1 July 2004, Volume 3, Number 24
NATO CHIEF SAYS DETAILS OF AFGHAN TROOP INCREASES TO BE 'WORKED OUT'By Ahto Lobjakas
NATO's announcement on 28 June of increased support for Afghanistan is at this stage more a statement of intent than an immediate contribution to Afghanistan's security (see below and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004).
It has two parts. First, NATO leaders agreed to boost the number of the predominantly civilian Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) by four. This falls short of the initial target of five.
Second, NATO also made a decision in principle to expand its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission to provide increased security for the presidential elections scheduled for September.
On 29 June, at a joint news conference with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer explained the decision.
"The number of PRTs in the north will increase so that stability and security can be spread over a larger part of the country," de Hoop Scheffer said. "NATO is also preparing to even set up more PRTs in the more western part of the country. And last but not least, NATO is going to provide electoral support. NATO will assist the Afghan National Army, the Afghan police, in the period of the elections that are going to be held."
Karzai, standing beside de Hoop Scheffer, said he welcomes the decision and acknowledged the NATO chief's personal efforts behind it.
A little later, speaking to leaders of the 26 NATO countries and the alliance's partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Karzai indicated he is aware of the complex way NATO works. Decisions, once made, often need further political clarification. Once the details of the allies' intent become fully explicit, the necessary forces and logistical support must be found. This can be a tortuously slow business, as recent months in Afghanistan have shown.
Karzai made a direct appeal to NATO leaders to speed up this process: "I welcome very much your decision yesterday to send us security forces to help us with the elections. But elections are coming in September, and we need security forces today in Afghanistan to provide a secure environment for elections for the Afghan people, and beyond. Our request to you is to please fulfill the commitment that you have made yesterday for Afghanistan before elections, so that we in Afghanistan can provide an environment in which our people can go and vote freely and fairly."
Karzai said the Afghan people "need that security today, not tomorrow." He recounted increasing attacks on registered voters and registration personnel, although he said the attacks have not yet begun to sap people's enthusiasm for the elections.
De Hoop Scheffer on 29 June appeared to reject some of what NATO officials had been saying privately on 28 June -- specifically, the contention that 3,500 soldiers have already been found to supplement the current 6,500 ISAF troops.
In effect, de Hoop Scheffer said the decision made on 28 June was an affirmation of the will to help, but that the details still need to be worked out.
"The extra troops will come, the details of which have to be worked out. But you can rest assured that we have the extra troops. I am not yet going to name countries and details, but the forces which we have committed yesterday will be there, in theater, and over the horizon, which means that we have forces in theater to assist the Afghan National Army in the period of the elections," de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO officials say a final political decision on boosting ISAF for an estimated six- to eight-week period around the elections still has not been made. This decision relates to what forces will be deployed, under what aegis, and from which contributing countries.
On 28 June, French President Jacques Chirac ruled out Afghanistan's elections as a first mission for the NATO Response Force (NRF). Officials say part of the debate is about whether the NRF can undertake missions other than crisis management -- its original purpose.
NATO sources told RFE/RL that any new alliance troops in Afghanistan are unlikely to be involved in securing individual polling stations. Rather, the battalions will be deployed to provide "forward security" as and when needed.
Also, NATO is said to be keen not to antagonize regional leaders in Afghanistan and is content to leave most of the election security in local hands.
There is also a growing feeling within NATO that the U.S.-led coalition is unwilling to antagonize regional warlords, since it needs their cooperation in counterterrorist operations. NATO officials say local warlords themselves appear to be positioning themselves to enter Afghan politics.
Karzai today indicated Afghanistan does not yet have the institutions to cope with the situation. He said the national army has around 10,000 men, complemented by about 20,000 police. That, he said, is "not enough."
NATO sources confirm, meanwhile, that the process of demilitarizing Afghanistan's 100,000 or more private militiamen has all but run aground.
Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels
THIS WEEK ON RADIO FREE AFGHANISTANAs the promised Afghan elections approach, Radio Free Afghanistan is beginning to focus on the registration process as well as on the broader political landscape in the country. Our weekly, bilingual (Pashto and Dari) program called "On the Waves of Freedom" is featuring representatives of the registered political parties in groups of three. The guests are provided an opportunity to introduce themselves, debate the issues facing the country, and field tough questions from listeners.
