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Afghan Report: May 13, 2004

13 May 2004, Volume 3, Number 17

By Jeffery Donovan

Despite continued violence in southern Afghanistan, there are signs that an appeal by the government to reach out to opponents might be bearing fruit.

Last week, a breakaway faction of the radical Islamic group Hizb-e Islami, which has been blamed for guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan's restive south and east, announced that it wants peace and a constructive role to play in the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai.

Although the group does not represent the whole of Hizb-e Islami or leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- whose whereabouts remain unknown -- analysts say its announcement may signal a positive trend in Afghanistan's evolving "peace process."

The announcement came after Karzai recently appealed to rank-and-file members of the former Taliban regime to stop fighting the government and work to rebuild Afghanistan, which is set to hold general elections in September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004).

Khaled Faruqi, calling himself the head of Hizb-e Islami's "decision-making body," told a news conference in Kabul on 2 May that he and others in a breakaway faction of the radical Islamic group are tired of fighting and want to contribute to the country's rebirth.

"We hate violence and understand that it will not serve to rehabilitate Afghanistan. We believe that only peaceful discussions between Afghans can create national confidence and resolve problems," Faruqi said.

Fighting between government troops and U.S. soldiers and forces loyal to the Taliban has intensified in recent weeks. On 4 May, neo-Taliban officials in the southern city of Kandahar said their guerrillas killed nine government troops and five policemen in the latest clash (see news section below).

Two foreigners and an Afghan helping the United Nations prepare for elections were killed on 4 May in a separate attack in the remote eastern province of Nuristan (see news section below).

The Taliban, ousted with U.S. help in late 2001, has vowed to wage holy war against the Kabul government, aid workers, foreign troops, and international peacekeeping forces.

Abdul Ghafar Karyab is another member of the Hizb-e Islami faction that says it wants peace. A former mayor of Jalalabad, Karyab told the news conference that his group has developed an "atmosphere of trust" after engaging in secret talks with the government. He also urged the government to continue urging opponents to join the political process.

"I don't think that Hizb-e Islami supports terrorism. In our view, those who think they can solve Afghanistan's problems through military means are wrong. We don't think Afghanistan is an occupied country. We tell these people [government opponents] they should follow the peace process. We have also appealed to the government to invite these people to the peace process. We expect a new initiative of the government to convince all the others who want war, not just Hizb-e Islami, to join the peace process," Karyab said.

Faruqi said his faction had cut all ties with Hizb-e Islami founder Hekmatyar, a former prime minister identified as a "terrorist" by Washington. He said the faction has had no contact with Hekmatyar for the last three years.

The precise whereabouts of Hekmatyar, who rained rockets on Kabul during factional clashes in the 1990s and is believed to have teamed up with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, have been a mystery since he was expelled from Iran in 2002.

Faruqi said fighting no longer interested Hizb-e Islami and that his group supports the U.S.-trained Afghan National Army, higher education for women, free elections, and moves to disarm private militias.

But given Hekmatyar's central role in Hizb-e Islami, analysts question the extent to which the faction's peace gesture represents the whole group -- or could influence its remaining members.

Kathy Gannon has worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for 14 years as a correspondent for AP. Now a fellow with New York's Council on Foreign Relations, she told RFE/RL the gesture by Faruqi and his colleagues might be genuine; but it might not mean that much, since they do not represent Hizb-e Islami.

"The thing is, if they haven't had any contact with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, then they don't represent Hizb-e Islami. Then it is [simply] a group of people that are saying that we want to be part of the government," Gannon said.

Yet that in itself might hold the seeds of a significant trend, said Michael Griffin, a British expert on Afghanistan and author of "Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan."

Griffin said that despite the violence that continues to rage in the south and east of the country, Karzai's government stands to gain a lot if he can convince other opponents to choose politics over violence.

