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Afghan Report: November 18, 2004

18 November 2004, Volume 3, Number 41

"RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" will next appear on 2 December.
By Nikola Krastev

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on 11 November that the current situation in Afghanistan makes it logistically viable for the alliance to expand its operations there.

"We have lived up to our promises, and at the moment the signs are good that NATO is going to expand ISAF -- the International Security Assistance Force -- into the west of Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have covered the north now with a number of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We will now go west, setting up what we call a 'forward support base' in Herat, and then we want to move counterclockwise to the south and the southeast of Afghanistan, as well."

De Hoop Scheffer said that NATO's forces in the country have, in general, been received well by the Afghan people. Asked why NATO, originally created to provide security for Western Europe, is now operating in Afghanistan, the secretary-general said the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 brought about a major shift in NATO policy (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004).

"What is NATO doing in Afghanistan? Defending values at the Hindu Kush in the present-day international climate," de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have to fight terrorism wherever it emerges. If we don't do it at the Hindu Kush, it will end up at our doorstep. In other words, this perception gap in the long run must be closed and must be healed -- that is, for NATO's future, of the utmost importance."

Another priority for NATO in Afghanistan, he said, will be providing additional security during parliamentary elections, scheduled for April. The secretary-general said that extra NATO battalions will be committed.

De Hoop Scheffer described NATO's operations in Afghanistan as a "moderate success." But he warned that without deeper involvement by the international community in the fight against drug production and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, NATO's ability to ensure the country's stability will be limited.

Referring to Afghanistan's neighbors, de Hoop Scheffer underlined the strategic role the Central Asian states play in the fight against terrorism. Having just returned from a trip to Central Asia and the Caucasus, de Hoop Scheffer said he envisions closer cooperation with these states.

"We need, by the way, Central Asian nations, and the Caucasian nations [to] play an important role in supporting the ISAF operation because we need the lines of communication -- to say in military terms -- [and] transit agreements with the Central Asians, to see that we can adequately run the ISAF operation in Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said.

De Hoop Scheffer said Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have all expressed interest in closer cooperation with NATO in its Partnership for Peace program.

"They all want to extend their partnership with NATO. Even Armenia has now applied for the so-called Individual Partnership Action Program, which means that we are going to develop a tailored, Armenia-tailored partnership program with that country, with Yerevan," de Hoop Scheffer said. "That goes for the Central Asian nations, as well. So that partnership is developing very well."

De Hoop Scheffer stressed that Turkey is playing a particularly active role in the Partnership for Peace program.

Nikola Krastev is a freelance reporter based in New York.

By Robert McMahon

The UN's undersecretary-general for peacekeeping is appealing for renewed international engagement in Afghanistan as it mounts the second stage in its election process.

Jean-Marie Guehenno told the UN Security Council on 9 November that the certification of Afghanistan's presidential election marked a milestone (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 204). But it is unrealistic, he said, to assume that further elections will be easy to stage.

"The international community might be tempted to diminish its commitment after the success of the presidential elections," Guehenno said. "If so, it should resist that temptation. While Afghans have shown a remarkable political maturity, they must still be able to count on the full backing -- economic, financial, political, and military -- of the international community."

Guehenno said security in particular remains a major concern of the United Nations. Three of its electoral workers in the country were kidnapped two weeks ago, and the organization has now instituted stringent staff security measures (see below and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004).

Afghanistan is due to hold parliamentary, provincial, and district elections in the spring. Guehenno said those polls will be much more complex than October's presidential election, more affected by local tensions, and more susceptible to fraud and intimidation. "The influence of local commanders, the widespread and tangled web of narcotics and arms, and the absence of an efficient local civil administration continue to constitute serious obstacles to holding legitimate parliamentary and local elections," Guehenno said.

Among the key organizational issues still to be addressed, he said, are setting the boundaries of districts, refining voter lists, and vetting the qualifications of thousands of potential candidates.

After Guehenno's briefing, the UN Security Council issued a statement saluting Afghans, their neighbors, and international forces for ensuring peaceful presidential elections. The Security Council also pledged its support in safeguarding the next round of elections.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, who is the current president of the Security Council, read the statement: "In preparation for these elections, council members reiterated their determination to continue to provide unwavering support to the government of Afghanistan in the fight against narcotics and the reinforcement of security."

