3 December 2004, Volume 3, Number 42
UN SAYS OPIUM PRODUCTION 'CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER' TO AFGHANISTAN'S FUTURE.By Naz Nazar
In the face of international concern, Afghan President-elect Hamid Karzai has pledged to make the fight against drug trafficking a top priority.
In a press conference on 5 November shortly after his electoral victory, Karzai renewed his government's commitment to crack down on opium production. "There will definitely, definitely not be any drug [problem] in Afghanistan," he said. "We are going to be dedicated, strong, in working against that."
However, in the almost three years that Karzai has been in power, drug production in Afghanistan has been steadily on the rise from Taliban-era levels.
Today's report by the UNODC found that more than 130,000 hectares in Afghanistan are devoted to poppy farming. The cultivation of poppies has spread to all of the country's provinces and is valued at almost $3 billion, equivalent to more than 60 percent of the country's 2003 gross domestic product.
Farmers in Afghanistan are angry at the government's policies. Kabul has offered to compensate farmers if they destroy their poppy fields and grow other crops instead. The government has also threatened to destroy poppy crops by force if farmers do not obey.
But poor farmers see poppy cultivation as the single most reliable way of earning money to feed their families. They complain that the government wants to eradicate opium cultivation but is not ready to seriously compensate them.
According to the UN survey, each poppy-growing farm family earns an average of $3,900 a year -- 10 times higher than the return from a crop such as cotton.
A farmer from Afghanistan's northern Dashguzer district recently spoke to RFE/RL about the problem. "Before we were not growing [poppies]. This year, everybody said, 'Let's grow it,' and we did," he said. "Our cotton did not yield a good price. We are ordinary people, and that's why we became poppy growers this year. We were forced to it. What else can we do if our cotton does not make any money? We have to grow something that we can sell."
In its report, the UNODC urges Karzai's government to pursue four goals in 2005 -- the eradication of opium, the prosecution of major drug-trafficking cases, action against official corruption, and a reinforced counternarcotics structure.
Afghan presidential spokesman Javed Ludin spoke to reporters about the challenges at a press conference in Kabul on 16 November: "The president intends to introduce major changes into the state strategy on combating narcotics during his new term in power. The next government wants to effectively unite all the efforts against narcotics. Maybe a ministry for fighting drugs will be created. Experts are working on this."
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistan-based analyst with the "Far Eastern Economic Review." Rashid says the creation of an Afghan drug ministry would be an important step but that several things need to be done to tackle the problem.
"I think the first thing is, [Karzai] has to set the example by nominating a cabinet which will be drug-free, which will not have well-known militia leaders, warlords, who many people think are involved in the drugs trade. I think the second thing he has to do is to start taking action against prominent Afghans, against whom there is evidence by the police, by the Interior Ministry, that they are drug traffickers. And the third measure is to mobilize international support for more money and aid to combat the growing of poppies and to help farmers in growing alternative crops," Rashid said.
Arms are widely available in Afghanistan, and it is feared that drug traffickers may violently resist any antidrug operations, further damaging the country's fragile reconstruction and democratization process.
One reason the government has been so ineffective in fighting the drug trade is because of the widespread participation of militia groups and local governors. Experts say antidrug policies cannot succeed unless provincial governors and military commanders who are involved in the drugs trade are apprehended and brought to justice.
Rashid said Karzai's efforts will have a better chance at success if, first, the middlemen who buy the poppy crop from individual farmers are arrested. Then, he said, the farmers should be given the opportunity to raise alternative crops. "I think if there is international support, and the coalition forces are there, the Afghan National Army is there, I don't see these drug barons being able to create a crisis for the regime," he said. "I think the most sensitive issue will be dealing with the farmers. There's talk of the Americans wanting to spray fields and destroy the crop on the ground. I think the most important thing is, first, to stop trafficking and to catch some of these big guys who are involved in trafficking, and then deal with the farmers by first providing alternative crops."
The UNODC's Maria Costa said today that the "opium economy in Afghanistan has to be dismantled with democracy, the rule of law, and economic improvement. It will be a long and difficult process."
Experts say it will require the long-term commitment of the international community to Afghanistan's reconstruction, especially in the agriculture sector. Karzai may be able to capitalize on his recent election victory to intensify his government's efforts to enforce the law, which may in turn keep the international community focused on the problem.
