7 April 2004, Volume 3, Number 14
BERLIN CONFERENCE FOCUSES ON SECURITYBy Golnaz Esfandiari
More than two years after the fall of the Taliban, insecurity remains a main challenge facing the Afghan government. The factional leaders or commanders who are in control of many of the country's provinces do not recognize the authority of the central government, the Afghan Transitional Administration. And drug production is increasing.
The UN has stated that Afghanistan's political future and the reconstruction process depends on the success of steps aimed at enhancing security in the country.
A declaration due to be issued at the summit foresees an increase in the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the sending of additional multinational troops to secure the presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held in September. The elections, originally set for June, were delayed because of security concerns and low voter registration.
Today in Berlin, Afghanistan and its six neighbor states signed a regional cooperation agreement to step up the fight against the drug trade.
The agreement was formally signed by representatives of Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The accord envisages tighter border controls and information exchange to help fight the cultivation, production, and trafficking of drugs.
Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL regional analyst for Afghanistan, says this is the first agreement focused solely on the fight against drugs that has been signed by Afghanistan and its neighbors.
"An agreement was signed in December 2002 between the same countries, Afghanistan and its six neighbors. It was dubbed as the Kabul declaration. It basically talked about noninterference into Afghanistan's affairs by those six countries, but it did have a section dealing on the trafficking of narcotics across the Afghan borders to those countries. So, in that sense, this is not a new agreement. However, it is a new agreement in the sense that it deals only with the issue of drugs, whether this is a new approach, basically, we have to see what will happen -- whether it�s only on paper and it happens just because of the Berlin donors conference or [whether] there is actually more substance to it," Tarzi said.
Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world. Drug traffickers use the neighboring countries as drug transit routes to Europe and the Gulf states.
Tarzi added: "In some cases, there has been some better cooperation specifically between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iran. On the Central Asian aspects, there is not much information so, hopefully, this will actually pave the way to [better] preventive measures against trafficking of drugs from the northern parts of Afghanistan."
On the first day of the conference, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai warned that the drug trade is threatening Afghanistan's very existence as a state.
"Drugs in Afghanistan are undermining the very existence of the Afghan state. Nobody wants to be called a drug dealer, especially not a nation. We would pride ourselves on the fruit production that we have, we would pride ourselves on lots of other forms of agriculture that we have, and here I would request the international community to help us fight it and to help us create alternative livelihoods for our people," Karzai said.
UN officials have also warned against the danger of Afghanistan turning into a failed "narco-mafia" state.
Yesterday, the donor countries pledged $8.2 billion in aid over the next three years.
Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said $4.4 billion in aid had been promised for this year alone. "This is 100 percent of our target," he told a news conference. Ghani also said that $1 billion a year of the aid money would be spent on enhancing security in the country.
The biggest contributor is the United States. Washington has offered $1 billion in addition to the $1.2 billion it had already committed for this year.
However, the promised aid at the conference fell short of what the Afghan government had hoped for in the long term.
Karzai called for $27 billion in international aid over the next seven years to secure the stability of Afghanistan and make the country self-sufficient.
The Berlin conference was attended by the representatives of more than 50 countries, including top officials such as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent.
