Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Report: October 1, 2004

1 October 2004, Volume 3, Number 35

By Amin Tarzi

In an interview in Kabul with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 29 September, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai discussed the upcoming presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for 9 October. Afghanistan's direct national election pits Karzai against 17 other candidates hoping to become the country's first-ever democratically elected leader.

In his wide-ranging interview, Karzai cautioned that curbing the power of the country's warlords will take time, rejected speculation that he is out to disenfranchise former mujahedin, and suggested that Afghanistan needs something other than a coalition government.

Karzai, widely considered to be the favorite going into the presidential balloting, told RFE/RL that when he was chosen to lead the Afghan Interim Authority by an intra-Afghan meeting convened in Bonn in December 2001, he never thought he would be in a leadership position in his country. But now, three years later, Karzai gave his term as leader of Afghanistan's Interim and Transitional governments positive marks.

Karzai described Afghanistan as a "traditionally democratic society" based on such forms of popularly based decision-making processes as tribal jirgas and local councils. Under the governing system envisaged in the country's new constitution, he said, Afghanistan should enjoy systematized institutions, such as a parliament and free elections, which will allow the people to practice democracy in a more organized manner.

Karzai lamented the fact that he has not been able to campaign across the country, citing his heavy workload and security concerns. Karzai escaped near disaster in early September when a rocket narrowly missed his helicopter as it was approaching its destination in the southeastern Afghan city of Gardez. Purported neo-Taliban elements, who have vowed to disrupt the election process, have claimed responsibility for the rocket attack and proclaimed a victory in having forced Karzai to cancel his visit to Gardez. At the time, a frustrated Karzai said he wanted to take control of his own security detail (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).

Responding to criticism that his administration has not done enough to curtail to power of warlords, Karzai said the rule of people rather than gunmen is possible. But he added that achieving that goal is a gradual process.

In a report released the same day as Karzai's interview, the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said human rights abuses by warlords are jeopardizing the integrity of the country's first presidential election. According the HRW, Afghans in general are more concerned over the influence of warlords in harming the democratic nature of the elections than over armed attacks by neo-Taliban militants.

Karzai's most important triumph in combating warlordism has been the successful sacking of western Afghanistan's strongman and Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). Karzai, however, dismissed the idea that he was out to disenfranchise former mujahedin leaders and commanders -- some of whom clearly merit the "warlord" label. Karzai told RFE/RL that mujahedin are sons of Afghanistan and have sacrificed their blood for their country.

There are no differences between the mujahedin and ordinary Afghans as such, Karzai suggested, adding that prosperity would help all Afghans, including the former mujahedin. While Karzai did not specifically address the issue, some former mujahedin leaders, including his current Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, have criticized the removal of Ismail Khan, who was a well-known mujahedin commander.

Karzai also told RFE/RL that he rejects the idea of a coalition government, and he blamed some of the shortcomings of his current administration on its having been based on a coalition. Karzai also stressed the importance of a common platform rather than political-party membership in response to a question concerning his running mates -- Ahmad Zia Mas'ud and Mohammad Karim Khalili -- both of whom are members of disparate political parties. Khalili in fact heads his own political party -- Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, or Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan -- and commands his own militia. Should he win, Karzai told RFA, anyone who serves in his administration must agree to participate in his platform and his plan.

In a report released on 29 September, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that human-rights abuses by warlords are jeopardizing the integrity of the country's first presidential election scheduled for 9 October.

The 52-page report, titled "The Rule of the Gun: Human Rights Abuses and Political Repression in the Run-Up to Afghanistan's Presidential Election," (, documents how human-rights abuses are fueling a pervasive atmosphere of repression and fear in many parts of the country. The report explains how voters in many areas of the country do not understand the ballot or have faith in its secrecy, and how they face threats and are offered bribes by militia factions.

One Afghan political organizer told Human Rights Watch that the militia factions said, "Why are you doing what you're doing? Why do you oppose the mujahedin? Why are you writing articles calling us warlords? These articles are endangering your life."

An HRW press release quoted Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, as saying, "the warlords are still calling the shots." Adams added, "many voters in rural areas say the militias have already told them how to vote, and that they're afraid of disobeying them. Activists and political organizers who oppose the warlords fear for their lives." Politically active Afghans are "afraid of warlords and their factions, much more than they're afraid of the Taliban," Adams said. Beyond the upcoming presidential elections, the report discusses several flaws in the voter-registration process and the administration of the election itself, including the widespread multiple registration of voters. As noted in the report, it is likely that the number of registered voters cited by most Afghan and international officials -- "more than 10 million, including more than 4 million women" -- is inaccurate.

"Many abuses in the crucial pre-election period and on election day won't even be discovered -- because there won't be anyone out there to report on them," said Adams. "How can such an important election have such an anemic observation effort?"

