31 July 2004, Volume 3, Number 26
KABUL AFTER A QUARTER OF A CENTURY: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVEBy Amin Tarzi
The approach to Kabul was sinister. The first major structure visible from the airplane as it prepared to land at Kabul International Airport was the notorious Pul-e Charkhi prison: the very symbol of the repressive regimes that ruled Afghanistan from 1978, when the communists that took power, to the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
It was the fear of ending up in places such as Pul-e Charkhi that prompted this author's family to choose exile and leave Afghanistan in 1980. Some, this author included, would like to see this disturbing complex transformed into a memorial to honor the tens of thousands of people who perished there amid unspeakable horror. Moreover, Pul-e Charkhi should arguably be a place where the names of some of the more notorious torturers and killers -- some of whom talk proudly of their past deeds -- are listed so that the Afghan people, while forgiving them for sake of a bloodless future, should never forget who destroyed their generation and their country.
Beyond the shocking site of Pul-e Charkhi, Kabul from the air is no longer visible. More than two decades later, a huge cloud of dust marks Afghanistan's capital from the aircraft. The dust is so thick that the mountains surrounding Kabul are barely visible.
Upon arrival, beyond the dust and exhaust of vehicles, the sheer size of Kabul's population, as compared to that of a quarter of a century ago, is astonishing. In 1980, the total population of Kabul could not have exceeded 250,000 people. Today, depending on whom you ask, the population of the city ranges from 2.5 million to a whopping 8 million. The actual number is likely to be closer to 3 million. As in most statistical aspects of Afghanistan, including the number of voters registered ahead of the country's upcoming presidential elections, Kabul's population is so much guesswork.
While Kabul's population and the number of vehicles in the city have risen astronomically, its infrastructure appears not to have improved -- in fact, it has been systematically destroyed, making the city one of the least sanitary national capitals on earth. Kabul has no sewer system to speak of, and much of the airborne dust inhaled by inhabitants arises from open pools of human and other waste.
The streets of the city, most of them unsuited for anything but off-road vehicles, have neither stop signs nor traffic lights. To make matters worse, more than half of the vehicles clogging the streets of Kabul have been imported from Pakistan and as such are right-hand driven. There are few traffic regulations in the city, and cars, armored personnel carriers, donkeys, and hand-pushed carts share the roads. Some of the right-hand drive cars actually drive against the flow of traffic. Pedestrians risk everything when crossing main roads in the city.
Beyond the dusty and congested Kabul, there is another city. This is the place where the city's new elite, along with Afghanistan's protectors and providers, live. One sees these people in the streets only when they venture out to buy a souvenir or leave their compounds for their SUVs -- often with armed guards close by with fingers on triggers. On occasion, the protectors show their colors while looking through the sites of their heavy machine guns mounted on their vehicles.
The houses in which some Kabul residents dwell are a stark contrast with what the vast majority of the Kabulis experience. These compounds are surrounded by high walls, often made higher with the addition of fences, topped with barbed wire. Depending on the importance of the occupant, the walls of such compounds have one, two, or three layers of sand-filled barrels and/or concrete barriers. Guard houses on the street level, or sometimes, on top of walls, also adorn the residential compounds of the city's new elite and its protectors and providers.
The talk on the streets of Kabul -- and even by one daring cabinet minister who wished to remain anonymous -- is that the protectors are there merely to protect the elite and the providers, who in turn waste money earmarked for Afghanistan for their own lavish living standards.
Inside the walled houses, a Kabul thrives about which the ordinary citizen of Kabul cannot even dream. The new elite and many foreigners are proud to point out that -- by employing armies of servants, gardeners, and other orderlies -- they are contributing to the economic well-being of many families. Perhaps. But in the absence of any long-term plans to improve the social structure of Afghanistan in a fundamental sense, those servants will remain at the mercy of their providers with virtually no hope of upward social mobility through legitimate and legal means.
To be fair, of course not all of the elite, providers, and protectors behave similarly. But more fundamentally, there are two distinct Kabuls that do not interact on a daily basis.
Glimpse Of Hope
In central Kabul, it seems that everyone wants something from someone: Beggars want a few afghanis from passing cars or those who dare to walk the streets. But want does not stop with those on the streets. At various social levels, people expect a handout, a call to some foreign provider, a favor from a minister, or -- the most desired favor -- a means to leave the country for the West.
