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Afghan Report: December 8, 2004

8 December 2004, Volume 3, Number 43
By Amin Tarzi

On 7 December, Hamid Karzai was sworn as the first popularly elected president in Afghanistan's history in the presence of an unprecedented number of foreign dignitaries.

Such a demonstration of support for Karzai by his foreign allies might well be the last grand act of the nearly three-year honeymoon that the Afghan leader has enjoyed with his international backers. That is likely to be the case if Karzai is unable to deliver on his election promises -- which include effecting an end to "warlordism," serious counternarcotics efforts, enacting accountability in government, fighting poverty, and more.

Since the inception of the current transitional administrative system that was established for Afghanistan in December 2001, Karzai has rightfully argued that his hands have been tied by a set of arrangements in which he was not even a participant. (Karzai was leading an effort against Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan when the deal on a new regime was being worked out in Bonn, Germany).

In light of his recent landslide victory in the 9 October presidential election -- granting him an accompanying popular mandate -- and an Afghan Constitution that affords the president far-reaching powers, Karzai will have few credible alibis if the situation in his country does not improve. Worse still if conditions deteriorate further due to decisions taken by him. (For more on power of the president in the constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 November 2003).

Without a doubt, Karzai's first test and the foundation upon which his five-year term as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be built is his choice of cabinet ministers. In this task, Karzai faces a challenge and a constitutional dilemma -- with the latter giving him greater power but also placing greater responsibility squarely on his shoulders.

The New Afghan Cabinet

Throughout his presidential campaign, Karzai maintained that he would not form a coalition government if he were successful in the election. And his comfortable margin of victory -- 55 percent versus 16 percent for his nearest rival, former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni -- suggests that he need not seek coalition partners.

While rejecting the idea of a coalition government, Karzai did leave the door open during the campaign for his opponents to join his cabinet -- with the understanding that they should share similar views as Karzai.

Speculation about the new composition of the Afghan cabinet has circulated for some time, with much of the focus on whether Karzai might include warlords or those who -- if a court existed in which crimes in Afghanistan against humanity might be tried -- might have been indicted as war criminals (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004).

Karzai's dilemma is that while his margin of victory was wide, the vote was split along ethnic lines. Moreover, some people with questionable pasts secured large numbers of votes from their respective co-ethnics. For Karzai to rule effectively, he must somehow deal with such these elements -- however unsavory that might seem. And in the absence of a strong military force that is loyal to the central authorities in Kabul and the Afghan Constitution, appeasement in the form of cabinet posts remains Karzai's only real choice at the moment.

Constitutional Ambiguity

Beyond the choice of a cabinet, which is expected to be announced soon, there remains a constitutional vagueness surrounding the new government.

Article 71 of Afghanistan's new constitution, adopted in January, stipulates that members of the cabinet "are appointed by the President and shall be introduced for approval to the National Assembly." An amended Article 160 states that "every effort shall be made to hold the first presidential election and the parliamentary election at the same time." However, since that situation did not occur -- as the drafters of the constitution must have speculated -- they wrote into the constitution that "until the establishment of the National Assembly, the powers of the National Assembly...shall be held by the Government."

This essentially means that Karzai and his two vice presidents, as the only members of the "government" for the time being, enjoy the power to appoint a cabinet -- and thus form a government -- without scrutiny by the National Assembly.

While this loophole in the constitution affords Karzai absolute authority to appoint the government of his choice, the absence of any National Assembly that might act as a check on that power places the burden of possible failure squarely on his shoulders.

Article 161 of the constitution seeks to afford the National Assembly its powers retroactively by stipulating that the legislative body "shall exercise its powers immediately after its establishment."

If Afghanistan is to have a reasonably representative National Assembly, some of the personnel choices made by Karzai might come under criticism and even face eventual dismissal. While a distant and remote possibility, the existence of such a clause in the constitution (if the document is respected to the letter) could lead to a cabinet that is analogous to the wishes of the Afghan people.

In some cases, the popular choice might well be a warlord or "regional leader" -- to use the more politically correct version of the term -- who has support among his people.