HRW warns that if the international community does not take urgent steps to disarm the warlords and provide adequate security for average Afghans, serious human-rights problems could disrupt next year's local and parliamentary elections, which are likely to be much more fiercely contested than the presidential election (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

A broadcast by a tribe in the eastern Khost Province has warned its members to cast their vote for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai or face retribution, AFP reported on 24 September. "Vote for President Hamid Karzai [in the 9 October election], or we will burn your houses down," was the message broadcast by the Terezay tribe, a small Pashtun tribe numbering between 120,000 to 150,000. The broadcast on local radio warned all Terezays, "including males and females," to vote for Karzai since "he is the only suitable person for the presidential post." A Terezay tribal elder, Wakil Sayyed Anwar, told AFP that 300 tribal chiefs jointly drafted the threatening statement. "No one from our tribe should ignore the decision," Anwar said. "We are grateful for those who support us, but we want a peaceful and democratic election and we request our brothers and sisters not to violate the process and respect each others' opinions, ideas, and wishes," Karzai campaign spokesman Hamid Elmi told AFP, stopping short of condemning the threatening message. (Amin Tarzi)

A statement from the neo-Taliban, published by the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 21 September, warns Afghans not to vote in the upcoming elections. The statement, titled "Announcement for Afghan Mojahed Muslims," says, "Delegations from Karzai's puppet government of occupied Afghanistan have arrived in your villages and are asking you to vote for them." These delegations "are tricking you under false pretenses," the statement adds. According to the statement, by casting their votes in the elections Afghans will help damage Islam and help "expand Christianity." The statement warns that those who do not abide by the teachings of the Koran "will soon see a reaction" to their behavior and they are to be blamed for the consequences of their voting. (Amin Tarzi)

UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno has said that a multilayered security plan has been devised to protect Afghan voters, poll workers, and the ballot-counting process next month.

But Guehenno said UN officials are still anticipating some violence during the 9 October polls. "Multiple incidents across the country on or around election day cannot be excluded," he said. "All efforts must be undertaken to be fully prepared to react to attacks, especially on polling sites, transportation of ballots, and counting centers."

Guehenno said Afghan national police will provide security at most of the estimated 25,000 polling stations. The national army is to provide security in areas around polling sites and international troops will protect the transport of ballots and eight designated vote-counting centers.

The emphasis, he said, is to concentrate the ballots in a few places where there will be heavy security to ensure the integrity and safety of the counting process.

There are more than 8,000 soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and about 18,000 U.S. troops in the country, but they are stretched thin.

Guehenno told reporters that UN officials are counting on local communities and tribal elders -- especially in the south and east -- to help safeguard the process, as they did during voter registration. "There will not be international forces, obviously, and Afghan forces in every polling station," he said. "But we believe that with the present security concept we will have a reasonable degree of security. That is, there will be at the first layer Afghan security then at the outer layer will be international forces ready to back up security if the need arises."

The human-rights group Human Rights Watch warned in a report today that warlords and other local commanders are trying to influence the elections by using threats and harassment on voters.

Guehenno acknowledged reports of voter intimidation but said he does not expect those incidents to undermine the overall process (see above). "We are confident that those incidents will not be such that they damage the credibility of the presidential election and that enough precautions have been taken that the Afghans will see that election as a credible, honest exercise," he said. "A perfect exercise? Certainly not. An honest and credible one? Very likely so."

Earlier today, UN officials said in Islamabad that Afghan refugees could account for as much as 10 percent of the vote in next month's presidential elections.

The UN director of election operations in Pakistan and Iran, Peter Erben, said the "out-of-country" vote is significant. But he said Afghan refugee voters in Pakistan have been threatened by militant groups. "There have been threats to both staff and potential voters by small groups who wish to disrupt these elections," he said. "We take all these threats very seriously. We've been fortunate to avoid any actual incidents so far and we hope that this will continue."

Last week, Taliban supporters distributed leaflets in refugee camps in Pakistan saying anyone who killed an election worker would earn a divine reward and any Afghan who accepted a voter-registration card risked punishment. (Robert McMahon)

In a 28 September editorial on the upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan, Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" wrote that "the outcome of the election is predetermined." According to the daily, there has been numerous "national and international efforts to keep the head of the transitional state [Chairman Hamid Karzai] in power by any means possible." The paper alleges that "all the facilities of the transitional state and the foreign material and military assistance have been put at the disposal of a certain person since long ago," without naming Karzai. "Arman-e Melli" compares what it considers interference in the election process with actions by some "officials in the ruling administration [to] exert unjustifiable influence over the whole process of drafting and approving the constitution" that was adopted in January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 December 2003, 8 January and 5 February 2004). According to the editorial, since the election process has been erroneous from the beginning, its results "cannot duly create confidence and fail to resolve the problems" in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai held a news conference on 27 September to discuss the election, Radio Afghanistan reported. Responding to a question regarding the demand by the majority of the 18 presidential candidates for the elections to be postponed (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004), Karzai rejected the idea, adding that he wants the elections to "be held as soon as possible to bring about a stronger legitimacy." According to Karzai, "security conditions are far better than what" had been anticipated.