He said the success of Karzai's appeal to ordinary members of the Taliban and other opponents of the government could go a long way toward determining the country's future stability. Griffin added that Karzai's effort to co-opt insurgents came after long-standing opposition from the U.S. Defense Department.

"For the short-term interests -- for the medium- and long-term interests of Afghanistan, for that matter -- you have to bring in the Pashtun majority. It's the majority in the south and east of the country which have been fighting most virulently against America and Afghan soldiers -- they've killed 400 [Afghan soldiers] since September 2003. Thus, they need to be compromised. They need to be brought into government. They need very much to be brought into the electoral process. Whether they can handle it or not is another question," Griffin said.

Much like the Taliban, Hizb-e Islami is mostly made up of ethnic Pashtuns.

As in Afghanistan with the Taliban, the Pentagon has also recently reversed its former policy in Iraq that prevented members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party from holding government jobs. Partly in a bid to quell violence against U.S. forces by Sunni Muslims, Washington is now recruiting former members of the mostly Sunni Ba'ath Party for key positions in Iraq.

Gannon said Afghanistan would probably benefit from a similar policy as it gears up for September's presidential and parliamentary elections, its first national polls after years of fighting and instability.

"Demonizing everybody isn't the answer in Afghanistan, and I think that's what Hamid Karzai is saying," Gannon said. "You know, every Pashtun isn't in the Taliban and every person who's in the Taliban isn't an enemy."

Jeffery Donovan is an RFE/RL correspondent.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai visited western Afghanistan's Herat Province on 10 May, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Karzai visited the grave of Mirwais Sadeq, the late civil aviation and tourism minister and son of powerful Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, and laid the cornerstone of a school named in Sadeq's honor. Sadeq died in March under circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004). During his visit to Herat, Karzai noted that an agreement exists between Kabul and Ismail Khan for the disarmament of his provincial militia, AP reported on 10 May. A day before Karzai's visit to Herat, Ismail Khan said that if his militia is disarmed "there is no force to replace them." Since the establishment of the post-Taliban administration in Afghanistan in December 2001, Ismail Khan has proven unwilling to submit to central authority in Kabul and has maintained his own militia. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan disarmament has yet to begin, reported UN special representative for Afghanistan Jean Arnault on 6 May, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) the same day. Arnault stated that attempts to disarm clashing Afghan militia factions before the national elections, scheduled to take place in September this year, are in "serious jeopardy," CBC reported. "Many of [the militias] have been, in the past two years, involved in factional fighting, which is a continuing cause of instability -- and of suffering for the communities affected by it," Arnault said. The UN has continued to emphasize the necessity of disarming Afghan militias in order to ensure successful elections. (Kimberly McCloud)

Japan has asked NATO for assistance in disarming and demobilizing approximately 10,000 Afghan militiamen, Kyodo World Service reported on 5 May. Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Kinichi Komano requested the assistance during a 4 May NATO meeting in Brussels. He said that Japan, which has provided approximately $3.5 million to the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program (DDR), considers "local warlords working as military commanders" a major obstacle. Komano also said that increased violent attacks and "sabotage activities" perpetrated by suspected neo-Taliban are hindering the DDR's success. To date, 6,200 soldiers have been disarmed, according to the news agency. Meanwhile, Japan is considering the prospect of sending ground troops to Afghanistan to support humanitarian projects, Reuters reported on 5 May. (Kimberly McCloud)

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi announced that the ministry will recruit Afghan militia units from all over the country to join a Kabul-based, 2,000-strong Afghan Guard Force to fight terrorism, AP reported on 2 May. "If they are needed in any place to suppress terrorism, we will send them," Azimi told AP. The U.S. requested that the Afghan Defense Ministry establish the force in order to improve its cooperation with various Afghan militias. Critics worry, however, that this program to establish official cooperation with regional militias will undermine the internationally supported programs to disarm factional leaders throughout the country, many of whom have not cooperated fully with the central Afghan Transitional Administration. The guard force is to be disbanded within two years, said Azimi, when the Afghan National Army is stronger and able to fight terrorism and other threats. (Kimberly McCloud)