AFGHAN LEADER PLEADS CASE FOR FURTHER AID...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai told the two-day donors conference in Berlin on 31 March that his country "has provided a wonderful, unique example of the cooperation of civilizations," RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 April 2004). "Today, Afghanistan represents a unique example in international relations. A multilateral partnership is working well, with very promising prospects," Karzai added. "The goal of this partnership is to create an Afghanistan that is politically stable and democratic and economically prosperous, an Afghanistan that contributes to regional and global stability and peace." The next obstacle on Afghanistan's path to recovery will be the organization and convening of presidential and parliamentary elections in September, Karzai said. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHILE HIS FINANCE MINISTER CALLS AFGHAN AID 'AN INVESTMENT'...Ashraf Ghani told the same donors conference on 31 March that Afghanistan is asking for assistance "to actually save" the donors money, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "Afghanistan indeed is poor, but it is also strategic," Ghani added. "Ignoring Afghanistan has cost the world dearly." Afghanistan is not "asking for charity," he said, but "for an investment." Afghans are unique in the Muslim world in desiring a "partnership" with the West, Ghani claimed. The goal for Afghanistan is to generate local revenues of at least $1.5 billion annually for the next seven years, which would move the country from "abject poverty" to at least "poverty with dignity," Ghani added. The domestic economy is in shambles and Afghans are increasingly turning to opium production as a means to earn a living (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...AS AFGHANISTAN GETS INCREASED PLEDGES FOR THE SHORT TERM.The tally of pledges of aid at the Berlin conference stood at $4.5 billion for the Afghan year 1383 (March 2004-March 2005) on 1 April, according to estimates obtained by RFE/RL. That amount represents an increase of 2 percent over the target of $4.4 billion set by the Afghan Transitional Administration. Afghanistan has received pledges of $8.2 billion over a three-year period from 1383 to 1385 (2006-07), which represents 69 percent of the $8.2 billion in requirements set by the Afghan Finance Ministry. While the Berlin conference is a victory for Karzai's administration in the short term, donors did not approach the Afghan Transitional Administration's wish for $27.5 billion over the next seven years (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 April 2004). The numbers in the estimates cited by RFE/RL are not final, and there appear to be discrepancies in at least one donor country's actual pledge versus the amount noted in the tally. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER HAILS NEW FINANCIAL PLEDGES...Chairman Karzai said on 1 April that the donations pledged for his country at the Berlin donors conference on 31 March-1 April represent a great success, the BBC reported. Afghanistan received new pledges of $8.2 billion over a three-year period. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT DRAWS ATTENTION TO AFGHANISTAN'S PROBLEMS.Hamid Karzai told the Berlin conference on 1 April that Afghanistan must tackle three main problems in order to effect peace, the BBC reported. "Drugs and 'warlordism' and terrorism are three multipliers of each other; they reinforce each other" and must be addressed together, the Afghan leader said. Karzai discussed the continued influence of warlords on 31 March, saying, "Private militia forces are not only a challenge to security and stability in Afghanistan, but they are also a cause of drug cultivation in the country," according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "They also can become a challenge to the future stability and peace, not only" in Afghanistan "but, by extension, in the region." (Amin Tarzi)
RUSSIAN FEDERATION FOCUSES ON SOVIET-ERA LOANS TO AFGHANISTAN.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that while his country did not make any pledges for aid to Afghanistan at the donors meeting held in Tokyo in January 2002, Russian has "given assistance in various forms to the new Afghanistan amounting" to $170 million, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 March. "One of the serious obstacles to our giving direct financial assistance to the interim administration is Afghanistan's state debt inherited from the Soviet [era]," Lavrov said. Russia is trying to solve that issue on terms that are "most favorable for Afghanistan," Lavrov added. Afghanistan's lingering debt to Russia, according to Russian sources, is about $9.8 billion, which Moscow is reportedly willing to reduce to $2 billion. The Soviet Union's 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan cost that country enormous numbers of casualties, drained precious resources from central and local authorities, and arguably deserves some of the blame for Afghanistan's status as a failed state. (For more on the Russian-debt issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report, " 25 September 2003.) (Amin Tarzi)
DONORS TO COVER HALF THE COSTS OF AFGHAN ELECTIONS.A UN spokesman said the roughly $68 million pledged by international donors toward Afghanistan's September elections will cover about half the costs associated with the balloting, AFP reported on 4 April. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the funding pledges came on 30 March, ahead of to a two-day international donors conference on Afghanistan held in Berlin. "Countries at the meeting made pledges of some $68 million," de Almeida e Silva told reporters in Kabul. "The elections have an estimated budget of $135 million...to cover presidential and parliamentary elections; but it also includes the estimated costs for voter registration and polling [for Afghan refugees living in] both Pakistan and Iran." International donors included the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the United States, and Sweden. De Almeida e Silva said 1,688,234 Afghans are now registered to vote; an estimated 10.5 million are eligible. (Marc Ricks)
AFGHANISTAN, NEIGHBORS SIGN ANTIDRUG AGREEMENT.Afghanistan and its six immediate neighbors -- China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- signed an agreement on the sidelines of the Berlin donors conference on 1 April to combat drug trafficking across their borders, ddp reported. The agreement, dubbed the "Berlin Statement," commits Afghanistan and its neighbors to closer cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence, along with stricter border controls and greater consultation in antidrug strategies. Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who signed the agreement for Afghanistan, said his country hopes the measures included in the Berlin Statement are "followed by steps on the ground," the BBC reported on 1 April. The same countries signed an agreement known as the Kabul Declaration on 22 December 2002 that included components to combat drug trafficking, but the estimated flow of opium from Afghanistan increased in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 January 2003 and 12 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