However, a fresh air of confidence and self-reliance in Kabul can be clearly observed in a place where the new elite, the protectors, and the providers seldom venture. In the old, narrow, maze-like streets of Mandawi Bazaar, small-time traders and shoppers mingle in shops or kebab houses or around a stand selling fresh sour-cherry juice. In Mandawi, unlike in central Kabul, people do not appear to be seeking handouts; nor do they appear willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder. In one narrow street of Mandawi, one can see an ethnic Hazarah sitting next to a Tajik or a Pashtun with little attention to the other's ethnicity or tribal affiliations.
Perhaps the still-distant dream of a self-reliant, ethnically diverse, and forward-looking Afghanistan of the future can be observed in the oldest parts of Kabul. With this hope, the next quarter of a century in Kabul's history might be much brighter than the last. But in order for that to be the case, both Afghans and their supporters need to move beyond short-term window dressings and the filling of statistics sheets that mean little to the ordinary Afghan citizen and begin a joint effort to lay the foundations of the country's future.
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.
KARZAI SAYS MILITIAS POSE BIGGEST THREAT TO AFGHAN ELECTIONS...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said in an interview in "The New York Times" of 12 July that Afghanistan's warlord armies, not Taliban insurgents, pose the gravest risk to his country's security. In calling on militias to disarm, Karzai said that "the frustration that we have in this country is that progress has sometimes been stopped by private militias, life has been threatened by private militias, so it should not be tolerated." Without disarmament, he said, "the Afghan state will have really serious difficulties." Karzai's comments reflected a shift in the order of concerns he sees Afghanistan facing. Previously, attacks on aid workers and election officials staged by suspected neo-Taliban guerillas most worried the fledgling government in Kabul. But Karzai put dangers posed by militias first, saying they threaten to hamper progress toward nationwide presidential elections scheduled for 9 October. Just 10,000 of Afghanistan's estimated 60,000 fighters have been disarmed, and disarmament efforts led by the United Nations have recently slowed. (Marc Ricks)
...AND ISSUES DECREE AGAINST MILITIAS...Chairman Karzai vowed on 14 July to crack down on private militias, issuing a decree that prescribes severe punishment for those who fail to disarm. "Those who act against...or endanger the security of the country are rebels," the decree states, according to a 14 July AP report. "According to the law, they are condemned to heavy punishment." The decree focuses on warlord armies operating beyond the control of the Defense Ministry. Militia leaders Hazrat Ali and Mohammad Ata promised to support Karzai's government and the disarmament efforts during a meeting with Karzai on 14 July, Afghan television reported. (Marc Ricks)
...AS MILITIA LEADER DOSTUM ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID.Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful leader of the northeastern-based militia Junbish-e Melli, has declared his candidacy for president in October's election, AP reported on 22 July. He has reportedly collected the required 10,000 signatures. Dostum, a presidential security adviser for northern Afghanistan, has repeatedly strained his relationship with the Afghan Transitional Administration by challenging its authority and engaging his fighters in clashes with rival militias in the region surrounding the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. His spokesman, Faizullah Zaki, said Dostum made the decision to submit his candidacy after securing widespread support "across the war-riven country's deep ethnic divides," according to AP. Thousands of supporters reportedly cheered Dostum at a rally in Mazar-e Sharif on 22 July. However, some doubt the former communist and feared militia leader's ability to garner national support in the balloting. (Kimberly McCloud)
AFGHAN ELECTION BODY URGES COMPLIANCE WITH CANDIDACY DEADLINE...The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) stressed on 25 July that all presidential candidates for the October election must submit their respective candidacy credentials by the 26 July deadline, Radio Afghanistan reported. Sayyed Mohammad Azam, head of the JEMB's press section, said that each presidential candidate must: submit copies of 10,000 voter-registration cards from eligible voters supporting his or her candidacy. He added that no candidate may control or be a member of militia forces, each presidential hopeful must post a 50,000 afghanis ($1,075) deposit, and no candidate may receive foreign financial backing. According to the JEMB's timeline for the presidential election, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL, candidates who are "judges, attorneys, or officials" must resign by 26 July upon officially joining the race. (Amin Tarzi)