Seven people were killed in Paktika Province on 9 May when a group of suspected robbers attacked a customs post, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 10 May. Paktika Governor Mohammad Golab Mangal said that four customs agents along with the group's leader, identified as Mohammad Fateh, and his brother and sister were killed in the incident. It occurred in the village of Robat in the province's Sarobi District. Mangal said that Mohammad Fateh's sister was killed while in her brother's house, which is near the customs post. Mangal suggested that she may have been hit by "a stray bullet." Mangal denied reports that the incident might have been carried out by the customs troops for political reasons, adding that Mohammad Fateh "was a well-known robber who had his own checkpoints" that he used to extort money. According to AIP, Mohammad Fateh held an official position as a security commander in Paktika Province. (Amin Tarzi)

Six people were killed in Faryab Province during armed clashes between supporters of the northern Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and Lieutenant General Hashem Habibi, commander of the 200th Army Division, Radio Afghanistan reported on 10 May. The clashes occurred in the province's Garziwan District. The identities of the victims are unknown. Meanwhile, in a recent unrelated event in Faryab Province, one person was wounded when a bomb exploded near the office of an unidentified aid agency. The ongoing unrest in the province began in April when troops loyal to Dostum reportedly crossed into the province from neighboring Jowzjan Province and ousted Faryab's Governor Enayatullah Enayat (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 April 2004). Dostum, who officially holds the title of special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, heads the Junbish-e Melli party and commands his own military force in northern Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Four alleged militants were killed after a U.S. military convoy was attacked near Gardayz in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia on 1 May, according to AP the next day. When two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the attack on the convoy, according to the U.S. spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth, airstrikes were requested. DeWerth reported that four militants were killed by the airstrikes, two were injured, and two detained. Provincial police chief General Haygul Sulaymankhel, however, claimed that the four men were actually policemen mistaken as militants and that the incident took place at a police checkpoint, AP reported. "Because of a misunderstanding, they opened fire on each other," Sulaymankhel told the news agency. This most recent incident in Afghanistan raises the number of reported violent deaths in 2004 to more than 300. Neo-Taliban attacks have accounted for a majority of these deaths. (Kimberly McCloud)

Two British UN employees and their Afghan interpreter were attacked and killed in Nuristan Province on 5 May in the third violent attack on UN election workers in three months, international news agencies reported. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the killings may slow its drive, launched this week, to register approximately 10 million Afghans for September's national elections, AP reported. Global Risk Strategies, a British security company that is surveying rural Afghanistan to help determine safe sites for registration offices, said the killings were perpetrated by "local bandits." But de Almeida e Silva said voter-registration efforts will continue throughout the country regardless. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said the killings constitute a "cowardly act aimed at terrorizing the people of Afghanistan." He said in an official statement that Afghanistan "will continue relentlessly on the path that the people of the country have chosen: the path of peace prosperity and reconstruction." Nearly 2 million Afghan citizens in eight major cities have so far registered to vote. (Kimberly McCloud)

The bodies of two slain foreign nationals were discovered on 9 March in a public park in Kabul, international media reported. The two men, one of whom was carrying a Swiss passport, were apparently beaten to death with rocks or bricks, according to Kabul police. The authorities do not believe the killings were politically motivated. The two men, who were dressed in Afghan clothing, were most likely tourists and had been in the country for 11 days, Deputy Police Chief Khalil Aminzada told AP. Although a UN vehicle was parked nearby at the time the bodies were discovered, UN spokesman de Almeida e Silva said the two men did not work for the UN in Afghanistan. (Kimberly McCloud)