DETAILS RELEASED OF DISARMAMENT PLAN FOR AFGHAN MILITIA.U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad disclosed a plan on 31 March for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of Afghanistan's militia forces by June 2005, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The statement describes a scheme whose first phase includes the demobilization by the end of June of 11 divisions, 13 brigades, 10 regiments, and two battalions of the militia -- or 40,000 of an estimated 100,000 militia fighters. In the second phase, an additional 20,000 militia troops should be demobilized by September, and units that will have been reduced during the first phase should be decommissioned entirely. In the third phase, the remaining 40,000 militia troops should be completely demobilized by June 2005. The statement does not provide details of which militia troops should be wound down within those respective stages. (Amin Tarzi)
COALITION FORCES ARREST REBEL AFGHAN COMMANDER.The U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have released information indicating that Afghan commander Turan Amanullah has been arrested, Radio Afghanistan reported. Amanullah is reportedly a close ally of former Afghan Prime Minister and militant Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Amanullah was arrested in Wardak Province, west of Kabul, reportedly with a large amount of weapons and ammunitions. Radio Afghanistan reported that Amanullah has been conducting "subversive activities" against the Afghan government, coalition forces, and members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on instructions from Hekmatyar. (Amin Tarzi)
COMMANDER INVOLVED IN RECENT WESTERN AFGHAN CRISIS SUMMONED TO KABUL.General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah, the former commander of Herat Province's 17th Division who was forced to flee from troops loyal to Herat Governor Ismail Khan in mid-March, is due to arrive in Kabul on 6 April, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Amir Shah, the security commander of the northwestern Badghis Province in which Nayebzadah has since been residing, told AIP that a helicopter dispatched from Kabul arrived to take Nayebzadah to the Afghan capital. "He is a government [-appointed] general and will carry out the orders given by the government," Shah added. Large-scale fighting broke out between Khan's forces and 17th Division troops following the death on 21 March of Afghan Transitional Administration Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Mohammad Mirwais Sadeq, who was also Khan's son. While Khan has accused Nayebzadah of killing his son and has demanded a trial, authorities in Kabul have not determined the cause of the Herat crisis and have insisted that Nayebzadah has been under Kabul's command (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 1 April 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN, COALITION FORCES TO LAUNCH BORDER SWEEP FOR TALIBAN, AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS.Afghan military units are preparing to launch a search operation for at least 150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters believed to have crossed from Pakistan to Afghanistan following recent military operations by Pakistani forces along the border, AFP reported on 4 April. "We plan to carry out an operation against those Taliban and Al-Qaeda men who...reentered Afghanistan recently after being pursued by Pakistani forces," said Afghan military commander Zakim Khan, who leads a regiment assigned to the southeastern Paktika Province. Troops from the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan will take part in the sweep, Khan said: "We will operate together to carry out this offensive." Zakim Khan claimed Afghan forces have learned that more than 150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda guerrillas have moved into Afghanistan from Pakistan in recent days. The Afghan operation will target the border areas of Marzak and Sar Howza, he added, without saying the operation will begin. (Marc Ricks)
AL-QAEDA THREATENS SPAIN ON ISSUE OF TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ.A communique purporting to speak in the name of "Ansar Al-Qaeda Group in Europe" and sent to the Spanish daily "ABC" on 5 April threatens to turn Spain into "an inferno" if it does not withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, the daily reported. Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has endorsed sending more Spanish troops to Afghanistan but has pledged to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq if the occupation forces do not receive a UN mandate, "The New York Times" reported on 6 April. Bombings of passenger trains in Madrid on 11 March that have been blamed on the Al-Qaeda terrorist network killed 191 people and injured hundreds. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN POLICE, ISAF SEIZE WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVES IN KABUL.Afghan security forces arrested three people and seized a stash of weapons and explosives in Kabul on 31 March, AFP reported on 4 April. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Chris Henderson said peacekeeping forces assisted in the raid. He said that on 31 March, "agents of the National Directorate of Security, with support from ISAF personnel, conducted a raid that resulted in the arrest of three individuals and the seizure of an unspecified quantity of weapons, explosives, and detonators." Henderson added that he had no further information on the raid or whether the suspects were involved in guerrilla activities. Two bombs were found on a main road east of Kabul on 3 April, according to AFP. A resident reportedly saw the devices and reported them to the authorities. Afghan authorities, again backed by ISAF forces, shut down an apparent bomb-making site in Kabul where insurgents had stockpiled enough material to produce as many as 20 bombs. (Marc Ricks)
PRTS GO BEYOND HUMANITARIAN ISSUES INTO SECURITY REALM.The expansion of an international military presence across Afghanistan has progressed rapidly in recent months through a program of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
U.S. Army Colonel Craig Morton is the officer in charge of planning the growth of the PRTs. "PRTs ultimately will be in all [of the Afghan] provinces. When we got here [just under] a year ago, there were only two PRTs in existence. And today, operationally, we have 12," he told RFE/RL. "By the end of summer or early fall, we'll have four more, for a total of 16. And at that point, we will have covered half of the provinces. Now, how long it will take to get the other half of those provinces covered by PRTs, I don't know. Of course, most of the provinces are actually covered by PRTs. It's just that some PRTs have more than one province. The ideal situation is to have one PRT per province."