Radio Free Afghanistan, the Afghan service of RFE/RL, is on the air 12 hours a day, seven days a week (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Kabul time), broadcasting in Pashto and Dari. Our website (http://www.azadiradio.org) is updated daily in Pashto and Dari, and in English Monday through Friday. The English page links to dozens of websites about Afghanistan, and all three pages feature special sections about the upcoming elections.
AFGHAN LEADER CONFIRMS ELECTION DATE...In a speech on 23 June, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai confirmed the date on which elections will be held, Afghanistan Television reported. "We register 100,000 people almost on a daily basis in Afghanistan. If this continues, God willing, we will register at least 6.5 [million]-7 million people from both men and women, which will be enough to hold elections. I think this number is enough for us to hold elections in the country. Elections will definitely be held in Mizan [22 September-21 October 2004] and the country will elect its system and leadership through its own votes," Karzai said. Karzai's remarks put an end to recent speculation that because of security and lack of progress in registering voters, the elections may be postponed. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHILE TWO ELECTORAL WORKERS KILLED IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN...Two female Afghan election-registration workers were killed on 26 June when an explosive device detonated inside the bus in which they were traveling in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, international news agencies reported. The blast, which may have been triggered by the driver of the minibus, injured 11 others, including a 5-year-old girl, "The New York Times" reported on 27 June. Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the UN in Kabul, described the attack as a "matter of very, very serious concern," adding that there "is no doubt it was a direct attack on the electoral process." The young girl later died of her wounds, Reuters reported on 28 June. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS NEO-TALIBAN TAKES RESPONSIBILITY.Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, assumed responsibility for the attack on electoral workers in Jalalabad, Reuters reported on 28 June. "We did this because we warned people not to get involved in the election process," Hakimi told Reuters by telephone. "We are also warning others not to register to vote and those who register them, because this only strengthens the foundations of the American-backed government," the neo-Taliban spokesman added. Chairman Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the Jalalabad attack, saying that such terrorist activities are against Islam and are disgusting, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 June. Karzai added that the enemies of Afghanistan cannot divert Afghans from the path they have adopted. (Amin Tarzi)
MORE THAN A DOZEN POTENTIAL VOTERS KILLED IN SOUTH...Fifteen Afghans returning home from Iran were killed on 24 June in Chaka Goy, Oruzgan Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 27 June. Haji Obaydullah, district chief of Khas Oruzgan District where the incident took place, told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 27 June that initial reports had indicated that 14 people were killed, but "it has been clarified now that this number is 16 people." Obaydullah added that all of the victims were carrying voter-registration cards for the upcoming elections scheduled for September-October. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS NEO-TALIBAN BLAMED...Nazari, the Afghan Interior Ministry's security commander for Khas Oruzgan District, told RFE/RL on 27 June that "Taliban fighters" killed the 15 people in Oruzgan. District chief Haji Obaydullah also said that he is "quite sure" that the neo-Taliban was responsible for carrying out the attack, AIP reported on 27 June. "The person who informed us...about the incident was a person who had managed to flee from [the site of the incident]. He also said that the [attackers] were Taliban," Obaydullah added. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND TAKES RESPONSIBILITY.Latifullah Hakimi, claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 27 June that the militia killed the men in Oruzgan "because most of them were soldiers and the others were election workers." Hakimi said that the neo-Taliban blocked a road in Oruzgan for five hours and forced 19 people out of different vehicles and killed them. "We kill soldiers because they serve the state army. The reason for killing election workers is that we do not want an election to be held in Afghanistan. We have decided to sabotage the elections," Hakimi told AIP. It is not clear if Abdul Latif Hakimi and Latifullah Hakimi are the same person. In the past, different people have claimed to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, sometimes in contradictory terms. Reports differ on the number of people killed in Oruzgan. (Amin Tarzi)
TWO ADDITIONAL PARTIES GRANTED ELECTION-MONITORING CERTIFICATES.The Joint Electoral Management Body has granted Hizb-e Melli (National Party) and Hizb-e Sa'adat-e Mardom-e Afghanistan (Afghan People's Welfare Party) certificates to monitor the process of elections in Afghanistan, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 24 June. The two additional parties bring the number of Afghan political parties that have been granted monitoring certificates to eight. Thus far the Afghan Justice Ministry has registered 21 political parties, which allows them to conduct political activities. Abdul Rashid Aryan, a former member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan and minister of information and culture during communist rule in Afghanistan, leads the National Party. Mohammad Zubayr Piroz leads the Afghan People's Welfare Party. (Amin Tarzi)
