18 June 2004, Volume 3, Number 22
NATO'S INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN BETWEEN THE PRAGUE AND ISTANBUL SUMMITS
By Amin Tarzi
Standing near the spot where Al-Qaeda terrorists rammed a hijacked passenger plane on 11 September 2001 into the Pentagon, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 14 June called on NATO to "fulfill the promise that" has been made to Afghanistan by expanding its presence in the country before the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
Karzai did not elaborate on NATO's lackluster performance in fulfilling the promises it has made to Afghanistan, instead hoping that the alliance would come through at the last moment. Below is a brief review of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan in the last two years or so, and what to expect in the near future.
During the NATO Summit of November 2002, Afghanistan was not a top priority as the euphoria of the accession of seven new members took center stage. Almost two years later, an alliance damaged by deep disagreements between some of its members on military action in Iraq has placed its commitment to Afghanistan as a major agenda item at its summit in Istanbul later this month.
However, placing Afghanistan atop its agenda does not, unfortunately, mean that NATO is going to give it a pat on the back, as it did in Prague, for a job well done.
Ever since NATO took the vague decision during the Prague Summit to commit the alliance to "provide support in selected areas" to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the world's strongest military alliance has only taken a few haphazard and ill-coordinated steps that at times have contradicted NATO's own statements.
Stumbling Into Afghanistan
A day after the terrorist attacks against the United States, for the first time ever NATO invoked Article 5 of its founding treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more NATO member states is considered an attack against all of them. While the gesture was historic, what followed in Afghanistan was not an alliance-wide involvement in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism but help from individual NATO members with the military campaign in Afghanistan. Whether the alliance would have actually invoked Article 5 and participated in the Afghan campaign as one force is open to debate.
What followed regarding Afghanistan was that individual member states of NATO requested more help from the alliance when they assumed more responsibility in maintaining ISAF, which until January 2004 had an area of responsibility limited to just the Afghan capital of Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002).
At the Prague Summit, Germany and the Netherlands, perhaps backed by the U.S. and some other NATO members, requested that the alliance become officially involved with ISAF. Seeking NATO's official involvement in the ISAF was not a new issue: the United Kingdom, which led the force from its inception until June 2002, reportedly explored a peacekeeping role for NATO following the end of ISAF's initial six-month mandate. However, Turkey agreed to lead the force for its second six-month mandate.
NATO welcomed the "willingness of Germany and the Netherlands jointly to succeed them" and "agreed to provide support in selected areas for the next ISAF lead nations, showing our continued commitment." But NATO leaders, taking a line from the mandate of ISAF, stressed the unrealistic demand that "the responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout Afghanistan resides with the Afghans themselves."
On one hand, the vagueness of the statement that NATO will provide "support in selected areas" made the commitment of the alliance very vague, which can now, in retrospect, be associated with the disagreements within NATO as to the nature of support the alliance is prepared to give to ISAF. On the other hand, the "selected areas" further diluted the NATO commitment.
In August 2003, NATO took over command and coordination of ISAF -- marking the first mission for the alliance outside the Euro-Atlantic zone. At the 11 August ceremonies in Kabul, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo declared that ISAF's "name and mission will not change," but said "what will change as of today is the level of commitment and capability NATO provides." From the beginning, however, the alliance wavered on the question of expanding ISAF beyond Kabul, something that the Afghan Transitional Administration and the United Nations had repeatedly requested. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson indicated that the alliance needed some months to ponder expanding the ISAF mandate to other parts of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 August 2003).
After months of debate and preparation, in October 2003 a small team of German troops arrived in the northern Afghan town of Konduz to lay the groundwork for the expansion of ISAF under the leadership of NATO and to take over a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) from the United States. The Germans said that they would cooperate with local security forces "to ensure that there is a safe environment for Afghans, United Nations staff, and members of other international organizations to do reconstruction work and provide humanitarian aid" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003). At the time, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said that the alliance would participate in increasing the number of PRTs in the country and would assume command of missions in the southern parts of Afghanistan, where, unlike the relatively secure north, the situation was much more volatile.