Thirteen months ago, when the first PRT was created in the southeastern Afghan town of Gardez, it was described by U.S. officials as a way to bring stability to Paktia Province and to bolster the local economy through the construction of wells, roads, schools, and medical centers.
But few details have emerged about the security elements associated with the PRTs. In the southern parts of Afghanistan, where remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda continue to operate, at least four PRTs have been set up in close proximity to what the U.S. military calls "forward operations bases," or "fire bases."
A fire base is located at the forward edge of a potential battle area and is used for the deployment of combat troops. Commanders are positioned at fire bases to control combat operations. Logistical teams also are there to resupply combat troops with food and ammunition.
With Pentagon officials saying a spring offensive will soon be launched in southern or southeastern Afghanistan, attention is focusing on fire bases and PRTs in or near the towns of Khost, Gardez, Ghazni, Qalat, and Kandahar. U.S. Marines are being deployed at the fire base near Khost.
Independently of PRTs, U.S. forces also have established fire bases near the southern towns of Orgun and Shkin, which are both in Paktika Province near the border with Pakistan. There also are PRTs and fire bases in or near the eastern towns of Jalalabad and Asadabad.
Morton confirmed that PRTs in areas were the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still active -- such as those near the border with Pakistan -- also work closely with U.S. Special Forces. "Some of our PRTs are co-located with Special Forces assets. Some are not. And that was not necessarily by design," he said. "But when we go into a province, especially in some of the less permissive areas, if the Special Forces had a camp there and they could provide us security, then in at least a couple of instances there, we have co-located with them. And so, it's a synergistic kind of an existence out there where [Special Forces] sometimes provide us some security. They provide us some intelligence. And we provide humanitarian assistance and reconstruction and that sort of support."
U.S. Army public affairs officers say some local Afghans who benefit from the humanitarian programs of the PRTs are providing information to U.S. forces about the activities of Taliban fighters in the south and southeast. Meanwhile, security elements for the PRTs also conduct patrols and can gather intelligence on the activities of Taliban cells or the militias of feuding Afghan warlords.
A new PRT opened this week in Qalat, the capital of Zabul Province, about 145 kilometers northeast of Kandahar. So far, there are no reconstruction projects there. But combat troops from the 2-22 Infantry Battalion of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division were deployed near Qalat about two months ago to set up the defensive fortifications for a forward operations base.
Those troops also have been conducting what they call "presence patrols" to let local residents know that the U.S. military is active in the area. Suspected Taliban fighters appear to know about the new U.S. position. Last week, the fortification at Qalat was attacked with rockets and mortars.
It is not just U.S.-led antiterrorism operations that benefit from the PRT network and its nearby security detachments. The work of the Gardez PRT and of nearby U.S. Special Forces are credited with driving away local warlord Padshah Khan Zadran. That Pashtun mujahedin commander had been allied with the United States in the fight against the Taliban regime. He fell out of Washington's favor after launching rocket attacks into Gardez twice during 2002.
Last autumn, British officials at a PRT in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif negotiated a cease-fire between the feuding militia factions of ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Tajik commander Mohammad Ata. Previous cease-fires between those rivals had collapsed repeatedly after the fall of the Taliban. But the new deal is backed by the presence of British military observers in the PRT. So far, the cease-fire has held.
