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Afghan Report: August 18, 2004

18 August 2004, Volume 3, Number 29
By Tanya Goudsouzian

With presidential elections around the corner, the word on the street in Kabul is that no matter who wins, current Afghan leader Hamid Karzai will be president for yet another term. Such is the prevailing cynicism about the country's first democratic elections, which are scheduled to be held on 9 October.

How great is Karzai's support base? No viable census has been conducted to assess his popularity across the country, let alone the city of Kabul. While he is still widely considered the man supported by Afghanistan's foreign backers, the elections are a good time to ask: Is Karzai Afghanistan's man?

Two weeks ago, Karzai shocked observers when he sidelined Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and appointed Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, brother of the late commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his first vice president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July and 5 August 2004). The move suggested a desperate bid to garner support, especially among the mujahedin, who have been a thorn in the beleaguered leader's side since he first took office three years ago. And what better way to win over the mujahedin than to run with the brother of a slain national hero?

But Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow, is also the son-in-law of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was the internationally recognized Afghan president from 1992-2001. Does this signify a comeback for the leader of the Jami'at-e Islami party?

In an exclusive interview at his home in the posh Wazir Akbar Khan District, Rabbani told RFE/RL that Afghanistan's "first experience with democracy is not without any problems," but said he is going along with it anyway for the good of the nation. "I believe that with the appointment of Ahmad Zia, Mr. Karzai will enjoy more support," Rabbani said, and then added: "It may result in an increase in support. But if it doesn't increase the support, it definitely won't reduce it."

He has no doubt that "the people of Panjsher [Province] will support Ahmad Zia."

"They have supported this family in the past, and they will support him in the future," he said. "Ahmad Zia hasn't got any problems of support. There might be some remarks against...Karzai. But as far as Ahmad Zia is concerned, he doesn't have any problems."

Should Ahmad Zia Mas'ud be considered a Panjsheri or as Jami'at-e Islami's man in government?

"I think that he should be considered as a Panjsheri who has replaced another Panjsheri in that position," he said, alluding to Fahim's recent displacement.

Complicating matters -- if only slightly -- was the announcement that Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, who served as a key military strategist for the late Mas'ud during the resistance, was also running for president. Would this split the Panjsheri vote?

Rabbani is skeptical: "I believe that Mr. Qanuni has started very late. He has announced his support for Mr. Karzai on several occasions. This puts his candidacy into question."

In spite of rumors that Qanuni -- backed by Marshall Fahim -- enjoys the support of the mujahedin and, as such, may pose a formidable challenge to Karzai, Rabbani said: "It's too early to say that the commanders have put their support behind Mr. Qanuni. The commanders have their own interests and they will definitely consider that before supporting Mr. Qanuni."

With regard to popular perception that the outcome of the elections are predetermined, he said: "There has been some concern regarding this and people have shown their concern. So even as we are experiencing democracy for the first time, we have to strive [to ensure] the elections are transparent."

Rabbani expressed some qualms over discrepancies between the election law and the constitution, which was ratified some months ago. The constitution stipulates that elections be conducted through secret balloting, but the government has ordered candidates to submit 10,000 ballot cards for their candidacy to be accepted.

"Although this election law has been passed by the UN, I don't know why it has not been considered [that it goes against our constitution]," he said. "This is, of course, one of the problems that in the early stages of democracy we are experiencing."

Another problem is the timing of the elections. As a rule, elections tend to divide a people rather than unite them. Some observers have warned that it is too early to hold elections in Afghanistan. The country is still recovering from two decades of war and time is needed to build a civil society that could produce a viable democracy. In recent weeks, the country has shown further signs of polarization between the Tajiks and Uzbeks of the north and the Pashtuns in the south. In addition to the tribal issues, there are a number of new constituencies to reckon with, such as the Afghans who have returned from the West to set up private enterprises and the foreigners who may be here on a short-term basis for whatever purpose, but carry influence nonetheless.

"They have announced that as per the constitution, the elections should be held within this period, and although there are problems and there is a crisis of confidence, and certainly the elections do bring divisions and polarize the population, but as it has been decided now, [we must all try and make it work]," Rabbani said. "There is no doubt that [although] most of the things that the government starts are with good intentions, they are certainly not without dangers -- and there are dangers."

