghan authorities said three men arrested in connection with the recent killing of Afghanistan's aviation minister in the western Herat Province have confessed to the attack, AP reported 25 March. Aviation and Tourism Minister Mirwais Sadeq died on 21 March under unclear circumstances after attackers fired on him with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004). Forces loyal to Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan, the slain minister's father, clashed with 17th Division troops under the command of General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah. Fighting abated on 22 March after Ismail Khan's forces overran Nayebzadah's stronghold, forcing him and his followers to flee. Local authorities arrested 21 of Nayebzadah's men following the battle, Herat deputy chief of security Abdul Wahid Tawakali said. He said one of the captured fighters acknowledged firing a grenade launcher, while two others said they took part in the attack using machine guns. Sadeq's killing was the third death of a senior official in Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's government since its inception. (Marc Ricks)
...AS WESTERN GOVERNOR APPOINTS MILITARY CHIEF...Major General Mohammad Omar assumed command of the Herat region's 17th Division on 27 March, Herat Television reported, adding that Mohammad Omar's promotion was proposed by Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and approved by the Afghan Defense Ministry. Forces loyal to General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah, the previous commander of the 17th Division, have been implicated by authorities in Herat in the 21 March slaying of Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Mirwais Sadeq. Some 100 troops were reported killed in fighting between troops loyal to Sadeq's father, Ismail Khan, and Nayebzadah's forces before Ismail Khan's troops took command of the 17th Division (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004). Nayebzadah left Herat on 21 March. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHILE KABUL DENIES APPROVING CHANGE OF COMMAND.Afghan leader Karzai said on 28 March that he had no news of any changes in the command of the 17th Division in Herat Province, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karzai said that only the Defense Ministry has the authority to make appointments among military divisions. Karzai added that in talks by telephone with Ismail Khan, the Herat governor said nothing of any changes in the 17th Division. Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 28 March that Ismail Khan has no authority to appoint military officials, adding that the 17th Division is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Jalali also said it is still unclear which side, Ismail Khan's or Nayebzadah's, started the conflict in Herat on 21 March. First Deputy Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak told Radio Free Afghanistan on 28 March that Nayebzadah reports to his ministry, and that Nayebzadah left Herat on Kabul's orders. (Amin Tarzi)
HERAT FIGHTING HIGHLIGHTS NEED TO DISARM MILITIAS, STRENGTHEN NATIONAL ARMY.Afghan and U.S. officials say clear lessons are emerging as they examine events behind 21 March fighting in Herat between Governor Ismail Khan's private army and the Defense Ministry's 4th Corps militia (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004).
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the fighting shows that programs aimed at strengthening the central government's authority outside of Kabul need to be implemented more quickly.
"I don't think [the crisis in Herat] affects the strategic direction of this country," he said. "I think what it highlights is that we need to accelerate some things that need to be done here. Disarming and reintegrating militias is, in my view, the lesson that I take away from this as to what needs to be accelerated. And [the building of] national institutions, such as the Afghan National Army that you see responding to the situation [in Herat], needs to be speeded up."
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, says the crisis shows that security in the Afghan provinces could deteriorate further unless disarmament is expedited and starts to produce results. The issue is especially critical as the country gears up for presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for later this year.
But Ludin only hinted to journalists about plans to establish permanent bases for the Afghan National Army (ANA) in areas that are under the control of powerful regional warlords.
"What [the Herat crisis] will mean in terms of the future [is that the central government's priority] will be to make sure that the security and safety of the people of Herat is not threatened and to do everything to get this objective done," Ludin said. "We will think about the long-term implications of this particular event. This will certainly have implications for a number of programs that the government is trying to implement, and the disarmament process is, of course, the most important one. In order to ensure that people -- not only in Herat but also in the rest of the country -- do not face a similar risk in the future, we will do everything that is necessary."
RFE/RL has learned that one project considered necessary by both the Afghan central government and U.S. military officials is the setting up of permanent garrisons for the ANA in or near the cities of Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif, and Gardayz (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004). Even before the 21 March violence, teams from the U.S. Army and the Afghan Defense Ministry were visiting potential sites for the new bases.
