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Afghan Report: August 26, 2004

26 August 2004, Volume 3, Number 30
By Tanya Goudsouzian

Rumors are flying left, right, and center in the run-up to Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections, scheduled to be held on 9 October.

On 26 July, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai shocked observers when he sidelined Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and chose Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, brother of the late commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his running mate for first vice president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). The move suggested a desperate bid to garner support, especially among the mujahedin. And what better way to win over the mujahedin than to run with the brother of a slain national hero?

But who is Ahmad Zia Mas'ud? He was the newly appointed ambassador to Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. He is also former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's son-in-law (for an exclusive interview with Rabbani regarding the elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). The 48-year-old father of four recently moved into the presidential palace in Kabul, but his family resides in Dubai.

Freelance correspondent Tanya Goudsouzian recently questioned the newest face on Afghanistan's political scene for RFE/RL.

RFE/RL: Do you think democracy is possible in Afghanistan?

Mas'ud: Yes, of course, but in gradual stages. As you can see, there is a growing realization among most political parties and organizations that without a democratically elected government, it will be very difficult to find a solution to the political and social crisis in Afghanistan. We are at the beginning of a new world and a new Afghanistan. Democracy is one of the important pillars for stability and peace in the country. In Afghanistan's recent history, we have had different types of government. We have had a monarch, a president, communism, mujahedin, and the Taliban. For whatever reason, these forms of government could not work for us. Therefore, democracy may be the only solution.

RFE/RL: But critics say the electoral process is not being conducted in a manner that is fair and free.

Mas'ud: You cannot have a perfect process. But it will be monitored by various parties and organizations.

RFE/RL: For example, the constitution stipulates elections must be conducted through secret balloting, but the election law calls for candidates to submit 10,000 voter-card photocopies. Where is the transparency in this?

Mas'ud: The process must be thoroughly checked to make sure that the constitution is being upheld. If there is, in fact, any contradiction between the constitution and the electoral law, then it must be addressed.

RFE/RL: What about reports that certain warlords in the provinces are impeding the process by forcing people to vote for one candidate or another?

Mas'ud: The election process has still not begun, so one cannot judge beforehand. Let the process begin and then we will witness who are the real warlords. We have to be careful not to generalize. There are those who fought for the freedom, dignity, and honor of this country, and they must be respected and remembered. On the other hand, there are some who are preventing the country from building a solid foundation for a functional social and political structure. They are the so-called warlords.

RFE/RL: Why did Chairman Karzai choose you as his candidate for first vice president?

Mas'ud: That is a question for President Karzai.

RFE/RL: What do you think of [former Education Minister] Yunos Qanuni's candidacy?

Mas'ud: Mr. Qanuni is a presidential candidate, however, his candidacy was announced in a hasty manner in reaction to Marshall Fahim being dropped from the post, and not for any known principle or agenda.

RFE/RL: Both Fahim and Qanuni were close associates of your brother, the late Commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud. What is your relationship with them?

Mas'ud: My relationship with them is normal.

RFE/RL: Is there truth to the reports that Qanuni is negotiating with Karzai to abandon his own presidential campaign in exchange for political concessions?

Mas'ud: You have to ask [Qanuni]. I don't have any information on this matter.

RFE/RL: But will Karzai offer political concessions to Qanuni?

Mas'ud: As I mentioned, I don't have any information.

RFE/RL: But is it true that Qanuni is demanding certain ministerial posts in exchange for the support of Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan?

Mas'ud: Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan is a popular political party. The head of Nahzat is Ahmad Wali Mas'ud (for an exclusive interview with Ahmad Wali Mas'ud regarding the elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). The party has a collective decision-making body and so, to extend support to any candidate is the right of this body, and not of individual members.

RFE/RL: Is there any difference between the ideology (or platform) of Karzai and Qanuni?

Mas'ud: Platforms have not yet introduced by any candidates.

RFE/RL: Is there any place for Fahim in the future government?