Another curious factor is the marked absence of any campaigning. Weeks before the elections, none of the candidates have taken to the streets to reach out to the people. There are no fiery speeches, no lofty promises of a better tomorrow.

"I have also inquired about this," Rabbani said, "and they have said that according to the law, they will start their campaign 30 days before the elections are held."

Observers speculate that Rabbani may be given the position of speaker of parliament after the elections, but when asked what role he plans to play in the government, the former president replied, "I am looking forward to having a membership in the parliament for Badakhshan" Province in northeastern Afghanistan.

Tanya Goudsouzian is a freelance journalist who covers Afghanistan.

By Tanya Goudsouzian

In the midst of the controversy surrounding his brother's 11th-hour appointment as Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's running mate in the upcoming elections (see above), Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Kingdom, told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on 11 August in Kabul that it is no longer viable for Afghans to support a candidate on charisma alone; it is necessary to consider the candidate's political platform.

"Throughout history in Afghanistan, whenever we've backed leaders on the basis of their charisma or personality, it has often backfired," said Mas'ud, who is the youngest brother of slain commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, and head of the Nahzat-e-Melli Afghanistan party. "We are entering a new era in Afghanistan. We are entering the 21st century -- it is a new world. What's most important is the program of the leader and the competence of his team -- not who he is."

These remarks come at a critical time. Observers are keen to know whether Mas'ud will back his older brother, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, who serves as Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia, or whether he will side with Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, who announced his candidacy soon after Karzai dropped Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim from the ticket in favor of Ahmad Zia Mas'ud.

"Personalities are not important, although I know that in Afghanistan this has usually been significant. But I am interested in backing the candidate who shows me a program for Afghanistan that would best serve the interests of the Afghan people," Mas'ud said.

Does he intend to back his brother? Without giving a specific answer, Mas'ud pointed out that his brother is a founding member of Nahzat-e-Melli Afghanistan, along with Qanuni, and this clearly puts him in a precarious position. "My immediate job is to bridge the gap," he said, and he seems to have adopted a "wait-and-see" approach.

"I am responsible for Nahzat-e-Melli," he continued. "I am not acting alone. I must act through the collective decision-making process of Nahzat-e-Melli. In making the decision, we must be very careful to stick to the principles and charter of Nahzat. It is very important for me and the party because, on one side we have Ahmad Zia who is a prominent member of Nahzat, and on the other side we have Qanuni who is also a key member of Nahzat. My position -- and the position of the party -- is critical."

Observers believe that the situation may lead to a rift in the Panjsheri faction, which has played a dominant role in Afghan politics since the fall of the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). As the brother of a slain national hero, 47-year-old Ahmad Zia is likely to eat up a chunk of national support; but Qanuni is a respected politician who was a close associate of the late commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud during the resistance. Mas'ud's decision is bound to tip the balance one way or the other.

"No, I don't think there will be a rift," he said. "It's not a question of Panjsheri and non-Panjsheri. This is a question of Afghanistan. We are all working for Afghanistan. Ahmad Zia is here to work for Afghanistan and so is Qanuni. So this is not about Panjsher [Province, situated north of Kabul]."

Mas'ud believes that the confusion is a result of inadequate consultation and hasty actions. He rejects the suggestion that the scenario was entirely prearranged as a plot to strengthen the Panjsheri hand in determining the makeup of the postelection government.

"Both of these candidates were nominated in a hasty situation. Nothing was prearranged," he insisted, adding that he did not know why Karzai suddenly dropped Fahim from the ticket at the 11th hour, and why he chose Ahmad Zia as his running mate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004).

"One thing is very clear," he said. "Ahmad Zia has the name of Mas'ud, and this name is very popular in Afghanistan. Apart from that, why he chose my brother, this is a question for Karzai himself."

Mas'ud describes his brother's character as "calm, discrete, honest, and nonconfrontational."

"He is a good Muslim, but moderate in his views. He believes in democracy and social justice. He reads voraciously, all sorts of books from politics to social history," he said. "He was active in the jihad against the Soviets, and he worked very closely with our older brother, [Ahmad Shah] Mas'ud. In fact, he was probably the most important representative of Mas'ud during the time of jihad," he said.