Answering another question regarding the slow implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program before the elections -- where Karzai had, according to the unidentified questioner, said that 27,000 men should be disarmed before the election, while only 15,000 have gone from the program -- Karzai said: "DDR is not dependent on the election. It is a consistent process taking years." The DDR program has fallen behind schedule and many powerful warlords have not yet surrendered weapons. According to the DDR's stated schedule, 40 percent of militia forces were to have been disarmed by July, with a further 20 percent disarmed ahead of the elections. (Amin Tarzi)

During his 27 September news conference in Kabul, Chairman Karzai said that he will not form a coalition government if he wins the election, Radio Afghanistan reported (see feature above). Responding to a question about reports of negotiations between his camp and that of his main rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004), Karzai said that he has no specific conditions for Qanuni to join his ticket. "I have recently introduced my platform and stressed that I did not support a coalition and would not form a coalition government at any price," Karzai added. However, he left the door open for Qanuni and others to join him in a future government "where there are no factions and differences of opinion and policy," and which would "act under one leadership and follow one strategy." (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai's 26 September visit to Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jowzjan Province, to inaugurate a road, was reportedly intended to provide an opportunity for Karzai to meet rival presidential candidate General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Akbar Bay, a former representative of Dostum's in Kabul, claimed to Hindukosh that the primary aim of Karzai's visit was to seek a deal with Dostum, whose power base lies in Sheberghan. In a rare visit to northern Afghanistan, Karzai jokingly hinted that Dostum ought to drop out of the race, Reuters reported on 26 September. Many observers see Karzai as the front-runner to win the first round of the presidential election on 9 October. But there are reportedly concerns in Karzai's camp that with 17 other candidates in the race, the current Afghan leader might fail to secure an outright majority, necessitating a runoff vote. (Amin Tarzi)

Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, leader of the Afghan Mellat (Nation) party, voiced his support for Chairman Karzai on 23 September, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Speaking to party members at a gathering held in the Tribal Affairs Department in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern Nangarhar Province, Ahadi pledged to promote Karzai's presidential bid. Ahadi currently serves as the governor of Da Afghanistan Bank, the country's central bank. (Amin Tarzi)

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, a candidate in the presidential elections, outlined his future plans for Afghanistan in a speech in Kabul on 21 September, Afghanistan Television reported. Qanuni, regarded as the strongest challenger to Hamid Karzai, said that his main objective in running for president is "to establish a doctrine for a new Afghanistan." Emphasizing the Islamic character of the country, Qanuni said that the second-most-important characteristic of the new Afghanistan would be "stability and security." "Another characteristic of the new Afghanistan will be the independence of Afghanistan," Qanuni said, adding that as president he would adopt a "policy of nonpolitical and nonmilitary affiliation" with other states. He was not clear on his short-term policy regarding the presence of international military forces in Afghanistan. In his speech, Qanuni also focused on Afghanistan's appalling economic situation, saying that he would try to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty. Qanuni did not mention his rivals in the presidential race, nor did he touch on the reports that he is engaged in negotiations with Karzai to form a coalition (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

During his trip to the United States to attend the UN General Assembly (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004), Chairman Karzai secured the release of 11 Afghan prisoners held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, international news agencies reported.

According to a press release from the office of Karzai's spokesman, the 11 men were detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan "on suspicion of having links with the Taliban," Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 September. The released detainees said that they will participate in the reconstruction of their country, the report added.

The released prisoners include Na'im Kuchi, a former commander under the Taliban regime, Reuters reported on 22 September. The U.S. Defense Department provided no details on the 11 Afghans, citing "operational and security considerations."

Karzai has been trying to woo "moderate" members of the Taliban regime ahead of the presidential elections, while U.S. President George W. Bush is "keen to see the [Afghan] elections on time so that he can hold up Afghanistan as a foreign policy success story," Reuters commented. (Amin Tarzi)

One of the prisoners released from U.S. detention, Bader Zaman Bader, has demanded that the United States compensate him for three years of his life spent in custody, China's Xinhua news agency reported on 22 September. Bader said that he has a "right" to demand compensation since he "was innocent and the U.S. military failed to prove any charges" against him. According to the report, Bader is the first Afghan prisoner released from U.S. custody who has demanded compensation from the United States. (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Ghafar, a "prominent" neo-Taliban commander according to a senior Afghan official, was killed in Oruzgan Province on 25 September, AIP reported the next day. Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad said that provincial forces ambushed Abdul Ghafar, killing him and two of his bodyguards.