Mas'ud: The platform and the composition of the team have not yet been worked out.

RFE/RL: There have been allegations by rival presidential candidates that this administration is using the state budget to bribe tribal figures to support Karzai.

Mas'ud: So far, the campaigning has not started yet.

RFE/RL: Yes, the campaign starts 30 days before the elections. But according to the allegations, the administration has started inviting tribal figures to Kabul, and buttering them up.

Mas'ud: Anyone has the right to invite people to Kabul.

RFE/RL: As [a candidate for] first vice president, how much interaction do you enjoy with the average people of Afghanistan?

Mas'ud: Most of my day is spent seeing people.

RFE/RL: Do you travel across the country to the provinces to meet with the people?

Mas'ud: Of course, I have in the past, but not since my nomination as [a candidate for] vice president.

RFE/RL: Do you intend to?

Mas'ud: Yes.

RFE/RL: When?

Mas'ud: We have to work out our program first.

RFE/RL: You hail from Panjsher Province. You are the brother of the late commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, and the son-in-law of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Where does this place you on the political spectrum? Should we consider you a Panjsheri politician, or as former President Rabbani's man, or as a member of the Nahzat-e Melli party?

Mas'ud: I am a brother of commander Mas'ud, and a son-in-law of Professor Rabbani, and a founding member of Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan. Politically, I belong to the entire nation.

RFE/RL: Do you belong to any political party?

Mas'ud: Yes, I belong to Nahzat-e Melli Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Does Karzai have the support of the mujahedin?

Mas'ud: Some of the mujahedin leaders have already announced their support. As for the rest, we will see in due course. This is the first election in the history of Afghanistan. One cannot predict the outcome.

RFE/RL: What is your position on women's rights?

Mas'ud: Women constitute almost half of the Afghan population. They have suffered a lot in the past 20 years. They deserve to be assisted in various areas of their life. Education must be the priority in order for them to realize their rights. Jobs have to be created for them in order to engage them in the reconstruction of a new Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Do you have a work plan to further this agenda?

Mas'ud: We are working on it. We are talking to experts to devise policies and projects.

RFE/RL: Is the U.S.-led coalition doing enough to combat terror, or is it the cause of the terror?

Mas'ud: We must fight terrorism in its different dimensions. Not only militarily, but also economically, politically, socially, and culturally. It is a long war to be fought. It has to [be] fought globally. You must have a strong belief and will to fight terrorism. As such, my late brother commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud fought terrorism for almost a decade with a strong determination and he lost his life to save not only Afghanistan, but the entire world. He is the best example of how to fight terrorism.

RFE/RL: What is your vision for Afghanistan?

Mas'ud: My vision of Afghanistan is national unity, social justice, moderate Islam, democracy, reconstruction, social reforms, a good economy, peace and stability, good neighborly relations, and harmonious coexistence with the world community.

Tanya Goudsouzian is a freelance journalist who covers Afghanistan.

By Tanya Goudsouzian

Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang was interviewed on 18 August by RFE/RL freelance correspondent Tanya Goudsouzian in Kabul.

RFE/RL: Popular perception holds that Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections will not be very democratic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). What is your opinion?

Farhang: No, I think the process will be very democratic. Everyone has the right to be a candidate for president and at the same time, the process of voter registration has worked out very well. Right now, we have more than 10 million registered voters, which means that popular participation is very high. We have prolonged the deadline [originally 15 August] for registration in some provinces by another week. But in some parts of the country, there are still some warlords who are trying to influence the process. The reaction of the people, however, has been positive. We have seen this in some areas where [warlords] have killed those who were trying to help the registration process. But the outcome of this was that the people increased their participation. This means that in spite of the pressure exerted by residual Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the people want to participate in the elections.

RFE/RL: According to various reports, most of the voter registrations are said to come from the north and urban areas. Where does this leave the volatile south?