NATO-LED FORCE TO EXPAND OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN...A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in Kabul on 23 June that the force will expand its area of operation beyond Kabul and Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. The unidentified spokesman said that ISAF will expand to Parwan and Logar provinces, situated to the north and south of Kabul, respectively. ISAF's expansion is to ensure security during the upcoming elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September-October, the spokesman added. NATO has promised to expand its presence in Afghanistan for some time, but political factors have slowed expansion plans (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...WHILE HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CALLS AFGHANISTAN 'NATO'S SHAME.'New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 25 June press release that "NATO should immediately expand its forces in Afghanistan to provide security for elections scheduled there this fall." HRW said that with three months to go before what would be Afghanistan's first-ever democratic election, scheduled for September-October, the country remains plagued by insecurity and political repression and urgently needs more NATO support to allow for the registration of voters and the protection of vulnerable political actors and voting sites. "If the elections don't take place because of insecurity, or if they are conducted but are not free and fair, the blame will rest squarely on the heads of the U.S. and its NATO allies," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director for the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch. "Contrary to what was promised to the Afghan people, NATO's foot-dragging has contributed to a worsening security situation and major shortcomings with reconstruction," Zarifi added. (Amin Tarzi)
NATO DECIDES TO INCREASE ITS PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN...Heads of state and governments of NATO member states meeting in Istanbul decided on 28 June to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan serving with the ISAF, Anatolia news agency reported. According to NATO officials, the number of ISAF troops will be increased from the current 6,500 to 10,000. According to NATO's website (http://www.nato.int), the alliance will take command of four new Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in northern Afghanistan. The new PRTs will be based in Balkh, Badakhshan, Baghlan, and Faryab provinces. From these bases, the PRT in Konduz that is currently commanded by NATO, and temporary "satellite" presences in Jowzjan, Samangan, and Sar-e Pol provinces, "ISAF will now be able to influence security in nine provinces in the north" of Afghanistan. Earlier reports had indicated that NATO would expand its force to the northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab as well as to Parwan and Logar provinces, situated to the north and south of Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...PROMISES TO ENSURE SECURITY FOR AFGHAN ELECTIONS...NATO leaders also made commitments to deploy extra forces to support the upcoming elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September-October, a statement on NATO's website stated. "Each ISAF-led PRT will be temporarily reinforced by an additional infantry company (about 100 extra troops). In addition, NATO will deploy a quick reaction force of up to 1,000 troops. Further troops will be put on high readiness to move into theater if required," the statement adds. The Istanbul summit communique issued on 28 June states that "after the election, it will be for the government of Afghanistan to develop a forward-looking plan that fulfils the vision of the Bonn agreement to promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability, and respect for human rights." (Amin Tarzi)
...AND PROMISES TO TAKE 'RESOLUTE ACTION' ON DRUG PROBLEM IN AFGHANISTAN.The Istanbul summit communique also implies that NATO will try to help address the growing drug problem in Afghanistan. "We will provide appropriate support, within ISAF's mandate, to the Afghan authorities in taking resolute action against the production and trafficking of narcotics," the communique states. While the statement does not specify what measures the NATO-led ISAF will take against Afghanistan's drug problem, this is the first time the alliance has decided to address the issue, which until now it has said is outside its mandate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER WELCOMES NATO'S COMMITMENTS.Hamid Karzai on 29 June welcomed the commitment by NATO to send additional troops to his country, AFP reported. "I'm sure that what you have done yesterday [28 June] will bring to the Afghan people an improvement...that will eventually cause Afghanistan to have institutions of its own to defend itself and to protect itself," Karzai said. The Afghan leader said that while terrorism will continue to plague Afghanistan for some time to come and the fight against terrorism needs to be a long-term struggle, he vowed that the terrorists are "not really capable [of posing] a threat to the political process" in his country. (Amin Tarzi)
