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Afghan Report: August 5, 2004

5 August 2004, Volume 3, Number 27
By Amin Tarzi

On 26 July, the last day when candidates in Afghanistan's 9 October presidential elections could register their candidacy, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai officially joined a pool of 23 hopefuls to become Afghanistan's future leader (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004)

The fact that Karzai would announce his candidacy was a given. Moreover, many have already said that he is certain of winning. What surprised many Afghan watchers and even politicians inside Karzai's own camp was his choice for the post of first vice president.

Most observers predicted that Karzai would name the powerful United Front (aka Northern Alliance) military leader and his current first deputy, Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, as his first deputy. Fahim was not seen as the most capable person for the job or the best representative of the Tajiks, Afghanistan's second-largest ethnic group, but was rather viewed as a powerful military man who, if not included on the ticket, would potentially create trouble for Karzai. In a conversation with RFE/RL on 20 July in Kabul, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Nur Mohammad Qarqin, who now heads Karzai's campaign, suggested that Fahim had originally been on the ticket because of security concerns.

But Karzai, surprising many, passed over Fahim in favor of another Tajik with a more celebrated name. He named Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow and a younger brother of slain United Front leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his choice for first vice president.

Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, one of the most celebrated resistance leaders during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89), gained extraordinary international recognition during the Taliban rule (1994-2001) as the leader of the only military group that was not crushed. Inside Afghanistan -- and especially among the Tajiks -- Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's status as the unsung hero of the country reached its zenith when Al-Qaeda terrorists assassinated him on 9 September 2001. Today in Kabul, Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's portraits adorn not only many governmental buildings, but windshields of taxis, carpets, and Afghan stamps. And Mas'ud is perhaps the only Afghan whose likeness has been put on a foreign country's stamp -- France has issued a Mas'ud stamp to commemorate the slain Afghan hero.

By running with Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Karzai is hoping that the glory of the Mas'ud name will give him more popular appeal -- and keep the Tajiks content. However, there is another factor that the younger Mas'ud brings to Karzai's campaign, which Fahim, by allying himself with Karzai in the last few months, has lost: the support of the powerful leaders ("jihadi") of the former Afghan mujahedin parties. Ahmad Zia Mas'ud is a son-in-law of the former Afghan president and leader of Jami'at-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The jihadi leaders, while losing some of their influence during the Taliban period and being somewhat sidelined during the last two years of the Afghan transitional period, still garner respect among the more traditional segments of Afghan society -- the vast majority of the population. Moreover, jihadi leaders such as Rabbani, if not included in the future Afghan political process, could create problems.

During the resistance against the Soviets, Ahmad Shah Mas'ud was one of the commanders of Jami'at-e Islami. However, with the ouster of Rabbani's government from Kabul by the Taliban in 1996, Mas'ud became the leader of his own faction known as Shura'-ye Nezar. People such as Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and current presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni are all considered to be unofficial members of Shura'-ye Nezar. These individuals, however, cannot be viewed as representing the more conservative and traditional mujahedin leadership, which Rabbani does.

Ahmad Zia Mas'ud continues the Mas'ud legacy, not only by sharing the name, but also because he fought alongside his older brother. And he has the added advantage of enjoying the full support of his father-in-law.

According to some observers, Rabbani reportedly said that either Karzai included his son-in-law on the ticket, or the younger Mas'ud would announce his own candidacy with the full support of Jami'at-e Islami and its allied jihadi parties.

With the removal of Fahim from the scene, Karzai has gained not only a more well-known running mate but the backing of a major mujahedin party. He has also given himself the chance to, in due time, rid Kabul of military units loyal to Fahim. Furthermore, Rabbani, as an ethnic Tajik, can now rally the Tajiks' support behind Karzai.

Presidential hopeful Qanuni is also banking on the Mas'ud name for success in the campaign. Qanuni reportedly enjoys the support of Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah, as well as Ahmad Zia Mas'ud's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, currently Afghanistan's ambassador to London (for more on Ahmad Wali Mas'ud's views, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 October 2003). The test will be whether Mas'ud's legacy can withstand two brothers competing for the same recognition.

As the promised Afghan elections approach, RFE/RL's 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 -- -- 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.