With the ethnic imbalance in the presidential vote and the possibility of similarly divided results in the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2005, President Karzai has a golden opportunity of several months in which to select a cabinet that -- for reasons of political expediency might include a warlord or two. But on the whole, the makeup of the government should reflect and adhere to the president's vision for his country and possess the merits to carry out their respective tasks.

If that delicate balance is not achieved, Karzai might lose more than simply his domestic backing. He could alienate many of those who were on his guest list for the 7 December inauguration ceremony.

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

Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan�s first directly elected president on 7 December at an inauguration ceremony in Kabul�s presidential palace. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were among the scores of foreign dignitaries in attendance as Karzai took an oath of allegiance to both Islam and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Karzai's inauguration ceremony began with a blessing from the Koran by the blind Afghan religious scholar Qari Barakatullah Salim, Despite threats by Taliban fighters to disrupt the event, the ceremony passed off peacefully within Kabul's heavily fortified presidential palace.

Placing his hand on the Quran, Karzai repeated the oath of office as read by Afghan Supreme Court head Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. In accordance with the Afghan Constitution, Karzai swore to obey and protect the religious principles of Islam as well as to respect and implement the constitution and other laws of Afghanistan.

"I will safeguard the rights and interests of the Afghan people," Karzai said. "And by the help of Almighty God -- and the support of the nation -- I will continue my efforts for the welfare and the development of the country. Almighty God, help me."

In his inauguration speech, Karzai said his three years in office as Afghanistan's transitional leader had both joy and gloom. He told stories of Afghans who overcame great difficulties to vote in the October presidential election. He said the resilience of Afghans who have endured so much suffering during the last three decades -- as well as their willingness to work for progress -- was reflected in the massive voter turnout.

Karzai said he is compelled to respect the aspirations and goals of those Afghans who are determined to rebuild the country and who long for a nation that, in his words, "stands on its own two feet."

Karzai also outlined what he said are serious challenges ahead for Afghanistan. One key priority is to continue strengthening Afghanistan's security sector by disarming and demobilizing militia factions while building up the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

He stressed the need to eradicate of opium-poppy cultivation, illegal drug production, and drug smuggling out of Afghanistan -- which is the world's main supplier of heroin.

He said establishing the rule of law throughout the country is a priority along with administrative reforms aimed at bringing an end to corruption and the abuse of public funds.

Karzai said that the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced. But he said the fight against terrorism is not yet over -- and that he is increasingly concerned about the relationship between terrorists and illegal narcotics operations. Karzai called for regional and international cooperation in order to move forward against the threat.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shortly before the inauguration ceremony, Karzai credited the United States with bringing peace and democracy to Afghanistan.

"We are very, very grateful, to put it in simple words, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day, a day of peace, a day of democracy, a day of the empowerment of the Afghan people," Karzai said.

Cheney, who was among the scores of foreign dignitaries attending the ceremony, said the United States has been proud to work with Afghans in order to free them from the rule of the Taliban regime.

"Now the tyranny is gone," Cheney said. "The terrorist enemy is scattered and the people of Afghanistan are free. The United States and our coalition partners were proud to join with brave Afghan citizens in liberating this nation, and we will continue to stand with Afghans in building a future of freedom and stability and peace."

Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based researcher on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, said he agrees with Karzai's statements that the elections were a success because of the strong turnout by Afghan voters.

"The elections, along the balance, should be viewed as something that was surprisingly successful," Parekh said. "There was very little violence, very little civic disturbance, and the results [were] broadly accepted by the population -- and ultimately by the opposition candidates. It has made many people more optimistic about the preparedness of the country for parliamentary elections [scheduled for April 2005]."

Parekh said that progress on the challenges Karzai outlined in his inauguration speech will be greatly influenced by the choices he makes for his cabinet -- an issue that is still being negotiated in Kabul (see feature above).