The deployment of at least 1,500 ANA troops to Herat in response to the fighting marks the beginning of what analysts say could become a permanent presence in the city by those forces.
Indeed, some of the ANA soldiers have been sent to the garrison of the 17th Herat Division of the Defense Ministry's 4th Corps. That was the headquarters of General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah's troops before his garrison and residence were overrun by Ismail Khan's militia on 21 March. The Defense Ministry has final approval on whether the location will now become a permanent garrison for the ANA.
Meanwhile, both the United States and the Afghan government have sought to downplay the significance of the fact that the leaders of the forces involved in the battle were one of Afghanistan's most powerful regional warlords and a general who was appointed to his Defense Ministry command by Karzai.
Nayebzadah's troops in the 4th Corps -- like many of the factional militias that operate under the auspices of the Defense Ministry -- are nominally part of the central government's security forces. General Nayebzadah receives orders from Karzai through the Defense Ministry.
Vikram Parekh is a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. He said the 21 March violence appears to be the extension of a power struggle that has been going on in Herat since last year between Ismail Khan and the Afghan central government.
"The 4th Corps has been a contentious issue for several months between Ismail Khan and the central government," he said. "Last fall, Karzai had appointed a new head of the 4th Corps who had, initially, not even been really able to take his post in Herat because it came at the expense of Ismail Khan, [who at that time had] both political authority as governor and military authority as head of the 4th Corps. The Afghan National Army's deployment is the thing that could make this actually stick. So this [deployment] would be a first real attempt by the central government to put some bite into its appointments."
But the 4th Corps also is an entirely different entity than the ANA. The National Army is now working closely with U.S. forces against former Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants as part of Operation Mountain Storm. The National Army troops are trained by the U.S.-led coalition and hail from various ethnic groups so that its battalions are representative of the country's demographic diversity.
Parekh concludes that a decision by the Defense Ministry to keep ANA troops in Herat permanently will dramatically alter the situation in the province. "I think the ANA's presence there will have a difference both militarily and politically in the relations between the center and [Governor Ismail Khan's faction] in Herat if [the ANA troops] are kept in Herat for a long enough time."
Ismail Khan's spokesman, General Gholam Mohammad Mas'un, has made it clear that the Herat governor does not want the National Army to stay in the province permanently. Mas'un told RFE/RL this week that the deployments are unnecessary and are "not fair."
Khalilzad says Ismail Khan has officially welcomed the deployments. But the U.S. ambassador says he is not ready to predict that violence in Herat is over once and for all. He was asked whether he thinks there will be fighting in the future between Ismail Khan's militia and the ANA.
"I hope not. I think the presence of the forces of the Afghan National Army should have a positive stabilizing effect," he said. "That's our expectation. That's our hope. That's what the central government is trying to do. And also, that's what Governor Ismail Khan has said. That's his expectation, as well. So, well, we will have to see."
Meanwhile, some details are emerging about the events that sparked the fighting in Herat and the killing there on 21 March of Ismail Khan's son, Civil Aviation Minister Mirwais Sadeq.