"The Washington Post" reported on 15 November that the United States plans to shift more than $700 million from other programs into Afghan counternarcotic activities in 2005, compared with less than $125 million spent in 2004.
Naz Nazar is a coordinator at the office of RFE/RL�s Director of Broadcasting
FOR ABDUCTED GIRL, FEAR OF HONOR KILLING BY RELATIVES FOLLOWS A RAPE.By Antoine Blua
Each year several hundred children -- both boys and girls -- are kidnapped in Afghanistan. The children are often sold as brides into forced marriages or as slaves to be worked hard and, sometimes, sexually exploited. Ill treatment does not always end with the children's release from their abductors. RFE/RL looks at Rahima's story.
Rahima is a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped on her way home from school in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz.
After 18 days of detention, during which she was raped, Rahima was recently released by law-enforcement agencies.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Rahima said, "At around 1230 I was leaving school, going to my home. And the man came behind me, gagged me, and put me inside a car with red cardboard [on the windows]. They were brutal and they destroyed my life."
Rahima was the second girl from the same school to be kidnapped this year, while three girls were reportedly found dead in Kunduz.
In Rahima's case, Kunduz's security police commander Abdulmutaleb Baig says three people involved were arrested and the file turned over to a prosecutor.
"A man kidnapped the girl in Kunduz and left her in Pulaykhumri [city] at the place of a relative. We arrested him. He confessed that he kidnapped the girl and drove her to Pulaykhumri with the help of the security officials. We investigated in accordance with the law, and arrested two other people. There are now in jail," Baig said.
In an effort to crackdown on child kidnapping, President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in June imposing the death sentence on those found guilty of killing a kidnap victim. He also increased the jail term for those guilty of injuring an abducted child.
At the same time, the decree called upon the attorney-general in Kabul and related offices to investigate child-kidnapping cases speedily and forward them to the appropriate court.
Afghanistan saw its first prosecution for child kidnapping in June, when three men were tried in a Kabul court. The court sentenced two of the defendants to five years in jail and the third man to four years.
Today, Rahima lives in the home of a private Kunduz resident, Haji Edembirdi, who has been chosen by a Council of Elders to protect her. The council fears that if she returns home, some of her relatives might kill her to remove what they see as a stain on the family's honor.
Honor killings of women are a pre-Islamic practice in which a woman is murdered or punished corporally -- usually by male members of families -- for her actual or perceived immoral behavior.
Such immoral behavior may take many forms: marital infidelity, refusing to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, flirting with a man, or being raped.
But Rahima stresses that she is the victim, that she is the one who was forced to have sexual relations with a 50-year-old man.
"He destroyed my life. If I want a husband I would marry a young man. Why did he kidnap me? How is it possible to have a relationship with a man of the age of my father?" Rahima said.
Hundreds of honor killings are believed to take place every year, mainly in South Asia and the Middle East. In Pakistan alone, rights groups have documented 410 incidents killing for honor in the first nine months of 2004.
Rahima's guardian, Haji Edembirdi, says the test for Afghanistan now is whether the authorities will use the new decrees against child kidnapping to prosecute the powerful men behind the business.
"Some of those people who kidnap girls have contacts with government officials. They are friends or from the same tribe. Government officials cannot prevent such actions. They cannot stop them," Edembirdi said.
Edemberdi says residents are now afraid to send their girls to school.
"People, including myself, whose girls are going to school are concerned about [kidnappings]. And they are considering preventing their girls from going to school. If such a 'shame' happens to me, I would leave Kunduz and even Afghanistan."
(Qadir Habib, from RFE/RL's Afghan Service, contributed to this report. Antoine Blua is a RFE/RL correspondent. Qadir Habib, from RFE/RL's Afghanistan Service, contributed to this report.)
HOSTAGE CRISIS ENDS AMID CONFUSION.Three foreign UN workers held hostage in Afghanistan were released on 23 November after they were abducted in the capital Kabul on 28 October, international agencies reported. According to Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, the hostages -- Annetta Flanigan, Shqipe Hebibi, and Angelito Nayan -- were unharmed and all in good health, Reuters reported.