"Talks on the formation of a cabinet are likely to go on -- possibly until mid-December. And it is not a path that should be taken lightly because there is an imperative for Karzai to show that he really does represent the entire country," Parekh said. "If he wants actions taken by his cabinet to have broad support across the country -- and to limit the amount of resistance that he is going to face -- he will need to have a cabinet that has credible representatives from other [non-Pashtun] ethnic groups who have real power and are not just there for show."

Critically, Parekh said Karzai also needs to remove provincial and cabinet-level officials that are thought to be involved in illegal drug smuggling.

"There are a lot of officials in the country -- at a provincial level and some members of the [outgoing Transitional Administration] cabinet -- who are widely believed to be involved in narcotics trafficking," Parekh said. "Even if they have supported Karzai, as some of them have during the presidential election campaign, it is not going to be a basis for a credible attempt to reduce narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan if such officials are retained in the next government. It will simply compromise any effort to get serious about this problem. And it will make any attempts that they do support seen as partisan or likely to target their internal rivals or opponents."

Parekh also said that Karzai can enforce existing laws on the upcoming parliamentary elections in order to enhance the demobilization and disarmament of warlord militias. That's because Afghanistan's new election laws forbid political parties from maintaining any militia forces. (Ron Synovitz)

Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 6 December that the militants' "attacks will continue during the day of the inauguration of the U.S.-made government," AFP reported on 6 December. Hakimi said, referring to the inauguration of Karzai as president on 7 December, that the event "will not stop us from continuing jihad against the Americans." Hakimi did not specifically state that the neo-Taliban are planning special attacks on Karzai's inauguration. However, Mullah Dadullah, a member of the neo-Taliban leadership council, said that his organization has issued orders to its members to "disrupt the ceremony" if the chance presents itself, Reuters reported on 6 December. (Amin Tarzi)

In a faxed statement dated 29 November, Hamed Agha, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, rejected reports that some members of the movement are holding discussions with the Afghan government in Kabul, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 30 November. In his statement, Hamed Agha said that "neither any representative of the Taliban Islamic Movement has talked to [President-elect Hamid] Karzai's administration nor are there any national and Islamic justifications for" such talks. The statement added that the United States, which backs Karzai, "cannot tolerate the Taliban's firm, independent, and Islamic views." Karzai administration spokesman Jawed Ludin recently also denied reports of talks between the Afghan government and the neo-Taliban, however he added that those members of the militia who stop fighting and have not committed atrocities can live in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 November 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Hamed Agha also denied that there are any splinter groups within the neo-Taliban organization. Hamed Agha specifically singled out Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims), the group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping and holding hostage three UN election workers for four weeks, as not being part of the neo-Taliban. In his statement, Hamid Agha said that Sayyed Akbar Agha, the purported leader of the Army of the Muslims, has no "place in the Taliban decision-making [circle] or in the leadership." He said that Sayyed Akbar Agha's actions are independent of neo-Taliban policies and "should not be interpreted as a rivalry between him and the Taliban Islamic Movement" (for more on the hostage crisis, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on 2 December called on the neo-Taliban militias to end their struggle against the central government in Kabul, international news agencies reported. "The continuation of armed resistance against the elected government [in Afghanistan] is not only against the will of the Afghan people, but is also against Islam, which commands obedience to the legitimate authority," Khalilzad said, according to Reuters on 2 December. The U.S. envoy promised that those members of the neo-Taliban who pledge allegiance to the central government "will not be punished." Since April, Khalilzad has favored amnesty for all members of the former Taliban regime, with the exception of 100-150 officials who allied themselves with terrorists and committed crimes against humanity (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April, 25 October, and 8 November 2004). However, Lieutenant General Eric Olson, the operational commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on 30 November that only around six neo-Taliban fighters have capitulated, AP reported 2 December. (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban on 2 December, rejected Khalilzad's amnesty offer, Reuters reported. "The door of reconciliation and peace is not open to us," Hakimi said, adding that Khalilzad's comments were only "a deception." According to Hakimi, the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved through peaceful means. (Amin Tarzi)

Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, also claming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said on 29 November that Army of the Muslims has been disbanded "due to serious differences," AIP reported on 30 November. According to Hakimi, a number of the group's members -- including Saber Mo'min, one of the individuals who purports Army of the Muslims -- have joined the neo-Taliban movement. The main source of dispute between members of the Army of the Muslims and the group's leader, Sayyed Akbar Agha, according to Hakimi, was the fact that the group failed to secure the release of Taliban prisoners during the hostage crisis and "set the hostages free only in return for dollars." Afghan authorities have maintained that the hostages were released without any deals involving cash or exchange of prisoners.

