Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Report: August 12, 2004

12 August 2004, Volume 3, Number 28
By Laura Winter

On August 10 Afghanistan's more than nine million voters will learned the names of the candidates contesting the October 9 presidential election.

Some candidates are already well known -- like current Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai -- but the official list has not yet been finalized.

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) says some 22 people, including one woman, have applied for permission to campaign for the nation's top job. But even before active campaigning begins, some are questioning how the registration process has been carried out.

Marzia -- not her real name -- is a teacher in Kabul. She told RFE/RL that she's afraid of losing her job because she supports a candidate other than one backed by her employer, the Education Ministry. "[The officials at the ministry] didn't find out about us. If they found out about us we would have been punished," she said. "The other [teachers] were also told at a meeting at the Education Ministry not to give photocopies to anyone [other than the candidate the ministry is supporting]. We were warned that if we do we would be punished."

Such allegations are difficult to prove. But at the JEMB office inside a United Nations compound, officials say they are concerned Marzia may not be alone. "We cannot do anything but we [are only] saying for the government official -- to those who are working for the government -- to keep themselves away from this kind of thing. It is the right of everybody to vote for their own candidate this year," Sadeq Mudaber, the JEMB's co-director of operations, told RFE/RL.

In these last few days before the final list is announced, election officials are examining the candidates' applications to make sure they meet the basic qualifications. The law requires each candidate to pay around $1,000 into a bank account set up to help pay for the election. They must also not have committed any crimes against humanity during the many years of unrest and war.

One of the most important requirements is for the 10,000 photocopies of voter-registration cards to prove a candidate has sufficient support to put him or her on the ballot. It's not clear yet whether all of the candidates can meet this last requirement. And there are some concerns that candidates who could not collect enough photocopies may have obtained extra ones illegally.

While this type of possible abuse is difficult to prove, one presidential candidate from the Panjshir Valley was brazen in explaining what he did with some of the extra photocopies he gathered in support of his bid. Abdul Hafiz Mansur, a 40-year-old newspaper editor, said he turned in more than 10,000 photocopies, and had another use for the thousands more he did not need.

"We gave some of the extra ones to the [election] commission, just in case they say one is not correct. And we brought some back with us. We also gave some to other candidates, who were short of cards. I don't want to name them," Mansur said.

The stories are starting to breed some cynicism among the electorate -- ahead of a vote considered crucial to the country's democratic future.

Latif Pedram is a 42-year-old spokesman for the Afghan National Congress, a loose affiliation of political parties that oppose Karzai and his government. They are fielding their own presidential candidate.

Pedram said he is not surprised about the misuse of the photocopies, and said, in fact, he believes the whole process is crooked. By way of a joke, he compared it to a camel: "Well, this election has been against the law from the beginning. Somebody asked the camel, 'Why isn't your neck straight?' The camel replied, 'Which part of my body is straight?' It will be illegal to the end."

Laura Winter is RFE/RL's Kabul correspondent.

Even as the final list of Afghan presidential candidates was being announced on 10 August, Radio Free Afghanistan went on the air with the names of the approved candidates. Radio Free Afghanistan is going into high gear with complete coverage of the candidates, their platforms, campaign events, and developments. Significant news is covered in our hourly news reports at the top of the hour Afghan time, while daily, dedicated election reports provide wrapups of the significant campaign developments of the day.

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. To listen live, go to, while to listen to archived programs at your leisure, go to

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.

Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim announced on 4 August that he would back the candidacy of former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni in the 9 October presidential elections, the BBC reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). "The announcement to back Mr. Qanuni is my personal one and support is also coming from a number of cabinet ministers," Fahim added, according to Reuters on 4 August. Fahim named Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah as one of the cabinet ministers expected to back Qanuni. According to Fahim, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai does not enjoy the support of former mujahedin groups. On 26 July, Karzai unexpectedly dropped Fahim as his choice for first vice presidential candidate in favor of Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, brother of slain United Front (aka Northern Alliance) leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. The younger Mas'ud is a son-in-law of former Afghan president and leader of the powerful Jami'at-e Islami, a former mujahedin party (for more on Mas'ud, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Fahim said that he "shall not allow anybody to resort to the gun" to harm the election process, Reuters reported on 4 August. Fahim controls his own militia in Kabul and Panjsher Province, north of the capital, and was expected to have been Karzai's first running mate nominee because of his potential to disrupt the electoral process. When asked whether Karzai skipped over him in favor of Mas'ud because of pressure from the United States, the EU, and the UN, Fahim replied that the "question relates to Karzai," but he added that he has "serious respect" for the Afghan leader. (Amin Tarzi)

The Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" called in a 4 August commentary for reform in the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB). The commentary's main criticism is that the JEMB's leadership was selected by Karzai and the body "acts directly according to the instructions of the central government." The foreign employees of the JEMB were selected by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan which, according to "Arman-e Melli," "is not expected to act impartially," as judged by its involvement in Afghan affairs. Since Karzai is a candidate for the presidency and he also has formed the "election office and runs all government facilities for his election campaign," the commentary argues, the "elections will, by no means, be free and fair." "Arman-e Melli" recommends that "the JEMB should be fundamentally reformed as soon as possible, and the head of state should resign from his post and run his electoral campaign without benefiting from his official power and privileges." (Amin Tarzi)

In a 9 August commentary, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" warned that people holding more than one voter-registration card must be prevented from hijacking the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections. Criticizing the JEMB'S handling of the voter-registration process, "Erada" suggested that the JEMB was able to claim distribution of 9 million registration cards throughout Afghanistan in part because multiple cards were issued to some individuals (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). "There is nothing we can do now," "Erada" lamented, but the paper advised that the electoral body address the problem that has arisen with the illegal market in voter-registration cards. Only by solving such problems can the election body "ensure the legitimacy of elections," the commentary concluded. Credible reports from Kabul suggest that individuals have obtained multiple cards in order to sell them to presidential hopefuls whose registration requires documentation of 10,000 backers. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghanistan's presidential race is starting to heat up, with most of the attention being given to the rivalry between the country's two top candidates -- the sitting president Hamid Karzai and his former Education Minister Yunis Qanooni. But Afghanistan's only female candidate is also drawing attention.

Masuda Jalal just doesn't seem to know when to give up. She failed to gain the presidency two years ago at the Emergency Loya Jirga. And now she is challenging Karzai again in the country's first direct presidential elections, in early October.

For many, this 41-year-old mother of three is the only presidential candidate that represents the hope of real change in this male-dominated country.

Not surprisingly, her candidacy has earned her admiration and support from other women. But what makes Jalal more than just another feminist leader is the fact that she appeals to many men as well.

Hesrau Nazari traveled 11 hours from Tahar Province over the Hindu Kush mountains to volunteer for her campaign.

But isn't it strange for an Afghan man to help a woman's political campaign?

"Well, no. Because men were always at the head of government," Nazari said. "And instead of serving society, they created divisions among the ethnic and religious groups. To have a woman as the head of the government is to have a mother to look after society. And a mother never creates prejudice. And it will be an honor to have a woman candidate and to vote for her."

Jalal's foray into politics started two years ago when she represented her Kabul neighborhood district as a delegate to the Emergency Loya Jirga. In that historic meeting, she ran in the race for president of the interim administration. People snickered.

Karzai won with 1,295 delegates supporting him in the poll. But Jalal earned significant respect when she placed second with 171 votes.

People aren't laughing at her any more. And Jalal says her supporters have not given up: "So after the Emergency Loya Jirga, hundreds of people from different strata, different classes, different provinces, different directions, different tribes, different ethnicities started coming to my house and saying 'Go on. Take part in the forthcoming election ... We will be voting for you.' I told them I have no political party, I have no money, I have no military power."

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has warned the international community that armed warlords pose a risk to the validity of the October election.

Many warlords are reported to be controlling votes from their regions to gain favor with the two top candidates: Karzai and Mohammad Yunos Qanuni.

Qanuni has said he has the support of Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, who in addition to being chief of the Afghan National Army, also leads the nation's largest private militia.

But Jalal's candidacy has proved surprising -- and even worrisome -- to the competition. Jalal said the Afghan Supreme Court's Religious Order Department has twice been asked to declare her candidacy as un-Islamic and illegal. She said she has received death threats as well.

But in spite of threats and a lack of resources, Jalal said she could not ignore her supporters' calls to join the campaign. So she set out the rules: only a grassroots campaign will work: "They were requesting me to take part again. I promised them [I would,] provided they provided me with support. With votes. And they take part in the campaign. People. Because I don't have the tools. I don't have the campaigning tools: radio, TV, press. I don't have money."

Jalal's campaign posters have started showing up on walls around the capital. And local television has followed her campaign, broadcasting news about her submitting her application to run and declaring herself a presidential candidate.

Perhaps her best campaigning tool is her husband, 45-year-old Faizullah Jalal. The Jalals have been married for 10 years and now have three young children, all under the age of 10.