...LEADING TO REPORTED PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT LEADER'S POTENTIAL RUNNING MATE...Chairman Karzai postponed a planned trip to Pakistan at the last moment on 25 July, reportedly to ease tensions with one of his prospective running mates, current Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, international news agencies reported. If Karzai nominates Fahim as one of his running mates, the defense minister has to resign from his post -- something that Fahim has been reluctant to do, "The New York Times" reported on 26 July. Fahim is the only Afghan factional leader to have armed forces under his command in Kabul, which is a breach of the 2001 Bonn agreement that established the current political system in Afghanistan. While Fahim has allied himself with Karzai, he appears unwilling to give up the military power that has made him a key powerbroker in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER SNUBS WARLORD...Chairman Karzai officially announced his candidacy for the post of president on 26 July, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. In a surprise move, Karzai named Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow and a younger brother of slain United Front (aka Northern Alliance) leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his choice for the post of first vice president. Many had expected Karzai to nominate the powerful United Front military leader and his current first deputy, Defense Minister Fahim, as his first deputy Karzai said he has fond memories of Fahim and the two spent testing times together in the past two years, adding that he is "sad that Fahim is not on the ticket." But for building a new Afghanistan, Karzai said, Mas'ud is the right choice. As expected, Karzai named Abdul Karim Khalili, currently one of his deputies, as his choice for the post of second vice president. Karzai said his other two current deputies, Ne'matullah Shahrani and Hedayat Amin Arsala, will have important positions in his government if he is elected, but he did not offer any details. (Amin Tarzi)
...IN WHAT APPEARS TO BE A BOLD POLITICAL MOVE.Marshal Fahim might back one of Karzai's opponents in the October presidential election, the BBC commented on 26 July, citing the views of unspecified observers. As the head of one of the strongest militias in Afghanistan and with the support of various other warlords, Fahim was widely viewed as a potential troublemaker if left off Karzai's ticket. An unidentified U.S. official quoted by "The New York Times" on 27 July said fears that Fahim might roll his tanks onto the streets of Kabul proved unfounded, adding that the defense minister "did not look like someone ready to go to war." On 26 July, Karzai indicated that Fahim remains defense minister, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. In a conversation with "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" on 20 July, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Nur Mohammad Qarqin, who is staled to lead Karzai's campaign, suggested that Fahim had been a possible choice due to security concerns if he were not on the ticket. By passing over Fahim, Karzai appears to have taken a bold step directed against warlords and powerful officials within his own administration who command military units that are not loyal to the central government. Karzai's successful curtailment of warlords would arguably eliminate the biggest stumbling block on Afghanistan's road to recovery. (Amin Tarzi)
NEW CANDIDATE COULD EMERGE AS KARZAI'S MAIN CHALLENGER FOR PRESIDENCY.In an unexpected move, Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni announced on 26 July that he will run for the Afghan presidency, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Karzai acknowledged the same day that he has accepted Qanuni's resignation from his post as education minister and wished him well. "Recently, I have had concerns," Qanuni said on 26 July, according to Reuters. "because there have been some violations in the new constitution and in the Bonn agreement, and what I had expected in the past has now been put at risk. This has prompted me to use my constitutional right to be able to serve my people." Qanuni, who like Defense Minister Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is from Panjsher Province, said he enjoys the support of those two as well as the support of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's other brother, Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, "The New York Times" reported on 27 July. Mas'ud is also from Panjsher, and the Panjsheri group has played a dominant role in Afghanistan's transitional administration since late 2001, the New York daily commented. Some observers believe Qanuni might emerge as the most serious contender to Karzai in an election that until recently was widely expected be have been a foregone conclusion. (Amin Tarzi)
U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN MEETS WITH DEFENSE MINISTER TO ENSURE SECURITY.U.S. Ambassador and special presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Defense Minister Fahim on 26 July, Radio Afghanistan reported. Fahim stressed that he is against any negative campaign that might undermine October's presidential election. On 27 July, Khalilzad issued what "The New York Times" has described as a "veiled warning" to Fahim not to undermine Afghan security. When asked if the United States might intervene in the event that militias -- one of which is led by Fahim -- seek to destabilize the electoral process, Khalilzad responded that the defense minister has a "direct responsibility" to prevent violence, the New York daily reported. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN DENIES RESIGNATION RUMORS.Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin on 28 July denied rumors that a number of cabinet ministers resigned following Karzai's announcement of his choices of running mates for the upcoming election, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Ludin said that only Education Minister Yunos Qanuni resigned to make possible his bid for the presidency (see above). In addition to Qanuni's resignation, Karzai accepted the resignations of one of his four deputies, Abdul Karim Khalili, who has been nominated as second vice president on Karzai's ticket; ministerial adviser Taj Mohammad Wardak, who will run as first vice-presidential nominee on Qanuni's ticket; and Afghan Ambassador to Moscow Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, who is also on Karzai's ticket as first vice-presidential nominee, Radio Afghanistan reported on 27 July. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Fahim and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah tendered their resignations following Karzai's decision not to include the defense minister on his ticket. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER CHOOSES CAMPAIGN MANAGER.Hamid Karzai has chosen Labor and Social Affairs Minister Nur Mohammad Qarqin to head his presidential campaign, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran report on 28 July. In an interview with "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" on 20 July, Qarqin said Karzai's campaign strategy will be to seek to avoid a runoff, even if the winning margin is slim (see above). With the removal of Fahim from the ticket, Karzai may have gained legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans who view the warlords and their militias as the major obstacle on Afghanistan's road to normalcy. Fahim's military and strong financial standing could make him a popular figure among ethnic Tajiks and other groups, which could deliver a blow to Karzai's hopes of winning the presidency on the strength of an ethnically broad voter base. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN ELECTION BODY PRESENTS LIST OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body announced its final list on 27 July of candidates registered to compete in October's presidential election, Afghanistan's Television reported. The list of 23 individuals comprises 19 independents and four candidates representing specific political parties or coalitions. The list of independents includes Karzai, who is not affiliated with any political party, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the head of the powerful Junbish-e Melli-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, which is backed by its own military units.
The list of candidates for Afghanistan's presidential elections along with their running mates, where available, as announced in the order announced by Afghan television:
1. Mohammad Mohaqeq. His running mate is Nasir Ahmad Ensaf; his second running mate is Abdul Fayaz Mehrayin. While Mohaqeq is a leader of the Wahdat party, he is listed as an independent candidate.
2. Mir Abu Taleb Kazemi. He has not yet announced his running mates. Independent candidate.
3. Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai. His first running mate is Obaydullah Obayd; his second running mate is Abdul Manan Oruzgani. Ahamdzai is a member of the Harakat-e Enqelab-e Eslami party, but is listed as an independent candidate.
4. Abdul Hakim Zazai. He has not yet announced his running mates. Independent candidate.
5. Abdul Latif Pedram. His first running mate is Haji Ahmad Niro; his second running mate is Mohammad Qasem Masumi. [According to a report by Bakhtar Information Agency, Pedram's running mates are Mohammad Qasem Masumi and Ahmad Munir.] Pedram is the candidate of the Afghan National Congress Party.
6. Gholam Faruq Nejrabi. His first running mate is Abdul Fatah; his second running mate is Abdul Hanan. Nejrabi is the candidate of the Afghan Independence Party.
7. Abdul Hafez Mansur. His first running mate is Sayyed Mohammad Eqbal Munib; his second running mate is Mohammad Ayyub Qasemi. Masur is a member of Jam'iat-e Islami party but is listed as an independent candidate.
8. Abdul Sattar Sirat. His first running mate is Qazi Mohammad Amin Weqad; his second running mate is Abdul Qader Emami. Independent candidate.
9. Masuda Jalal. Her first running mate is Mir Habib Sohaili; her second running mate is Sayyed Mohammad Alem Amini. Independent candidate. The only female presidential hopeful.
10. Abdul Hadi Khalilzai. His first running mate is Khodai Nur Mandokhel; his second running mate is Khoda Dad Erfani. Independent candidate.
11. Abdul Rashid Dostum. His first running mate is Shafiqa Habibi; his second running mate is Mostafa Kamal Makhdum. Dostum is the head of Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami party but is listed as an independent candidate.
12. Sayyed Eshaq Gelani. His first running mate is Mohammad Esma'il Qasemyar; his second running mate is Barialay Nasrati. Gailani is the candidate of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan.
13. Hamid Karzai. His first running mate is Ahmad Zia Mas'ud; his second running mate is Mohammad Karim Khalili. Independent candidate.
14. Mohammad Mahfuz Nedayi. His first running mate is Sayyed Mohammad Aref Ebrahimkhayl; his second running mate is Mohammad Hakim Karimi. Independent candidate.
15. Wakil Mangal. His first running mate is Mohammad Yunos Moghol; his second running mate is Dina Gol. Independent candidate.