Karzai's nomination of Ahmad Zia was ostensibly meant to win over the mujahedin, whose confidence in the president has waned in recent months. As vice president, Ahmad Zia would be contributing his illustrious brother's name to Karzai's campaign. It is worth noting that Ahmad Zia is also the son-in-law of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose full backing he enjoys.

"What is ironic in this scenario is that both of these candidates, Ahmad Zia and Qanuni, belong to Nahzat," Mas'ud stressed. "Except, Nahzat itself was officially registered on 27 July, one day after the nominations."

Asked how he felt about the popular perception that the outcome of the elections is predetermined, Mas'ud replied: "Holding elections in Afghanistan for the first time in our history is significant, and it can be regarded as one step toward democracy, but this alone is not enough. It doesn't prove much to the people of Afghanistan, despite its significance outside the country and to the media. What really makes a difference is a clear political platform, a national agenda, and a good team."

He added: "Words are not enough, we need people who will practice what they preach. Only if there is a commitment to a political platform and a national agenda would these elections be worth the money spent on it, and the effort invested by the international community."

Tanya Goudsouzian is a freelance journalist who covers Afghanistan.

The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) on 10 August finalized the list of candidates for Afghanistan's presidential elections scheduled for 9 October, international news agencies reported. The JEMB has disqualified two of the 23 candidates who applied for registration, while three candidates have chosen to pull out of the race, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 10 August (for a list of the 23 candidates, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). The JEMB identified three candidates who reportedly dropped out -- Mir Abu Taleb Kazemi, Abdul Hakim Zazai, and Safdar Sideqi Yakawalangi -- while two others, Mohammad Halim Tanwir and Khoshhal Yasini, have been disqualified. The JEMB said the two candidates were rejected "for failure to comply with the nomination procedures," without giving further details. The final tally of candidates stands at 18. (Amin Tarzi)

JEMB Chairman Zakim Shah said on 10 August that the election body has "received 115 complaints which include legal and personal protests, [accusations of] plundering, murder, rape and crimes against humanity, crimes against national unity, and also for running militias," against some of the candidates approved to run in Afghanistan's presidential elections, Reuters reported. Most of the complaints have been against the northern Afghan warlord and head of the Junbish-e Melli party, Abdul Rashid Dostum; Karzai's nominee for the post of second vice president and the leader of a faction of the Wahdat party, Abdul Karim Khalili; and member of another faction of Wahdat and former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq. Both Khalili and Mohaqeq have their own military factions and, similar to Dostum, were involved in Afghanistan's civil war. Condemning the JEMB's decision to allow the warlords to run in the election, independent candidate Sayyed Abdul Hadi Dabir said: "This is not democracy. This is filmmaking." According to Andrew Wilder, executive director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, if "the election commission doesn't think it can take tough decisions and vote against a warlord, how can we expect the Afghan voter out in the villages and in the rural areas to make that decision," Reuters reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai said on 11 August that Afghans might be registering to vote more than once for the October presidential election but he is not worried that such fraud will affect the outcome, RFE/RL reported. "As a matter of fact, it doesn't bother me," Karzai said. "If Afghans have two registration cards and if they would like to vote twice, well, welcome. This is an exercise in democracy. Let them exercise it twice. But it will not have an impact on the elections. If somebody gives me three cards, I will take it and will go and vote. But my choice in voting will be the same. We are beginning an exercise. We cannot be perfect." When a reporter at the news conference in Kabul countered to Karzai that he was describing "a farce" election, the Afghan leader shrugged off such concerns. Karzai said the Afghan people are enthusiastic and simply want to have the cards. Karzai corrected himself at a news conference later the same day, saying voters' fingers will be marked with indelible ink after they vote so that they cannot vote a second time. (For more on the problem of multiple registrations, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004.) (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 10 August that 9.4 million people have been registered as voters, Radio Afghanistan reported. The voter-registration process is scheduled to end on 15 August, Ludin added (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). Ludin said that terrorists have killed 12 voter-registration officials, whom he described as heroes. (Amin Tarzi)