WARLORD IN GHOR SAYS HE WILL ATTACK IF TALKS FAIL...Mohammad Musa Yunos, a spokesman for Ahmad Khan, a local commander in the west-central Afghan province of Ghor, said that their side will launch an attack on the provincial capital of Chaghcharan unless Kabul solves the recent crisis in the province, AIP reported on 22 June. Ahmad Khan is opposed to commander Mawlawi Abdul Salam, whose forces captured most of Chaghcharan on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June 2004). Yunos said that the delegation from Kabul headed by Minster Adviser for Tribal Affairs Taj Mohammad Wardak has invited both sides to hold talks. "However, if these talks fail, then we will launch a big attack against Chaghcharan," Yunos warned. According to Yunos, Ghor Governor Ebrahim Malikzadah has joined sides with Abdul Salam after being forced to flee on 17 June. Yunos said his side views Malikzadah as responsible for creating "all these problems" and "no longer recognize him as the governor of the province." (Amin Tarzi)
...AS RIVAL WARLORD PROMISES TO DISARM IF THE OTHER SIDE FOLLOWS SUIT...Commander Abdul Salam said that he will disarm his forces and work with the central government only if commander Ahmad Khan does the same, the BBC reported on 22 June. "How can I hand over my weapons when my enemy is in power?" Ahmad Khan said, referring to Abdul Salam. Ahmad Khan is reported to have threatened "rivers of blood" unless Abdul Salam and Governor Malikzadah are removed from Chaghcharan. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND AFGHAN ARMY ARRIVES IN CHAGHCHARAN...On 24 June a battalion of the Afghan National Army (ANA) arrived from the western Afghan province of Herat to Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor, immediately east of Herat, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Ghor Governor Malikzadah told AIP that one hundred ANA soldiers have taken position in Chaghcharan while "fighters of Commander Abdul Salam are also present in the town." However, he said reports that "Chaghcharan has been captured by the soldiers of the national army are not true." ANA forces are in Chaghcharan at "our invitation and there is no problem at all," Malikzadah added. Mohammad Musa Yunos, a spokesman for Ahmad Khan, a local commander in Ghor, whose forces were ousted by Abdul Salam earlier in June, welcomed the arrival of ANA soldiers, adding, "they are the soldiers of the state and we are the employees of the state." ANA General Aminullah Patiani put the number of troops sent to Ghor at 600, AFP reported on 24 June. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT NO DEAL MADE BETWEEN FEUDING WARLORDS.The minister adviser for tribal affairs, Taj Mohammad Wardak, who was in Chaghcharan to try to solve the current problems there, said on 24 June that after three days of talks no compromise has been reached between warlords Abdul Salam and Ahmad Khan, Radio Afghanistan reported. However, both sides of the conflict view the recent clashes as a misunderstanding and a mistake, Wardak added. The two warlords were members of the same militia force, but began feuding over the allocation of positions in the local government, the BBC reported on 24 June. Ahmad Khan has thus far refused to disarm unless Abdul Salam follows suit and Governor Malikzadah is removed from office. (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIMS CAPTURE OF DISTRICT SOUTH OF KABUL...A statement issued on 20 June by Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the Islamic Movement of Taliban, claimed the capture of Charkh District in Logar Province, AIP reported. The neo-Taliban statement also claimed the capture of five pro-government troops. Claims by the neo-Taliban of the capture of districts often amount to the arrival of a few militiamen at a location before fleeing and leaving a white flag as a sign of their presence. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHICH IS REFUTED BY LOCAL COMMANDER.A representative of General Ludin, former commander of Military Corps No. 3, denied Hamed Agha's claim that the neo-Taliban has captured Charkh District, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 22 June. The representative, who was not identified, said that while Charkh did come under attack, the neo-Taliban fighters escaped after pro-government forces arrived to challenge them. The representative said the security situation in Logar Province is deteriorating. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN COMMANDER CLAIMS NEO-TALIBAN BEHEADED...Afghan government soldiers have beheaded four suspected neo-Taliban militiamen in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, "The New York Times" reported on 23 June, citing Reuters. Ne'matullah Tokhi, commander of the 27th Division, said that on 21 June, neo-Taliban fighters captured an Afghan soldier and an interpreter for the U.S.-led coalition forces and later "cut off their heads with a knife." In retaliation, when his forces captured four neo-Taliban members, they "cut off their heads too," Tokhi added. (Amin Tarzi)
...A CLAIM THAT REMAINS UNCONFIRMED.Lieutenant Colonel Susan Meizner, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said: "At this point, we've read the same [media] report, but we've had no independent confirmation of any of that story. So I don't have any information on it at this point. We have no investigation under way. We have no knowledge other than the report in the media about this."
In the capital Kabul, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said on 23 June that it is "not possible" for Afghan ANA troops, trained by international forces, to behead prisoners.
Small teams of U.S. troops and Special Forces have been conducting joint patrols and commando operations for months with the fledgling Afghan National Army in a bid to hunt down Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in southern and southeastern Afghanistan.
Commander Namatullah Tokhi of the ANA's 27th Division told Western news agencies that suspected Taliban fighters were beheaded after guerrillas captured and decapitated an Afghan soldier and an Afghan interpreter who were part of a joint Afghan-U.S. patrol team.