A preliminary report on the investigation by Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim says that Sadeq's death was the result of a "tragic event sparked by a small accident." The report did not elaborate on the accident. But it did lower the estimated death toll to 16 people.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad had said earlier that Sadeq's death was a "result of the fighting" rather than a cause of the fighting.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says the ministerial delegation's findings suggest the death of Sadeq was not a premeditated assassination, as initially reported. (Ron Synovitz)
PAKISTANI PUBLICATION CLAIMS TALIBAN LEADER IS INJURED...An "Ausaf" report on 29 March asserted that the leader of the ousted Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was critically injured in a recent attack by U.S. forces. According to unconfirmed reports in that Urdu-language newspaper, Jabbar Aziz, a doctor who is said to have treated Mullah Omar, said the Taliban leader received injuries to both of his legs and the left side of his body. But he said the injuries are not life-threatening. The elusive Taliban leader managed to escape from his stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in early December 2001 -- two months after U.S.-led forces launched the military campaign to oust the regime and break up the Al-Qaeda network's bases in the country -- and is believed to have been hiding in either Afghanistan or neighboring Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS PURPORTED NEO-TALIBAN SPOKESMAN DENIES REPORT.Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the resurgent Taliban militia, denied the "Ausaf" report suggesting that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is injured, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 29 March. Latifullah Hakimi appears to be a new name on the growing list of individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban; an individual identifying himself as "Abdul Latif Hakimi" has purported to speak for the movement since January. However, in a statement in February, the ousted Taliban movement named Hamed Agha as its only authorized spokesman (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
TALIBAN MILITANTS CLAIM TO HAVE KILLED 20 AFGHAN SOLDIERS.An unidentified individual claiming to speak on behalf of neo-Taliban militants said on 27 March that those insurgents have killed 20 soldiers loyal to Kabul in two separate attacks in central Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported the next day. An unidentified official quoted by Reuters on 28 March confirmed that two Afghan soldiers were killed when suspected neo-Taliban sympathizers attacked a military post in Oruzgan. The official said another three soldiers are injured and 10 more are missing. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. STARTS KHOST RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT.The U.S.-led coalition officially unveiled a new Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Khost Province, a hub of neo-Taliban guerrilla activities, AP reported on 25 March. "Combat has been necessary in the past to defeat the terrorist threat, which is our common enemy," Major General Lloyd Austin, the U.S. second-in-command in Afghanistan, told Afghan elders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Khost. "But our concern now is the future. Our emphasis must remain on setting the conditions for reconstruction and development." The U.S. military's Khost PRT, the 12th of its kind in Afghanistan, reflects an increased effort to win friends in the tribal areas where neo-Taliban guerrillas and Al-Qaeda fighters are thought to operate. The reconstruction team will build wells, schools, clinics, and roads, Austin said. Guerrilla attacks against aid workers and military personnel have persisted in the region, where U.S.-led forces recently launched a new offensive against guerrillas. (Marc Ricks)
GERMANY HAS NO PLANS TO SEND FURTHER TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN.German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 30 March that the Bundeswehr has no plans to increase the number of its forces attached to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, dpa reported. After the upper limit of 2,250 soldiers is reached, "no more additional soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan," Struck said. Germans account for half of all ISAF troops, which number around 5,000. Germany also commands the only PRT under NATO/ISAF command, in the northern Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 January 2004). NATO is expected to assume command of further PRTs, but the implementation of such plans depends on willingness of NATO member states to commit more troops. (Amin Tarzi)
NEW PROVINCE ESTABLISHED IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN.Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 28 March that Daikondi Province has been established as the country's 33rd province, AFP reported the next day. The heavily populated Daikondi District, which is in Oruzgan Province, will have its own governor and security commanders and is expected to receive increased funds and services from Kabul as a result of the change. (Amin Tarzi)
AMERICAN-AFGHAN RETURNS HOME TO A DIFFERENT COUNTRY AS A DIFFERENT MAN.Mohammad Rasul Khoshbin last saw his home in Kandahar nearly 14 years ago. This month, the 60-year-old retired linguist and schoolteacher returned to his native city after several years as a refugee in Pakistan and a decade living in New York City.
Khoshbin fled Afghanistan with his wife and five children in 1991, leaving behind his father, his mother, a brother and sister, and two nephews. Today, all of those who stayed behind in Afghanistan are dead -- killed in the wars and factional militia fighting that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.
There is little left of Khoshbin's former home that is recognizable. Like many members of the Afghan diaspora who have returned since the fall of the Taliban, Khoshbin says he felt compelled to try to help rebuild his homeland. Khoshbin also says he wants to help the country that helped him in his darkest hour of need.
"To all Afghans who are living in the United States, my message is to come serve in Afghanistan, in your country, and stand with the American government and the American people, because America and Americans have helped all Afghans who are living in the United States. When our country was in a serious condition, while our country was on fire and people were dying, the United States took us in and sheltered us. We Afghans used America's hospitals and schools. They gave us every opportunity. Instead of war, we have to thank the United States of America and take part in reconstruction no matter how difficult the conditions," Khoshbin said.