Farhang: No, this is not correct. If 10 million people have already registered, this means that even in the villages, they have registered. In Afghanistan, the percentage of people living in the cities is very small. So if 10 million have registered, then it means that most of them are in the villages, not in the cities. The cities of Afghanistan do not have large populations, except for Kabul, which has nearly 3 million. The rest are very small. So 10 million means that most of the people who have registered to vote are from the rural areas. Granted, in the south, the turnout was not as great, but it is enough. It is larger than what we had expected, especially insofar as women's participation. In places, such as Khost, Gardayz [cities, Khost also a province, in eastern Afghanistan], and even in Kandahar [city and province in southern Afghanistan], there were many women who registered.

RFE/RL: There are allegations that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is using the Ministry of Frontier and Tribal Affairs to buy the support of the tribes....

Farhang: You know, it's always like this in elections everywhere in the world. They accuse the government, the government accuses others. This does not happen only in Afghanistan, but also elsewhere, even in developed countries, like the United States, Germany, and France. When one party believes he cannot win, or when there is rivalry among many parties, there are accusations like this flying about. But they must supply proof to support their allegations. Without proof, we cannot believe that all they say is true.

One thing I can say is that the government has decided not to spend too much money on the campaign. If the government spends too much money, it means that the government is taking this money from the budget, which belongs to the people, not the government. But other candidates have already spent millions of dollars. It begs the question: where did they find this money?

RFE/RL: But if Chairman Karzai does not want to spend so much money on the campaign, and the law limits the period of campaigning to 30 days before the elections, how much time and opportunity does it give the president, as well as the other candidates, to reach out to the people and win their confidence?

Farhang: The law has stipulated this period. We cannot do otherwise. But, we -- Mr. Karzai and his team -- will launch our campaign. We have divided the 33 provinces of Afghanistan into eight zones, and Mr. Karzai will travel to these zones to see the people -- the voters -- and talk to them and explain to them his political program for the future of Afghanistan. We have drafted a political program for the next five years, and Mr. Karzai will announce this to the people of Afghanistan. This is an electoral campaign. It could happen that Mr. Karzai is not successful. It is possible that another candidate wins. It is a democratic election, and everyone has the right to participate and to run for president.

RFE/RL: There are many who criticize Karzai for rarely venturing out of the palace to meet with the people.... He is especially criticized for his legions of foreign bodyguards.

Farhang: In the past 2 1/2 years, I have traveled with Mr. Karzai at least 20 times to various parts of Afghanistan. There, he met with the people, he spoke to them, he ate with them, and he gave speeches. In Kandahar, Badakhshan, Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad.... I was with him. Even his bodyguards were scared because he did not do what they had instructed him to do. Remember that in Kandahar they tried to kill him [in September 2002]. He is not scared. He speaks to the people. But don't forget that our enemies, especially the Taliban, want to kill him, because if he is eliminated, the others will have their chance. This is why we must be very prudent. We cannot risk everything.

For example today [18 August], there was a ceremony marking Independence Day [from Britain in 1919], and Mr. Karzai was there in the stadium, and there were thousands of people there. These are risks.

But we can't exaggerate. Afghanistan is not a European country. In a European country, if one leader is not there, there are others and others... There are many who can replace him. But in our country, after the war and the experience we have had, the fate of the country is linked to the fate of the president, and if he is not there, we will have another crisis. Among the other presidential candidates, I can find no one who can replace Mr. Karzai. He has national credibility, as well as international credibility, and he has a lot of patience.

RFE/RL: One very strong candidate who may pose a real challenge to Karzai is said to be Yunos Qanuni, former education minister....

Farhang: Mr. Qanuni reacted with his emotions (for more reactions on Qanuni's candidacy, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004). When Mr. Karzai did not accept [Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim] Fahim as first vice president, the group from the north -- not all, but a part of the group -- reacted in an emotional way and they obliged Mr. Qanuni to run for president (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). This is his right. Why not? He is now one of the candidates, and he has started his campaign. This is totally democratic and no one has the right to stop him. But I believe that Mr. Qanuni committed political suicide, because his position in the government was very strong, and now he is out of the government.