Sidestepping The Drug Problem
Upon assuming command of the PRT in Konduz on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004), NATO's personnel on the ground and some of the diplomats attached to the organization elsewhere consistently separated the alliances mission from one of Afghanistan's more pressing problems: the alarming increase in the cultivation of poppies and the production of heroin.
According to the estimates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan farmers produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons the preceding year -- an alarming increase. The numbers have continued to worsen. In 2003, a year in which three-quarters of the global opium supply originated in Afghanistan, production increased by another 6 percent, to 3,600 tons. It is projected that cultivation will increase yet again in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 February 2004).
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa has asked for the resources to increase the number of similar operations and for the NATO-led ISAF to also be involved in combating drugs in Afghanistan. However, NATO has so far been reluctant to commit itself to tackling this issue. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has stated that counternarcotics operations were not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force.
Some members of NATO are so keenly aware of the scourge of the drug trade that it is only delaying and even possibly destroying Afghanistan's chances of moving toward becoming a viable state. They are also aware that this problem has a direct effect on the security of the country and the security of the international troops as well. Bill Rammell, the United Kingdom's minister responsible for his country's role in the campaign against the drug trade, recently said: "Ninety-five percent of the heroin on British streets is from Afghanistan, so it really is one area where foreign policy coincides with domestic policy." The United Kingdom happens to be the lead nation in trying to curb Afghanistan's narcotics problem, but unfortunately views in London are not shared by other key NATO member states. Some European diplomats have even claimed that Afghanistan is not the origin of heroin on their streets, arguing rather that Europe gets its heroin from Columbia.
In November 2003, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Robertson said the alliance was "going to Afghanistan because" it did not want Afghanistan to come to Europe, "whether it be in terms of terrorism or drugs." It seems that once NATO actually went to Afghanistan, Robertson's message was lost in the political shuffle, giving the drug dealers and various warlords in Afghanistan the upper hand in this dangerous game.
While NATO has been refusing to link combating drugs with its overall mission in Konduz, the accepted challenge of providing a safe environment for reconstruction work has not gone very well. On 10 June, unidentified assailants, purported to be neo-Taliban sympathizers, killed 11 Chinese construction workers in Konduz Province, only some 35 kilometers away from the headquarters of the NATO-led PRT in that province.
The Helicopter Fiasco
The case that, sadly, best illustrates the overall lack of commitment by some NATO members to take the alliance's mission in Afghanistan seriously has to do with the search to find three helicopters to support the expansion of ISAF to Konduz and for conducting the day-to-day functions of the mission in Kabul.
When NATO was preparing to assume command of the PRT in Konduz, Robertson was knocking on the doors of NATO members and even nonmembers such as Austria and Switzerland for three helicopters to enable the German team's deployment. After many declined, Turkey finally agreed to provide the helicopters.
It took direct involvement from three NATO members -- Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Turkey -- and seven months of haggling until the three Blackhawk helicopters were finally delivered to Afghanistan in May. To outside observers it is hard to believe that the world's strongest military alliance cannot produce three helicopters for its first "out of area" mission, which de Hoop Scheffer has time and again referred to as the "primary focus" and "top priority" for the alliance. On paper, NATO has access to over 1,000 helicopters but, as the mission in Afghanistan is not an Article 5 mission, the request for the three helicopters was not considered an obligation. The lack of cooperation by a NATO member to the alliance's commitment in Afghanistan -- a relatively small operation -- has to be judged not in terms of capabilities, but rather in political commitment and understanding between alliance members, in which case Afghanistan needs to be placed atop the alliance's priority list.
According to a report in the "Financial Times," the helicopter fiasco and other shortcomings by NATO members involved in Afghanistan prompted the alliance in May to call for the launching of its first Operational Military Review since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, de Hoop Scheffer, while placing Afghanistan at the top of the agenda for NATO's upcoming summit in Istanbul, has warned that the mission is at a critical juncture.