16. Sayyed Abdul Hadi Dabir. His first running mate is Abdul Rashid; his second running mate is Dad Mohammad Khan. Independent candidate.
17. Abdul Hasib Aryan. His first running mate is Del Aqa Shekayb; his second running mate is Sayyed Mohammad Zaman Ahmadyar. Independent candidate.
18. Homayun Shah Asefi. His first running mate is Mohammad Hashem Esmatullah; his second running mate is Tajwar Kakar. Independent candidate.
19. Safdar Sadeqi Yakawlangi. His first running mate is Hayatillah Abed; his second running mate is Mohamamd Ebrahim. Independent candidate.
20. Mohammad Halim Tanwir. His first running mate is Jamil al-Rahman Kamgar. His second running mate has not been announced. Independent candidate.
21. Mohammad Ebrahim Rashid. His first running mate is Sayyed Mohammad Hadi Hadi; his second running mate is Hamid Taheri. Independent candidate.
22. Mohammad Yunos Qanuni. His first running mate is Taj Mohammad Wardak; his second running mate is Sayyed Hosayn Alemi Balkhi. Qanuni is the candidate of the Afghan National Movement.
23. Khoshhal Yasini. His running mates have not been announced. Independent candidate. (Amin Tarzi)
ELECTION WORKER AND DISTRICT OFFICIAL KILLED IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN...An election worker and Amir Ne'matullah Pahlawan, the head of the anticrime department of the Khas Oruzgan district of Oruzgan Province, were killed on 25 July in an attack by unidentified assailants, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 27 July. Both men were riding on a motorcycle when the attackers struck. Haji Obaydullah, the district head of Khas Oruzgan, said he is not "100 percent sure who carried out the attack," adding that "we are 80 percent sure that the Taliban attacked them, because they are carrying out such attacks." Neo-Taliban elements have vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's election process. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS ATTACKERS REPORTEDLY TARGET FEMALE AFGHAN POLITICAL FIGURE.Gunmen targeted a prominent female Afghan political figure in what appears to be a failed assassination attempt, AFP reported 12 July. "I was on my way back from Khogiani district to Jalabad city when we saw two armed men on the highway waiting for our convoy," female activist Safia Sediqi, the women's representative for eastern Nangarhar Province, told the news agency. "But as soon as they realized we had more than a dozen bodyguards they tried to escape." Sediqi said her guards pursued the attackers. One got away, and the other committed suicide to avoid capture, she said. Sediqi said the suicide victim "swallowed his identity card and destroyed documents he had on him, then he blew himself with one of the hand grenades he was carrying." Sediqi had traveled to eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province to investigate rural problems and visited the Khogiani district some 90 kilometers east of Kabul. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in the area have killed four female election workers in recent weeks. (Marc Ricks)
U.S. FORCES LAUNCH OFFENSIVE AIMED AT SAFEGUARDING AFGHAN ELECTIONS...Thousands of U.S. troops have launched a new offensive targeting insurgents bent on disrupting Afghanistan's presidential election in the fall, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said according to AP on 13 July. "Now we'll be shifting our efforts to helping to build the required security going into the election itself," said U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno. "We should expect that we have to fight to get to these elections." Barno said Operation Lightning Resolve was "kicking off as we speak" in an interview with AP on 13 July. Without offering details, Barno said the operation involves an "offensive punch" against militants. A 2,000-member Marine contingent that has been battling neo-Taliban fighters since March is pulling out, Barno said. The rest of the 17,000 troops and special-operations soldiers will take up the new mission while increasing cooperation with the United Nations, which is organizing the election. "A counterinsurgency strategy does not achieve success in three months or six months," Barno said. "These are longer-term, sustained strategies." (Marc Ricks)
...WHILE U.S. GENERAL SAYS U.S. FORCES STRETCHED THIN IN AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ.U.S. General Richard Cody told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on 7 July that current military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are putting a strain on the ability of the United States to deploy elsewhere in the world, international media reported. Moreover, he said, even replacing troops currently serving in these two countries could be difficult. When asked about the status of the U.S. military by legislators, Cody replied, "Are we stretched thin with our active and reserve component forces right now? Absolutely," AFP reported. Other military officials are also concerned, Cody said. He stressed the necessity of increasing the size of the U.S. military at this time in order to meet the current needs and threats. "This is a different war," he said. "That's why it's so important that everyone understands, and that's why we asked for the 30,000 [more troops], so we could build up." In his testimony, Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that there are currently 17,900 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Analysts worry that this strain on U.S. military forces could have a negative impact on their ability to provide security in Afghanistan. (Kimberly McCloud)