Brussels-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced in a statement issued on 28 July that it is closing all of its medical programs in Afghanistan, the MSF website reported ( The statement said that "with a deep feeling of sadness and anger," the MSF took the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan after five of its staff members were killed in an ambush in June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 June 2004). Such "targeted killing" of MSF aid workers "is unprecedented" in the history of the organization, the statement added. According to MSF, while the Afghan administration presented "credible evidence that local commanders conducted the attack," it "neither detained nor publicly called for their arrest." The statement added that the "lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil." (Amin Tarzi)

In its 28 July statement, MSF argued that "the violence directed against humanitarian aid workers has come in a context in which the U.S.-backed coalition has consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions." The medical aid group denounced what it called attempts by the coalition forces "to co-opt humanitarian aid and use it to 'win hearts and minds.'" MSF Director of Operations Koen Henckaerts said on 28 July that the neo-Taliban claimed that the organization was a legitimate target because it cooperated with the United States, Brussels-based VRT Radio reported. "So this means that they [neo-Taliban] don't accept any more that we [MSF] are neutral and independent," Henckaerts added. While the neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of MSF workers, the most likely culprits were local commanders.

MSF's director of operations, Kenny Gluck, told a news conference in Kabul on 28 July that poor security meant the group cannot continue its work. "Independent humanitarian action, which involves unarmed aid workers going into areas of conflict to provide aid, has become impossible," Gluck said.

Lack of security had already forced MSF to stop its work in much of Afghanistan's south and east in recent months. But prior to June, it had continued operating in 13 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, with 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff.

Gluck blamed the Afghan government for failing to conduct a credible investigation into the killings. "The lack of respect for the safety of aid workers is also, unfortunately, seen in the [Afghan] government's either unwillingness or inability to provide a credible investigation of this atrocity and to provide sufficient legal follow up in terms of arrest and prosecution of those who are guilty," Gluck said.

The organization has also blamed the U.S.-led coalition for putting independent aid workers in danger. MSF Secretary-General Marine Buissonniere on 28 July accused U.S.-led forces of confusing Afghans by linking aid supplies to cooperation in identifying insurgents.

"We feel that the U.S.-backed coalition has contributed to the blurring of identities," Buissonniere charged. "The U.S.-backed has constantly sought to use humanitarian assistance and corrupt humanitarian assistance to be a support, to be a support for its military and political ambitions."

The U.S. military has admitted it distributed leaflets telling Afghans they had to provide information on militants if they wanted aid shipments to continue.

It has apologized for the act. But MSF says the damage has been done, and that many Afghans now think all aid workers are cooperating with Western troops. In Washington, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli strongly denied that the United States had ever attempted to link humanitarian aid to military operations.

"There's no basis for such a charge, there really isn't," Ereli said. "We've never conditioned our aid on cooperation with military operations. We strongly reject any allegation that our actions have made it more dangerous for humanitarian workers to assist the people of Afghanistan."

Marie-Madeleine Leplomb works for MSF in Paris. In an interview with RFE/RL, she said the coalition's use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) was also contributing to the danger facing aid workers.

U.S. and NATO troops are running PRTs across the country, which conduct many civilian operations that would normally be done by aid workers -- from setting up clinics to digging wells. Leplomb said the PRTs make it nearly impossible for Afghans to understand the difference between a soldier and an independent aid worker. MSF and other aid groups depend on political neutrality to ensure their security in unstable countries like Afghanistan.

"Given the multiplication of actors, how can the [Afghan] community recognize who is a humanitarian worker and who is doing intelligence? We are not credible anymore," Leplomb said.

MSF won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 and works in 80 countries worldwide. It is the first major aid agency to pull out of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Gluck said the group would be eager to resume work, saying: "Afghanistan is a country where there are massive unmet medical needs." MSF is known for working under extremely difficult circumstances, and withdrawals are rare.

Leplomb said MSF's success is built on a reputation for providing aid with no political agenda attached: "Humanitarian aid -- what we do -- is not [clearly] recognizable by the [local] communities. We [and groups like the PRTs] are all mixed in the same bag, although we have completely different mandates. [MSF's] aid is not equivocal. There is no exchange. It is free aid, without discrimination."