UN officials are urging NATO-led peacekeepers in Afghanistan to expand into western provinces ahead of the elections.

Guehenno said irregular militias are emerging as a problem. They are not included in the current Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program. The peacekeeping chief said these groups may be more destabilizing for the security in many parts of the country that the regular militias.

Robert McMahon is an RFE/RL correspondent.

Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" ( for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's first-ever direct national elections. Find detailed profiles of the presidential candidates, identify emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow October's presidential vote and next year's parliamentary campaigns.

Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) extended the deadline for their final decision on the fate of their three hostages to 4 November, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 4 November. The purported leader of the splinter neo-Taliban group, Mohammad Akbar Agha, told AIP, "The Afghan government contacted us many times tonight to hold negotiations, and they asked us to extend the latest deadline."

Saber Mo'min, purporting to be the spokesman for the group, told the Islamabad daily "The News" on 4 November that there "has been no extension in the deadline," which he claimed was 5 November. "There was some confusion about that," Mo'min added. Earlier in the hostage crisis, Mo'min had given 5 November as the group's deadline to execute the three UN workers held hostage since 28 October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004)

Sayyed Khaled Agha, also purporting to speak on behalf of the Army of the Muslims, told AIP on 4 November that the Afghan government "is not sincere and sensible in freeing" the three hostages. Akbar Agha, also speaking to AIP on 4 November, complained that Kabul was "just wasting time" and threatened that if positive talks do not begin, the group will make its final decision regarding the hostages. "I want to tell UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the [Afghan] government has wasted time in the past few days," Akbar Agha added. He also claimed that the health of the hostages "is deteriorating day by day," specifically mentioning one of the women hostages from Northern Ireland as being "very ill".

According to sources within the Army of the Muslims, Afghan government officials have met with representatives of the group in an effort to secure the release of three UN employees who have been held by the group since 28 October, Islamabad-based PTV reported on 7 November. However, an unidentified Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman declined to confirm or deny the meeting.

Mo'min said on 7 November that the group has altered its demands for the UN hostages' release, AIP reported. He said the group has withdrawn its demands that all Afghan prisoners be released from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that foreign forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan. According to Mo'min, the group is now requiring in exchange for the hostages the release of 25 individuals and "three other demands that will be announced by [the government in] Kabul." Mo'min did not identify the 25 individuals and refused to elaborate on the three other demands, AIP reported.

Sayyed Khaled Agha, told Reuters on 7 November that the group has given the Afghan government "a list of 26 people" it wants released. The second round of negotiations between the group and the Afghan government, according to Khaled Agha, will begin on 10 November.

Reversing its earlier claims, the shadowy group holding three UN workers hostage in Afghanistan reversed an earlier statement and said its captives are in good health, AIP reported on 8 November.

Mo'min told AIP that he is "very optimistic that our prisoners will be freed" because "fresh information obtained by us indicates that the [Afghan] government and also the Americans are trying" to locate 25 people whose release has been demanded in exchange for the three UN employees. Mo'min also said his group has allowed the hostages to contact their offices and perhaps relatives.

One of the hostages, a Kosovar Albanian woman, was able to telephone a friend in her hometown of Pec, AFP reported on 8 November.

Four Afghan journalists offered on 8 November to take the places of the three UN employees being held hostage by the Army of the Muslims, AFP reported. In an open letter, the journalists indicated that in order to "avoid discrediting Afghan culture and to respect the holy religion of Islam," they were offering themselves as hostages. No reaction from the Army of the Muslims has been reported to the journalists' offer.

Sayyed Khaled told AIP on 9 November that negotiations with Afghan authorities are continuing in an effort to resolve the hostage crisis. "Negotiations are continuing in a positive manner. We are very optimistic that the issue will be resolved soon," Khaled said, adding that the government in Kabul now "seems" to be "sincere in negotiations."

Sayyed Khaled told AIP on 9 November that there is no need to set a deadline to determine the fate of the three UN employees held by the group "as long as negotiations are continuing." However, he warned that if negotiations failed, an Army of the Muslims' council would determine what to do with the hostages. Khaled was meanwhile quoted by Reuters on 9 November as warning that the group has extended the deadline to 10 November, after which time the group's council would decide to kill the hostages.