Faizullah said at first, he was not supportive of his wife's efforts: "I was telling her, 'You do not have any political party. You don't have any money. You don't have any military forces. And in the end your candidacy will have no result.' At the beginning I did not agree. She had a lot of reasons and she was arguing and explaining. Even I told her at that time, 'It is a crazy thing that you are doing.' And she told me, 'I am going to take my candidacy seriously.'"

Now the presidential candidate depends on her husband to help serve tea to guests and organize her supporters. He has also taken on more responsibility in running their household: "I think my cooperation has increased with her. If she cooks, I take care of the children. If she takes care of the children, I cook. It's very natural and it is not tiring."

Without much money, or military power, Jalal will likely need all the help around the house -- and around the country -- she can get. (Laura Winter)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview on 3 August with Radio Free Afghanistan that the Afghan presidential elections will not be without problems. "Some groups, such as the Taliban extremist group, have declared war on the elections," Khalilzad said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). However, he added, "just as they failed to disrupt the [Constitutional] Loya Jirga process [in December 2003] and just as they failed to disrupt the registration process, they will fail in disrupting the election process." According to Khalilzad, Afghans will choose their future leader and the United States will not have a direct role in the process. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified gunmen on 3 August shot dead two Afghan employees of a German nongovernmental organization in Paktiya Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The two aid workers are identified as a field officer and the driver of the Malteser charity group working in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Reuters reported on 4 August. "We are extremely concerned about this security incident," UNHCR spokesman Mohammad Nader Farhad said, adding that Malteser had suspended its operations in the southeast of the country as a result. Malteser works with the UNHCR with some 20,000 Afghan refugees who have returned to Paktiya from neighboring Pakistan. Malteser is a German Catholic relief agency of the Order of Malta, but there is no indication that the attack was for religious reasons. (Amin Tarzi)

Five people traveling in a vehicle were killed in an ambush on 4 August in the outskirts of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, Hindukosh News Agency reported. The victims were traveling to the shrine of a saint. The motive and the identity of the attackers is not known. (Amin Tarzi)

Two U.S. Marines and their Afghan interpreter were killed and another Marine sustained injuries on 7 August when their vehicle tripped a land mine in Ghazni Province, the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency reported the next day. According to the report, it is unclear whether the land mine was planted recently or dates back to a past Afghan conflict. (Amin Tarzi)

Purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press on 8 August that neo-Taliban were responsible for the blast that killed two U.S. Marines and their Afghan interpreter and injured a third Marine. According to Hakimi, on 7 August, the neo-Taliban "detonated a mine planted in Sar-e Ziyarat area of the Golan District in Ghazni Province, hitting a vehicle. As a result, six U.S. troops and one Afghan interpreter were killed." The neo-Taliban often exaggerate their claims and sometimes assume responsibility for actions that they did not in fact carry out. (Amin Tarzi)

Two Afghan militiamen were reported killed on 5 August in clashes between border forces of Herat and Ghor provinces, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported the following day. Ahmad Ayyubi, spokesman for Ghor's Public Council, said that Herat forces initially gained some ground, but eventually Ghor forces defeated them. "The Herat forces had captured one of our security checkpoints in the Hesarak area of Shahrak District, but we recaptured it in a counterattack," Ayyubi said. Seven Ghor provincial soldiers are missing and are presumed to have been captured, Ayyubi added.

Three additional Afghan militiamen were killed in the interprovincial clashes in western Afghanistan, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 9 August. According to Gholam Hazrat, police chief of the Chesht-e Sharif District of Herat Province, the three were Ghor Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Malikzadah loyalists.

Malikzadah temporarily evacuated Ghor in June because of fighting between rival warlords, but he later allied himself with one of the antagonists and returned to his post (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 June and 1 July 2004). To calm the situation in Ghor, the central government dispatched a battalion of the Afghan National Army; but the presence of that force does not appear to have been effective in preventing the interprovincial clashes.

In the absence of effective central-government control, some Afghan provinces are ruled virtually as fiefdoms by local military commanders or, in the case of Herat, by Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Defense Ministry on 8 August confirmed reports of clashes between border forces of the Herat and Ghor provinces that began on 5 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said Ghor Governor Malikzadah blamed the clashes on a popular uprising against Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan in which Ghor forces captured the Dara Takht area. However, according to the report, Ismail Khan has blamed Ghor forces for initiating the fighting. (Amin Tarzi)