RFE/RL: Is there any truth to the rumors that there are backstage negotiations taking place to reach an agreement whereby Qanuni would relinquish his candidacy in exchange for key ministerial posts for himself and his supporters?

Farhang: Mr. Qanuni tried several times to speak to the president and return to his post. The president told him that the door of his ministry is open. But from elsewhere I heard that Mr. Qanuni has started to use students, professors, and schools to further his electoral campaign. The last time I saw him was about a week ago, and I told him that he is free to campaign, but he should not politicize the education system of Afghanistan. If he does this, then it will go down in history in black words. But he is doing this now. And in my opinion, it is treason to use young people, who are impressionable. He has started this and he has done it in Nuristan, where he changed the head of education. He replaced him with another person who works for him. But we rectified this matter.

The president told me that Mr. Qanuni is free to return to his post, but the government will not give any concessions to those who return. He can return, but he cannot demand political concessions. Personally, I think that if he does return, he will not be as strong as he was before his resignation. If he comes back before the elections, it means that he realized he would not win, and this means that he is a weak politician. It is the same for [former Planning Minister and presidential hopeful] Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, who is always asking for a ministerial post (for more on Mohaqeq, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2004). He says that if he gets it, he will quit his campaign. It is my personal opinion that the president should not give concessions to anyone. We must allow the people to decide. If the people vote for Mr. Qanuni, why not? If the people vote for Mr. Mohaqeq, why not? This is democracy. If we lose the elections, it is better than giving away political concessions.

RFE/RL: What do you think of members of government who support presidential candidates running against Karzai?

Farhang: It doesn't work that way. Marshall Fahim, for example, is working against the government, while he is still a member of the government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004). This, of course, is illegal. Those who are candidates must resign from their government positions, but Marshall Fahim has kept his position, while he is working against the government. Even though this is illegal, he is doing it quite forcefully.

RFE/RL: There are many who say that much of the rehabilitation of Kabul over the past three years is the result of private investment while the central government has done very little.

Farhang: Frankly, the central government hasn't done much, and there are many reasons for this. After the Tokyo conference in January 2002, when the international community pledged $4.5 billion, we did not have enough capacity of absorption in our economy. The country was just coming out of 25 years of war, and all the capacity was destroyed. That is why the international community gave most of the money to the United Nations and to the various branches of the UN for humanitarian aid, as well as to the NGOs. The Afghan government received very little money, and this is why we could not achieve our priorities for the reconstruction of the country. We were lacking money, we were lacking experts, and the worse thing was that the NGOs and the UN lured our own experts by offering higher salaries....

At the beginning of this year, at a donor's conference in Berlin, we were able to present to the international community a comprehensive program for the reconstruction of our country. The international community was persuaded that this program could be realized, and this is why in Berlin, we decided to give most of the money to the government of Afghanistan. And now we have our projects, our priorities. The feasibility studies are completed and we have started with the project.

You know that in a country that has seen war -- especially civil war -- there are several kinds of reconstruction. There is political reconstruction; We had some success there. There is social reconstruction; This is very difficult because there are rivalries between various ethnic groups in Afghanistan. And we even need psychological reconstruction, because every Afghan has been affected psychologically. War is a terrible thing. Two generations of Afghans are the product of war. And finally, there is economic reconstruction. We must first create the conditions for economic reconstruction and in the past 2 1/2 years, we were preoccupied with trying to create the preliminary conditions without which we cannot proceed. We can create a factory, but if the people cannot work in this factory, what can we do? We must first focus on capacity building in the country and then we can move toward material reconstruction. This process is very complicated.

I understand my Afghan compatriots. They have seen war and they have had many problems. They have lived in exile for so long, and they want to see the fruits of reconstruction very quickly. But it doesn't happen like that, technically. For a single project, we need at least a year to study a project.

Tanya Goudsouzian is a freelance journalist who covers Afghanistan.