Purported neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi told AIP that he does not "know any Taliban commander whose name is Mawlawi Abdul Ghafar." He claimed that the Afghan "government authorities usually, for their own benefit, describe an ordinary Taliban member as a senior commander." Abdul Latif Hakimi (not to be confused with Latifullah Hakimi), also purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, confirmed Abdul Ghafar's death but denied that he was a regional commander, adding that the neo-Taliban "commander for Oruzgan Province is sound and alive," AFP reported on 27 September.

This is not the first time that contradictory information has emerged from seemingly different individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Ghafar, described as a neo-Taliban regional commander in reports of his death, was released from U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay in February, AFP reported on 27 September, quoting Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad. Abdul Ghafar "rejoined the ousted Taliban after being released from prison...[and] was appointed as Taliban regional financial and operational commander for southern Afghanistan," Jan Mohammad said. In his statement denying that Abdul Ghafar was a senior neo-Taliban commander, Abdul Latif Hakimi asked: "If he was a top commander, why he was released from U.S. prison in Guantanamo [Bay]?" (Amin Tarzi)

Suspected neo-Taliban militiamen killed nine Afghan soldiers in attacks on security checkpoints in Helmand Province on 24 September, Peshawar-based AIP reported the next day. Helmand security commander Amanullah said the attacks occurred in the vicinity of Shorab, adding that he has no doubt that the assailants were neo-Taliban. No arrests have been made, Amanullah said. Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, offered different figures. Hakimi told AIP on 25 September that "three groups of Taliban fighters attacked three security checkpoints on the highway in Helmand," killing 11 soldiers. (Amin Tarzi)

Over the years, civil war, drought, and insecurity have forced many Afghans to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Many have ended up in the West, where they have put down roots and begun their own families. But their children then go on to have very different lives. RFE/RL spoke to several Afghan children -- and some parents -- in Prague.

Farzana is 14 years old. She was born in Canada, where her parents took refuge 20 years ago. She has been living in Prague for the last two years.

Does she know about Afghanistan?

"I can't really say 'yes' or 'no' because I haven't ever been there. But I'm planning on going soon with my Mom, in a few years time," she says.

Farzana's sister Malima has a dimmer view of her parents' homeland: "I don't like it. I really feel sorry for Afghanistan because it's always in war. And I'm really interested in what's going on there and I'll see how it is."

Some children who were born in Western Europe or North America don't know much about their parents' country -- and others don't want to know about it.

Maliha Ahrari says she tries to help her children know about Afghanistan -- but wants to wait a while before she takes them there.

"When I'm talking about Afghanistan, my children don't understand much and I don't want to explain more to them. But I want to take them one day to Afghanistan and show them the opportunity in that country and I want to share my feelings with my children. I know it's very difficult for them, but I want to get them ready slowly and they understand how much I love my country," Ahrari says.

Afghans abroad often try hard to keep their cultural traditions alive. But, as this Afghan father says, this sometimes poses difficulties for the younger generation.

"This is the wish of all parents, that their children should have the same cultural values that we had. But it's very difficult when they live in the Western society and a different cultural environment compared with the Afghan culture. We've been trying very hard to keep them in the same environment and culture, but they can't accept both or many cultures [right now]. It's not an easy task. They have to be in this new culture and new environment and, in the mean time, when they come home the expectations of parents are that kids should be responding to their wishes as well. It's a difficult task; it's not easy," he says.

Language plays a large part in preserving the home culture. Often, parents talk in their native language at home. But some children are happy to speak in the language of their new environment.

Malima says English is easier for her -- though she speaks an Afghan language at home.

Eight-year-old Milad has been in Prague for one year. He was born in Pakistan and has visited Afghanistan -- so he's had to adapt more than the children born in Western countries.

"In Afghanistan I was playing with my cousins soccer and in Prague my friends don't play with me, I'm just playing by myself. I don't know how to read yet. I don't know [the] A-B-C [alphabet]. I know the A-B-C but I don't know how to say it, read it, and write it," Milad says.

Whether they were born there or not, it seems Afghan children abroad are still curious about -- and often proud of -- their homeland. (Faridah Saifi)

29 September 1948 -- Afghan-Soviet mission completes demarcation of border between two states. Agreement signed fixing revised boundary.

27 September 1996 -- Taliban captures Kabul, where they torture and execute former President Najibullah.

28 September 2001 -- A United Front (aka Northern Alliance) delegation, headed by Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, meets with Zaher Shah in Rome. Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani says that he sees no role for the ex-king in Afghanistan.

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