One U.S. Marine was killed and one was injured during fighting on the night of 7-8 May with suspected neo-Taliban insurgents near Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, AFP reported on 9 May. Colonel Tucker Mansager told reporters on 8 May that the Marine's death came "as the result of a direct fire engagement with anticoalition militias." Oruzgan is the home province of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and remains a hotbed of insurgent activity. The U.S. military recently finished setting up a new base just outside Tirin Kot in an effort to restore order (see below). (Kimberly McCloud)

An Afghan national was treated for minor injuries after the UN vehicle he was driving burst into flames following an explosion on 8 May near Grabawa, located in Nangarhar Province's Khogyani District, AP reported on 9 May. Four passengers escaped uninjured when the vehicle was engulfed in flames after a mine prematurely exploded and ruptured its fuel tank, UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. Three suspected militants were killed in the incident. Officials were uncertain whether the UN vehicle was the intended target. The incident comes following the killings of three UN election workers in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan Province on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). De Almeida e Silva said the recent spate of attacks will not deter the UN from registering Afghans for September's national elections, AP reported. (Kimberly McCloud)

At least 39 people were killed and approximately 40 injured when a gas tanker exploded in the market area of Azizabad, a village in the Shindand District in the southern part of western Herat Province, according to international news agencies on 2 May. Provincial police chief Ziauddin Mahmodi reported to AFP that at least half of the injured had "100 percent burns" and are also likely to die. The cause of the accidental explosion, according to officials, was "careless welding." Herat government spokesperson Karim Masum told Reuters on 2 May, "It was an accident. A gas truck had some problem and the driver tried to weld it. That set off an explosion that triggered another explosion." Valerie Gentner, a spokeswoman for the French nongovernmental organization, Doctors of the World, told AFP that the Herat hospital was not prepared to handle the emergency. (Kimberly McCloud)

Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai on 5 May urged a meeting of Afghan religious scholars to ostracize "the enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan," Bakhtar News Agency reported. Karzai encouraged the leaders to "voice their protest against such un-Islamic acts and expose the nature of the perpetrators to the nation." Suspected neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have recently targeted pro-government religious leaders. At a news conference in Kabul the same day, government spokesman Jawed Ludin lauded the 2 May statement issued by leaders of Hizb-e Islami denouncing terrorism. (Kimberly McCloud)

At least 10 members of the decision-making council of Hezb-e Islami-e Afghanistan met with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on 2 May, according to state-run Kabul Radio Afghanistan the same day. Along with Karzai, Deputy Head of State and Minister of Defense Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and Deputy Head of State Mohammad Karim Khalili were also present at the meeting. Declared a terrorist group by the U.S. for its alliance with former Taliban, Hezb-e Islami has reportedly denounced violence in a bid to join the political process, according to "The New York Times" on 3 May. After "months of negotiations with [Karzai]," the paper reported, Khaled Faruqi, head of the party in Paktika Province, said at a news conference on 2 May: "[Hezb-e Islami] wants to play an effective role in bringing about peace." Faruqi declared that the party has no contact with renegade leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and that it supports the Afghan National Army and police forces. (Kimberly McCloud)

The Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 6 May that "it looks as if the solidarity of some members of the Hizb-e Islami party of Afghanistan with the Afghan government has caused discord in the party." AIP said some Hizb-e Islami members were unhappy with recent overtures by the party's central council to the Afghan Transitional Administration. A statement by Hizb-e Islami, dated 3 May, was allegedly sent to press offices in Peshawar on 6 May, in which it was stated that the group wanted to make some "clarifications regarding the surrender of some people to the American-backed Kabul government." The statement claimed that the group did not negotiate any agreements with the Kabul administration. Further, Hizb-e Islami claimed in the statement that renegade militant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar remains its leader, the Peshawar-based Afghan daily "Sahar" reported on 6 May. (Kimberly McCloud)