Radio Free Afghanistan is in high gear with complete coverage of the candidates, their platforms, campaign events and breaking developments. Significant news is covered in our hourly news reports at the top of the hour Afghanistan time, while a daily, dedicated election report from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Afghan time provides a wrap-up 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.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on 17 August announced that a cease-fire agreement was reached between forces loyal to Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and local commander Amanullah Khan, international news agencies reported. Khalilzad said that the cease-fire is holding and that units of the Afghan National Army supported by the U.S. Air Force are trying to prevent renewed fighting, Radio Afghanistan reported on 17 August. "We have been working very closely with the government of Afghanistan to bring about an immediate end to the fighting, to disengage the combatant forces some 20 to 30 kilometers from each other, and to set the conditions for enduring stability in that part of the country," Khalilzad said, "The New York Times" reported on 18 August. According to the U.S. envoy, there have been "significant" casualties in the latest round of fighting that began on 13 August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 August 2004), AP reported on 17 August. The death toll stood at 26 before Amanullah Khan's forces began a push toward Herat city on 17 August. Khalilzad's interference in the conflict came after Amanullah's forces came within 20 kilometers of the city, the BBC reported on 17 August. (Amin Tarzi)

Both Khalilzad and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai have condemned Amanullah Khan's actions against Ismail Khan, AP reported on 17 August. "I have indicated to Amanullah that any attack to threaten the city [of Heart] is unacceptable and we would expect him to move back his forces," Khalilzad said, adding that he "mostly explained the consequences of continued fighting," "The New York Times" reported on 18 August. While the newspaper reported that there have been suggestions that some members of Karzai's administration opposed to Ismail Khan encouraged Amanullah Khan to launch the attack, AP reported that Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin referred to Amanullah Khan as "a warlord." While Amanullah Khan has long pledged allegiance to central government, Ludin said that the commander is not affiliated with the National Army and warned that whoever "is responsible for this breakdown and breach of security will be brought to justice," AP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have denied reports that they carried out air strikes against Amanullah Khan's forces, AFP reported on 18 August. Herat police chief Ziauddin Mahmudi claimed on 17 August that when Amanullah's forces reached Adraskan District, they "were bombed by coalition planes." In addition, commanders from both of the warring sides reported that U.S. planes dropped bombs on their respective foes, the AP reported on 17 August. AFP quoted U.S. military spokesman Major Rich Peat as saying on 18 August that "we did not conduct any air strikes in the Herat area today," although it should be noted that the bombing in question would have taken place on 17 August. At the request of the Afghan administration, the U.S. Air Force is "providing air support to the Afghan security forces," Peat added. Khalilzad did say that a number of U.S. military trainers are embedded with the National Army, "The New York Times" reported on 18 August. In late 2002, when heavy clashes took place between forces loyal to Amanullah Khan and to those supporting Ismail Khan, the situation came under control only when U.S. forces interfered, reportedly by bombing both sides (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

Commander Amanullah Khan, speaking from Shindand air base located in the south of Herat Province, said on 18 August that his forces have withdrawn from conflict zones around Herat and have been replaced by National Army troops and members of foreign forces, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The warlord said that Herat Province is peaceful and reiterated that his forces are obeying orders from Kabul regarding the U.S.-brokered cease-fire and the withdrawal of his forces from the points of engagement. Amanullah Khan's surprising advancement against Ismail Khan's forces may have finally given Kabul a chance, with the permanent deployment of the National Army in the province, to bring Ismail Khan, the self-styled "amir" (ruler) of Herat, under its direct control (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 18 August 2004). In addition, with the deployment of National Army troops in Herat instead of Ismail Khan's own militia, the governor would be less able to interfere in the October presidential elections, a scenario that could play out in areas where warlords are more powerful than Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