NATO is certainly not expected to withdraw from Afghanistan. That would not only be a victory for terrorism and criminality over the Western world's most formidable military structure, but also a fatal blow to an alliance still searching for its place. There certainly will be more talk and more promises regarding the Afghan mission during the Istanbul summit.
What NATO might also do is to rapidly deploy a few more missions outside Kabul specifically designed to bolster the UN-backed election campaign in Afghanistan. The new operations might provide a relatively safe testing ground for the nascent NATO Response Force. Between Istanbul and the Afghan elections, NATO can be expected to show its blue flag in Afghanistan and, if the elections are successful, i.e. no major violence occurs -- to take the due credit. The main challenge for NATO and Afghanistan and other possible missions, for example in Iraq, is whether the alliance has the capacity and political will to take on long-term state and/or nation-building tasks, which in the case of Afghanistan includes such distasteful tasks as going after drug barons and spraying poppy crops.
Karzai may very well get his wish of more NATO help to ensure the security of his country's election process. Beyond that he may have to find other friends to fight against the long list of terrorists, drug pushers, and warlords.
CHINESE WORKERS KILLED IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...Eleven Chinese construction workers were killed on 10 June in the Jalagir region of Afghanistan's northeastern Konduz Province when 20 unidentified armed men attacked their compound, Xinhua news agency reported. Most of the victims, who arrived in Afghanistan on 8 June, were employees of China Railway Shisigu Group; a company engaged in road-construction projects in Afghanistan. Six other workers were injured, one critically, the BBC reported on 10 June. China's ambassador to Kabul, Sun Yuxi, requested that the Afghan Transitional Administration provide medical care for the injured, ensure security at construction sites, and bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, Xinhua reported. The attack marks the first Chinese casualties in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Northeast Afghanistan is considered a relatively safe area of the country. The only NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan is based in the provincial capital of Konduz, some 35 kilometers from the scene of the attack on the Chinese workers (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)
...AS NEO-TALIBAN ARE BLAMED...Konduz Province Governor Mohammad Omar said on 10 June that the attack on the Chinese workers was carried out by people coming from Baghlan Province, which is located directly south of Konduz Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "Konduz and Baghlan have been Taliban strongholds in the past," Mohammad Omar told AIP. "They are operating there now as well, and I can say confidently that this attack was made by the Taliban."
Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim on 10 June said that the neo-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and their allies were behind the attack on the Chinese workers, AFP reported on 11 June. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said while in the U.S. that the attack was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan, but did not name any specific group. According to AFP, Fahim did not offer any evidence for his accusation. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND ARRESTS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH KILLINGS.Afghan authorities have arrested two people in connection with the attack on Chinese construction workers in Konduz Province, the Xinhua news agency reported on 11 June. An Afghan official, talking to Chinese Ambassador Sun, promised that other suspects involved in the attack on 10 June will be arrested soon. The Chinese Embassy in Kabul said that the identity of the arrested suspects is not clear. Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud, a regional military commander in Konduz Province, said on 13 June that 10 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on Chinese construction workers in the province, "China Daily" reported on 14 June. Confirming earlier claims, Mohammad Daud said that the men came from Baghlan Province. "These people in the past belonged to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's [Hizb-e Islami] party, and they later joined the Taliban," Mohammad Daud added. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. MARINES KILL 21 SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...U.S. Marines killed up to 21 neo-Taliban militiamen in fierce fighting in the Daychopan District of Zabul Province on 8 June, AFP reported on 9 June. "Marines...continued their assault into the Taliban heartland where they killed more Taliban fighters who were poised to ambush the Marines," the U.S. military said in a statement released on 8 June. While the U.S. statement did not reveal the number of combatants killed, General Abdul Wasay, a provincial military spokesman, told AFP that 21 neo-Taliban were killed on 8 June. "But 30 have been killed and about 10 injured in the past several days," he added. The mountainous regions of Zabul, including Daychopan, as well as areas in the north of the Oruzgan Province, are considered to be a neo-Taliban heartland. It is estimated that around 1,000 militants are hiding there and launching sporadic assaults on the U.S.