Hamid Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, refuted claims made by Karzai regarding contacts between neo-Taliban leaders and Kabul, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 27 April. In a faxed statement, Hamid Agha said only the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. "If Karzai is true in his endeavors, he should initiate the release of those Afghans, whose ages are beyond 80 years and [who] are languishing in [Guantanamo Bay,] Cuba," the statement added. The neo-Taliban statement said there can be no negotiations when innocent Afghans are being arrested in the name of the Taliban and many areas of the country are being bombed. During a recent trip to Kandahar, Karzai repeated his claim that his administration is in contact with some leaders of the ousted Taliban regime (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). Hamid Agha's statement challenged Karzai to provide the names of those who have contacted his administration. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Agha mocked Karzai for allegedly saying that the resurgent Taliban movement numbers only 100 to 150 "troublemakers," "The News" reported on 27 April. On 26 April, Karzai stated that his administration's "problem is mainly with the top Taliban -- who might number no more than 150 people -- who had links with Al-Qaeda" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). Hamid Agha's statement asked "Why are guerrilla attacks taking place in 15 provinces in one day when only 100 to 150 Taliban have been identified as troublemakers?" The statement concluded that the interests of the United States are dearer to Karzai than the interests of Afghanistan and Muslims. Since April 2003 Karzai has tried to distinguish between a few militants among the ranks of the former Taliban and what he has described as "the honest sons" of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Three influential Afghan politicians have denied any links or cooperation with the neo-Taliban, the state-run Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 May. Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of Jamiat-e Islami and former Afghan president (1992-1996); Abdul Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf, leader of Ettehad-e Islami; and Mohammad Ismail Khan, governor of Herat Province; rejected neo-Taliban claims that they had each promised to work with the group. A spokesman for the neo-Taliban, Mullah Dadollah, had allegedly reported the false pledges, according to Iranian radio. The three leaders support Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's call for the neo-Taliban to lay down their arms and cooperate with the central government, according to the report. (Kimberly McCloud)

The bodies of 10 Afghan soldiers were discovered in Afghanistan on 4 May, AP and AFP reported. The governor of Zabul Province, Khial Mohammed Hussayni, said the bodies of five soldiers from the newly formed Afghan National Army who were kidnapped by suspected neo-Taliban forces on 3 May were discovered the next day. The soldiers were reportedly attacked on the road between the provincial capital Qalat and the army headquarters in the Shah Joy District of northern Zabul, according to AFP. The same day, five Afghan militia soldiers who were reportedly killed by neo-Taliban attackers at a local government office just after midnight were found dead in northern Kandahar Province near the border with Zabul, according to provincial military spokesperson General Abdul Wasay. Wasay also stated that suspected neo-Taliban insurgents were arrested on 3 May when they attempted to attack a government office in Zabul's Mizan District. Authorities also reported that "dozens" of others had been arrested in recent days. (Kimberly McCloud)

