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Afghan Report: June 10, 2004

10 June 2004, Volume 3, Number 21

By Andrew Tully

With Afghanistan's elections due to be held in just three months, there is growing concern about the country's security. The instability in much of the country outside the capital, Kabul, is made worse because of the growing drug trade in a country that is the world's leading producer of the opium poppy. Several officials from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush testified on 2 June about the problem before a congressional committee (for more on Afghan drug problem see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February and 2 June 2004, also see news items below).

For the Bush administration, yesterday's hearing by the House International Relations Committee could not have come at a worse time.

The General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress's government oversight agency, had just issued a scathing report on the opium trade in Afghanistan. The report said the drug trade was increasing violence in Afghanistan, already unstable since the U.S.-led invasion to topple the governing Taliban and to disperse Al-Qaeda. According to the GAO, opium trafficking is posing a serious long-term challenge to Western military efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. It accused the Bush administration of delaying and not properly monitoring much-needed aid for the Afghan people.

Four administration officials who testified before the committee insisted that the U.S. government was making progress on the security front, but they conceded that drug trafficking is making the task more difficult.

One was Mary Beth Long, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics. She testified that the opium trade enriches warlords, enabling them to gain tighter control over their regions outside Kabul and reducing the influence of the government of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. Long said the trafficking also emboldens what she called "unaccountable groups" -- including the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This, she said, directly threatens Afghans and indirectly threatens the United States.

"Narcotics trafficking not only hinders our efforts to defeat extremists and the terrorist forces in Afghanistan, but also our efforts to support the stability and legitimacy of the Afghan central government and to protect the security of the United States," Long said.

Another witness was James Kunder, an official of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which manages U.S. foreign aid. Kunder spoke positively about the antidrug action being taken by Afghan police, with the assistance of British troops stationed in the country.

Kunder said USAID understands the need for police and military interdiction efforts to fight the drug trade in Afghanistan. But he said the cultivation of alternative crops to poppy eventually may accomplish more. For example, he said the production of wheat -- Afghanistan's primary crop -- has increased steadily since the fall of the Taliban.

According to Kunder, USAID is pressing farmers to grow other crops, such as olives. But he said the economics of poppy production has slowed this effort. "Today, what a farmer can realize for planting a hectare of wheat is about one-thirtieth of what a farmer can gain by planting a hectare of poppy," he said. "So those are the kind of economic factors you're looking at. To us [at USAID], it's astonishing that the percentage of Afghan farmers who are actually growing poppy is well under 10 percent."

One problem that the United States may be facing is a lack of help from its traditional allies, according to Representative Tom Lantos. Lantos said the United States' NATO allies are taking what he called a "free ride" -- letting the United States do the bulk of the work on security in Afghanistan, even though European populations are being threatened by drugs from that country.

"They are not contributing enough troops or resources, and I'm beginning to suspect that despite their encouraging and solemn words to our officials, they do not have the will to really participate in bringing peace to Afghanistan or even to participate in a significant way in the global war against terrorism," Lantos said.

NATO has been in charge of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operating in Kabul for nearly a year. It has also discussed plans with the United States to lead a number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams elsewhere in the country ahead of elections.

One of the witnesses sought to portray European contribution in a more positive light. William Taylor, the U.S. State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan, noted that last month in Berlin, international donors pledged $8.2 billion for Afghanistan through 2006.

Although Karzai's government says more than three times that much money will be needed during the period, Taylor said the pledges already had made a significant contribution to Afghanistan's elections in September. "The international community has stepped up -- you mentioned the Berlin conference -- as part of the $8.2 billion over three years that you mentioned, the international community has stepped up and come up with about two-thirds of the necessary funding so far for the elections," Taylor said.

Taylor said the U.S. government has been working hard on the three primary elements of its program to ensure long-term stability for Afghanistan. They are helping Karzai disarm the warlords, preparing for the elections, and continuing to discourage poppy cultivation.

Fifteen years ago, Taylor said, the United States abandoned the people of Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out. He said that proved to be regrettable for Americans as well as Afghans. Now, he said, Washington must show the Afghans, groups like Al-Qaeda, and the world that it will not walk away again.