-led coalition and pro-Kabul Afghan forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 13 November 2003, and 26 February, 19 May, 26 May, 2 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...AND CLAIMS TO HAVE KILLED MORE THAN 80 MILITANTS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, said on 14 June that U.S. Marines have killed more than 80 militants in the Daychopan area of Zabul Province, international news agencies reported. According to Mansager, from "the [25 May] to today [14 June], coalition forces in this area [Daychopan] have killed, as I said before, in excess of 80 anticoalition militants, detained another 90, have found 49 caches of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment, and have carried out 81 civil-affairs projects," RFE/RL reported on 14 June. Mansager added, "The Marines have been aggressive, relentless, and successful...[and have] demonstrated that there is no refuge for the terrorists," the BBC reported on 12 June. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN AND COALITION FORCES TO SET UP JOINT OPERATIONS CENTERS.Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said on 10 June that Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces will establish joint-operations headquarters to enhance the work of the Afghan National Army and National Police, Radio Afghanistan reported. Azimi said that the new headquarters will help Afghan and coalition forces better coordinate their activities related to the ongoing UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Program and for conducting joint operations against the enemy. In joint operations carried out since late May, Afghan and coalition forces have killed 63 members of the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda and have detained eight, Azimi added (see above). (Amin Tarzi)
MORE THAN 50 KILLED IN CLASHES ALONG AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER.In fierce battles in Wana, along the Afghan-Pakistani border, 53 people have been killed, AFP reported on 11 June. The dead were 35 foreign militants, 15 Pakistani soldiers, and three civilians. "PakTribune" reported on 11 June that 16 militants and 15 troops were killed in Wana, including "three Taliban." The circumstances surrounding the battle remain vague. (Amin Tarzi)
TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS, ONE NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.Two soldiers loyal to the central Afghan administration and one neo-Taliban commander were killed in fighting that took place in Helmand Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 June. The commander, identified as Mullah Malik, is believed to have taken part in recent attacks on government installations in Helmand Province. (Amin Tarzi)
GOVERNMENT OFFICES SOUTH OF KABUL ATTACKED, CASUALTIES REPORTED.Armed men on 7 June attacked government offices in Kharwar District of Logar Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 8 June. One police officer is reported to have been killed in the attack. The identity of the attackers is still unclear. A report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 9 June indicated that four government troops were killed in the attack. The Iranian radio station blamed the attack on the neo-Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)
PAKISTANI POLITICIAN SAYS HE IS 'MEDIATING' BETWEEN NEO-TALIBAN AND U.K.Mawlana Fazl al-Rahman, secretary-general of Pakistan's Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA), said on 13 June that he is mediating between the neo-Taliban and the United Kingdom, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 14 June. Fazl al-Rahman said that London is seeking an "honorable" exit by the neo-Taliban from Afghanistan. According to "Dawn," the neo-Taliban have thus far been reluctant to listen to Fazl al-Rahman because Pakistan handed over the former Taliban representative in Islamabad, Mullah Za'if, to the United States following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The leader of the MMA said that he feels the British request was made on behalf of the United States. (Amin Tarzi)
BRIGADE IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN DISBANDS...Brigade No. 503 in Kandahar Province surrendered their weapons to officials from the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program on 7 June and disbanded, Afghanistan Television reported. Major General Abdul Khaleq Halim, a DDR official, said that Infantry Division No. 7 in Kandahar has also been disbanded. Officers and soldiers attached to Brigade No. 503 will return to civilian life, the report added. Thus far, around 726 militiamen have joined the DDR program in Kandahar. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND MAIN PHASE OF DISARMAMENT BEGINS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.The main phase of the DDR program was launched on 6 June in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. Some 95 militiamen attached to Army Corps No. 8 surrendered their weapons. Despite recent agreements by major warlords, the DDR program has lagged behind schedule, as many regional commanders have been reluctant to disarm their militias (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May and 2 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