Governor Ismail Khan on 18 August said that the situation in the western province is normal after it was attacked on 13 August on three fronts, Herat Television reported. Concentrating on the southern front, where forces under the command of local warlord Amanullah Khan reached within 20 kilometers of Herat city, Ismail Khan said that "a large number of remnants of the Taliban...captured Shindand District and Shindand District [military] airport." At first, the Herat governor said, "our resistance made them stop there. But, unfortunately, due to an error on our part, the front line was breached in some places and they got as far as Adraskan District." Describing forces commanded by Amanullah Khan as belonging to the Taliban, Ismail Khan said that "the bloody Taliban have left Shindand District." On 18 August, Amanullah Khan was reportedly still in control of Shindand air base. Since late 2002, Ismail Khan has been accusing Amanullah Khan of being a neo-Taliban sympathizer while the latter has accused the governor of oppressing the local Pashtun population. (Amin Tarzi)

The National Army has formed a buffer zone between the two warring factions in Herat Province, Sade-ye Jawan radio reported from Herat on 19 August. National Army Chief of Staff General Fazl Ahmad Aman said that his forces have been deployed in Adraskan and Shindand districts as well as in Shindand air base to prevent further clashes. The highway linking Herat to the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, which was closed when the current hostilities began on 13 August, has been opened to traffic, Aman added. (Amin Tarzi)

The National Army has secured the release of 15 militiamen loyal to the Herat governor, Afghanistan Television reported on 22 August. Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, discussing the security situation in Herat, said more than 6,000 people have voluntarily joined the National Army since April. The full force of the National Army is estimated at 13,000. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai issued a decree on 19 August establishing a fact-finding delegation to examine the most recent conflict in Herat Province, Afghanistan Television reported. The delegation, consisting of Minister Advisers Mohammad Alam Rasekh, Sheikh Nader Ali Mahdawi, and Shahzada Mas'ud, are to evaluate the circumstances of the conflict in Herat and submit a detailed report to Karzai as soon as possible. Karzai has been criticized for not being able to curtail the power of warlords, some of whom, such as Ismail Khan, are officially part of the government. (Amin Tarzi)

Pointing to the recent clashes in Herat Province, Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 22 August that the situation underlines the need to dissolve the militias, Afghanistan Television reported. The Afghan government "is determined to do everything in its power to prevent activities of the militias who want to bring the law under their own control...[and] have their own private and special agendas," Jalali said. The minister blamed "militarism" and the slow progress in the disarmament program. According to Jalali, "all the militias, including Amanullah's militias, are illegal," and he added that "the question is how to remove them." Jalali did not elaborate on whether Ismail Khan's military forces are regarded by Kabul as militias or as part of the government forces. (Amin Tarzi)

Forces loyal to newly appointed Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur clashed with militia loyal to the Junbish-e Melli party in the Sholgara District of Balkh, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 23 August. A joint commission comprising Nur's Jami'at-e Islami party and Junbish has been established in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh, to investigate the causes of the clash. There have been frequent clashes between Military Corps No. 8, which is loyal to Junbish leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Military Corps No. 7, led by Nur. The two corps "pledged to merge" but "have not yet done so," Balkh Television reported on 21 August. According to the report, Nur met with Jowzjan Province Governor Raz Mohammad Nur and Military Corps No. 8 commander Lieutenant General Joma Khan Hamdard. The report from Balkh Television, however, did not elaborate on the reported clash between the two rival militias. In 2003, Sholgara was the scene of factional fighting between Jamiat and Junbish loyalists. The fighting again erupted there in early 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 20 October 2003 and 24 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghanistan's 17 presidential candidates have threaten to boycott the elections if Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai does not step down from his post before the vote, AFP reported on 18 August. Presidential candidate Abdul Sattar Sirat accused Karzai of misusing "government facilities for his campaign," and added that the decision to boycott the election has been "unanimously agreed" upon by all of Karzai's rival candidates.

"We gave the government one week. The president and the government must resign within that week and form a new administration. The new administration should be discussed by [a council comprised of the 17 rival candidates for the presidency]. If they don't do this in one week, this council will meet and we will discuss a boycott of the elections," Sirat said.