Jalali said no deal was made with the kidnappers after Sayyed Akbar Agha, the purported leader of the little-known Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) allegedly holding the hostages, had said that the hostages were released in exchange for 24 Taliban prisoners. "No prisoners were released, no money was paid, no demand was met of the hostage takers," Jalali said, according to Reuters. "And to my knowledge, no other parties paid money." Some Afghan authorities believe the group might simply be a criminal gang rather than organized insurgents.
Earlier on 17 November, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal had said that that he believes Army of the Muslims is not holding the three UN workers hostage, as it has claimed, Reuters reported. "You can tell by the deadlines and the demands, which keep being broken and relaxed," Mashal said, justifying the Afghan government's opinion. "We think they [hostages] are being held by some armed robbers who abducted them. Our reports suggest that the hostages are still in or around Kabul," Mashal added.
Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, told RFE/RL on 17 November that he did not think anyone associated with his movement is involved in the UN kidnappings. "Kidnapping or taking people hostage, I believe, is neither an action that could be effective against the enemy nor will there be a reasonable response to the demands," Hakimi said. "There is also another problem: It is said that women are among the hostages. I believe kidnapping women does not conform to Islamic Shari'a law."
Immediately after the hostage crisis began, Hakimi had said that he doubted that Army of the Muslims was behind the kidnappings because of that group's inability to carry out such operations in Kabul.
Sayyed Akbar Agha, on 17 November rejected speculation that his group does not have the UN hostages, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "We have kidnapped them and they are with us. Any such rumors and propaganda are baseless and untrue," Akbar Agha told AIP.
The group's next steps regarding the hostages at the time, according to Akbar Agha were: "The first possibility is to hold further talks to keep the hostages safe and alive. The second possibility is to extend the deadline. The third is to decide on beheading the hostages. The fourth option is to release all or one of the three hostages." Such a decision must be made by the group's council, which could meet once two of its members arrive from a remote region, Akbar Agha reported.
After the release of the hostages, Akbar Agha told AIP on 24 November that a prisoner release based on a purported agreement with unnamed officials "will be completed very soon." Akbar Agha added, "We hope that 24 of our prisoners will be released in accordance with a list provided by us." He further claimed, however, following the hostages' release that "talks are continuing," adding that "official [Afghan government] statements and declarations are occasionally different from the reality" (for more on the issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November 2004 and "The UN Afghan Kidnappers And Their Motives," rferl.org, 9 November 2004). (Amin Tarzi, Luke Allnutt, and Andy Heil)
AFGHANS PROBE DEATH OF KIDNAPPING SUSPECT.Afghan authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a suspect who was being held in connection with hostage crisis, AP reported on 21 November. An Afghan official said a government commission will seek to determine whether the suspect, named Kajkol, was tortured before he died in police custody several days ago. "Nobody knows if he died because of sickness or because of torture," said Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal. "The commission will try to find out the real reasons." Afghan officials initially suggested Kajkol died as a result of heart problems and the lingering affects of an old bullet wound. They also said he might have been injured while resisting arrest. But members of Kajkol's family said his body bore signs of abuse when it was returned to them, Mashal said. Afghan police arrested a number of suspects after the three UN workers were kidnapped in Kabul on 28 October. Kajkol and several others were arrested in Paghman, a valley west of Kabul. (Marc Ricks)
UN REPORTS MAJOR INCREASE IN AFGHAN OPIUM CULTIVATION...The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on 18 November that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 64 percent year-on-year in 2004, the UN Information Service reported. The information is contained in the UNDOC's "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004" (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2004.pdf). UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, announcing his agency's findings, said that "in Afghanistan, drugs are now a clear and present danger." According to Costa, with 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming in 2004 compared to 80,000 hectares in the previous year, "Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country's history, and the largest in the world." Costa said the narcotics problem in Afghanistan has to be "dismantled with democracy, the rule of law, and economic improvement" and because of "the strong links between drugs and terrorism," and he called on NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces "to engage in commensurate initiatives to support the Afghan government's counternarcotics drive."