An anonymous "well-informed" Afghan source has denied reports that 10 million Afghans have registered to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections scheduled for 9 October, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 16 August. The source disputed the claim made by the JEMB, saying that only 4 million eligible voters have been registered (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 and 12 August 2004). The Iranian radio station cited the source as saying that 6 million of the 10 million voter-registration cards collected are "fake," adding that the fraudulent registrations were intended to be used in "favor of a special person," without naming who that individual might be. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghans may have to wait until November to learn the results of the first-ever presidential election slated for October, a UN official said on 12 August according to AP. Julian Type, an adviser working with UN and Afghan election organizers, said collecting and counting ballots from the first round of voting scheduled for 9 October could take up to three weeks. "There will be figures becoming available, and if the result of the election is reasonably clear, a clear picture [will] emerge of the likely eventual winner before that period," Type said. If the race leads to a runoff, however, weeks more would be needed to establish a winner. "Given those logistical constraints, you will probably be looking at around five or six weeks in that general order for the runoff election," Type said. Type said 30,000 ballot boxes are due to arrive next week in Afghanistan, where election organizers plan to set up 5,000 polling centers across the country. (Marc Ricks)

JEMB spokesman Sayyed Azam said on 10 August that the body's media-monitoring commission officially began working on 10 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. The commission's responsibility is to ensure that the election process is reported fairly. The commission, headquartered in Kabul, will have seven provincial offices, and its two sections will deal with media monitoring and media-related laws, respectively. The commission has six members: three Afghans, two foreigners, and one representative of the JEMB, also an Afghan, Sayyed Azam explained. (Amin Tarzi)

Governments contributing NATO peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan have decided to give them a freer hand in the use of force, RFE/RL reported on 11 August. The change in policy comes as NATO increases the number of troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to 8,500 from 6,500 to provide extra security for the October presidential election (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June and 1 July 2004). NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. General James Jones told a news conference in Kabul on 11 August that NATO members now realize that restricting those forces hinders their effectiveness, Reuters reported on 11 August. "Nations are starting to understand that overly restricting forces has the opposite effect of safeguarding forces. In fact, I honestly believe it puts forces at risk, because the opposition knows full well what the forces are capable of -- [what they are] able to do or not able to do. And so if they wish to attack us, they will attack the forces that have the most caveats," Jones said. Previously, "national caveats" barred peacekeepers from engaging in combat or other life-threatening situations. But Jones said French Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py, who took control of the ISAF on 9 August, will have a much freer hand to use force (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Officials from both the NATO-led ISAF and the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) insist that Afghanistan's 9 October elections must be free and fair. Nevertheless, both also insist that the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the security of the poll rests with Afghanistan's own embryonic army and police forces.

As a result, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have declined to send large groups of election monitors to Afghanistan. Both will send only small teams to the bigger cities, citing security fears in the regions beyond where warlords and militias rule.

Major General Eric Olson heads the task force that coordinates the roughly 18,000 mostly U.S. soldiers under the OEF banner in Afghanistan. He said the U.S.-led coalition will only provide "broad" security.

"The coalition will not take on the mission to secure 5,000 polling places. But the coalition working with the Afghan National Army and Afghan national police will provide security for these 5,000 polling places. The close-in security at polling places will be primarily the responsibility of the Afghan national police. That's by agreement between the central [Afghan] government and the coalition. Area security around the polling places will be Afghan National Army for the most part, and then coalition forces will have a broader area security mission in larger regions around polling sites," Olson said.

Olson does suggest it may be possible that OEF and Afghan forces could cooperate in securing the delivery of ballot boxes to regional hubs. But up in the north of the country, as well as in Kabul -- where a beefed-up ISAF is responsible for security -- officials bluntly reject even the possibility of cooperation on ballot boxes.

Marc Rudkiewicz, a French officer in charge of military planning at ISAF headquarters, told reporters in Kabul on 11 August that NATO will not assist in transporting ballot boxes. He said the alliance will only occupy a "deterrent position" to discourage major disruptions. He added that the registration process is led by the United Nations, while the task of securing polling stations falls on the 13,000-man Afghan National Army.