"Our will needs to be long-term. Our will needs to be there so that not only the Afghan people know that we're going to be there for the long term, but also those enemies of the Afghan people -- they need to know that they can't wait us out. They need to know that we are going to maintain our commitment," Taylor said.

Andrew Tully is a RFE/RL correspondent.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, told a press briefing on 6 June that there are no funds yet available for the Afghan election process, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) website ( According to de Almeida e Silva, a total of $101 million is required for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September and UNAMA has pledges and firm commitments of about $70 million. However, he added, the "situation is more serious than what these figures show because not one penny is actually in the bank yet." Some observers believe that both elections are taking place prematurely, although Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has insisted that they should be held in September, the BBC reported on 6 June. (For more on the Afghan election process, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 January, 26 February and 2 June 2004.) (Amin Tarzi)

Faruq Wardak, the director of the Secretariat of the Joint Electoral Management Body, said that the registration process for the Afghan elections is slow, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 6 June. Wardak said that the election body originally predicted that 100,000 people will register each day; however, reports indicate that currently between 50,000 and 60,000 people are registering daily. The report does not elaborate on the effects of the slower registration process on the timing of the elections. According to UNAMA spokesman de Almeida e Silva, as of 1 June, 3,065,369 Afghans had registered to vote -- 2,041,948 of whom are men and 1,023,537 women. Estimates vary, but there are thought to be around 10 million eligible voters in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released on 8 June, called on the United States and other G-8 countries to protect the integrity of the general elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September. "There's been too much doubletalk on Afghanistan," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of HRW's Asia Division. "It's time for the United States and its NATO allies to honor their pledges to provide aid and ensure security in Afghanistan before things deteriorate even further." Specifically, HRW cited a funding shortfall for the upcoming elections. Donors have not yet supplied any of the $101 million needed by the UN and Afghan government to administer the elections. U.S. President George W. Bush has invited Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai to the G-8 summit scheduled for 8-10 June in the United States. The G-8 comprises the United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said on 1 June that Karzai has not joined in any coalition with former leaders of mujahedin parties, Radio Afghanistan reported. Spokesman Jawed Ludin maintained, however, that discussions between Karzai and some of those leaders are under way (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). The aim of such discussions, Ludin added, is to strengthen national unity and prepare the proper conditions for elections scheduled for September. Ludin rejected recent reports that Karzai has offered government posts to some of the former mujahedin leaders. Former Afghan President and Jami'at-e Islami party leader Burhanuddin Rabbani on 31 May confirmed negotiations between Karzai and the United Front (Northern Alliance) leadership, according to Radio Afghanistan on 31 May, but he said no final agreement has been reached. Rabbani stressed that United Front would support any candidate for the presidency who accepted its list of 25 preconditions, which he did not reveal. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai is reportedly continuing negotiations with some former leaders of the ousted Taliban regime in order to include them in a postelection government in Afghanistan, "The Sunday Times" of London reported on 30 May. According to the report, two former Taliban foreign ministers, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil and Mullah Ghaws, are at the center of negotiations in which former Taliban leaders are purportedly being offered cabinet-level positions in the future Afghan government in return for their help in persuading their more militant colleagues to abandon the ongoing insurgency. Frontier and Tribal Affairs Minister Aref Nurzai said excluding "these people [former Taliban leaders] has only created problems." Karzai's idea "is to have a broad-based government in which these forces can participate so they can't be used by other countries or interests," Nurzai said. Conflicting reports about Karzai's relations, particularly with Mutawakkil, have circulated since the former Taliban minister was reportedly released from U.S. detention in October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September, 9,16, 23, and 30 October 2003 and 4 March 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Sebghatullah Mojaddedi endorsed Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's candidacy for the presidency in the upcoming September elections, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 June. Mojaddedi served briefly as the first president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992 following the fall of the communist regime in that country. During the struggle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Karzai worked for Mojaddedi's Peshawar-based National Liberation Front of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai told a gathering of the Ulama Council of Afghanistan that the broadcasting policy of Afghan radio and television stations is contradictory to the country's constitution, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 3 June. Ahmadzai specifically cited the airing of songs by women artists as being un-Islamic. The new Afghan Constitution gives equal rights to men and women and does not specifically ban songs by female singers. However, Article 3 of the document stipulates that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" -- a clause that can easily be used by conservative religious forces to block legislation that they deem to be un-Islamic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). Ahmadzai was a member of the conservative Islamic Unity Party Of Afghanistan led by Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf and was a high-ranking member of the mujahedin administration in the early 1990s. (Amin Tarzi)

