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Afghan Report: June 23, 2004

23 June 2004, Volume 3, Number 23
By Laura Winter

A young Afghan militiaman, Gul Ajab, enters the barracks slowly as he approaches Musleh, a turbaned 70-year-old tribal elder sitting at a table piled high with files.

Musleh begins slowly, asking the soldier for personal information before moving on to deeper questions about Gul Ajab's village to confirm his identity. This is the first step in returning Gul Ajab to civilian life.

The young soldier said it was because his father was a commander that two years ago he took up a gun and joined the Afghan Militia Forces. He said he is now ready for a change.

"Everyone became poor from the gun, from the military, because there is no law," Gul Ajab said. "Everyone wants to work. No one really wants to be in the military. Even I want to leave the military."

While this scene appears simple on its face, it is more complicated in reality. Gul Ajab's unit is officially under the control of the Defense Ministry, but it is actually under the command of Hazrat Ali, considered the strongest power broker in Jalalabad and four provinces in eastern Afghanistan.

Disarming the men serving under Hazrat Ali and others, like Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan in the west and Mohammad Ata in the north, is widely regarded as the key to Afghanistan's success. Coalition forces, the United Nations, and the Afghan government are forcing these warlords to submit to a program called Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration.

The program's abbreviation, DDR, is on the lips of many of the local soldiers here. Samantha Perera, the United Nations' regional DDR manager in Jalalabad, said the soldiers and the press misunderstand just what those letters represent.

"It is my challenge to actually go to people and tell [Afghans] what DDR is," Perera said. "For them DDR is that somebody will come and take your weapons. So I have to keep telling them, keep stressing it's not about weapons. It's about jobs. It's about a new life."

Nangarhar Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad said the transition for Hazrat Ali and his men will be difficult, but not impossible. He said the main challenge will not be to convince Hazrat Ali and his fighters that disarming is the way forward, but rather to make sure the young men under their command can find enough work to keep them in civilian clothes.

"It will be a problem for this. If it is a problem, then it belongs to the government or belongs to the DDR program, how to make it comfortable for them to change their life, and how they can be satisfied with the new situation, to make them busy or [provide] some other interesting work," Din Mohammad said.

Behind the blue gates of Perera's DDR compound, located across the street from the militia unit's main building, is a series of buildings designed to take a militia soldier, step-by-step, into civilian life. Before a soldier can enter the compound, he must hand over a serviceable firearm to a Mobile Disarmament Unit, usually deployed inside the militia's barracks. If the gun doesn't work, the militia soldier will be barred from entering the program.

"So [the militia member] comes to the gate, somebody will specifically check that day pass and he will walk in," Perera said. "And there is a path he will follow to go to this building called [the] briefing room, where he actually will take an oath, witnessed by [officials]. He will swear to be, you know, a peaceful man, a civilian, not take up arms again and come back to civilian life, basically."

The soldier also receives a medal of honor and a certificate of gratitude signed by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, before moving on to the next building.

Inside the "demobilization" room, 12 caseworkers interview former soldiers, recording their answers on computer. The caseworkers will then discuss with each of these men the employment options open to them.

If they are willing and fit, some may be able to join the Afghan National Army or the National Police. If they choose to remain out of uniform, they can opt to be a farmer, a skilled craftsman, a small business owner, or a mine-clearer.

"And then he'll go to the other end of the compound where he will get his food allowance," Perera said. "It's part of the package. He gets a big sack of wheat, some beans and oil, it's supposed to be good for about a month, donated by the [World Food Program]. And then he is also given as a symbol, he is given a 'shalwar chamise,' civilian clothing."

Gul Ajab, newly married with a six-month-old daughter, said he is ready to try a new life: "Basically, I can work as work as a driver, but I can work as a farmer too. And also maybe I can manage a small business."