ISAF's new head, Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py, represents a European force called Eurocorps, led by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Spain. Speaking to RFE/RL, Py acknowledged that ISAF will be unable to ensure the free and fair conduct of the elections. He said a grassroots ISAF security role would be "impossible."

Py said that the main concern of the international community should be the credibility of the elections, adding that the poll must be as fair as possible. He pointed to the experience of Eastern Europe, where he said initial electoral violence did not prevent stable democracy from emerging. Both NATO-led ISAF and the U.S.-led OEF focus on large-scale violence aimed at disrupting the entire exercise.

U.S. Major General Olson warned that the elections will "multiply" the opportunities for terrorists to strike at something of value. "I believe that the enemy at this point feels like he missed an opportunity to stop registration, so now he is probably going to be more prone to a desperate act to impact the elections," Olson said. "And with election activities throughout the nation as 9 October approaches, I think we can expect that he is in fact going to become more active and that we will have to be better prepared."

Privately, officials acknowledge that many avenues exist for electoral fraud. Multiple voting (see above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004) and the participation of foreign nationals -- mainly Pakistanis and Iranians -- are two key worries. Some officials also appeared concerned over potential abuse of a law that allows the election to be revoked should any of the candidates die during the campaign. (Ahto Lobjakas)

Mohammad Qasim Fahim, defense minister and one of two vice presidents of the Transitional Administration, met with the general commander of the ISAF, Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py, on 15 August, Afghanistan Television reported. A number of ISAF officials accompanied Py on his visit to the Defense Ministry and were introduced to Fahim. Py reportedly described ISAF's responsibilities and tasks with regard to maintaining peace and security during the upcoming presidential elections. Fahim, in turn, reported on the strategy and actions the Defense Ministry is taking to ensure security. Fahim hailed the cooperation between the Transitional Administration and ISAF, saying that together they "would help usher great progress toward peace and stability in the country," Afghanistan Television reported. (Kimberly McCloud)

Donald Rumsfeld paid a one-day visit to Afghanistan on 11 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. In a meeting with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Rumsfeld expressed satisfaction over public participation in Afghanistan's voter-registration process and the two discussed ways to combat terrorism. Rumsfeld met separately with his Afghan counterpart Marshal Fahim to discuss security issues, including the formation and development of the Afghan National Army and the disarmament process, Afghanistan Television reported. Rumsfeld said his discussions with Fahim, who offered his support to former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni after being dropped from the ticket by presidential candidate Karzai, did not stray from military issues, "The New York Times" reported on 12 August (see above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). Rumsfeld also made an unannounced trip to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad to visit a U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan and U.S. troops killed a suspected neo-Taliban gunman during a 10 August firefight in eastern Afghanistan, AP reported on 12 August. Jafar Tyar, the deputy governor of Laghman Province, where the skirmish took place, said two children were also injured in fighting that involved a U.S. air strike. Tyar said the fighting began when U.S.-led coalition soldiers and Afghan Army troops searched the home of a suspected neo-Taliban commander known as Pashtun in a village called Dar-e Mil, about 100 kilometers east of Kabul. "The commander had taken to the mountains with his men and they opened fire. The coalition fired back and Pashtun's cousin, Janan, was killed," Tyar said. A one-time Taliban commander, Pashtun is thought to be involved in attacks on coalition convoys, Tyar said. AP reported that U.S. military authorities have not commented on the incident. (Marc Ricks)

Seven provincial soldiers loyal to Kabul were killed on 14 August at a checkpoint west of Kandahar city, "The New York Times" reported on 16 August. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, neo-Taliban militias are reportedly suspected of killing the soldiers. (Amin Tarzi)

Twenty-eight suspected neo-Taliban militiamen were killed or captured during a joint operation carried out by Afghan and U.S. forces in Kandahar Province on 15-16 August, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 17 August. The operation, which took place in the province's Towghai District, resulted in the death of 11 and the capture of 17 suspected neo-Taliban militiamen, according to the report. (Amin Tarzi)

In military language, NATO's top military official, U.S. General James Jones, "wears two hats." He is simultaneously NATO's top military official and the top U.S. general in Europe.

Occupying both these offices, Jones is uniquely qualified to assess the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan. There are two military operations performing this task. One, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), is led by NATO. The other, Operation Enduring Freedom, is led by the United States.