Tajik Drug Control Agency first deputy head Rustam Nazarov said on 1 June that Afghanistan is expected to produce 4,000 tons of opium in 2004, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Nazarov, opium production in Afghanistan is expected to increase by 500 tons compared to 2003, representing 40 percent annual growth. "Dozens of heroin-making factories are located on the Afghan territory in the direct proximity to the Tajik border. Each of them can make up to 20 kilograms of narcotic drugs a day," Nazarov claimed. According to the estimates by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan farmers produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons the preceding year. In 2003, when three-quarters of the global opium supply is believed to have originated in Afghanistan, production increased by another 6 percent to 3,600 tons. The UNODC projected that cultivation will increase yet again in 2004 (for more on the Afghan drug issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, 5 June 2003, 12 February and 2 June 2004, and feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. President Bush on 1 June added 10 individuals to a list of overseas drug barons targeted by special sanctions, AP reported. The list includes an Afghan named Haji Bashir Nurzai, bringing the number of individuals under the 1999 Drug Kingpin Act to 48, the news agency reported, although the relevant White House press release on 2 June does not identify Nurzai among the recent additions to the list; in fact, the press release indicated that Bush has decided to add to the Kingpin Act four individuals and three armed groups, mostly from Colombia and Mexico ( (Amin Tarzi)

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has said he sees "little hope" in eradicating Afghanistan's growing heroin industry, the BBC reported on 3 June. Costa, who is visiting northern and western Afghanistan, is expected to meet with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and give a gloomy assessment of the situation. There is a fear that the Afghan government might not be willing to tackle the drug problem at least until the elections, which are scheduled for September, the BBC reported. According to UNODC estimates, Afghan farmers produced 3,600 tons of opium in 2003, three-quarters of the global supply. Afghanistan reportedly produces over 90 percent of the heroin sold on Europe's streets. (Amin Tarzi)

Three foreign and two Afghan staff members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were killed in an ambush on 2 June near Qala'-e Naw, the provincial capital of Badghis Province, according to a 3 June MSF statement ( The foreign staffers of MSF were from Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands. According to MSF, the car carrying the five aid workers was reportedly hit by gunfire from the front and back and attacked with grenades. MSF has been working in Badghis since 1999, running an outpatient department, and has been present in Afghanistan since 1979. The organization is currently working in 12 provinces with around 80 expat and 1,400 local staff. (Amin Tarzi)

Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi, purportedly speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said that the group carried out the attack against the MSF aid workers, AP reported on 2 June. Latifi made the claim over the telephone to AP, saying that "international aid workers were working for the policy of America." Latifi warned of more attacks in the future. However, Badghis provincial police chief Amir Shah Nayebzadah disputed Latifi's claim, saying it was "too early" to determine who was responsible for the attack. Badghis is not considered a region in which the neo-Taliban are very active. In a February statement, the ousted Taliban movement named Hamed Agha as its only authorized spokesman. Latifi appears to be a new name on the growing list of individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, often in contradictory terms (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 March and 1 April 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

MSF has suspended all of its operations in Afghanistan as of 3 June after five of its staff were killed in the northern Afghan province of Badghis a day earlier (see above), "The Guardian" reported on 4 June. "For the time being our activities will be suspended nationwide," MSF acting head of mission in Afghanistan, Samuel Hauenstein, said in Kabul. MSF staff in Afghanistan are being moved to safer areas of the country. (Amin Tarzi)