Commander Mawlawi Abdul Salam on 17 June captured most of Chaghcharan, the capital of west-central Afghanistan's Ghor Province, Reuters reported on 18 June. Ghor police chief Mohammad Zaman told Reuters that his forces are concentrated in the northern parts of the city and are planning to recapture the lost territory. He asked for Kabul to dispatch reinforcements to Ghor. According to Mohammad Zaman, there were 18 casualties in the attack, though he did not specify the nature of the casualties. U.S. warplanes circled above Chaghcharan but did not attack. On 11 June, Mohammad Zaman indicated that between 20 to 30 armed men under the command of Mawlawi Abdul Salam, whom he described as a local mullah, had attacked a government post in the province's Tolak District (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Ghor Province Governor Ebrahim Malikzadah said on 17 June that he has taken refuge in Herat Province, west of Ghor, Reuters reported on 18 June. The tensions in Ghor are apparently related to the refusal by Abdul Salam to disarm his militia under the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program unless he was offered a government post. According to Reuters, Afghan Defense Ministry sources have indicated that there are no plans to send troops to Ghor to restore Governor Malikzadah to his post. The crisis in Ghor marks the third incident in recent months in which a Kabul-appointed governor has been ousted by a local warlord and thus far none of these governors have been restored to their positions. Loyalists of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, head of the Junbish-e Melli party, in April ousted Faryab Governor Enayatullah Enayat, and in early June prevented Abdul Haq Shafaq from assuming his post as the new governor of Sar-e Pol Province in northern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 April and 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan National Security Council (NSC) on 20 June discussed the situation in Ghor Province and issued a statement, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The NSC heard statements from Mohammad Alam Rasekh, a state minister adviser and chairman of a delegation from Ghor, and from ousted Ghor Province Governor Ebrahim Malikzadah. The NSC decided to send Minister Adviser for Tribal Affairs Taj Mohammad Wardak to Ghor to help "improve security [and to] take measures to restore administrative order" in the province. Moreover, the NSC decided that Ghor's Division No. 41 is dissolved and that a disarmament program will be implemented in the province. Finally, the NSC asked the Defense Ministry to dispatch a battalion of the Afghan National Army to Ghor to establish security. (Amin Tarzi)

Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said on 21 June that a battalion of the Afghan National Army would be sent from the western Afghan city of Herat to Chaghcharan, the capital of Ghor Province, immediately east of Herat, Radio Afghanistan reported.

However, on 22 June Ahmad Jawed, secretary of the Afghan National Army's corps commander in Herat, announced that the deployment had been delayed at least until 23 June because of "technical and logistical reasons." Ghor Province is in a remote, mountainous part of central Afghanistan. To reach Chaghcharan, soldiers from the Afghan National Army plan to travel overland from Herat using a route that is one of the most neglected and dilapidated roads in the country. The route also passes through several areas where the topography could expose troops to ambushes by hostile fighters.

In March, Kabul sent around 1,500 troops to Herat to deal with a crisis there (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March 2004). Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan has expressed his unhappiness over the presence of national troops in his province. The crisis in Ghor and the fact that Kabul has very few troops at its disposal may provide an opportunity for Ismail Khan to see the end of the symbolic presence of Kabul's authority in his domain. (Amin Tarzi/Ron Synovitz)

"Anis" in a commentary on 20 June wrote that the capture of Chaghcharan is "not the first time that commanders have destabilized different provinces of Afghanistan." However, it said, the "collapse of a province at the hands of one rebel commander is unprecedented since the establishment" of the Transitional Administration in late 2001. The fact that Abdul Salam was able to overrun Chaghcharan shows that prevalence of arms still poses a threat to the Afghan people, and that "guns are available in any place and [at] any time," "Anis" added. The "defeat" of the central government in Ghor "coincides with the approach of general elections" scheduled for September. But if Kabul is keen on holding the elections on time and making sure that people are able to vote for their chosen candidates, then "why is there a delay in the process of disarmament and the strengthening of the central government?" "Anis" asked. The tensions in Ghor are apparently related to the refusal by Abdul Salam to disarm his militia under the DDR program unless he was offered a government post. (Amin Tarzi)