For the most part, both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces have so far remained on the sidelines of the counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan (for more on the topic, see feature above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, 1 September, and 18 November 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
...AS U.S. ANNOUNCES COUNTERNARCOTICS INITIATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN.U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert Charles on 17 November announced a new counternarcotics initiative for Afghanistan, according to a U.S. State Department press release issued on 18 November (http://www.state.gov). The initiative, which Charles compared with the Plan Colombia effort that was initiated in 1999 to combat narcotics in that South American country, will be led mostly by the Afghan government, just as the Colombian government led that program. The Afghan government will also determine what means are used to fight rising opium production, according to the U.S. initiative, with the United States committing $780 for fiscal year 2005. It is unclear whether the U.S. initiative will involve the use of military force to help Afghan authorities combat the narcotics problem in that country. (Amin Tarzi)
SENIOR AFGHAN COUNTERNARCOTICS OFFICIAL MEETS ISAF COMMANDER.Lieutenant General Mohammad Zaher Aghbar, head of the counternarcotics department within the Afghan Defense Ministry, met on 18 November with ISAF commander French General Jean-Luis Py, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. According to the report, Py told Aghbar that while the ISAF mission is to restore security, counternarcotics is included in the force's programs and a special unit for the purpose has been established at ISAF command. No further detail was provided on the nature or scope of the ISAF's counternarcotics efforts. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN CABINET CONCERNED ABOUT SPRAYING POPPY FIELDS.Concerns were raised on 29 November by the Health and Agriculture ministries about drug eradication efforts that include the aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides, according to state-run Radio Afghanistan that day. The report was presented to the cabinet of the Afghan Transitional Administration by Public Health Minister Sohaila Sediq on 29 November. Surveys taken in the Khogiani and Shinwar districts of eastern Nangarhar Province, where fields have been sprayed, reportedly show that the herbicides have had bad affects on health and the environment (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November 2004). Contaminated water from the spraying has allegedly caused an increase in asthma and diarrhea among people in the region, according to the report. Voluntary poppy eradication has proven difficult in Afghanistan, where farmers have grown to rely on the lucrative crop in a system controlled by powerful drug and warlords. (Kimberly McCloud)
NGO ADVISES QUICK ACTION TO PREPARE AFGHANISTAN FOR LOCAL AND NATIONAL ELECTIONS...The independent, nonprofit International Crisis Group (ICG) on 23 November published an assessment of Afghanistan's preparedness for national, provincial, and district elections slated for April. The report, titled "Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections," suggests that the coming process "will be considerably more complicated" than the presidential process that culminated in voting on 9 October and stresses that "preparations are going too slowly," according to the group's executive summary and recommendations. President-elect Hamid Karzai's "government and the international community need to put in more resources and make more progress in the next few months on improving security, cutting down the power of the warlords, and attacking the spreading influence of the drug trade" in order to avoid a postponement or other detrimental developments, the ICG asserts. A further delay in holding these elections could "seriously tarnish" the Karzai administration, it adds. The report also stresses that "given the deep ethnic polarization, it is essential that the multiethnic, multiregional population has pluralistic and participatory avenues to express its demands and articulate its grievances through parliamentary elections."
Recommendations in the 23 November ICG report include moves to better inform the public, "strengthen the role of political parties," push for further disarmament and reintegration of militias, increase safeguards and the transparency of the registration and complaints processes, and distance the international coalition from militia commanders with stakes in the drug trade while fostering a stronger counternarcotics effort, according to an ICG executive summary on the Internet. The ICG specifically urges Karzai's government to "seek necessary funding" for the elections, "define powers and responsibilities of provincial and district councils," embark on a "comprehensive public information campaign," work to bolster the role of political parties by ushering in a party-list system, and preparing the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) to "vet...candidates for linkages to drugs, Al-Qaeda, Taliban violence, or involvement in human rights abuses." Other priorities include "reviewing appointments to provincial and district security posts," planning for the operation of the national and local councils (including construction of a building for the National Assembly), and handing control over registration to a new interim electoral commission that should be appointed through a transparent process as soon as possible.
In its report the ICG further urges the JEMB to take quick action to prepare the ground for the national parliamentary and local council elections. The group suggests that the JEMB announce a specific date for the local and national elections, reopen voter registration "particularly in provinces where there was low voter registration in the presidential election or low female voter registration," appoint an independent panel to field complaints before and after the balloting, and make extensive arrangements to make voting easier and more accessible to the electorate.