RFE/RL's correspondents in Kabul reported that at least 10 of the 17 candidates running against Karzai in the October presidential elections have confirmed Sirat's claim that they are considering a boycott of the landmark vote unless Karzai disbands his government within the next week. But four of Karzai's opponents have rejected Sirat's claim.

Candidate Homayun Shah Asefi, a member of the family of Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, said he does not support Sirat's statement. Asefi said it is entirely within acceptable international norms for a head of state to be a candidate. Asefi said Karzai's resignation ahead of the election would create a power vacuum in Afghanistan that would hurt the country.

Others who say they have not agreed to back the calls for Karzai's resignation include the only woman in the race, Mas'uda Jalal, as well as candidates Abdul Hadi Khalilzai and Gholam Faruq Nijrabi.

Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 19 August it would be illegal for Karzai to resign. In fact, under Afghan electoral law, all government officials are required to step down from their positions 75 days before the vote. But the one exception to that rule is the president.

Moreover, Ludin told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan Constitution specifies that the Transitional Administration head should continue in power until presidential elections have been completed and the winner has taken office.

"This proposal for Karzai's resignation is clearly against the constitution of Afghanistan. I have a copy of the constitution. If our candidates need to see it, it is possible to send it to them. Mr. Sirat arrived in Afghanistan just two days before the announcement [earlier this month] of the final list of candidates in the presidential election. Perhaps he doesn't have enough information [about the law]," Ludin said.

Ludin also rejected allegations by Sirat that Karzai had appointed an election commission that favors his own candidacy.

Ludin noted that Afghanistan's National Security Council -- and not Karzai -- had selected the United Nations-backed Jointed Electoral Management Body (JEMB). He also said Karzai's chief rival, former Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, was serving as an adviser to the National Security Council at the time and had attended its meetings on the election commission.

Despite the denials, Sirat's remarks represent the first public attempt by opposition candidates to present a united front against the U.S.-backed Karzai, who is considered the frontrunner.

Some of Karzai's opponents have been meeting during the past week in closed-door talks about how political alliances might be established and whether some candidates would be willing to quit the race in favor of others.

Political analysts say it will be difficult for Karzai's rivals to form a unified coalition against the incumbent president. Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, says Sirat's boycott threat is unlikely to draw a unified response and that most presidential candidates are using the election campaign to advance their own political agendas.

Meanwhile, Sirat said discussions among Karzai's rivals on uniting behind a single candidate are continuing.

Sirat, a former justice minister, was a close aide to former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah, but fell from grace during 2001 Bonn negotiations that led to the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). According to AFP, Sirat initially won the support of 11 delegates in Bonn as opposed to Karzai's three, but he later chose to back Karzai. (Ron Synovitz and Amin Tarzi)

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, head of the Junbish-e Melli party and a candidate in the October presidential elections, rejected objections to the candidacy of his running mate, Mustafa Kamal Makhdum, Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 18 August. Junbish-e Melli deputy head Azizullah Kargar read a letter from Dostum to the UN-backed JEMB objecting to the body's rejection of Makhdum's candidacy. While the report does not elaborate on JEMB's reasons for rejecting Makhdum's candidacy, Dostum's letter implies that his citizenship may have been questioned, stating: "Makhdum is a son of Afghan parents. He was born in Kizilayaq village of Jowzjan Province," and later "he applied for Turkish citizenship as a second citizenship in order to blend with [Turkish] society." Dostum also stressed that Makhdum has never relinquished his Afghan citizenship. In the initial list of candidates and their running mates, Makhdum is identified as one of Dostum's two vice-presidential candidates (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). According to the Afghan Constitution, the president and vice presidents must to be Afghan citizens, born of Afghan parents, and cannot hold foreign citizenship. (Amin Tarzi)