U.S. military spokesman Jon Siepmann told journalists in Kabul that lack of security is not an appropriate excuse to pull out of Afghanistan. "We certainly encourage governmental and nongovernmental organizations to come here and help the Afghan people. That's what we're doing," Siepmann said. "And it's regrettable to see anyone pull out of helping the Afghan people. We don't think security is an effective excuse to do that."

More than 30 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2003. The international aid group Oxfam, which has about 300 staff workers in the country, said it will not pull out. CARE, which has about 700 staff members in Afghanistan, said it will seriously consider suspending programs if its staff is directly targeted and their lives are in danger. (Antoine Blua and Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai expressed regret at the decision by MSF to halt is operations in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 28 July. "The MSF is a very good example of those aid agencies that have stayed with the people of Afghanistan during the difficult times, providing vital assistance," Karzai added. He said that his administration is "fully committed to bringing to justice those responsible" for killing the MSF workers and to making Afghanistan "safe so that aid workers and international organizations" can operate there. Karzai said he hopes that MSF will return to Afghanistan soon. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 1 August commentary regarding the decision by the Brussels-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to halt all of its medical programs in Afghanistan after five of its staff members were killed in June, "Amanat" urged the Afghan authorities to reveal the truth about the case (see above). According to "Amanat," the Interior Ministry arrested 13 people in the northern Badghis Province in connection with the attack on MSF workers. However, on the orders of the attorney general the suspects were released from detention on bail. The Interior Ministry has reportedly reissued the arrest warrants for these individuals. According to MSF, local commanders in Badghis conducted the attack. Since the withdrawal of MSF from Afghanistan, "all other aid organizations [have been prompted to] reduce their activities," "Amanat" noted. The paper urged the government to review the case of the MSF attack and reveal whether the suspects in question actually committed the crime or not. "Otherwise, confidence in government officials will continue to be reduced with the passage of every single day and none other than the ordinary people will suffer the negative impacts." (Amin Tarzi)

Six people were killed and two were seriously wounded in a blast at a congregational mosque in the Belal Khayl area of Andar District in Ghazni Province on 28 July, Afghan Television reported. Two of the casualties worked for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). According to the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency, the mosque was being used as for voter registration for the presidential elections slated for October. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which was caused by a remote-controlled device. (Amin Tarzi)

A statement issued by Jean Arnault, the UN special representative for Afghanistan on 28 July expressed outrage at the murder of a staff member of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), the UNAMA website indicated ( The statement condemned the "callous attack" in Ghazni and identified the two injured persons as employees of JEMB. Opponents of the Afghan Transitional Administration, such as the neo-Taliban and renegade former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have vowed to disrupt the upcoming presidential elections. (Amin Tarzi)

Two people were reportedly killed on 27 July in Zabul Province for possessing voter-registration cards, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 July. Zabul security commander Gholam Jailani told AIP that "the Taliban dragged two people out of their homes in Arghandab District...and brutally killed them." Jailani claimed that the assailants were "sent from Pakistan to Afghanistan to carry out such crimes" in an effort to undermine security in Afghanistan. The neo-Taliban have vowed to disrupt the upcoming Afghan presidential election. However, no group has come forth to claim responsibility for the killings in Zabul Province. (Amin Tarzi)

Security forces repelled an armed attack on 28 July carried out by about 30 suspected neo-Taliban militants against a voter-registration center in Kandahar Province's Panjwai District, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported. According to the report, several militants were injured in the attack. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," said in a 1 August statement that neo-Taliban forces on 31 July attacked two voter-registration centers, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported the same day. The statement claimed that the neo-Taliban attacked an election office in the Barakibarak district of Logar Province, south of Kabul, and another one in the Nawa district of the south-central Ghazni Province. Two guards were wounded in the Logar attack and registration cards and other election materials were destroyed in both locations. Neo-Taliban elements have vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's election process, but voter registration has continued. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 9.8 million eligible voters had registered to vote as of August, AP reported on 2 August. (Amin Tarzi)

The EU's European Commission on 29 July approved an extra 9 million euros ($10. 8 million) to help fund Afghanistan's elections, AFP reported. The contribution pledged by the EU to the fund totals 80 million euros, making it the largest single contributor. (Amin Tarzi)