Militant neo-Taliban elements have split into rival groups, Reuters quoted a former senior Taliban commander as saying on 9 August. Saber Mo'men, who served as a neo-Taliban deputy operations commander in southern Afghanistan, said a breakaway faction called Taliban Jami'at Jaish-e Muslemin (Muslim Army of the Taliban Society) is led by Mullah Sayyed Mohammad Akbar Agha from the southern Afghan Kandahar Province. According to Mo'men, the new faction does not recognize the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose regime was dislodged by the U.S.-led attack that began in October 2001. Mo'men did not specify the number of militias that are part of the purported breakaway faction. "The objective of our group is not to weaken the jihad but to strengthen it," Mullah Manzur, a spokesman for the dissident group, said, according to Reuters. "More group can be formed," Manzur said, adding that the objective is to increase "jihadi activities while American forces remain in Afghanistan." Mo'men said internal differences within the neo-Taliban militia and poor leadership that resulted in serious losses to the group led to the decision by some commanders to break away from the neo-Taliban leadership. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban militia, said the newly formed group described by Mo'men is "basically not the Taliban," Reuters reported on 9 August. "All Taliban commanders are united under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar," Hamid Agha said, adding that if the new "group has organized itself against the enemies of Afghanistan, we welcome them." In the past year, more than 900 people have been killed in Afghanistan in violence blamed on neo-Taliban insurgents, Reuters added. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi reported that local forces in the Helmand Province killed seven neo-Taliban insurgents and captured 15 others on 8 August, Xinhua news agency reported the next day. In a separate operation carried out on 8 August by Afghan government forces in Oruzgan Province, five neo-Taliban militias were captured, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 9 August. In yet another engagement, government forces with support from coalition troops attacked a neo-Taliban hideout in Zabul Province, killing six and wounding two militants, according to Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad Khan. (Amin Tarzi)

Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai promised during a meeting with Francesc Vendrell, the EU special representative in Afghanistan, and some European ambassadors in Kabul on 4 August, that the killers of employees of Brussels-based Doctors Without Borders (MSF) would be hunted down, arrested, and punished, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. On 28 July, MSF closed all of its programs in Afghanistan after the alleged killers of five of its staff members were apparently bailed out of detention by Afghan authorities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

In a commentary on 1 August regarding the decision by MSF to halt all of its medical programs in Afghanistan after five of its staff members were killed in June, "The Kabul Times" praised MSF's work and urged it to return to Afghanistan. According to the daily, the culprits arrested in connection with the attack on the doctors were "released as a result of wheeling and dealing by the local warlords who are increasingly exerting influence [over] unarmed officials." Calling MSF workers a "group of devoted humanitarian servants who have abandoned their comfortable life at home and save the lives" of Afghans, "The Kabul Times" urged the organization to return to Afghanistan "as soon as the security situation improves." The daily recommends that Karzai award medals to the MSF workers in Afghanistan for their service helping Afghans. (Amin Tarzi)

As per a decree from Afghan leader Karzai, Urban Development and Housing Minister Gul Agha Sherzai has been appointed public works minister, Afghanistan Television reported on 3 August. The current public works minister, Abdullah Ali, has been appointed the new urban development and housing minister. Gul Agha Sherzai, who until August 2003 served as governor of Kandahar Province in the south, was reportedly dissatisfied with his position as a government minister. (Amin Tarzi)

Gholam Sakhi Monir has been appointed as the editor in chief of "Anis," Afghanistan Television reported on 2 August. The Dari-language, government-funded "Anis" is Afghanistan's oldest newspaper, founded in 1927. (Amin Tarzi)

A media-training center with six computers, access to the Internet, and a wide range of practical courses opened on 4 August at Khost University, a press release from Kabul-based Sayara Media and Communications indicated. The media center will boost the range of courses offered by the university's Journalism Department and will link Khost University with a nationwide network of journalism students. Khost University is part of the Novice Journalism Training Program (NJTP), a two-year project that provides practical journalism training to Afghan university students and is being implemented by Sayara, an Afghan nongovernmental organization. Sayara already has a media-training center at Herat University in western Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Eurocorps troops, led by France and Germany, assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Canada in Kabul, the BBC reported on 9 August. The Eurocorps is made up of troops from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain and is expected to lead ISAF for the next six months. Afghanistan is Eurocorps' first operation outside Europe since it was formed in 1992. French General Jean-Louis Py will command ISAF, which will remain a NATO operation. According to the BBC, "Eurocorps itself is hardly being welcomed in, with some security analysts suggesting the five-nation organization is far too unwieldy, compared to the Canadian military force." (For more on NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June and 1 July 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

7 August 1839 -- During the First Anglo-Afghan War, Kabul occupied by the Army of the Indus.

7 August 1842 -- Defeated in their plans, the British evacuate Kandahar as the First Anglo-Afghan War winds down.

5 August 1999 -- Former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher firmly condemns the involvement of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

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