SUPPORTERS OF WARLORD BLOCK NEWLY APPOINTED AFGHAN GOVERNOR.Loyalists of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, head of the Junbish-e Melli party, have prevented Abdul Haq Shafaq from assuming his post as the new governor of Sar-e Pol Province in northern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 13 June. Shafaq was appointed to his post recently by the Afghan Transitional Administration's Interior Ministry. Since then, however, some local residents, with support from military officials serving with Division No. 82 of Sar-e Pol, have prevented him from entering the province. According to the report, Safaq's affiliation with Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, which was involved in clashes with Dostum's party, is the reason behind the opposition to his appointment. Division No. 82 is loyal to Dostum. In April, forces loyal to Dostum crossed from their base in Jowzjan Province to neighboring Faryab Province and ousted Enayatullah Enayat, the governor appointed by Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 and 28 April 2004). While nominally serving as a special adviser to Afghan Transitional Chairman Karzai, Dostum, an advocate of federalism, has been seeking autonomy for parts of northern Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
NORTHERN AFGHAN COMMANDER WARNS OF MORE CLASHES.General Abdul Sabor, deputy to General Ata Mohammad, commander of Military Corps No. 7 in Balkh Province, said on 14 June that if tensions between his Jami'at-e Islami party and its rival Junbish-e Melli party are not resolved, there is a possibility of bloodshed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Abdul Sabor said that forces loyal to the two parties have taken position in the Sholgara District of Balkh Province and a delegation has been dispatched from Mazar-e Sharif to mediate between the two sides. "If the delegation does not make them step back, there is a possibility of bloody clashes," Abdul Sabor warned. In 2003, Sholgara was the scene of factional fighting between Jami'at and Junbish loyalists, but has remained generally calm since a cease-fire was signed in August and Kabul-based police were deployed in the area. In February, four commanders loyal to Jami'at were killed in the area, reportedly by Junbish loyalists (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May, 10 July, and 16 October 2003; and 24 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
FACTIONAL FIGHTING LEAVES THREE DEAD IN WEST-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN.In factional fighting that took place on 12 June, three people, including a policeman, were killed in Ghor Province, AFP reported on 14 June. Ghor police chief Mohammad Zaman said that 20-30 armed men attacked a government post in the Tolak District of the province and in the ensuing fighting two militants and a policeman were killed. Mohammad Zaman said that he believes Mawlawi Abdul Salam, a former mullah from Tolak, led the attackers. "How he managed to get a group of some 20 to 30 armed men and why he attacked the district is not yet known," Zaman said. In an apparently unrelated incident on 30 May in the Shahrak District of Ghor, three people were killed in armed clashes between Haji Gol, head of the Shahrak District, and Mullah Mostafa, a local commander (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN ELECTORAL BODY SAYS ELECTIONS ARE ON TRACK...Sayyed Mohammad Azam, press officer for the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), said on 14 June that both the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, as scheduled, in September, Afghanistan Television reported. Mohammad Azam's comments contradicted the recent claims made by Ghotai Khawari, a JEMB commissioner, to AFP that the elections have been postponed for one month, Afghanistan's official television station reported. In a press conference held in Kabul on 13 June, Edward Carwardine, acting spokesman for the special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, said that the JEMB has not made a decision to delay the elections, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan website indicated (http://www.unama-afg.org). (Amin Tarzi)
...AS AFGHAN LEADER SEEKS GREATER NATO COMMITMENT FOR ELECTIONS.Chairman Hamid Karzai, visiting the U.S. Department of Defense on 14 June, said he hopes that NATO expands its presence in Afghanistan soon, American Forces Press Service reported. "To fulfill the promise that we have been made, we are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan before the elections in September," Karzai said, the BBC reported on 15 June. Karzai praised the United States for the assistance rendered to his country and did not specifically ask for a greater U.S. commitment. While NATO has made Afghanistan its top priority, the alliance has been slow to expand its presence beyond Kabul and the northern Afghan province of Konduz (see feature above; "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January and 18 March 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
UN SPOKESMAN SAYS VIOLENCE WILL NOT DELAY ELECTIONS.Attacks on election and foreign-aid workers are raising concerns about security in Afghanistan ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a report on 8 June said that Afghanistan urgently needs support from the United States and other leading countries to protect the integrity of the vote (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 June 2004).