PRT officials also have stepped in to bolster the repeatedly delayed UN disarmament program at the German-run PRT in Konduz, the Bamiyan PRT that is run by New Zealand and at the U.S.-run Parwan PRT near the Bagram airfield.
International aid groups have criticized the use of military troops in the PRTs for reconstruction projects, saying the practice makes their jobs more dangerous because hostile Afghans assume all aid workers are connected with military forces.
Anatol Lieven, an expert on Afghanistan at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says he questions whether the eventual departure of foreign troops from the PRTs will mean that their reconstruction projects will be destroyed. Morton says he thinks that will not happen because the ultimate goal of the program is to have control of the reconstruction projects transferred to civilians -- including both international organizations and Afghans.
"I don't think we're planning on leaving in the short term. I think we're probably planning on staying here until the region is stable and until there is some assurance that those projects are going to remain. A lot of what we're doing as the military out there is small-scale reconstruction compared to what the civilians can do," Morton said.
Morton said he hopes that, in the medium term, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will take over the "command-and-control" functions at PRTs. But he says it is unclear when ISAF will have the ability to take over all of them.
Some conservative religious leaders in southern Afghanistan reject the PRTs and are telling their followers that the bases are secret fronts for Christian evangelists. Colonel David Bennet, the Bagram-based public affairs officer for the U.S. Army's civil affairs programs, dismisses those allegations as disinformation aimed at derailing the antiterrorism coalition's efforts to win the support of ordinary Afghans.
"There is no religious tie, whatsoever, to the PRT concept. Our desire is to get as many different countries involved in the growth and development of the PRT system or programs and the advancement or the extension of the Afghan national government. Our desire is for, in the long-term, the Afghan national government to provide the good governance for the country. It will be for Afghanistan. It won't be for other countries or other religions."
Residents of Kandahar and Ghazni also tell RFE/RL that Afghan militia fighters, claiming to be part of the PRTs, have ransacked and looted property in house-to-house searches. Morton was surprised by such reports. "The only armed [Afghan] employees of the PRTs are guard forces," he said. "Sometimes they guard the compound. They are sometimes used as mobile guards -- mobile security. But they never, ever operate independently of the U.S. forces. So I would deny that that's happening unless some other [Afghan] forces are using the PRT name for their own purposes. This is the first I've heard of it. It's alarming, if that is the case."
Morton says U.S. combat troops sometimes conduct searches in buildings where Taliban or Al-Qaeda suspects are thought to be sheltering. But he said any Afghan militia fighter who conducts such a search is not doing so on behalf of a PRT. (Ron Synovitz)
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT AMENDS PRESS LAW.Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez told a news conference in Kabul on 5 April that the Afghan Transitional Administration has approved a new media law based on opinions solicited from journalists, Radio Afghanistan reported. Journalists, however, complained that they were not afforded the opportunity to comment on the revised press law because they were never shown the draft. Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai signed the new media law into effect on 1 April, before leaving for the Berlin donors conference. The new law ushers in "some amendments to the original law as approved in 2002," according to Carwardine (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003 and 1 April 2004). The new law states that "print media can start their activities before receiving a license from the government," Carwardine added, according to a UNAMA press release. He said the law should come into effect "once it has been officially published by the Ministry of Justice," adding that he does not know the "exact time" that might happen. It is unclear whether copies of the amended press law have been made available to the public. (Amin Tarzi)
MUSICIANS STRUGGLING TO KEEP COUNTRY'S CLASSICAL TRADITIONS ALIVE.Thirty-five-year-old Ghoussuddin is a stone engraver by profession. He sells chess boards and small artifacts that he carves from his dark, gritty shop in central Kabul. He says business is not very good -- certainly not enough to meet the monthly rent for his tiny space.
On the wall next to his wares is an exquisitely carved wooden lute called a "rabab." Ghoussuddin modestly calls himself an amateur on the stringed instrument. But when he picks it up and begins to play, his business concerns disappear. His face changes. He seems to become a different person.
Afghan classical music -- especially the music of the rabab -- is Ghoussuddin's passion. He plays the opening of a song called "Daz Ma Zeba Watan" -- a well-known Afghan song that literally means "It Is Our Ancestors' Country."