Around 70 suspected neo-Taliban militia attacked a nongovernmental organization on 26 April in the southern Kandahar Province, killing three aid workers and one security guard, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The attack occurred in the Panjway District of Kandahar and was directed against the local office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance organization. The attackers burned down the organization's office and three vehicles. Six people were wounded in the attack. Panjway District chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi said that he has no doubt that neo-Taliban were responsible for the attack, "The New York Times," reported on 28 April. The district's police chief, Sa'dullah Mashuzai, added that the attackers left a Chinese-made assault rifle of the kind used by Pakistani police. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified gunmen assassinated Commander Abdul Razaq and five of his bodyguards on 29 April in the southern Afghan Kandahar Province, AFP reported on 30 April. Khan Mohammad, a provincial military official, told AFP that the assassinations were the "work of Taliban and Al-Qaeda." The killings occurred in the Panjway District where, on 26 April, a nongovernmental aid agency was attacked and three aid workers and a guard were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). According to a Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press report on 30 April, a total of five people were killed in the attack and one person was injured. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified gunmen on 27 April assassinated Mawlawi Abdul Bari, a member of the Ulama Council of Kandahar, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 28 April. According to the report, security officials in Kandahar Province have blamed the neo-Taliban for the killing. Abdul Bari is the third member of the Ulama Council of Kandahar to be assassinated since the council issued a fatwa rejecting resistance against the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The report did not specify when the fatwa was issued. The neo-Taliban have demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces in Afghanistan and have threatened to kill Afghans who collaborate with the coalition. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan antiterror police belonging to the National Directorate of Security have arrested a neo-Taliban commander named Zmaray in Logar Province, south of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 April. Zmaray was arrested along with two other suspected neo-Taliban members while another person, alleged to be an associate of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and a leader of the radical Hizb-e Islami, managed to escape. The arrests in Logar come at a time when Afghan and International Security Assistance Force sources have reported several arrests of militants in or near the Afghan capital (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. forces have detained as many as 35 neo-Taliban suspects during a major sweep operation in Zabul Province's Nawbahar District, international news agencies reported on 9 May. "There was no resistance. All the suspected Taliban are in U.S. custody," said Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were reportedly engaged in the sweep operation, but no Afghan troops were involved, Hosayni said. Weapons caches were also discovered. The U.S. military did not provide comment following the operation. Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 9 May that Pakistanis, Arabs, and other foreign nationals were among those arrested. Zabul Province has been a center of insurgency and terrorist activity, particularly along the Kabul-Kandahar highway. (Kimberly McCloud)

An unidentified spokesman for the neo-Taliban has claimed that the militant group has control over mountainous regions in Zabul Province, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 30 April. The spokesman has claimed that the neo-Taliban gained control of these territories, which he has not identified, after clashes with Afghan forces loyal to the country's central government. In the past, officials in Zabul have indicated that parts of the province have been in the control of the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July and 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Latifullah Hakimi, claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, denied reports that his group has poisoned schoolgirls in the southeastern Khost Province, AFP reported on 30 April. Three schoolgirls were reported to be in critical condition after eating biscuits offered to them by a man on 28 April. Khialbaz Khan, the military commander of Khost, alleged that the girls were offered biscuits laced with poison by the neo-Taliban in order to "deter" them "from going to school." The girls in question were attending the only school in the province that accepts female students. Under the Taliban regime, girls were banned from attending schools, but in conservative and traditional areas such as Khost the local tribes discouraged female education even before the emergence of the Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, speaking at a press conference in Kabul on 3 May, expressed "concerns" about Pakistan offering amnesty to militants reported to be linked to Al-Qaeda, AFP reported the same day. Barno stated, "Our view is that there are foreign fighters in those tribal areas who will have to be killed or captured." He reported "significant numbers" of militants active in the southern Waziristan tribal zone of Pakistan. The Pakistani government granted amnesty to five Pakistani tribesmen and up to 500 foreign fighters in Pakistan on 24 April on the condition that they register with local officials and not take part in violent activities. According to local leaders, no foreign fighters have yet registered in Pakistan for fear of reprisal, AFP reported. Describing the importance of good relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barno said, "The center point of that clearly is the issue of terrorists who would use the territory of both countries to advance their aim to kill innocent people both here in this region and around the world." (Kimberly McCloud)

Joining the United States in its criticism of Pakistan's amnesty offer to Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban militants, Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said it is necessary to continue fighting the insurgents "to clear the area of terrorist elements," AP reported on 4 May. "We are concerned about being soft on terrorists," said Ludin. "They rather require a tougher treatment from us, from the government of Pakistan, from our partners in the coalition." Pakistan offered amnesty to militants, including hundreds of foreign fighters, if they renounced violence and registered with authorities. On 1 May, the government of Pakistan extended its 30 April registration deadline by one week. Thus far no foreign fighters have publicly accepted the amnesty, according to AP. In March, Afghan and U.S. authorities commended Pakistan's moves to crack down on militants in southern Waziristan in March. (Kimberly McCloud)