The ICG also advises in its 23 November report that the United Nations "prioritize preparations" for the elections, stressing administrative measures along with demographic assistance and informational campaigns. It encourages donors and multilateral organizations to "call for elections to be held in April 2005 and provide all necessary financial and logistical support to keep them on schedule," stressing the need for a proper census and new-voter registration, to assure funding for international election observers, and parliamentary visits for "future Afghan legislators."
The report encourages the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to "secure troop commitments" to expand that security mission to the western part of the country, complete deployment ahead of the balloting, and commit to timetables for further phases for the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. It advises international forces to "support the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process" and back the previously agreed decommissioning of some Afghan military forces. The ICG also suggests that NATO and coalition forces launch a thorough assessment of unsanctioned militias with an eye to demilitarization and "distance the coalition from militia commanders who have stakes in the drugs trade but are currently cooperating in anti-Taliban operations" and crack down on narcotics cultivation and trade (see the International Crisis Group's full report at: http://www.icg.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3116). (Andrew Heil)
AFGHAN PUBLICATIONS DISCUSS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.Afghan newspapers and magazines are debating details regarding the holding of national parliamentary elections, scheduled for mid-May. While some argue that "thorough preparations" must be taken, as the daily "Anis" newspaper did on 28 November, others state that the elections should be postponed. The Afghan monthly journal "Rozgaran" set out a list of arguments for delaying the election in its 24 November edition, based on its belief that warlords will undermine the parliament structure and processes to ensure that they continue ruling the provinces. "Rozgaran" focuses on disarmament as a necessary precondition for the parliamentary elections: "If general disarmament is not implemented and guns are not collected, we will not witness [a] democratic election, particularly in regions that are under the influence of the warlords." "Anis" also touched on this issue in a more subtle way when it noted, "if the election is influenced by the carrot and stick tactics and if the real representatives of the people are not allowed in parliament, then such a parliament will automatically create many problems." (Kimberly McCloud)
UZBEK WARLORD GIVES UP 45 TANKS, AMMUNITION CACHE...Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum gave up 45 tanks and a large ammunition cache as part of Afghanistan's disarmament drive, AP reported on 22 November. Representatives of Dostum, who controls much of the territory north of Kabul, handed over the tanks during a ceremony in the warlord's northern stronghold of Sheberghan on 21 November. Also, 330 soldiers from a militia loyal to Dostum handed over their weapons, said Rick Grant, a spokesman for the U.N.-sponsored disarmament program. Dostum gave up 40 ammunition depots in 10 locations in all. "The amount of ammunition is very, very substantial and may be in the hundreds of tons," Grant said.
Afghanistan's estimated 60,000 irregular fighters were supposed to give up their arms according to international agreements signed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. But the disarmament process has failed to make steady progress, with many fighters loyal to regional warlords still involved in local disputes. Clashes among various warlord militias have left dozens dead this year. But some 23,000 Afghan fighters have nonetheless handed over their weapons in order to join programs that offer training for new careers in farming or demining. (Marc Ricks)
...WHO MEETS U.S. ENVOY...Zalmay Khalilzad met with General Dostum in the city of Sheberghan on 23 November, according to local television channel Jawzjan Aina. The report claimed that Khalilzad thanked Dostum for his "sincere efforts" in helping realize the UN-backed DDR program, which he called an important step toward sustainable peace in the country. An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman was quoted recently by the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Dari service as saying that "24,000 light weapons and 90 percent of heavy artillery" has been collected, with the demilitarization to be completed by June 2005. (Andrew Heil)
...AND CALLS FOR REWARDS FOR DISARMAMENT.General Dostum requested that Afghan fighters who agree to disarm and demobilize be "rewarded" for their cooperative efforts and offered service in the national army, according to Sheberghan Jowzjan Aina Television on 29 November. Dostum called at a meeting with Afghan Defense Ministry officials and representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Clearance in Afghanistan (UNAMAC) on 29 November for unspecified rewards to be given to such fighters. "As we were together with our international friends in tough situations and in fighting international terrorism, we offer our honest assistance in reconstruction and in maintaining lasting stability in the country," Dostum said. "We want those officers and soldiers, who underwent the DDR process, to be appreciated in line with their professionalism and competency." The centralization of Afghanistan's military power has been difficult in the fractionalized country, and the inability of national and international agencies to convince warlords to disband their militias contributes to the country's security problems. (Kimberly McCloud)