MORE VOTERS REGISTERED IN PANJSHER PROVINCE.Approximately 500 residents of Hesa-e Awali district in the northern Panjsher Province received voting cards at various voter-registration centers located in the district, state-run Afghanistan Television reported on 8 July. Commenting on the successful registration drive in his province, Panjsher Governor Mohammad Wasel said: "People, including men and women, came here to receive voting cards. The process is continuing. I can tell you that some 80,000 people in Panjsher have received voting cards." This report from Panjsher is likely to be welcomed by international observers and election monitors, as speculation has increased recently that the upcoming Afghan parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held in September this year, are now to be delayed a second time. Still, millions of voters remain to be registered throughout the country. (Kimberly McCloud)
WESTERN AFGHAN BOMBING KILLS FIVE, INJURES 29 AMID DISARMAMENT...Five people were killed in the western Afghan city of Herat on 11 July when a bomb exploded on a crowded downtown street, international media reported. AP reported that 29 others were injured in the attack, which Chairman Karzai blamed on "enemies who are desperately trying to derail Afghanistan from the path of reconstruction, peace, and democracy." There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Police in Herat said they arrested one as-yet-unidentified suspect who denied involvement. Herat police chief Ziauddin Mahmoudi said the explosive was placed in a garbage heap near a building housing shops on the ground level and a police station above. One police officer was among the injured. Officials said the dead included a 12-year-old boy. The attack highlighted security concerns for the upcoming Afghan presidential elections. Authorities announced on 9 July that the elections will be postponed from their previously scheduled date in September until 9 October.
Authorities Herat arrested four people suspected of involvement the bombing attack in the city, AFP reported on 12 July. "We have arrested four suspects bomb attack, and we are hoping that these suspects will lead us to capture the people behind the attack," Herat police chief Ziauddin Muhmudi said. Muhmudi said police seized 18 high-quality Russian-made pistols and ammunition from a house where one of the suspects lived. But he refused to offer further details due to security concerns. (Marc Ricks)
...AS AUTHORITIES COLLECT HUNDREDS OF WEAPONS.Taking part in a UN-backed disarmament program, 750 former fighters handed over weapons in Herat on 11 July in a ceremony marred by the bomb attack on the other side of town. A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry said some 750 former combatants have turned over 550 weapons, both light and heavy, Xinhua news agency reported. Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who has in the past expressed reservations about cooperating with disarmament efforts, was absent from the ceremony, and none of his forces' tanks were among the weapons collected. Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zaher Azimi said Khan has been reluctant to hand over his weapons but is not stonewalling disarmament efforts, AFP reported. "Ismail Khan was not opposing the program but of course he had some remarks, which have been resolved during meetings we'd had with him," Azimi said. (Marc Ricks)
AFGHAN MILITIA COMMANDER REPORTED SHOT.A militia commander in the eastern Afghan Kunar Province, Malik Zarin, was shot several times on 19 July in the Jadi Maiwand district, a police spokesman told AP. Zarin was admitted to a hospital but details of his condition were not immediately available. A Defense Ministry spokesman told dpa news agency that authorities have detained three suspected assailants. (Andy Heil)
ROCKET ATTACK KILLS WOMAN IN DOWNTOWN KABUL.A spokesman for the NATO-led stabilization force reported that a rocket fired into the Afghan capital on 18 July killed one woman, while two rockets or mortar rounds exploded on open ground at Kabul airport, causing no casualties, international news agencies reported. The rocket blast in downtown Kabul struck less than 1 kilometer from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, according to the spokesman, Canadian Major Rita LePage. (Andy Heil)
AFGHAN TROOPS KILL TWO IN SHOOT-OUT.Afghan National Army troops killed two men in Western Afghanistan in a shoot-out that gave rise to a mob attack on an election office, AP reported on 15 July. The melee broke out in Chagcharan, the capital of Ghor Province, 350 kilometers west of Kabul. Ghor deputy police chief Ghulam Yahya said the shooting started when Afghan soldiers tried to steal money from people they were searching on the western side of town. UN spokesman David Singh said the dead were two local militiamen. Afghan Defense Ministry officials said the victims were area shopkeepers. Yahya said witnesses identified four of the soldiers, who were later arrested. Officials said a crowd gathered to protest the killings. Demanding the bodies of the two people killed, the mob then marched on an army outpost at the area airport and stormed a compound used by the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission. "Eight people entered the office and vandalized it by throwing stones at vehicles and windows and destroying furniture," Singh said. Seventeen people, mostly foreigners, were evacuated by helicopter to the western city of Herat, he said. (Marc Ricks)