Jawed Ludin, the spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, said on 26 April that the future Afghan parliament, which is to be formed after the September general elections, will have to discuss the issue of the two newly established provinces in the country, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Karzai's administration elevated the Daikondi District, formerly in Oruzgan Province, and the Panjsher District, formerly in Parwan Province, to the status of provinces in March and April, respectively (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 and 28 April 2004). Armed clashes have been reported in both Daikondi and Oruzgan related to those decisions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). Ludin claimed that Panjsher was not linked to any province because the late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud independently administered it, therefore Karzai decided to make it a province to honor Mas'ud. (Amin Tarzi)

Ali Ahmad Jalali has defended the decision by the Afghan Transitional Administration to elevate Daikondi District, formerly a part of Oruzgan Province, and Panjsher District, formerly in Parwan Province, to the status of provinces in March and April respectively (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 and 28 April 2004), Radio Afghanistan reported on 29 April. Jalali said that Panjsher has had an independent administration for the past 23 years while Daikondi has a large population and is connected by roads to its three neighboring provinces of Ghor, Oruzgan, and Bamiyan. Since early April armed clashes have occurred that were reportedly related to or triggered by the elevation of Daikondi to provincial status and people in Oruzgan have protested Kabul's decision regarding Daikondi. According to the report, because of these two administrative changes, people in Adnkhoy, Khogiani, Shinwar, and Orgun are demanding that those districts be elevated to provincial status. (Amin Tarzi)

Elders of the Shinwari tribe living in the eastern Afghan Nangarhar Province have demanded that their area be designated a separate province, the Peshawar-based daily "Shahadat" reported on 26 April. The Shinwari elders brought their case to Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, on 25 April. They argued that with 11 districts, the Shinwar region meets the criteria for becoming a province. The Shinwaris want the creation of the Shinwar Province with its administrative capital at Ghani Khayl. The delegation said that the change of status would solve many unspecified problems faced by the Shinwaris. The Shinwari elders indicated that they will present their demand to Karzai. (Amin Tarzi)

About 100 representatives of Shinwar District in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province have traveled to Kabul to present a petition to the Afghan Transitional Administration requesting that their district be given provincial status, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 9 May. According to some of the Shinwari representatives, the rationale behind their demand is the remoteness of their district from Jalalabad, the provincial capital. "Erada" reported that the recent elevation of the districts of Daikondi and Panjsher to provincial status prompted the representatives of Shiwari to step up their efforts. The districts of Adnkhoy, Khogiani, and Orgun are also seeking provincial status. (Amin Tarzi)

The district of Panjsher, formerly a part of Parwan Province and a major center of jihad activities during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, officially became its own province on 6 May, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Representing Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, First Deputy Head of State and National Defense Minister Marshal Fahim presided over the inaugural ceremony. Several Afghan cabinet members as well as former Afghan jihad leaders attended. "You have made sacrifices to protect the dignity and pride of Afghanistan, so you deserve to have an administration with the new process in Afghanistan through which you can share efforts towards reconstruction of your province," Fahim said at the ceremony. Fahim also encouraged residents of the new province to participate in national reconstruction: "As you showed devotion during jihad and resistance, you should also be committed to the establishment of a friendly atmosphere, national unity, and acceleration of the reconstruction process in the country." (Kimberly McCloud)

General Abdul Rashid Dostum has agreed to allow inmates at the Sheberghan jail in northern Jowzjan Province to be transferred to Kabul after prisoners there held a five-day hunger strike to protest conditions, the "Financial Times" reported on 5 May. As many as 270 of the 800 prisoners at the facility were transferred to Kabul on 4 May, and the rest were to follow shortly thereafter, prison director Abdul Khalil told the daily. Most of the inmates were jailed for fighting with the former Taliban regime against the U.S.-led coalition. Up to 400 of them might be Pakistani, according to Tehran's Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 4 May. International human rights groups have criticized conditions and treatment of prisoners at the infamous prison. (Kimberly McCloud)