In a statement released on 4 June, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that at least 32 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since March 2003 and the neo-Taliban have been implicated in many of these attacks. Commenting on the five workers killed on 2 June, John Sifton, an Afghanistan researcher for HRW, said, "These were people who had devoted themselves to helping and healing Afghans," adding that attacks against "relief workers directly harms the millions of Afghans who rely on humanitarian aid for their food and health." HRW called on the neo-Taliban to cease attacks on civilians and humanitarian staff and denounced neo-Taliban leaders for suggesting that such attacks were justified. (Amin Tarzi)

In an operation conducted by Afghan forces on 5 June, with support from the U.S. Air Force, eight suspected neo-Taliban fighters were killed in southern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 June. According to Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi, the operation against a neo-Taliban hideout was carried out in the Shenkay District of Zabul Province. Afghan and U.S. forces did not sustain any casualties. In late May, in a similar joint operation, nine suspected neo-Taliban militia were killed in Shenkay (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan officials say that at least four fighters loyal to rival Afghan factions have been killed in a clash that occurred on 7 June in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh, Reuters reported on 8 June. Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said that the clash reflected rising tensions between Hizb-e Wahdat, a minority Shi'ite Muslim faction, and the Sunni Muslim Jami'at-e Islami group, led by Ata Mohammad. "Three fighters from Wahdat died in this fighting and one person from Jamiat," Mashal told reporters, adding that security forces managed to bring the situation under control. The clash was triggered by a land dispute, Mashal added. (Amin Tarzi)

One U.S. solider was killed and two others were wounded on 7 June in Oruzgan Province, AP reported the following day. The vehicles in which the soldiers were traveling apparently hit a land mine. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan said that U.S. troops sealed off the area after the incident and were not allowing Afghans into the area. (Amin Tarzi)

The neo-Taliban have indicated they killed Haji Ajab Shah, the security commander of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan on 1 June, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 June. Ajab Shah was killed when an explosive device detonated under his desk (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). The report does not give any more details about the identity of the source. (Amin Tarzi)

The French chief of the Defense Staff, General Henri Bentegeat, said on 1 June while visiting Kabul that his country will increase the number of its troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Radio France Internationale reported on 2 June. Bentegeat said 300 additional French troops will be stationed in Afghanistan starting in August when a French-German brigade from Eurocorps is expected to take over command of ISAF from Canada (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 2 June 2004). Currently France has around 700 troops serving with ISAF and with the U.S.-led coalition. In August, a French general is expected to assume command of ISAF. (Amin Tarzi)

The student-run Sada-e Jawan radio station at Herat University halted its broadcasts on 3 June, Herat News Center reported on 4 June. A representative of the radio station, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the news agency that the university's dean, Abdul Ra'uf Mukhles, told the radio station to separate male and female staffers and demanded that the radio station change its policies. Students have said that they will not work at the radio station until the problem is solved. The new Afghan Constitution gives equal rights to men and women and does not specifically call for the separation of the sexes. However, Article 3 of the document stipulates that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" -- a clause that can easily be used by conservative religious forces to block legislation that they deem to be un-Islamic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Farah Television began broadcasts on 6 June from the city of Farah, the provincial capital of Farah Province, Bakhtar News Agency reported. The television station broadcasts 2 1/2 hours of programs per night and can cover a broadcast radius of about 50 kilometers. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 7 June commentary, the Kabul-based daily "Hewad" mourned the death of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who died on 5 June. While Reagan was respected in many countries for his role in the fall of communism and the end of the Cold War, "Hewad" writes that Reagan has a special place in the hearts of Afghans. "He assisted Afghans and voiced support for our campaign when Afghanistan was going through unpleasant times. Not only did he prompt the U.S. to support the Afghan campaign [when Soviet troops were in Afghanistan, 1979-89], but he also encouraged peace-loving countries to back the Afghan mujahedin," the commentary said. According to "Hewad," Reagan played a major role in the victory of Afghans over the Soviets, a deed that Afghanistan "can never forget." (Amin Tarzi)

An Afghan man and his two children, all of whom died of AIDS in May, have become Afghanistan's first registered victims of the disease. Afghan health officials estimate that some 200 to 300 Afghans are affected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The 45-year–old man, his 6-month-old son, and 2-year-old daughter, died in a Kabul hospital.

