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Afghan Report: December 23, 2004

23 December 2004, Volume 3, Number 45
By Amin Tarzi

President Hamid Karzai told reporters in Kabul on 19 December that the announcement of his cabinet has been delayed because he wants to select ministers who -- in line with the Afghan Constitution -- do not hold dual citizenship and "are highly educated," Radio Afghanistan reported.

Karzai, who was inaugurated on 7 December, said he is consulting with legal experts on how best to deal with constitutional requirements stipulating that ministers should possess higher educations and may not hold non-Afghan citizenship. "I am working carefully to form a clean and efficient cabinet; therefore, I do not think it is important whether the cabinet is announced today or tomorrow," Karzai said. "A reliable and trustworthy cabinet and a cabinet based on the will of the people is what we seek." Karzai's cabinet selections are generally regarded by many observers as his first major test since winning the 9 October presidential election (for more on the issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004).

A day later on 20 December, Karzai issued a decree appointing Abdul Salam Azimi as his adviser for legal and legislative affairs, Radio Afghanistan reported. It is unclear whether Azimi might be directly involved in sorting out legal issues surrounding possible cabinet members. Azimi is a former member the Constitutional Drafting Committee who also served as chancellor of Kabul University.

In line with Karzai's comments on 19 December, Afghan government spokesman Jawed Ludin told reporters on 21 December the Afghan president will select members of his cabinet in line with the stipulations of the Afghan Constitution, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported.

Ludin specifically mentioned the first and second paragraphs of Article 72 of the constitution, which require cabinet ministers to "have only the citizenship of Afghanistan" and suggest they "should have higher education, work experience, and a good reputation." Karzai is still working on the composition of his cabinet, Ludin added.

However, Ludin hinted that some cabinet appointees might have dual citizenship, and the National Assembly would have the power to either accept or reject their nomination, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 21 December.

The constitution states that "should a nominee for a ministerial post also hold the citizenship of another country," the National Assembly "shall have the right to confirm or reject his or her nomination." However, the National Assembly is not scheduled to come into existence until at least April. According to Afghan Voice Agency, Ludin said that cabinet appointees will presumably influence the assembly's composition, since they will precede the formation of the National Assembly.

President Karzai "indirectly acknowledged the appointment of Mohammad Yunos Qanuni as the defense minister" during his 19 December news conference, according to state broadcaster Radio Afghanistan. But the station did not elaborate on how Karzai discussed Qanuni's possible appointment. Qanuni placed a distant second to Karzai in the presidential election, but the ethnic Tajik took a majority of votes in several key, Tajik-inhabited provinces in which Karzai's first vice president, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, had been expected to attract many voters. Qanuni served as defense minister during the mujahedin government in the 1990s and was Karzai's interior and later education minister in the post-Taliban transitional government.

Kabul daily "Anis" urged in a 20 December editorial that Karzai avoid bowing to pressures in forming his cabinet of ministers. Lamenting the fact that "backward and developing countries" do not have control over their national sovereignty, the daily wrote that Afghans liberated their country from Soviet occupation "with the assistance" of "foreign friends" who, while providing assistance to reform Afghanistan's "political and economic life," are also "trying to participate" in the country's "political system through their representatives."

"Anis" cited rumors that "various donor countries, influential individuals, and those who were defeated" in the October presidential election "are exerting pressure" on the president to form "a coalition" by "establishing a cabinet that includes powerful people who are not the nation's representatives." The editorial concludes with a call for Karzai to use his "legal authority" to implement his "own policies in a courageous and steadfast" manner and to avoid being swayed by either external or internal forces.

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 of emerging political parties, and view key documents in the electoral process. Plus, a host of other tools to help you follow the 2005 parliamentary campaigns.