In an interview conducted on 12 August at Camp Salerno, a small U.S. base close to Afghanistan's southeastern border with Pakistan in the troubled "Pashtun belt," Jones said both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been decisively beaten.

Neither has been fully eradicated, but Jones said the size of the threat is now so small as not to present a real threat to Afghanistan's current government. "It is a fraction of what it used to be. And I will even go a step further, as I said [earlier during the visit] -- and I said that we should not ever even think that there is going to be an insurrection of the type that we see in Iraq here [in Afghanistan]," he said. "It's just not going to happen."

Jones said this does not necessarily rule out all possibility of civil war. But, he said, a return of Islamic fundamentalism is now impossible, although the risk of terror attacks remains high.

"In terms of radical Islamic fundamentalism, Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban reasserting themselves in this country -- it's over. And we ought to understand that and not dwell on the fact that there's an explosion here or there, or an isolated attack -- we all know that in international communities when you have fragile governments that people are going to try to make their points in connection with a major event, like an election. But this is not going to topple the Karzai government, this is not going to prevent the election," Jones said.

Jones said he is "heartened" that nearly 9 million of Afghanistan's estimated 10.5 million voters have already registered to participate in the 9 October presidential elections.

Jones offered an analogy drawn from 1967, when he served as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War. He said the South Vietnamese appeared unwilling to make sacrifices for the freedom he said the United States tried to offer them. According to Jones, things are different in Afghanistan. "There is not enough money and there are not enough soldiers to mandate freedom," he said. "It has to come from within, and I'm optimistic by what I see in the eyes of the people in Afghanistan."

The 9 October elections are a key test. NATO decided at its Istanbul summit in June to temporarily raise troop levels in ISAF for the weeks immediately before and after the elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June and 1 July). The bulk of the increase will be made up by two new battalions. Jones said yesterday that the battalions will create a visible deterrent to possible attacks. But, he said, the main responsibility for securing the elections will rest with Afghanistan's own forces.

"My feeling is that the best way to use those battalions is to make them visible, to have them seen in and about the area, make sure that we do the smart thing in terms of presence, make sure that the Afghan people see that this is an Afghan election and not an American election or a coalition election -- in other words, the security of the polling stations or places where they're going to do this are in fact done as much as possible by Afghan forces with the help of the international coalition," Jones said.

Jones said ISAF is going to place the battalions in strategic places so that they can move quickly to counter threats across the country.

Responding to a question from RFE/RL, Jones said ISAF is alert to the possibility that the election may create rifts within the present administration which could lead to armed conflict. "Yes, I think that...all things are possible, the militaries' headquarters exist to plan for, to anticipate those things that could happen, worst-case scenarios, and be prepared to respond to those things," he said. "Obviously, we would prefer that it not happen, but you shouldn't be unprepared and you shouldn't ever have to say to yourself, 'Why didn't we think of what we could have done better?'"

Asked if ISAF would use force in such an eventuality, Jones said it would do so "if attacked." "One of the missions of ISAF is to support the process and help the integrity of the process, and if ISAF forces are attacked in that particular mission they'll respond with force -- we are we and that's part and parcel of what we do," he said.

Jones also took the opportunity to repeat his long-standing criticism of many of NATO's European allies for lacking the willingness to commit forces and money to jointly agreed objectives -- among them Afghanistan. He said specific restrictions put by some governments on their troops -- limiting their ability to move freely in a given theater of operations or to use force -- also undermine NATO's various missions.

Jones also revived the prospect of a merger of ISAF with OEF. He said this will depend on NATO's ability and willingness to extend its zone of security provision from Afghanistan's north to the west and eventually south and east. However, he said combat operations would in the foreseeable future remain the responsibility of the U.S.-led operation. (Ahto Lobjakas)