Independent organizations like the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit and the International Crisis Group also have said the credibility of September's ballot could be compromised if the threat of violence discourages enough people from registering to vote.
Some observers in Kabul have suggested the vote may be postponed beyond September. But Afghan Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai insisted last week that the election will go ahead on schedule.
Karzai said: "We must have elections. We will have elections. Afghanistan is keen to have elections. We cannot do without elections. We want to have democracy. We want our people to vote and choose their government."
In fact, the presidential election originally had been scheduled to take place this month. But Karzai announced in March that the date was being pushed back to September.
The chief spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told RFE/RL that nobody involved in the electoral process expects another delay. He said election workers are determined to push forward with registration during the next three months. He also noted that about one-third of eligible Afghan voters have been registered so far and that participation by women in rural areas is better than initially expected.
"We have over 3 million people registered," de Almeida e Silva said. "And a very impressive aspect of this registration is that 33 percent of those registered are women. This contradicts what was the expectation of many people -- that once we moved from urban centers to the provinces and to the [rural] districts that the [percentage] of women registering would be reduced. What is happening is quite the opposite."
De Almeida e Silva said international news organizations have wrongly reported that the target of the registration campaign is to enroll 10.5 million voters. He explained that figure was merely an initial estimate of the total number of Afghans old enough to vote.
"There is no target [for registration]. That is wrong," de Almeida e Silva said. "There is an estimated number of Afghans who could be eligible to register. That estimated number, indeed, was 10.5 million [at the start of this process]. But since then, the [Afghan] Central Statistics Office, which provides the electoral process with the estimate, has revised downwards their estimate of Afghans who are above 18 years of age. Eighteen years is the age that one can register to vote. And now, [that estimate] is closer to nine or 9.5 million. So that would be the estimated maximum number of Afghan men and women who would be eligible to register."
The voter-registration campaign has been divided into two phases. The first phase was largely completed last month. It focused on enrolling voters in Afghanistan's eight largest urban areas. The UNAMA spokesman explained that the second phase, which began on 1 May, involves the expansion of registration into all Afghan provinces.
"As of today [8 June], if all went according to plans, the last two provinces that did not have registration sites, [Nuristan Province in the east and Paktika Province in the southeast,] now have them," de Almeida e Silva said. "If that indeed happened, all provinces now have registration sites. However, more registration sites are needed because it is not only the provincial capitals that need to have registration sites."
De Almeida e Silva said 50,000 people are now being registered each day at some 900 locations across the country.
"The process needs to expand, and it is expanding exponentially, taking into consideration the many difficulties for registration to take place in this country, which were always made public," he said. "There are difficulties regarding security. There are difficulties regarding logistics. And there are cultural patterns that we have to deal with. For example, in order to register women, you must have registration sites for men and registration sites for women. And registration sites for women must be staffed by other women."
The UNAMA spokesman said another complication is the difficulty of trying to get election workers into rural districts and parts of the south and southeast where U.S.-led coalition forces continue to battle the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
"There is a difficulty regarding access in some areas. We have four helicopters and one plane dedicated to the electoral process. But we also use donkeys, we use horses and we also have people on foot in order to expand the registration sites beyond just the provincial capitals," de Almeida e Silva said. "Of course the major complication, the major difficulty, is security. There are areas in the country -- in particular the south, the southeast and the east -- where security is not at the level that enables you to move freely or to open registration sites just anywhere. That requires a very complex security arrangement that involves forces of the police from the Ministry of the Interior, and forces from the Ministry of Defense, as well as the International Security Assistance Force and coalition forces."
De Almeida e Silva said the series of recent attacks on aid workers and UN election workers has, indeed, raised concerns about security.