The children's mother is still alive, although she, too, has been infected with the HIV virus. It's now clear how the family contacted the virus, which is transmitted through certain bodily fluids.

Although the father and his two children are the first AIDS victims registered with the Afghan Health Ministry, they might not have been the first people to die of the disease in Afghanistan.

Naqibullah Safi, the head of the ministry's HIV/AIDS department, says he believes there have been other AIDS deaths that have not been officially registered.

"The virus existed in Afghanistan even before and it has spread. The low level of knowledge of our people [about HIV/AIDS] means it will be transmitted [across the country] very fast," said Safi.

Afghan officials estimate that about 200 to 300 Afghans are infected with HIV/AIDS. The real number could be higher, however, because the social stigma associated with the disease keeps many sufferers from seeking help.

Intravenous drug use, shared needles, and contaminated blood transfusions are believed to be the primary modes of transmission in Afghanistan.

The country is the world's top producer of opium (see feature above). The United Nations says drug abuse is becoming a serious problem in many parts of the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last year that high levels of intravenous drug use and unsafe blood transfusions could lead to a rapid spread of the HIV virus in Afghanistan.

Other factors are adding to the risk factor, such as the high numbers of refugees and displaced people, and high levels of illiteracy.

Since the fall of the Taliban, more than 2 million Afghan refugees have returned to their country mainly from Pakistan and Iran, where the spread of HIV has been mainly among drug users.

It is believed that some HIV-positive Afghans contacted the virus from returning refugees.

There is little knowledge about the disease in the war-shattered country, where most of the population is illiterate.

According to the World Bank, only 47 percent of men and 15 percent of women in Afghanistan can read. Illiteracy presents a major barrier to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

A barber in Kabul said he recently learned about AIDS and now uses disposable razors, a measure he believes will help prevent any of his clients from contracting HIV: "We use a new [razor] for every [customer], because they say the 'vex' disease has come. Even for a million, I would not work on a client who has the disease. The doctors talk about it, people talk about it, it's on TV, on the radio, they say it's the vex disease and it has no cure."

Lack of access to basic health care and poor medical facilities are other factors that may contribute to the spread of HIV in Afghanistan. Many of the country's existing facilities are not adequately equipped to handle HIV and AIDS patients. Hospital staff are not prepared to take adequate precautions to prevent themselves or their patients from infections.

Naqibullah Safi from the Afghan Health Ministry said: "The medical equipment used by doctors is not clean. Dentists, surgeons and people who work in laboratories do not properly sterilize the equipment."

Suman Mehta is the Asia Pacific and Middle East director for the United Nation's HIV/AIDS program, UNAIDS. She told RFE/RL that because of the many risk factors Afghanistan is very vulnerable to an HIV/AIDS epidemic: "The environment is very fertile for the epidemic to start raging. The numbers could rise at a very fast speed."

Mehta said Afghan women are especially vulnerable to AIDS because of their low socioeconomic status. There are many reports of war widows turning to prostitution in order to survive.

The UNAIDS official says that in order to stop the spread of HIV, Afghanistan's health system needs to be rebuilt and an action plan developed based on analysis of the country on a region-by-region basis.

There is also a serious need for education and raising awareness among the population and regional policymakers: "[It is important to build] the political environment which is right to address the issue, because right now there is much denial [about HIV/AIDS], so that needs to be taken care of. That has to be coupled with general awareness of what HIV/AIDS is, what it can do, and also spreading the good news that it is possible to prevent. And how to prevent it and how to remain free of AIDS is the message that needs to go out through multimedia sources to everybody in the country."

(Golnaz Esfandiari; RFE/RL's Afghan Service contributed to this report)

6 June 1993 -- Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar presides over the first meeting of his government.

3 June 1994 -- Planes belonging to General Abdul Rashid Dostum bomb Herat.

4 June 2001 -- The Taliban prepare a code which forces foreigners in Afghanistan to obey Islamic rules that impose prohibitions on adultery, conducting missionary activities, playing music, watching television, eating pork, drinking alcohol, and wearing immoral clothing.

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