Sabir Mo'min, one of the purported spokesmen for the Army of the Muslims, branded the group's leader, Sayyed Akbar Agha, a "criminal," the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 30 November. Mo'min told "The News" that Akbar Agha took $1.5 million in order to release the hostages. "We are looking for [Akbar] Agha. He has gone into hiding. We would punish him once he is caught," Mo'min said from an undisclosed location. Akbar Agha refuted Mo'min's allegations and told "The News" that neither he nor his group received any ransom. "If we wanted money we could have cut a ransom deal much earlier when $4 million was offered to us," he said. He added that former mujahedin commander Mullah Malang "assured us that 24 out of the 26 Taliban prisoners would be freed." He said they freed the UN hostages based on this assurance. Afghan authorities have maintained that the hostages were released unconditionally

Mawlawi Mohammad Ishaq Manzur, claiming to speak on behalf of the Army of the Muslims, said on 1 December that his group has split from the neo-Taliban, Dubai-based Geo TV reported. According to Manzur, the differences between his group and the mainstream neo-Taliban focus on religion. Manzur identified Sayyed Akbar Agha as the amir (commander) of the Army of the Muslims.

Saber Mo'min mentioned in August that a group called the Muslim Army of the Taliban Society under the leadership of Akbar Agha had broken ranks with the neo-Taliban, and the neo-Taliban have since not recognized the new group as part of their movement (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 August 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Sergei Ivanov during a visit to India on 1 December said that dividing the neo-Taliban into "good" and "bad" factions is unacceptable to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia and India are "concerned about the attempts to Pashtunize Afghanistan," Ivanov said, referring to the Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan to which most members of the neo-Taliban belong. The policy of reconciliation with the neo-Taliban is tantamount to "starting a new war," Ivanov warned. "The so-called immoderate members of the Taliban are alive and kicking as well as the moderate ones...[who] walk the streets and make claims to be incorporated in the new Afghan government," the Russian Defense Minister added.

Reports about efforts to include some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan's future administration in unspecified capacities have circulated since October 2003, when the United States reportedly released former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil who, according to a 17 October report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, intends to form a new political party (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September, 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003; and 4 March and 10 June 2004). New Delhi and Moscow were staunch opponents of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

The General Council of Afghanistan's Ulema (religious scholars) condemned in a statement issued on 5 December the remarks made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov during a visit to India on 1 December, Afghanistan Television reported.

In its statement, the council said the "irresponsible" remarks made by Ivanov "indicate his desire for the return of the past chaotic situation in Afghanistan," which was mainly due to "intervention and aggression" by the Soviet Union. The council deemed the remarks made by Ivanov "direct interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs." The statement called on Moscow to clarify whether Ivanov's remarks reflected the official policy of the Russian Federation and asked India to react to its guests' remarks so as "to prevent harming" friendly relations between Kabul and New Delhi.

A number of publications in Afghanistan have also reacted strongly to Ivanov's comments.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and fought a bloody war against Afghan mujahedin until 1989. (Amin Tarzi)

Jawed Ludin on 6 December said that Kabul hopes that Moscow will clarify its official position regarding comments made by Sergei Ivanov, Radio Afghanistan reported. Ivanov's remarks could hurt relations between Afghanistan and the Russian Federation, Ludin warned. Ivanov's remarks will not change the makeup of Afghanistan's cabinet, Ludin said (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai has ordered that a two-day summit on illegal drugs in Afghanistan begin work on 9 December, AFP reported on 4 December. Karzai has called on Afghanistan's senior figures, including religious elders and political representatives, to gather in Kabul in order to address the country's opium poppy problem, which the Afghan leader has put at the top of his agenda as president.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime indicated in a November report that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 64 percent in 2004 compared to 2003 (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, 18 November and 3 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