AFGHAN DELEGATION APPEALS FOR $1 BILLION TO RID COUNTRY OF MINES, HELP VICTIMS.The central Afghan government appealed on 28 November for some $1 billion in international funding toward clearing that country of land mines and assisting the some 2 million Afghan victims of land mines, AFP reported. The appeal came at the start of a weeklong international summit on land mines in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. "The task of clearing mines and helping victims is enormous," Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Haider Reza said, according to AFP. "We need international community support." Another Afghan official, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasem Hashemzai, said: "We need as much as $1 billion to have the whole business of land mines done.... Nearly the whole country is covered by mines, from the Soviet war to the Taliban times." (Andrew Heil)
SUSPECTED INSURGENTS KILLED IN U.S.-LED ATTACK IN AFGHANISTAN.U.S.-led forces killed four suspected neo-Taliban insurgents and captured several others during an assault in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, AP reported 21 November. U.S. military officials said several Arab fighters were among those killed or captured on 20 November. A local official said only Afghans survived the attack. A U.S. military statement said the attack targeted militant compounds with "clear connections to Al-Qaeda." The assault came after a tip from local residents, the statement said. The statement also said the raid uncovered a cache of weapons, explosives, and cash. Afghan troops were also involved in the attack, said Faizan ul-Haq, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Haq said it was impossible to tell the identities of the insurgents killed in the raid because their bodies were burned beyond recognition. "We are not sure if they burned themselves before the operation started or if the Americans somehow burned them," ul-Haq said. (Marc Ricks)
U.S. FORCES SKIRMISH WITH GUERRILLAS NEAR JALALABAD.Suspected neo-Taliban fighters attacked a U.S. patrol near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in a clash that killed one insurgent and injured a U.S. solider, AP reported on 22 November. The insurgents bombed a U.S. patrol moving near Jalalabad, and a gun battle broke out after the explosion. Guerrillas opened fire on the patrol after the homemade bomb went off, a U.S. military statement said. "The patrol returned fire, killing one insurgent and capturing three more," the statement said. The attack followed weekend raids in the area by U.S. forces, who sacked suspected Al-Qaeda safe houses. Four suspected insurgents were killed in that fighting. Meanwhile, U.S. forces said another bomb exploded near a patrol in neighboring Paktiya Province. A vehicle was damaged but no one was injured in the blast. (Marc Ricks)
COALITION SAYS IT REGRETS DETENTION OF WOMAN IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN.A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition on 29 November apologized for the detention of a woman whose husband is believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda, adding that she was freed after being asked a few questions by female coalition forces, Kabul-based Hindukosh News Agency reported the same day. The woman was detained along with three men, and the U.S. spokesman said the United States regretted all four detentions. The incident, in Nangarhar Province, sparked reports of public protests by Afghans offended by the detention of a woman by American forces. One unconfirmed report by AIP on 28 November reported that a young girl was killed when she was caught in the crossfire between an angry mob and security guards protecting a nearby construction company. (Andrew Heil)
FOUR KILLED IN SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN ATTACK ON NGO IN AFGHANISTAN.Three members of the support staff and a local soldier were killed early in the morning on 28 November when attackers raided the Farah Province offices of the nongovernmental development agency Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA), the Herat News Center reported the same day. The agency quoted Farah security chief Mohammad Rasul as saying "a large number of Taliban" attacked the office around 4 a.m. local time, "killing the agency's two security guards and a cook" as well as a soldier from a nearby security post. The report was confirmed by a VARA representative in Kandahar. (Andrew Heil)
PAKISTAN SAYS IT WILL PULL HUNDREDS OF TROOPS FROM TENSE BORDER AREA WITH AFGHANISTAN.Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said on 27 November that his country will withdraw hundreds of soldiers from a tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, where ethnic and tribal tensions run high, AP and AFP reported. The Pakistani troops have reportedly been engaged in the continuing hunt for Al-Qaeda elements. Military checkpoints will be handed over to police, Sultan said, but Pakistani soldiers will remain in other parts of the region. Some 200 soldiers and 300 suspected militants have been killed in an eight-month effort to drive suspected Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban elements out of the region, the news agencies reported. (Andrew Heil)