The rabab is the national instrument of Afghanistan. It was played in the ancient royal courts of the land and is considered a precursor to the Indian sarod -- which, along with the sitar, is one of India's most important classical instruments.
Both the neck and the body of the rabab are made from a single piece of hollowed wood. A tiny wooden bridge rests on the face of the instrument, which is covered with the skin of a goat.
The three main strings of the rabab are plucked with a wooden plectrum to produce a melody. And like the Indian sitar, the rabab has about a dozen sympathetic strings mounted beside the melody strings. With the exception of an occasional harplike strum, the sympathetic strings are rarely touched. They vibrate on their own as a result of the harmonic tones inside the wooden body when a melody is being played.
Sitting on a carpet in the back of his shop, Ghoussuddin turns his head to the left as his right hand plucks a complex rhythm. His eyes are closed. As his head sways from side to side, he appears to work himself into a trance.
When asked about his frame of mind while playing, Ghoussuddin tells RFE/RL that the music is transcendental.
"Playing the rabab refreshes the soul. It has a magic power. It is simply intoxicating. That is why we go into a silent state of mind [when performing the music]," he says.
Afghan psychiatrist Babrak Hessari agrees that the rabab is beneficial to Afghans who hear its sound. Hessari works at a psychiatric clinic in the northern Afghan town of Jabul Saraj that is funded by the U.S.-based humanitarian aid group International Orphan Care.
Hessari told RFE/RL he uses the music of the rabab to help orphaned Afghan children cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I can say that psychologically [the sound of the rabab helps] people who are under pressure. They can, for example, forget their sorrows and their grievances when they are listening to the music. It is important in Afghanistan. Psychologically, it is very important for their health because when a person has mental problems -- for example, depression or some kind of neurosis -- when they listen to the music, they will gradually treat themselves," Hessari.
Ghoussuddin says he thinks it is the intoxicating quality of traditional Afghan instruments that led the Taliban to ban music during its five-year rule. For a tradition that remains relatively overlooked by international music companies -- particularly in comparison to the popularity of classical Indian music -- the Taliban's ban was crippling.
As in India, classical Afghan music theory is an oral tradition. Students learn to vocalize rhythms and melodies by speaking musical phrases as verbal patterns. In this way, they internalize the music before trying to play a complex song on an instrument.
The Taliban's ban brought an end to such instruction in Afghanistan. The musical traditions were kept alive during the Taliban years mostly because of special music courses taught by Afghan refugees in places like Peshawar, Pakistan.
Ghoussuddin is among the generation of Afghan musicians who developed their talents in Pakistan. He says that, before the Taliban came to power, he was studying rabab for about one year under the famous Afghan musician Ustad Ghulam Hussain Khan. Khan, in turn, received his musical training from Afghanistan's most famous 20th-century rabab player, the late Ustad Mohammad Omar. Both Ghoussuddin and his teacher fled to Peshawar when the Taliban came to power.
"My teacher was there [in Pakistan]. I was in a place called Andar Sher [in Peshawar], and the [Afghan] musical courses were in [another part of Peshawar called] Takal. I used to go there to hear the one-hour lectures because I was interested in learning the rabab. And now that the Taliban are gone, my teacher has come back to [the Afghan capital], and I am continuing my lessons from [Kabul]," Ghoussuddin says.
Although Ghoussuddin is not playing professional concerts, his knowledge of the rabab supplements the income from his shop. He has two Western students who live and work in Kabul and who give him $100-$150 a month for lessons. That income helped him to keep his shop open through the winter.
Despite his business concerns, Ghoussuddin says life has been much better since the collapse of the Taliban regime.
"I am happy now that I can play my instrument freely. Nobody disturbs me. Everybody [who hears Afghan musicians play] is proud of us and wants us to improve this art form in order to strengthen our traditional culture. So we are very happy about having this freedom," Ghoussuddin says.
He says he and other musicians he knows are determined to continue studying Afghan music in the future -- regardless of any financial benefits -- because they want to preserve one of Afghanistan's unique artistic traditions. (Ron Synovitz)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY2 April 1949 -- Afghanistan recalls its charge d'affaires from Pakistan in protest at Pakistani bombing in Waziristan.
3 April 1988 -- Kabul government changes the administrative divisions of Afghanistan by creating the new Sar-e Pol Province.
2 April 1991 -- Kabul government declares a "Day of Mourning" for fall of Khost on 31 March.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).