Clashes that have been going on since 14 June in Balkh Province between rival commanders have been resolved, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 21 June. Qari Qodrat, a spokesman for Military Corps No. 7, said that with mediation from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the British-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Balkh, a truce has been established between the commanders of troops loyal to the Jami'at-e Islami party and its rival, the Junbish-e Melli party. General Abdul Sabor, deputy to General Ata Mohammad, the commander of Military Corps No. 7 in Balkh Province, had warned on 14 June that if tensions in Sholgara District between his Jami'at-e Islami party and Junbish-e Melli were not resolved, bloodshed could result (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004). The subsequent clashes were over narcotics, Qodrat added, without elaborating. The drug problem in Afghanistan has dramatically worsened since the fall of the Taliban regime and with the focus of the international forces on the war on terrorism, warlords-turned-drug barons are beginning to fight over territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 February and 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on 15 June, international news agencies reported. Karzai said that prior to the terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001, terrorists subjected the people of his country "to unspeakable terror even though" they "were among the most pious Muslims in the world," CNN reported on 15 June. "These atrocities continued for many years, and the world remained unengaged" in Afghanistan. Karzai thanked the United States for helping his country with resources, leadership in the international community, and "most importantly with the precious lives" of U.S. troops. He labeled the relationship between Kabul and Washington as a "partnership" and asked for more investment by U.S. companies in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai also met with U.S. President George W. Bush on 15 June, international news agencies reported. At a news conference after the meeting, Karzai said that while his administration has been talking to the warlords, no deals or coalitions have been made. Karzai added that his administration does not refer to the "warlords" by that name, as "some of those people are respected leaders of the Afghan resistance" against the Soviet invasion and "former presidents," according to a White House press statement ( Karzai said that there are "bad people" in Afghanistan with whom his administration is "not making a deal" or talking. Recent reports have indicated that Karzai held discussions with former mujahedin leaders, some of whom command private militias, in a bid to secure their support in the September elections. Moreover, there were reports that Karzai has continued his negotiations with some members of the former Taliban regime in order to include them in a postelection government in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

More than 100 demonstrators demanded the resignation of Chairman Karzai at a political rally held in Kabul on 15 June, Hindukosh News Agency reported. The demonstration, which was organized by the Afghan Justice and Democracy Front, focused on the fact that, according to the agreement signed in Bonn in 2001, Karzai's term in office expires in June. Demonstrators also claimed that the election law recently signed by Karzai is undemocratic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 June 2004). Sayyed Eshaq Gailani, a presidential candidate from Afghanistan's National Unity Movement, said in May that Karzai's administration would not be legitimate beyond June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Hillier, said on 16 June that the international force in Afghanistan will expand before key elections in September, international news agencies reported. Chairman Karzai has called on NATO to expand its force ahead of the elections, which were originally slated for June but were delayed because of security and logistical reasons. According to Hillier, NATO is expected to expand its force to the northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab, AFP reported on 16 June. Afghanistan figures high on NATO's agenda for its upcoming summit in Istanbul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in London on 19 June that it is "simply intolerable" that he was forced to beg for resources in NATO's mission in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. "What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?" de Hoop Scheffer asked. He expressed concern that leaders of the alliance are already thinking about Iraq while forgetting their commitments to the mission in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Ottawa has turned down a request from the United States to delay the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan this summer, the Canadian Press reported on 18 June. What the United States is looking for "is not exactly" what the Canadian troops are trained to do, Canadian Defense Ministry spokesman Darren Gibb said. Ottawa has decided to "rotate" its 2,000 troops in Afghanistan with 700 armored reconnaissance-squad troops and 200 soldiers for air support. The Canadian troops currently serving with the NATO-led ISAF will leave Kabul between July and mid-August and are expected to be replaced by Eurocorps troops, led by France and Germany. Eurocorps is expected to take over command of the ISAF from Canada in August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said on 17 June that Hungary will increase its military presence in Afghanistan to 151 soldiers, AFP reported. Kovacs said 120 soldiers will go to Afghanistan to reinforce the 31 Hungarian troops currently stationed there as part of ISAF. "The task of the contingent will be to boost security by providing reconnaissance in Kabul and its surroundings, including Kabul international airport," Kovacs told journalists after a cabinet meeting. (Michael Shafir)