Khoshbin has taken a job with a U.S. contractor that provides Pashto and Dari translators for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. Like many of the translators working with the U.S. military, Khoshbin has both U.S. and Afghan citizenship.
But Khoshbin is 30 to 35 years older than most of the other translators who ride along on civil-affairs missions aimed at assessing humanitarian needs in remote villages. Sometimes, the rides in military vehicles over difficult terrain seem to take their toll on his health. But he says that, at his age, with most of his extended family gone, the most important thing in life is to leave a good name through his deeds.
"I am a citizen of the United States of America, but my place of birth is Afghanistan -- Kandahar. So, of course, I want to help reconstruct Afghanistan. When I left Afghanistan, the country was not in this condition," Khoshbin said.
Despite his career as a linguist and teacher, and his years of living in the United States, Khoshbin says he felt lost when first immersed in the dialect of U.S. soldiers. While waiting for a U.S. military flight from Bagram air field north of Kabul to Kandahar, for example, he was baffled by an announcement that the flight would leave at "1700 Zulu." "Zulu" is a U.S. military term for Greenwich Mean Time.
"Really, I don't understand the U.S. military abbreviations and the military language," he said. "I am very interested to learn these abbreviations and this [dialect] because this is another world. It is another kind of education."
But while Khoshbin may still be learning on the job, his age and polite manners clearly are a benefit. His presence commands the respect of the Afghans he meets, and he has a cultural understanding of village elders that seems beyond the reach of younger translators, who grew up in the United States.
Deep in his heart, it is clear that Khoshbin remains a teacher.
One of his first missions with a U.S. civil affairs team was to the village of Akhundzadah, southeast of Kandahar. The U.S. team walked into a mud-walled courtyard that is serving as an outdoor classroom until a school can be built. They were greeted by the eager faces of about 50 young boys and girls who were sitting cross-legged on a plastic UNICEF tarp.
Khoshbin immediately turned to the U.S. colonel in charge of the mission and explained that he had been a teacher in Afghanistan two decades earlier. He asked the officer if he could speak to the class for a few minutes.
Two female schoolteachers dressed in chadors stood at the head of the class. Khoshbin turned to the teachers to ask permission to speak to their students. Neither woman answered. Instead, they deferred to an elderly male schoolmaster named Shah Wali.
And although the schoolmaster granted permission, Khoshbin insisted on also getting permission from the two women. In doing so, Khoshbin was making a point in front of the children -- that even as women, the schoolteachers had authority over him and deserved his professional respect. Both teachers nodded their agreement without speaking.
Khoshbin asked about the lesson book. He asked whether the children knew how to pray. Then he asked if any of the students could spell the word "bicycle" in Pashto. In a village where only a handful of adults can read, few students were able to spell the word. But Khoshbin praised those students who tried and told everyone they were good students.
"Yeah, it's going to be good because, in the Taliban regime, there were no schools like that. This is co-education. The girls and the boys are sitting together in one class. My idea, my purpose, is that if we help those people, those schools, I'm sure that in the [very near] future, they will be good. They must find a classroom and a chalkboard, some chairs and notebooks, some materials -- those things," Khoshbin said.
At the end of the day, however, Khoshbin's optimism about the co-educational nature of the class turned out to be premature. When the schoolmaster was questioned about how reconstruction projects could help the school, Shah Wali revealed that there is a schoolroom where only boys are allowed. Classes for girls are all conducted outside in the courtyard.
The mixture of boys and girls on that day was a special occasion for the foreign visitors, who determine where aid money should be distributed. (Ron Synovitz)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY28 March 1991 -- Soviet Union intends continuation of financial support of U.S. $3,6 billion for the Afghan President Najibullah's regime.
28 March 1994 -- UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Afghanistan, Mahmud Mestiri, warns of fragmentation of Afghanistan if the civil war continues.
27 March 2000 -- Former Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan escapes from a Taliban prison in Kandahar.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003); "Sueddeutsche Zeitung."