Approximately 2,200 U.S. Marines have been sent to operate from a new military base in central Afghanistan, AFP reported on 6 May. The 22nd U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit established Forward Operating Base Ripley just outside Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province. Suspected neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have been active in the province. U.S. military officials hope the new base, created to support the mission Taskforce Linebacker, will play a role in establishing security before the national elections in September. Base Ripley's commanding officer, Colonel Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., told AFP that "Our mission here is to improve the general security environment and that will lead to successful elections." McKenzie stated that the base camp in the center of the country will help to restrict the movement and activities of militants. "Oruzgan," said McKenzie, "sits central to's a natural transit point for people to move from east and west." (Kimberly McCloud)

The U.S. military announced on 4 May that the inquiry into the December 2002 deaths of two Afghan prisoners being held at Bagram Air Base is progressing slowly, AP reported. U.S. authorities said the investigation has resulted in protocol changes at the detention facility. Because of the alleged prisoner abuse by U.S. troops in Iraq, questions have again emerged about the progress of the Afghan inquiry as well as that of other alleged prisoner-abuse reports in Afghanistan. Military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth told AP: "The investigation is ongoing the complexities associated with gathering evidence and interviewing persons who might have had access to the facility." DeWerth added that "We treat detainees humanely and consistent with the conditions under customary international law for humane treatment." In both cases at Bagram, U.S. military coroners determined that "blunt force injuries" had caused the two "homicide" deaths. (Kimberly McCloud)

Assisting the development of the new Afghan army is a priority for the Russian Federation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said during a meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in Moscow on 4 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In the past two years, stated Yakovenko, Russia has contributed approximately $78 million in military supplies and training. Russia also wishes to increase cooperation with Afghanistan in the energy field. "Moscow is ready to take an active part in the development of fields in north Afghanistan and enlarge natural gas deliveries to thermal power plants," said Yakovenko. Russia has recently demanded that Afghanistan repay millions of dollars in debt that it allegedly incurred during the Soviet Union's occupation of the country. "The legacy of Soviet-Afghan relations -- Afghanistan's large debt -- is a definite obstacle to our economic relations," said Yakovenko, Interfax reported on 4 May. But, he noted, "We are ready to settle the problem of debts" (for more on the Russian-debt issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 April 2004 and 25 September 2003). (Kimberly McCloud)

The U.S.-based Population Services International (PSI) will begin selling 1.6 million condoms in stores and pharmacies at a subsidized cost of one Afghani ($.02) in five major Afghan cities, AFP reported on 3 May. While some observers are concerned about promoting birth control in such a conservative country, organizers report that the project is already successful, with the sale of nearly 400,000 condoms in Kabul since January. PSI is now set to begin a "culturally adapted" education campaign, featuring radio and billboard advertisements. The U.S. Agency for International Development program funds the $5 million program, according to AFP, and it plans to introduce birth control pills as well. Prophylactics are not commonly used in Afghanistan and birth control in general is a taboo subject. (Kimberly McCloud)

The Afghan Interior Ministry has formed a special police force to protect the country's historical sites, Afghanistan Television reported on 28 April. Major General Mohammad Harun Asefi, a police commander, said that initially 84 officers will be deployed to "protect historical sites in Logar and Kapisa provinces" near Kabul. The plan is to increase the strength of the force to 500 officers and expand its area of operation, Asefi added. The geographical area of modern Afghanistan is home to numerous Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic historical sites. Some of these sites have been excavated. In the past 25 years, much of Afghanistan's historical treasures have either been stolen or destroyed. (Amin Tarzi)

4 May 1955 -- Afghanistan mobilizes troops as Pakistan demands closure of all Afghan consulates.

11 May 1965 -- New electoral law, providing for universal, direct vote by secret ballot for all Afghan men and women over 20, goes into effect.

29 April 1992 -- Hizb-e Islami fighters ejected from Defense Ministry by forces of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," third edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).