Tokhi was quoted by Reuters as saying: "[The Taliban] cut off their heads with a knife. So when our forces arrested four Taliban, we cut off their heads, too."
Tokhi told the German news agency dpa that four suspected Taliban were killed "on the spot" during a battle in the Arghandab district of Zabul Province that also involved U.S. troops on a joint patrol.
But Tokhi later told AP that U.S. troops were not present when the beheadings took place. Tokhi's claim could not be immediately verified.
John Sifton, an expert on Afghanistan who works for the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL on 23 June that it is important for U.S. officials to investigate Tokhi's claim to determine whether the alleged beheadings actually occurred.
"If forces did commit this act, then it is certainly a war crime," Sifton said. "But more investigation is needed. What commander Tokhi said was that his forces beheaded Taliban prisoners who had been taken into custody. This is unambiguously a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a serious violation of human rights law. If it occurred, then the commanders who allowed it to happen, who could have stopped it, will also be implicated in the criminality."
Sifton explained that in some circumstances, under international law, foreign military officials in the U.S.-led coalition could also be implicated. "The Afghan forces who work side by side with the Americans are often in the command and control structure of the coalition effort. In that respect, when they commit crimes, and commanding officers -- who are Americans or coalition partners -- are on the scene and don't stop them, or fail to stop them, or knew that they were going to commit crimes and didn't do anything to prevent them, that means that those commanders -- whether they are Americans or Afghans or Canadians or anything else -- are responsible for those crimes," he said.
Sifton said that if an investigation determines that the beheadings did occur but U.S. troops were not present, the incident still would be such a serious violation of international law that it should be brought to the attention of officials at the highest levels in Washington.
"If these soldiers did commit the act -- if they were [indeed from the] Afghan National Army, that means they were trained by the international community," Sifton said. "Or, at least, supposedly trained. And that would raise serious concerns about the training and about the general effort to build a new Afghan National Army. If they were not Afghan National Army, but alternatively [were] Afghan militia forces [deployed together with the] United States military for use in their operations, that still raises serious concerns about Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. effort in Afghanistan."
U.S. military officials in Kandahar told RFE/RL that they have been concerned about the behavior of some Afghan militia fighters they have worked with. As a result, they say the U.S. military is trying to phase out its reliance on militia factions while increasing its cooperation with the ANA. (Ron Synovitz)
MINE EXPLOSION KILLS FIVE AFGHAN SOLDIERS IN SOUTH.A remote-controlled explosive device detonated under a military vehicle in Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province on 22 June, killing five Afghan soldiers, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 23 June. Abdul Razaq, a commander of the Kandahar border force, blamed the neo-Taliban for the incident, though no one has claimed responsibility for the explosion. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANISTAN AND IRAN CONFRONT THEIR DRUG PROBLEM.The international community marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse on 26 June. Global opium cultivation is down, but increased cultivation in Afghanistan and higher opium yields led to a 5 percent increase in illicit global opium production between 2002 and 2003. Indeed, Afghanistan leads the world in opium production, and Iran leads the world in seizures of opiates, according to the "World Drug Report 2004" released on 25 June (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/world_drug_report.html). Therefore, the fate of the world heroin market depends on events in Southwest Asia.
Since the collapse of the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan has improved in almost every aspect except in the area of stemming opium-poppy cultivation. Initially, the Taliban used the income from opium to finance its regime and production rose steadily from 1996, peaking in 1999 to an estimated 4,600 tons. By 2000, Afghanistan was responsible for 70 percent of the global production of illegal opium. But in July of that year, having been hounded by the international community, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a decree banning opium cultivation in the country but not its trade (likely a gesture to gain international recognition for the Taliban regime). According to the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP), opium production in Afghanistan was reduced greatly following the ban from 3,300 tons in 2000 to just 185 tons the following year.
Following the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the creation of the Afghan Interim Administration, Chairman Hamid Karzai in January 2000 banned both the cultivation and trade of opium poppies in the country. However, with the central authority's influence being limited to Kabul and a few main cities and the international military forces concentrating on the war on terrorism, drug dealers and their supporters found a good opportunity to exploit the situation.
According to UN estimates, 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. The UN's most recent report asserts that the potential farmgate value of global opium production in 2003 is about $1.2 billion; more than 85 percent of this output was made in Afghanistan. It is estimated that 7 percent of the Afghan population -- 1.7 million people -- is directly involved in opium production. More than two-thirds of the farmers told the UN that they intend to increase poppy cultivation.