According to a 2 August press release, the UN-backed JEMB has decided that voter registration will end in Afghanistan on 15 August, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan website reported. JEMB Chairman Zakim Shah called on Afghans to play "an active part in the democratization" of their country "by exercising their right and registering as voters." Since the start of the voter-registration process in December 2003, JEMB has established 4,200 registration sites in Afghanistan and has issued 8.6 million cards to eligible Afghans, the press release said. Afghanistan's presidential election is due to take place on 9 October and the parliamentary elections in spring 2005. (Amin Tarzi)

Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said on 1 August that 16,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) would be mobilized and dispatched to various parts of the country ahead of the October presidential elections, Radio Afghanistan reported. The troops are to be drawn from five different army divisions, Azimi added. It is not clear to which locations the ANA troops would be deployed. The number of newly trained ANA troops has not reached the figures presented by Azimi, therefore the troops in question are most likely part of Afghanistan's former military structure. (Amin Tarzi)

The former commander of Military Corps No. 7, General Ata Mohammad (Nuri), on 1 August became the governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan based on a July decree from Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai to reduce the power of warlords (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004), the Hindukosh News Agency reported. Since the demise of the Taliban in late 2001, Ata Mohammad's militia, which is loyal to the Jami'at-e Islami party, sporadically clashed in northern Afghanistan with the militia of the Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami party led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The most recent truce between Ata Mohammad and Dostum's militias was reached in June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June 2004). According to Hindukosh, an unidentified representative of Dostum attended Ata Mohammad's inauguration ceremonies and pledged Dostum's support to the new governor of Balkh. (Amin Tarzi)

General Ata Mohammad is said to support the candidacy of former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections, the Kabul weekly "Panjara" reported on 29 July. The unexpected candidacy of Qanuni -- who according to "Panjara" is enjoying the support of powerful political and military personalities such as Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, western Afghan Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, and Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, a brother of the slain military leader of the United Front Ahmad Shah Mas'ud -- appears to represent the main challenge to Karzai (for a list of all presidential candidates, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). By appointing Ata Mohammad as the governor of Balkh, Karzai is seeking to persuade the warlords to join political life and abandon their military units. If Ata Mohammad's militia truly disarms, then the policy can be successful, if not for Karzai's own political career then for Afghanistan's move toward statehood and normalcy. (Amin Tarzi)

The Republican Party of Afghanistan (RPA) has declared its support for the candidacy of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections, Radio Afghanistan reported on 2 August. RPA leader Sebghatullah Sanjar said that his party will campaign in support of Karzai's candidacy and is not demanding any governmental posts in exchange for its position. The RPA held a news conference on 2 August at the Ministry of Information and Culture to announce its support for Karzai. (Amin Tarzi)

According to Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 2 August, Hamid Karzai has launched a campaign to reduce the popularity of his main rivals in the presidential race. The Iranian radio reported that Karzai, through one of his brothers, Qayum Karzai, has asked Abdul Sattar Sirat to drop out of the presidential race. Sitar, however, has reportedly refused to bow out, citing differences with Karzai over the 2001 Bonn accords that established the current political process in Afghanistan. Sirat, a former justice minister, was a close aide to former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher but fell from grace during the negotiations that led to the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration. Since 2001 Sirat has lived in the United States, but he recently returned to Afghanistan and declared his candidacy for the presidency. (Amin Tarzi)

The decision by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai not to keep his first vice president in the October elections is widely seen as a challenge to the supremacy of independent militias in may part of his country. One analyst says Karzai's move may actually work, especially in the context of the elections.

"I'm pleased to stand before you here today to announce that I went to the Joint Election Commission today to present my nomination papers for the job of the president of Afghanistan."

With those words on 26 July, Karzai began Afghanistan's presidential campaign. He will face opposition not only from another presidential contender, Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, but also from other current members of his government.

This opposition includes his current first vice president, Mohammad Fahim, whom he decided to drop as a running mate. In Fahim's place, Karzai chose Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia and the brother of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, the Tajik mujahedin commander who was the military leader of the Northern Alliance and who was killed by Al-Qaeda in 2001.

As for Fahim, he is Afghanistan's current defense minister and leads the primary faction of the Northern Alliance, which helped U.S.-led forces depose the Taliban as Afghanistan's government in late 2001 and early 2002.

Many observers say Karzai's decision to drop Fahim from his electoral slate was a defiant gesture to Afghanistan's independent militia leaders, often known as "warlords," who control much of the country outside the capital, Kabul.