ATTACKERS KILL LOCAL AFGHAN POLICE CHIEF AND HIS DRIVER.Gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed a local police chief and his driver in Ghazni Province about 170 kilometers south of Kabul on 12 July, AFP reported on 13 July. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal called the attack a "Taliban ambush" and said the slain official was the chief of the Andar district police force. "Taliban riding on motorbikes ambushed the police vehicle, and they managed to escape," Mashal said. The Ghazni area has remained one of the most restive regions of Afghanistan, with insurgents regularly attacking U.S.-led coalition forces, aid workers, UN staff, Afghan troops, and others working with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. AFP reported that security across Afghanistan has deteriorated rapidly as the 9 October deadline for a national presidential election nears. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the balloting and have targeted election workers and other officials in a string of recent ambushes and bombing attacks. (Marc Ricks)
TALIBAN KILL POLICE CHIEF, TORCH GOVERNMENT OFFICE NEAR KANDAHAR.Suspected neo-Taliban killed a local police chief south of Kandahar and torched the mayor's office in the Miana Shien district, AP reported on 13 July. "Police chief Rahmatullah was killed along with three of his men," a Taliban spokesman Abdul Hakim Latifi said in a satellite-telephone interview with AP. Latifi said Taliban fighters burned the mayor's office and two pickup trucks. He also said one Taliban fighter died in the attack. Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, confirmed that Rahmatullah was slain and the building burned. In neighboring Helmand Province, a bomb blast killed one suspected neo-Taliban insurgent and injured another late on 11 July. The bomb apparently detonated as the two men were rigging it to explode in a bazaar in Girishk, police chief Haji Bil Jan said. (Marc Ricks)
BOMB MISHAP KILLS TWO SUSPECTED AFGHAN INSURGENTS.Two suspected insurgents died while planting a land mine in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 11 July. The blast occurred overnight on 10 July about 1 kilometer from the Khogyani district headquarters, dpa reported on 11 July, citing AIP. "They were trying to plant the mine on a road when it blew up, ripping their bodies beyond identification," local police chief Mohammad Omer said. Omer said authorities nonetheless recovered documents from the scene that led to the arrest of 10 relatives of the suspected terrorists. Police also found a remote-control device. The explosion occurred near an area where another blast killed a female election worker and wounded five others on 8 July. (Marc Ricks)
TALIBAN COMMANDER ARRESTED IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE.Neo-Taliban commander Mullah Mujahid was arrested in Shah Wali Kot District in Kandahar Province, 150 miles southwest of Kabul, on 6 July, international news agencies reported on 7 July. Mujahid allegedly admitted giving more than $1 million to Taliban supporters recently, according to a "senior intelligence official," AP reported. Mujahid, along with a second suspected Taliban member, Nisar Hamed, was taken into custody during a nighttime raid on a house. Kandahar intelligence official Abdullah Laghmani said that Mujahid was a leader in Takhar Province before the Taliban was driven from power by U.S. forces in December 2001, AP reported. Mujahid reportedly claimed he entered Afghanistan about four months ago and was aiding insurgents on behalf of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Mujahid was transported to Kabul on 7 July, Afghan Islamic Press reported on 7 July. (Kimberly McCloud)
FUEL-LADEN TRUCKS EXPLODE ON AFGHAN BORDER.Two tanker trucks carrying fuel for U.S. forces in Afghanistan exploded on the border of Pakistan on 15 July, AFX reported the same day. Carrying fuel loaded in the port city of Karachi, the trucks erupted in flames near the Pakistani border city of Chamam, which is located in the area surrounding the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. "It appears to be an act of terrorism," Chaman administration official Nazar Hussain said, adding that investigations have been launched. In June, an oil-tanker truck on the same route exploded in Chaman. Residents said neo-Taliban forces operating in the area claimed responsibility for that blast. According to an AP report on 15 July, however, a carelessly discarded cigarette butt caused the most recent tanker fires. In the AP report, Bashir Bazai, a senior Pakistani government official in the area, said the blazes were not caused by an attack. He also said there were no casualties and that the drivers of the trucks have been arrested. (Marc Ricks)