FUGITIVE FORMER AFGHAN LEADER AGAIN CALLS FOR INSURGENT ATTACKS.In a newly released recording, renegade warlord and former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar stepped up calls for Afghans to engage in jihad, or holy war, against the United States, AFP reported on 21 November. Hekmatyar, speaking in a 22-minute video filled with bloody images of violence against Muslims in places like Palestine and Iraq, compared the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Crusades. "War in Afghanistan and Iraq is the second Crusade war, but the only difference is that in the first crusade Italy was leading the war and this time it is America," Hekmatyar says in the video. Hekmatyar, the leader of the militant group Hizb-e Islami, urged Afghans to employ suicide attacks, which so far have been rare in Afghanistan. "If [Afghans] cannot fight in an organized front, they can risk their lives and carry out suicide guerrilla attacks, which have given great defeats to the enemy," Hekmatyar said. "We have lots of young fighters who are ready to sacrifice their lives and wealth to save the religion." (Marc Ricks)
HUNDREDS TURN OUT TO SUPPORT FORMER WESTERN AFGHAN GOVERNOR ISMAIL KHAN.An estimated 500 supporters demonstrated on 28 November to show their support for former provincial Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who was ousted by Afghan Hamid Karzai in mid-September, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). It was unclear from the report what sparked the demonstration, but protesters demanded a position for Ismail Khan in the cabinet that Karzai is expected to form after being sworn in as the country's president in early December. Ismail Khan is a warlord who wields tremendous influence in western Afghanistan and whose administration consistently refused to hand over revenues earned particularly from lucrative cross-border trade with Iran. (Andrew Heil)
VIGILANTE TERRORIST HUNTERS LAUNCH APPEAL.Three U.S. citizens facing jail terms up to 10 years for waging a "private war on terror" have appealed their conviction in an Afghan court in Kabul, AFP reported on 22 November. The three Americans appeared at a closed-door hearing that day to air their appeal. Jonathan "Jack" Idema, the ringleader of the group, berated reporters as he entered the court, stating that the media "lies." An Afghan court convicted the three on 15 September of running a private prison in Kabul and torturing at least eight Afghans in their self-declared counterterror mission. The court sentenced Idema and Bennett to 10-year jail terms (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004). Caraballo, who was apparently documenting the operation, was sentenced to eight years. Arrested in July, the three men spent the first part of their sentences in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi jail, where many of the Taliban prisoners whom Idema and the others claimed to be hunting are held. (Marc Ricks)
AFGHAN COMMISSION MEETS OVER CABLE PROGRAMMING.The commission formed to examine the appropriateness of cable-television broadcasts held a meeting on 16 November at the Information and Culture Ministry, Radio Afghanistan reported. The meeting was chaired by Mawlawi Mostafa Barakzai, a representative of the Afghan Supreme Court, which on 10 November ordered a ban on cable-television broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report,"18 November 2004). Hamed Elmi, representing the government on the commission, said discussion revolved around Chapter 2, Article 4 of the press law, which stipulates that "no real or incorporeal person including the government and government officials can interdict, prohibit, censor, or limit the activities of mass media or interfere in the affairs of mass media through other means." Elmi said that "since a complete ban on this phenomenon [cable television] is against the constitution and the press law, therefore, a strategy should be adopted that will utilize the positive aspects of cable broadcasts that meet both the requirements of freedom as well as Islamic teachings and national culture." Article 8 of the country's press law states that "matters contrary to principles of Islam and offensive to other religions and sects" cannot be allowed in the mass media. The Supreme Court justified its ban on religious grounds (for more on the Afghan press law, see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 2 July 2004). (Amin Tarzi)
TRANSFER OF POWER IN AFGHANISTAN SET FOR EARLY DECEMBER.The Afghan Transitional Administration announced in a statement issued on 18 November that authority will be transferred to President-elect Hamid Karzai and his government on 7 December, Radio Afghanistan reported. After that day, Afghanistan will be known by its constitutional name, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY:18 November 1964 -- Discovery of first Greek city to be found in Afghanistan announced by French archaeological team.
20 November 1980 -- The UN General Assembly votes by 111 to 22 with 12 abstentions for a resolution that calls for the "unconditional" pullout of "foreign troops" from Afghanistan.
21 November 2001 -- Pakistan orders the closing of Taliban consulates.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).