But this assessment is an oversimplification, according to Radek Sikorski, a former deputy foreign and defense minister for Poland who is now an analyst on Central Asia at the American Enterprise Institute, a private Washington policy center.

First, Sikorski tells RFE/RL, it is unfair to refer to the leaders of all the Afghan militias by the same term, "warlords." He points out that they played a vital role in resisting Soviet occupiers during the 1980s. Today, he says, these militias are paid by the Defense Ministry and follow a centralized military hierarchy.

Sikorski acknowledges that the militias have been slow to disarm, as demanded by Karzai and the United Nations. But he says some have good reason to stall. He notes that one such militia leader -- Ismail Kahn in northwestern Afghanistan -- disarmed on Karzai's orders, but was left defenseless against a resurgence of the Taliban in his area.

There is also the problem of what to do with a disarmed militia, Sikorski says. He draws a parallel with the many Iraqis who served in Saddam Hussein's armed forces, then were left unemployed when the U.S. administration decided to disband that country's armed forces. Now, he says, they appear to be involved in Iraq's resistance.

Sikorski says Afghanistan should avoid this mistake. "The [Afghan] central army is not yet ready to replace these guys. Also, I think the former mujahedin are justified in asking the question, 'Well, what should I do with my former fighters? They fought for several years, they won the war against the Soviets. What do I tell them now, just to go home and be unemployed?' We don't want to make the same mistake twice, do we?" Sikorski said.

Sikorski says some of these militias are run by ruthless men. But others, he says, are working to maintain order in their areas. So it is in this context that he says it may be an oversimplification to see a challenge to so-called "warlords" in Karzai's decision to drop Fahim as a running mate.

According to Sikorski, replacing Fahim with Mas'ud is in many respects nonconfrontational, from a political point of view. He says Karzai merely replaced the Northern Alliance's operations chief with the brother of its martyred military leader. And, he says, from another point of view, Karzai simply replaced one ethnic Tajik with another. "Of course, Mas'ud's brother doesn't wield any executive power, being a diplomat in Moscow, whereas Fahim does. But it [choosing Mas'ud over Fahim] could actually increase popular appeal because Fahim is universally believed to be corrupt," Sikorski said.

This could help increase popular support for Karzai as the election approaches, Sikorski says. He adds that if Karzai wins the election -- which is seen as likely -- he could be helped further by the UN's decision to separate the presidential elections from the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for next spring.

Sikorski says this two-stage election process could concentrate too much power in Karzai's presidency. He likened this imbalance to the disproportionate amount of power held by Kurds in Iraq's government -- something also approved by the UN.

"What may have happened [in Afghanistan] is that the UN may have been wrong again. Now it looks like the power of the presidency will be unchecked for six months [until parliamentary elections in the spring], and everybody suspects that [the time will] be used to manipulate the outcome of the parliamentary elections," Sikorski said.

On a more positive note, Sikorski says he is impressed with the registration for the coming elections. The UN says almost 8 million of the estimated 9 to 10 million eligible voters in Afghanistan have now registered (see news item above). (Andrew Tully)

Six U.S. and Afghan military personnel were injured in skirmishes with local militia forces in Ghor Province on 29 July, AFP reported. According to Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, "six people were injured, two or three of them American soldiers." However, an unidentified U.S. military spokesperson said that he was "unable to confirm the reports at this stage." Ghor Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Malikzadah said that one U.S. soldier and five Afghans were injured in the attack, AIP reported on 30 July. Malikzadah refused to comment on reports that two U.S. and three Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack. The military team was participating in a local disarmament program in Ghor when they were surrounded by unidentified assailants. The disarmament program, a crucial element of Afghanistan's move toward normalcy, has lagged behind schedule as most of the powerful militia forces have opted to keep their weapons. (Amin Tarzi)

27 July 1880 -- Sardar Mohammad Ayyub defeats a British brigade under command of General G.R.S. Burrows in the Battle of Maiwand.

27 July 1973 -- President Mohammad Da'ud abrogates the constitution of 1964 and dissolves parliament.

26 July 1949 -- Afghan National Assembly repudiates treaties with Britain regarding tribal territories lying in the newly created state of Pakistan.

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