THREE AMERICANS ARRESTED IN AFGHANISTAN FOR SUSPECTED VIGILANTISM...Afghan forces arrested three U.S. citizens in Kabul on 5 July for allegedly forming a private "vigilante group" that sought to hunt down terrorists and capture them, AP and AFP reported on 8 July. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the men were posing as U.S. military officials and/or agents in Afghanistan but that the men were not employees of the U.S. government. In fact, the U.S.-led coalition forces issued a press release earlier this week warning of at least one of the individual's activities. Two of the men were identified as Jonathan Idema, the alleged ringleader, and Brent Bennett. "Let me make clear, first of all, the U.S. government does not employ or sponsor these men," Boucher told reporters. In addition to hunting down terrorists, the men were also allegedly illegally holding eight locals in a private jail as part of their personal war against terror, AFP reported. When the group's house was raided, Afghan forces found prisoners hanging by their feet, according to AP. Four Afghans were also taken into custody during the raid. (Kimberly McCloud)
...WHO FOOLED PEACEKEEPERS.U.S.-led peacekeepers said the three suspected vigilantes led by a former U.S. soldier tricked them into aiding illegal counterterrorism activities, AP reported on 14 July. "Their credibility was such that with their uniforms, their approach, our people believed they were what they said they were," said commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). "It was a mistake." An ISAF spokesman said the men, reportedly led by former U.S. soldier Jonathan K. Idema, dressed in military garb and passed themselves off as troops from a special task force that in fact did not exist. Afghan officials say men could face 20 years in jail for the kidnapping and assault of Afghans the men had taken prisoner and allegedly hung upside down in their makeshift jail. The men remain in the custody of Afghan security forces, who arrested the Americans along with four Afghans after a tip from international peacekeepers. The Americans are to be tried in an Afghan court. (Marc Ricks)
REPORT ON AFGHAN PRISONERS COMPLETED.The U.S. military official charged with investigating and reporting on the conditions of prisons located at U.S. military bases in Afghanistan -- where four Afghan prisoners died during detainment -- has submitted his findings to the top military commander in Afghanistan, AP reported on 7 July. Brigadier General Charles Jacoby submitted his report to Lieutenant General David Barno, according to U.S. military spokesman Major Jon Siepmann. Siepmann said that some of the report's conclusions will be released to the public after they are studied by officials. Barno ordered the review after revelations of mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by U.S. forces were made public in May, at which time demands were made to revisit the conditions of U.S. holding facilities in Afghanistan. In December 2002, two Afghan detainees died at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, and their deaths from "blunt-force injuries" were ruled homicides by military coroners. Two more prisoners died at bases outside Kabul, and according to AP, there were at least two other cases in which Afghan prisoners reported either physical or sexual abuse. Jacoby investigated approximately 20 detainment centers in Afghanistan, AP reported. (Kimberly McCloud)
AFGHAN LEADER STRESSES NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY IN AID DISTRIBUTION."One of the basic responsibilities of a responsible government is to be accountable before the people," Chairman Karzai said in a speech to the Afghan people broadcast on Radio Afghanistan on 8 July. "A government that considers itself responsible and accountable before the people always gives reports and presents all the records of the disbursement and flow of funds to people in a completely transparent manner," Karzai continued. An effort to institute transparency and accountability is likely to be welcomed by international donors and organizations that have raised concern about corruption and impropriety on the part of the ATA. "Dear countrymen," Karzai said, "every infrastructure in Afghanistan is in the process of rehabilitation, and we need financial resources and facilities to fund all these activities. We need foreign assistance to fund all of our projects, which are currently being implemented." Karzai spoke against the misuse or wasting of aid funding, and he added that Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has recently submitted "a detailed report to the media about foreign assistance, and how the money was disbursed." (Kimberly McCloud)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY:17 July 1973 -- Prince Mohammad Da'ud deposes his cousin, King Mohammad Zaher, and proclaims a republic.
13 July 1993 -- Mujahedin forces attack on Russian sentries on the Afghan-Tajik border; 25 killed.
13 July 1996 -- Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar orders closing of cinemas and bans radio music.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003); Radio Afghanistan; "Suddeutsche Zeitung."