"What the media are talking about as an increase [in violence] is because there was a very dramatic development a few days ago when five staff from one NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres [Doctors Without Borders], were killed" in the northwestern Afghanistan's Badghis Province, de Almeida e Silva said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 June 2004). He added that, on 6 June, "there was an attack, an ambush, on one of our convoys with electoral staff on the Gardez-Khost road [in the southeast]. That is of great, great concern to us. These vehicles were clearly marked UN vehicles and they were escorted by police. And yet they were attacked. Thankfully, there were no victims. Nobody was even injured."
De Almeida e Silva said that electoral workers are most concerned that the violence, rather than forcing the postponement of the September vote, could discredit the process by bringing about what he called "unbalanced" registration results.
"Most of the security problems are in the south, the southeast and part of the east," he said. "The risk that we have is to have an unbalanced registration result where Afghans in other parts of the country will have freer movement and will be able to register in greater numbers while the same opportunity will be limited, due to security conditions, in areas of the south and southeast, in particular. That is a matter of extreme concern for the joint electoral management body and for us who support this process."
The UNAMA spokesman confirmed that security forces have been posted at the home of one Afghan woman in Khost who is a member of a UN election registration team. He said those troops were deployed after the woman received death threats from suspected Taliban fighters. He also confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of threatening leaflets posted overnight on the walls of village compounds in some parts of the country.
"Those who do not want a transition in Afghanistan into stability, into stronger [institutions] -- those that we call 'spoilers' of the process -- have circulated 'night letters,' as they are known here in Afghanistan," de Almeida e Silva said. These night letters indicate that "they would attack the electoral process, those working with the electoral process, or even those who supported the process by means of registration. The way to address that is to take them seriously, but also to take into consideration that the vast, vast, vast majority of Afghans want exactly the opposite. They want elections because they want changes, because they want stability. And they want to leave in the past all this violence."
Meanwhile, concerns are beginning to emerge about alleged fraud in the registration process. A Reuters correspondent in the southern province of Kandahar reported today that schoolchildren as young as 13 are being registered as if they are 18 years old. One school's principal, Haji Mohammad Yunos, admitted knowing about fraudulent registrations. But Younus justified the practice by saying that girls, in particular, need to vote -- even if they are too young.
De Almeida e Silva said the UN will complete a review of the registration drive by the end of June to determine whether the process has been "free and fair." (Ron Synovitz)
THREE PARTIES OBTAIN PERMISSION FOR POLITICAL ACTIVITIES.The Justice Ministry has granted permission to the National Movement for Peace (Junbish-e Melli-ye Solh) to begin political activities, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 9 June. The party's leader, Shahnawaz Tanay, served as defense minister from 1988-90 under the communist regime headed by President Najibullah before being implicated in a coup attempt. After that coup attempt failed, Tanay joined the radical Hizb-e Islami party headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hindukosh commented that Tanay's party received permission to begin political activities "at a time when the Justice Ministry rejected members of former communist parties." The Afghan Supreme Court in August banned political activities by the newly formed United National Party, which was established by former Afghan communist party members. The justification cited for the decision was atrocities committed against Afghans under communist rule (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 August 2003). The ministry has also given permission to the People's Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Harkat-e Islami-ye Mardom-e Afghanistan) and the Islamic Justice Party (Hezb-e Adalat-e Islami) to begin their political activities, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 10 June. The People's Islamic Movement of Afghanistan is led by Sayyed Hosayn Anwari, who currently serves as the agriculture minister in the Afghan Transitional Administration. No further information was provided in the report about the political platform of either party or who heads the Islamic Justice Party. Sayyed Mohammad Hashemi, the head of the office that supervises the registration of political parties at the Justice Ministry, said that 21 political parties have been granted permission to function. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY13 June 1947 -- Afghanistan sends note to British and Indian governments saying that the inhabitants of the region between the Afghan-Indian border and the Indus River are Afghans and must decide themselves whether to join Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or to become independent.
16 June 1948 -- Afghanistan begins a press and radio campaign for an independent "Pashtunistan."
13 June 1979 -- Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of involvement in a rebellion against the Afghan government.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).