Saber Mo'min, also claming to speak for the Army of the Muslims, told Reuters that the hostage from Kosova would be killed first and the "beheading" shown on video to see what reaction the Afghan government and the United Nations would have. Referring to the Kosovar hostage, Mo'min said that she is a Muslim who has helped "infidels or America...[and thus] will be punished first."

A spokesman for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan on 8 November confirmed that talks had begun with the Army of the Muslims; however, an unidentified Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted by the newly established Pajhwak Afghan News ( rejected the claim that officials were engaged in negotiations with the kidnappers.

Sayyed Akbar Agha, the purported leader of the Army of the Muslims, told AP on 10 November that an agreement has been reached to end the hostage crisis that began when the group abducted three UN workers in late October. "We have been given signals that the prisoners whose release we demand will be freed," Akbar Agha said in a telephone interview. Akbar Agha said that 11 of the prisoners on the group's list are in Afghanistan, while the remainder are at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

However, visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in Kabul that no prisoners will be released from U.S. custody in connection with the demands of the Army of the Muslims, the Kabul-based daily "Islah" reported on 11 November. "It is the United States' view that negotiating with hostage takers, compromising with hostage takers, only encourages more [hostage taking]." Armitage said in Kabul on 10 November, Reuters reported.

Afghan and U.S. officials in Afghanistan decline to say whether any prisoners would be released to meet the demands of the Army of the Muslims, AP reported on 10 November.

Sayyed Khaled told AFP on 15 November that his group has extended until 16 November its deadline to determine the fate of three UN workers being held hostage. "Now we are waiting for the final deadline at sunset tomorrow [16 November]. We must be contacted by tomorrow sunset otherwise our tribal council will take a final decision on the fate of the hostages," Khaled told AFP in a telephone interview.

Khaled claimed 19 of the individuals on its list of demands have been located.

Akbar Agha said that negotiations over the fate of the three UN hostages held by his group were moving in a positive direction until the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Kabul on 10 November, AFP reported on 15 November, citing AIP. "Our negotiations entered in a last phase at one point and we were told that the problem will end,... but when the U.S. assistant secretary of state visited Kabul, everything changed," Abkar Agha told AIP.

One of the Army of the Muslims' self-proclaimed spokesmen, Sayyed Khaled, told AFP on 15 November that prior to Armitage's visit to Kabul his group believed the United Nations was acting independently, after the visit, however, the group "suspect[s] that the UN is acting under U.S. orders." Khaled warned that if the group realizes "that the UN is acting with American direction," it "will behave as [it behaves] against the Americans." "We are in a war against the Americans, so we will kill them if our demands are not met," Khaled added.

Mo'min, told AIP on 15 November that the fate of three UN hostages the group is holding would be decided later in the day. "So far today [15 November] neither the [Afghan] government nor the United Nations has contacted us regarding the hostages," Mo'min told AIP. Therefore, the Army of the Muslims will make its final decision, Mo'min said. "It is then up to us as to what will happen" to the three UN elections workers, Mo'min responded to AIP when asked what the fate of the hostages might be.

The Muslim holiday Eid, which began on 13 November, is traditionally a time when the Afghan government releases a number of prisoners as a goodwill gesture; it is plausible that some of those on the Army of the Muslims' list might have been released as part of that traditional amnesty if the Afghan government had custody of those on the list. In 2003, neo-Taliban fighters abducted a Turkish engineer and demanded the release of a number of their comrades, but later released the hostage, claiming the group had secured the release of two of its members (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November and 4 December 2003). That incident also coincided with Eid. (Amin Tarzi)

Khatrin Weda, the editor in chief of the Kabul-based daily "Cheragh," said she believes the neo-Taliban are behind the Army of the Muslims, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 13 November. "It is noteworthy that both the Taliban and Army of the Muslims have the same ideology, policy, and structure," Weda claimed, adding that she believes neo-Taliban elements "are directly involved" in the hostage taking. Neo-Taliban elements have denied any involvement in the current hostage crisis (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). Some have speculated that the hostage takers have no political motive but instead are interested in ransom and that their strategy backfired when the Afghan government and the UN were pressured not to strike any deal with them. (Amin Tarzi)

Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a statement on the occasion of the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, which was faxed to AIP on 12 November by Hamed Agha, the spokesman of the neo-Taliban. In it, Mullah Omar promised that the jihad will continue against "Americans and their agents" to win the "independence" of Afghanistan. Mullah Omar added that his movement is united and "steadfast" in achieving his goals. The statement alleges that "adultery, moral turpitude, drinking alcohol, and the violation of Muslim rights and dignity happens in broad daylight," leading young Afghans astray in the name of "fake democracy." The statement from Mullah Omar comes at a time when his leadership of the neo-Taliban and the strength of the movement are in question. (Amin Tarzi)

Brigadier General Walter Spindler, commander of the German contingent within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said the remnants of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have been defeated for good, ddp reported on 15 November, citing "Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung." According to Spindler, the "process of democratization" in Afghanistan "is irreversible" since the coalition forces and ISAF have "drained the water in which the evil fish can swim." Spindler cautioned, however, that the establishment of an Afghan security structure is far from complete and the void requires that ISAF stay in the country for at least another 10 years.

Many analysts believe the ISAF will eventually take over much of the responsibility for maintaining security in Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition forces. (Amin Tarzi)

Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 8 November that the group has killed the security commander of Lawlash District of Faryab Province along with his three bodyguards, AIP reported. Hakimi did not identify the commander by name. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan cabinet decided at a meeting chaired by President-elect Hamid Karzai on 8 November that private television stations in the country should take into account Islamic and moral values, Radio Afghanistan reported. If private television stations are deemed to have aired un-Islamic or immoral programs, their transmissions may be banned under the measure, which takes effect immediately. The cabinet also ordered that all cable programming be banned until an interministerial investigation is completed, although no deadline has been announced for those findings. The investigative commission includes members of the Interior and Culture and Information ministries.

Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 8 November that the broadcasting of "non-Islamic and illegal films" by private television stations in Afghanistan has angered the public and members of the judiciary, prompting Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin to ask those stations not to broadcast such programs. The Supreme Court issued a ban on cable television in 2003, but the ban was gradually ignored with the support of Rahin. More recently, however, Rahin has reversed course and joined with conservative elements in supporting the ban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 and 30 January 2003).

Afghanistan's Supreme Court on 10 November ordered a ban on the broadcast of cable-television programs, "The Daily Telegraph" reported the next day. An unidentified spokesman for the Supreme Court reportedly said the newly launched Tolo television channel "recently showed a film on the Prophet Moses which was criticized by the Ulema Council" of Afghanistan, prompting the court to issue the ban. A spokesman for Tolo argued that the broadcaster follows "all the regulations," adding that Tolo hopes "the government will stay [also] within the constitution and will respect the people's wishes."

Rahin has criticized the state and private television stations along with cable operators for broadcasting "vain, misleading things," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on 7 November. "It's not only television and radio that does this, all the wire services, starting from our own television [state-run Afghanistan Television] to the cable networks are annoying and misleading people," Rahin told Pajhwak.

Mohammad Sediq Pusarlay, an expert in Afghan politics, told Pajhwak that "Rahin is beginning to feel that there is no room for him in the next cabinet" and is therefore "calling for harmonization of the media programs with national and Islamic interests." Mohammad Hasan Wulasmal, editor of the monthly "Afghan Journal," told Pajhwak that Rahin is trying to gain public support by championing a conservative stance.

According to an unconfirmed list of the planned Afghan cabinet, Rahin would be replaced by his current deputy, Abdul Hamid Mubarez. (Amin Tarzi)

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, who finished second in the 9 October presidential election, once again conceded the election and congratulated his rival, President-elect Hamid Karzai, international news agencies reported. "I'm sure that if we don't recognize the results of the election and we question the legitimacy of this vote after the [official] declaration of the results, the country will go through a crisis," Qanuni said on 4 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Qanuni, who received 16 percent of the vote to Karzai's 55 percent, charged that the election was marred by "well-organized" fraud, AP reported on 4 November.

Along with Qanuni, Mohammad Mohaqeq and General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the vote count, also accepted the results of the election. While Karzai has said that he will not form a coalition government, in reference to Qanuni he said on 4 November that "those who have the same ideas as me can join me in the government," AFP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

In his first news conference after his official victory, President-elect Karzai said on 4 November that his administration will eliminate private militias and will fight the country's growing opium production, international news agencies reported. Karzai promised a "government that will work for the strengthening of the Afghan National Army, the police, and other institutions of the state," RFE/RL reported on 4 November. "There will not [be] any private militia forces in Afghanistan...[and] there will definitely, definitely not be any drug thing in Afghanistan," Karzai vowed.