Chairman Karzai on 16 June met with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit held in Tashkent, Xinhua news agency reported. Hu expressed his shock regarding the terrorist attack on 10 June that left 11 Chinese construction workers dead in Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June 2004). China is "very much concerned with the fact that the criminals [responsible for killing the Chinese workers] are still at large," Hu added. The Chinese president said that his government hopes Kabul "will carry out a thorough investigation" into the matter "as soon as possible," and will punish those responsible. Karzai, expressing his own shock at the incident, said he hopes that China will continue to cooperate with Afghanistan. Afghan authorities have arrested around 10 suspects in the case and have blamed the neo-Taliban and supporters of former Afghan Prime Minster Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for the attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

An improvised explosive device killed four Afghans in the northern Afghan town of Konduz on 16 June, according to an ISAF press release ( The target of the remote-controlled explosion was an ISAF vehicle on its way for a maintenance check. In addition to the driver of the vehicle, a man and two schoolchildren standing nearby were killed. This is the first fatal attack targeting ISAF's only force outside of Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

A policeman was killed on 21 June in an ambush of a UN vehicle in Kandahar Province, AFP reported. The UN vehicle was carrying three Afghan police officers when it was attacked by unknown assailants on motorcycles. The vehicle was being used to transport Afghan security forces for protection of voter-registration sites. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Agha, the deputy head of the refugee department in Kandahar Province, was shot dead, the BBC reported on 15 June. Two of Hamid Agha's bodyguards were also shot, but their condition is not known. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing. (Amin Tarzi)

A missile was fired on 15 June at the headquarters of ISAF in Kabul, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. One Afghan soldier is reported to have been injured in the attack. (Amin Tarzi)

The offices in Kandahar of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) came under rocket and small-arms fire on 17 June city, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 18 June. The attack resulted in damage to the building, but no casualties. Afghan security forces and the UNHCR could not comment on the identity of the attackers, who managed to get close enough to the building to be able to target it with assault rifles. (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, said on 21 June that the review of detention centers in Afghanistan under U.S. control has been completed, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Brigadier General Charles Jacoby has presented the finding of his investigation to the commander of the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno. After reports about the deaths of at least five Afghans in U.S. custody, Barno ordered an investigation in May into the allegations and assigned Jacoby to the task (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

A U.S. federal grand jury in North Carolina on 17 June indicted David Passaro in the beating of an Afghan prisoner in June 2003, "The New York Times" reported on 18 June. Passaro's lawyer has said his client is innocent. The Afghan, named Abdul Wali, had voluntarily given himself up to U.S. authorities at the Asadabad base in eastern Afghanistan after he was accused of involvement in attacks against the base. Passaro, who was employed as a contractor by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), allegedly "brutally" beat Abdul Wali during interrogations lasting two days. Abdul Wali died the next day. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that his country "will not tolerate criminal acts of brutality and violence against detainees such as those alleged in this indictment." (Amin Tarzi)

Ahmad Shah Sultani, a London-based Afghan businessman, is planning to establish the first-ever private museum in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 16 June. Sultani said that he has purchased more than 1,500 historic artifacts of Afghan origin from international art dealers and is planning to display them in his museum in Kabul as a gift to the Afghan people. The artifacts range from 100 to 5,000 years in age. Sultani is also planning a second museum in Ghazni, in east-central Afghanistan. He also said that he has purchased and donated some items, which originally belonged to the National Museum of Afghanistan, to the Afghan government. Many of Afghanistan's rich historic treasures were destroyed by the civil war of the early 1990s and subsequent Taliban regime. According to the Radio Free Afghanistan report, illegal excavations are still continuing across the country in areas controlled by warlords. (Amin Tarzi)

22 June 1969 -- Afghan government orders closing of all primary and secondary schools in Kabul after a wave of student unrest and a student boycott of Kabul University.

23 June 1979 -- Kabul Radio reports that antigovernment demonstrators (Hazara) in Kabul were "annihilated and arrested" over the course of the day.

16 June 1986 -- U.S. President Ronald Reagan meets with Afghan mujahedin in Washington and promises an "unshakable commitment" to their cause.

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