The United Kingdom is planning to move around 5,000 troops to Afghanistan's southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces to combat that country's growing opium poppy production, the London daily "The Independent" reported on 5 December. According to the plan, which is to be carried out in 2006, British troops would replace the existing U.S. troops in the region though the United States would continue to provide air support. An unidentified British army source told the paper that "eradication will be done by Afghans...[but] a British rapid-reaction force would be needed if things go wrong -- if eradication teams are attacked, for example." The source acknowledged that deployment of more British troops would not be an easy task, "but drugs are such a big problem that dramatic action has to be taken," he added. The United Kingdom is the lead country in the effort to combat Afghanistan's rapidly increasing narcotics problem. (Amin Tarzi)

Jawed Ludin told a news conference in Kabul on 30 November that "Afghanistan will not allow any country to carry out aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicide," the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Ludin said that Kabul "disagreed with the spraying" of poppy fields in the Khogiani and Shinwar districts of the eastern Nangarhar Province, without naming the country that has allegedly carried out the spraying.

In early November, eyewitnesses reportedly saw U.S. aircraft spraying defoliants on poppy fields in Nangarhar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 November 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad on 2 December rejected reports that the United States has sprayed opium-poppy fields in Afghanistan with chemicals, Reuters reported. The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, while stating that he was not certain who had sprayed the fields, added that he can say "categorically at this point that the United States has not done it."

Khalilzad speculated that perhaps "some drug-associated people may have" carried out the spraying to create distrust between "Afghanistan and some of its allies." (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan police arrested a suspect on 6 December for a shooting incident in Farah Province in which one police officer was killed and two others were injured, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The suspect was identified by the police as being a member of Al-Qaeda, without giving any further details about him. Others involved in the attack escaped. It has become rare for Afghan authorities to blame incidents of violence on Al-Qaeda, a term which is generally used to designate a non-Afghan militant or terrorist. (Amin Tarzi)

Three civilian and three military U.S. personnel died when their plane crashed in Bamiyan Province on 28 November, international news agencies reported on 1 December. "The aircraft was located late [on 30 November] -- it was up in the mountains in Bamiyan," a U.S. military spokesman told AFP. The spokesman said all six passengers were killed in the crash, Reuters reported. The cause of the crash is under investigation, but hostile fire has been ruled out. (Amin Tarzi)

The Dutch national prosecutor's office on 30 November said that a high-ranking Afghan communist intelligence official has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in car crimes, international news agencies reported. The man, identified only as Hesamudin H., was arrested on 27 November in Boskoop, AP reported on 30 November.

Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor's office, said that the Afghan man is suspected of overseeing the torture of prisoners while he headed Afghanistan's communist-era intelligence agency in the 1980s. The suspect has been living in the Netherlands since 1992.

Recently, a Dutch court overturned a decision by the government to reject an asylum request from former Afghan Communist Vice President Abdul Rahim Hatef on charges that he carried out political assassinations and torture (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 October 2004).

In November 2002, when Afghanistan officially joined Interpol, then Afghan security chief Basir Salangi said that he hoped that Afghanistan will pursue "thousands" of criminals among the Afghan diaspora, saying: "People who have committed crimes in Afghanistan and gone to countries such as Britain, France, and the Netherlands will no longer be safe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 2002). The Netherlands is a favorite destination for former high-ranking Afghan communists who ruled the country from 1978-92. (Amin Tarzi)

2 December 1921--Britain recognizes Afghanistan as independent in internal and external relations.

3 December 1978--Afghanistan and the Soviet Union sign a 20-year treaty of friendship and cooperation.

5 December 2001--An Afghan delegation meeting in Bonn, Germany, agree to an interim government to replace the Taliban regime.

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