Rival militias clashed late on 13 August in Herat Province, claiming approximately 21 lives, international news agencies reported on 15 August. Fighters loyal to Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan reportedly engaged in gun battles with others linked to rival warlords in the region. Commander Amanullah Khan from the district of Shindand, approximately 100 kilometers south of Herat city, told AP that his men had taken over a Soviet-built air base from men loyal to Ismail Khan during a nighttime raid using machine guns and rockets. A spokesman for Ismail Khan, Abdul Wahed Tawakali, contradicted Amanullah's statement, saying that there was hand-to-hand fighting at the base between the warring factions, but that Ismail Khan's men remained in control. Ismail Khan reportedly moved tanks and rocket launchers to the front line of the fighting to deter the insurgents. Amanullah Khan, a Pashtun, told AP that the ethnic Tajik governor discriminated against Afghans belonging to different ethnic groups, and for that reason they would continue to oppose his rule in the region. "So long as Ismail Khan is governor, the fighting will continue," he said. (Kimberly McCloud)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 15 August condemned the recent violence in Herat Province, AP reported. Karzai referred to the attacks against Herat Governor Ismail Khan and his forces as "an attack on the state," according to AP, and he warned insurgents that "serious measures" will be taken against rebellious commanders. Afghan Defense Ministry officials said originally that Ismail Khan's forces will address the situation on their own, and that neither Afghan nor U.S. forces located nearby will intervene. On 15 August, however, the Afghan government decided to send troops to Herat to alleviate the situation. For starters, 150 Afghan soldiers flew to Shindand District in Herat Province on 15 August, and the Defense Ministry said that it will send a total of 1,500 soldiers, according to AP. In a statement supportive of Ismail Khan, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zaher Azimi told reporters on 15 August: "The militia attacked Herat's legal government. It is an illegal action that benefits Afghanistan's enemies." (Kimberly McCloud)

Clashes between warring militias in Shindand District of Herat Province reportedly subsided late on 15 August, according to Reuters. Herat spokesman Sayyed Nasir Alawi said that some "sporadic clashes" continued in Shindand District, but that generally the situation throughout the province was calm, according to Reuters.

The newly trained Afghan National Army took control of Shindand air base in Herat Province after 21 people were killed in factional fighting in the area, "The New York Times" reported on 16 August.

Regional clashes present another obstacle for the Afghan government as well as for the U.S.-led coalition in bringing stability and security to the country in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for October.

Ismail Khan essentially rules Herat as a personal fiefdom, but during the latest crisis the National Army seems to have placed its support behind him, apparently in an effort to persuade the beleaguered governor to accept Kabul's authority in Heart (Kimberly McCloud and Amin Tarzi)

Five people were killed and several others injured in fierce fighting that erupted in the early morning of 17 August in Herat Province's Shindand District, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. An unidentified spokesman of commander Amanullah Khan told AIP that during the fighting between forces loyal to local commander and Herat Governor Ismail Khan, heavy weaponry such as artillery was used. The spokesman did not elaborate on the National Army's role in the renewed fighting or say to which side the casualties belonged. In late 2002, heavy clashes took place between forces loyal to Amanullah Khan and to those supporting Ismail Khan, with the situation coming under control only when U.S. forces intervened (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). However, relations between the two sides have remained tense ever since, with Ismail Khan accusing Amanullah Khan of being a neo-Taliban sympathizer and the latter accusing the governor of abusing the local Pashtun population. (Amin Tarzi)

A debilitating skin disease called cutaneous leishmaniasis is plaguing the Afghan capital of Kabul, UN officials said on 12 August, according to a dpa report. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that in Kabul there are 67,000 cases of the disease, which is spread by sand flies. The figure reportedly makes Kabul the city with the most cases of this condition in the world. Afghanistan as a whole is home to 200,000 cases, according to the UN. The disease often leads to severe facial disfigurement. "This is a unique opportunity to stop a debilitating disease in its tracks, and make gains in a country where people so deserve to see improvement to their health," said Dr. Philippe Desjeux, head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) leishmaniasis control program. "We must act now if we are going to have any chance of controlling the situation." The WHO plans to distribute bed nets treated with insecticide to more than 30,000 people to stem the spread of the disease, de Almeida e Silva said. (Marc Ricks)

15 August 1999 -- At the call of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, some 5,000 Afghan and Pakistani madrasah students (talibs) enter Afghanistan.

13 August 2001 -- Commander Abdul Haq demands the formation of a national union government in Afghanistan.

13 August 2002 -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami makes an official visit to Kabul, the first by an Iranian head of state in 40 years.

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