Also worrisome is the fact that opium cultivation has been introduced to regions of Afghanistan that traditionally have not grown the crop and an increasing number of Afghans are becoming addicted to heroin -- a fact that has translated into an increase in HIV cases in the country through the sharing of needles. The officially AIDS-free Afghanistan recently announced the first death from the disease.
UNODCCP Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned recently that the international community faces critical decisions, adding that if counternarcotics commitments to Afghanistan are not translated into lower levels of opium production, there is a "risk of [the] opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic modern Afghanistan." Costa also warned the International Conference on Counternarcotics, held in Kabul from 8-10 February, that "fighting drug trafficking equals fighting terrorism."
Costa then asked for the resources to increase the number of operations against drug laboratories and that the NATO-led ISAF 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 recently stated that counternarcotics operations were not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force. In November 2003, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Lord George 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.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, said last week that his country is planning to be more aggressive in an effort to curb opium-poppy cultivation in the country, but conceded that U.S. troops will not actively destroy the crops, Reuters reported on 17 June. Barno cited a "finite force" whose "primary focus continues to be counterterrorist operations."
International forces and local authorities have an immense challenge ahead of them: to stop the cultivation of opium poppies, to stop the trafficking of drugs, and to destroy the laboratories that process the opium into heroin.
Indeed, the level of international involvement in dealing with Afghan narcotics is a major Iranian grievance. Iran does not, furthermore, believe that its counternarcotics activities get sufficient attention or credit from the West, the ultimate destination of most opiates originating in Afghanistan. In a 1 June meeting with a visiting Kuwaiti official, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said Iran cannot afford to wait for Western help, IRNA reported. He complained about the extent of opium cultivation in Afghanistan despite the presence of military personnel from Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Iran leads the international community in intercepting the opium, morphine, and heroin that originate in Afghanistan, according to the UN (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html). Tehran reports that approximately 2 million people in the country abuse drugs. Poor relations with the Taliban regime meant that Iran made little headway in persuading its eastern neighbor to curtail opium production. It therefore relied mainly on interdiction efforts.
Relations with Kabul now are friendly and Tehran is involved with the promotion of crop substitution plans. Iranian Deputy Agriculture Jihad Minister Gholamreza Sahrain visited the Afghan capital on 12 June to discuss these activities, IRNA reported. In a meeting with Agriculture and Livestock Minister Seyyed Hussein Anwari, the Iranian official noted that so far Tehran has provided $10 million in aid for opium eradication.
Iran is also working closely with other states that neighbor Afghanistan in an effort to create a "security belt" that will stop the narcotics shipments. In late May and early June, Ali Hashemi, head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, visited Uzbekistan. He met with his Uzbek counterpart, Kamal Dustemov, on 1 June and they discussed the necessity of regional states closing ranks in the drug-control campaign, IRNA reported. The two officials expressed the belief that peace and stability in Afghanistan would be matched with reduced narcotics production. In the following days, Hashemi met with Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov and Public Health Minister Feruz Nazirov.
In the latter meeting, Hashemi noted that there are 350 centers in Iran that treat drug addicts. Treatment and demand-reduction are receiving more and more attention in Iran. Citing a figure of 214 billion rials (about $27 million), Hashemi said in Tehran on 26 May that more than 36 percent of the country's drug-control budget is allocated for prevention programs, IRNA reported. This money will go to education for young people, cultural centers, mosques, and other nongovernmental organizations. A total of 600 billion rials (about $76 million), he said, will be used for prevention and interdiction.
Hashemi's earlier comments about the success rate in treating drug addicts were not very encouraging. He said at a 12 May meeting of the drug-control planning department in Rasht that 10-15 percent of the addicts are treated successfully. He added that 200,000 people in Iran are addicted to heroin and 64,000 are infected with AIDS.
Unless the Iranian government can provide the professional and social opportunities that will discourage people from abusing drugs, the addiction and HIV infection figures will probably worsen. And until opium cultivation in Afghanistan is eliminated, Iran will continue to be a consumer of these products (Bill Samii and Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY30 June 1958 -- During a visit to Washington by Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Da'ud, the United States agrees to help Afghanistan improve highway from Spin Boldak to Kabul.
27 June 1990 -- Afghan communist party changes its name from People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan to Homeland Party.
28 June 1991 -- President Sebghatullah Mojaddedi surrenders presidency to Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).