An international delegation from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) released a statement on 19 August summarizing its findings on the state of the electoral and democratic process in Afghanistan ( The delegation noted: "The 9 October and the 2005 [parliamentary] elections are not end points in democracy building by Afghans, nor should they be an 'exit strategy' for the international community. They must be parts of sustained and comprehensive efforts to develop democratic governance and sustainable peace, which requires sufficient time and a comprehensive common plan for nation building. These efforts are a matter for the people of Afghanistan and their leaders. The efforts require and deserve the full commitment of the international community acting in partnership with Afghans." The NDI delegation called on the international community to commit resources to the process by completing the job of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration and providing resources for civic education, domestic monitoring, and security, and for strengthening an independent media. (Amin Tarzi)

Fearing that UN staff members may become targets of violence in the run-up to Afghanistan's presidential elections, the UN staff union has called for the withdrawal of all of its members from the country, the BBC reported on 21 August. Guy Candusso, vice president of the union, said, "As we approach election time, more than likely attacks will intensify." (Amin Tarzi)

Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, claimed that the militia has killed eight pro-government soldiers and security guards in two separate attacks, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 August. Hakimi said that four security guards were killed in an attack on a convoy carrying government forces in Rahman Qala' village in Ghani Province in south-central Afghanistan. Also, neo-Taliban killed four pro-government soldiers in an attack in Khoja Musa District of Faryab Province in northern Afghanistan, Hakimi claimed. Independent sources have not confirmed Hakimi's claims. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. forces on 21 August killed three people after firing upon a vehicle that reportedly failed to stop at a checkpoint in the Dehro area of south-central Ghazni Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The U.S. troops are part of a joint unit with the Afghan National Army. Two of the victims were female and all three were from the same family. U.S. forces searched the vehicle but found nothing suspicious. A spokesman for the U.S. coalition forces blamed the driver of the vehicle, who apparently ignored instructions from U.S. troops to stop. Ghazni Province Governor Asadullah Khaled said one of those killed was a child, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed in a 22 August press release his "condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic incident in Ghazni." According to Khalilzad, the Combined Forces Command has launched an investigation into the incident. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai on 23 August arrived to Pakistan on 23 August for a two-day official visit, the Lahore paper "Daily Times" reported on 22 August. The visit was originally planned for July but was delayed because of deadlines for candidate registration for the 9 October Afghan presidential elections, the Kabul weekly "Cheragh" reported on 22 August. Karzai is expected to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shujaat Hussain, and other Pakistani officials, the "Daily Times" added. The two main themes in talks between Afghan and Pakistani leaders is expected to be the ongoing fight against remnants of Al-Qaeda and the resurgent neo-Taliban militia and the fate of hundreds of Pakistanis who fought with the Taliban and are still in Afghan jails, the BBC reported on 22 August. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai and Pakistani President Musharraf held a joint news conference in Islamabad on 23 August, PTV reported. Musharraf assured Karzai, referring to him as his brother, that Pakistan would act against "Al-Qaeda, or Taliban, or anyone...trying to use arms, go from Pakistan into Afghanistan, carry out terrorist activity, disrupt the election process [in Afghanistan], [and] cause law and order problems." The Pakistani leader expressed his satisfaction that trade and economic activities between the two countries are developing, adding that he looks forward to enhancing the existing relationship and extending it so that the "Central Asian republics, Afghanistan, [and] Pakistan can jointly benefit through trade and commercial activities." Karzai said that he sees Afghanistan's "security in the security of Pakistan...[and] Pakistan's security in the security of Afghanistan," and hopes that trade between the two countries will increase. According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, in 2001-02 trade between the two countries was worth around $20 million and so far in 2004 stands at nearly $700 million, Radio Pakistan reported on 23 August. (Amin Tarzi)

21 August 1934 -- The United States formally recognizes Afghanistan.

23 August 1961 -- Pakistan announces it is closing Afghan consulates and trade offices.

12 August 1997 -- Abdul Rahim Ghafurzai, newly appointed prime minister of the United Front, is killed in Bamiyan in an airplane accident.

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