It is estimated that there are around 60,000 armed militiamen in Afghanistan, while the nascent National Army has around 15,000 members. The UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program launched in October 2003 has faced many obstacles and is behind schedule (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 October 2004). Afghanistan's opium production, which has alarmingly increased since 2002, is expected to rise once again in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003; and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, and 1 September 2004).

Karzai on 6 November delivered his first nationwide speech after having been formally proclaimed president-elect on 3 November, Radio Afghanistan reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). Karzai congratulated the Afghan people for their participation in the country's first popularly contested presidential election. Karzai prayed to God to help him achieve his policies and promises. He said that he will work for "the establishment of peace, stability and security, public welfare and comfort, social justice, civil and human rights, the consolidation of national unity, and bilateral international cooperation." Karzai promised "a sense of responsibility and transparency" in carrying out his duties. (Amin Tarzi)

President Pervez Musharraf traveled to Kabul on 6 November for a one-day visit to congratulate Karzai on his victory in the 9 October presidential election, international news agencies reported. Musharraf said that Pakistan provided security for the elections by preventing possible incursions by of Pakistan-based militants into Afghanistan. "We blocked the routes. We used the army, we used the frontier corps to establish special blockades so that there was no interference by the terrorists," Reuters quoted Musharraf as saying. Musharraf said during a joint news conference with Karzai that Pakistan and Afghanistan are joined in the fight against terrorism, PTV reported on 7 November. Musharraf was the first foreign leader to visit Kabul following Karzai's victory. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai on 4 November congratulated U.S. President George W. Bush on his reelection, AP reported. "Afghanistan and the United States have been successful partners in defeating terrorism," Karzai said, while thanking Bush for his "personal commitment and dedication" to the cause of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Eyewitnesses reported seeing U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants to destroy opium-poppy fields in Nangarhar Province, AIP reported on 7 November. "I saw the chemical myself. It is made of small black granules and looks like black fertilizer," an unidentified resident of Khogiani District told AIP. Another Nangarhar resident quoted by the same agency called the destruction of poppy fields a good step and said it should encourage people to "sow wheat on their land instead" of poppies.

President-elect Karzai has vowed that his administration will eliminate his country's growing drug problem. Afghanistan's opium production, which has increased at an alarming rate since 2002, is expected to rise once again in 2004. For the most part, both the NATO-led ISAF and U.S.-led coalition forces have so far remained on the sidelines of the problem (for more, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, and 1 September 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Officials in Islamabad have canceled a meeting of the steering committee for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan natural-gas-pipeline project that was planned for late this month, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 9 November. "Dawn" claimed that authorities in Pakistan do not want a meeting on the pipeline -- which would transport natural gas from Turkmenistan's Daulatabad gas field to Pakistan via Afghanistan -- until Turkmenistan provides certified evidence of reserves at the site. According to the report, Islamabad has been demanding such verification since August 2003. Meanwhile, Pakistan has received reports that Turkmenistan might have signed a deal with a Russian company involving the same gas field, the report added. Leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan signed a deal in May 2002 to revive the idea of building the gas pipeline, which had been shelved under Taliban rule in Afghanistan (for more on the project, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The giant, red-neon heart that shone over the Prague Castle in 2002-03 will be sent to Kabul, AP reported. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel lit the heart over the castle on 17 November 2002 to mark the anniversary of the revolution that ended communist rule in his country. The heart remained lit until February 2003. A communist-era dissident and playwright, Havel signed his name with a heart early in his presidency. Jiri David, the designer of the heart, said his creation will be mounted at the Kabul stadium that the Taliban regime used as execution grounds. (Amin Tarzi)

8 November 1933 – Nader Shah assassinated. His son, Mohammad Zaher, becomes king.

7 November 1954 – Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Na'im says Pashtunistan issue is not question of territorial adjustment but of giving Pashtuns an opportunity to express their wishes.

17 October 1994 – Pakistan announces that it will start to repair the route from Kandahar to Herat. Kabul calls this an invasion.

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