Afghan security forces in the southern Kandahar Province have announced the arrest of the personal security chief of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the former leader of the Taliban regime, Dubai-based Geo TV reported on 14 December. Tor Mullah Naqibullah was arrested at his residence on 13 December along with Mullah Abdul Qayyum Ahangar, identified as Naqibullah's "accomplice." Kandahar Security Department head Abdullah Laghmani said that the two men "were involved in every terrorist activity in Kandahar Province against the government and coalition forces," AP reported on 14 December. According to Laghmani, "important documents" that contain the names of other neo-Taliban members were seized during the arrest. "I don't know if it [the arrests] will help in the capture of Mullah Omar, but it will definitely help to reduce bomb attacks and insurgency in Kandahar because he [Mullah Naqibullah] was the main person organizing these kinds of attacks," Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammad said, AFP reported on 14 December. It is unclear whether the arrests are related to Laghmani's recent claims that a "secret network" of neo-Taliban has been exposed, resulting in the arrests of two individuals and their driver (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S.-led forces killed seven suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in fighting in southeastern Afghanistan on 14 December, AP reported the next day. Fighting between Afghan security forces and suspected guerrillas erupted on 14 December in Khost Province, where U.S. forces were called in to help, according to U.S. military spokesman Mark McCann. "Members of the Khost Provincial Force [KFP] were attacked by anticoalition militia," McCann said. "The KPF returned fire and requested coalition support. The coalition responded by firing artillery." McCann said the incident demonstrated how U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan security forces are working in lockstep to counter insurgency. "It should serve as a warning to those seeking to disrupt the peaceful political process," McCann said. McCann said no coalition or Afghan forces were injured, according to AFP. Some 18,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan are taking part in an offensive meant to stop insurgents from interfering with parliamentary elections tentatively slated for April. (Marc Ricks)

Neo-Taliban insurgents said they killed 10 Afghan troops in fighting in southern Zabol Province on 15 December, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported the next day. "Ten government soldiers were killed in fierce clashes with the Taliban in the Sorkh Sang area of Arghandab District yesterday [15 December]," Taliban spokesman Hakimi reportedly told the agency. Hakimi also said insurgents destroyed four government vehicles in the fighting and that two neo-Taliban fighters were killed.

Abdul Qayyum, the head of Arghandab District, said he heard reports of fighting in the area that killed four insurgents. But he stressed that details of the alleged firefight were still unclear. "Sorkh Sang is a very remote area," he said. "We have heard that four Taliban have been killed and two government soldiers injured in the fighting there. However, my information is not very accurate." (Marc Ricks)

Abdul Qayyum, warned on 20 December of a significant neo-Taliban presence in his district, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. "Some 250 Taliban have recently reached the mountains in Arghandab" from Shah Joy District, while "70 Taliban have come via Daichopan District," Abdul Qayyum claimed. Abdul Qayyum asserted that there are five Arabs and 15 Pakistanis in their ranks. Shah Joy and Daichopan lie to the south and north of Arghandab, respectively. "In addition to informing the coalition forces and the central [Afghan] government" about the build-up, Abdul Qayyum said that his forces have "taken measures" to fight the insurgents. (Amin Tarzi)

In a news conference in Kabul on 21 December, government spokesman Jawed Ludin denied reports that the government is holding negotiations with a former foreign minister of the Taliban regime, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported.

Reports of efforts to include some Taliban members in Afghanistan's future administration have circulated since October 2003, when former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil was released from custody (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July, 18 September and 9, 16, 23, and 30 October 2003 and 4 March, 10 June, 25 October, and 8 November 2004). An October report from Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran suggested that Mutawakkil intends to form a new political party. (Amin Tarzi)

Presidential spokesman Ludin told a news conference in Kabul on 14 December that President Karzai's office has received no letter of resignation from Planning Minister Ramazan Bachardost, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. "We were informed by the media" of Bachardost's rumored resignation, Ludin added (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004). Ludin said Bachardost "is an important and respected member of the cabinet" and Karzai "likes him very much." Bachardost reportedly resigned on 13 December after the government rejected his decision to shut down some 2,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). During his news conference, Ludin told reporters that the government "has started amending the laws regulating the activities of NGOs and measures have been put into operation." The measures are subject to approval by the cabinet. He did not link the issue with Bachardost's comments that most of the NGOs in Afghanistan are counterproductive. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Supreme Court in a 14 December announcement called on government authorities and citizens to uphold Islamic values, Radio Afghanistan reported. "Regretfully, some images, said to be Prophet Mohammad, have been recently found," the statement said, without further explanation. "This is not just shocking to every Muslim, but it is also disturbing for our countrymen's Islamic sentiments and causes evil in our society," the announcement added. The Supreme Court demanded that the authorities arrest those responsible for distributing such images "so that they can be dealt with in accordance with the law." Under the Afghan Constitution, anything deemed to be against Islam is illegal. This stipulation leaves much room for interpretation in the Sunni-dominated country, as Sunnis regard the display of likenesses of prophets and important Islamic figures to be against Islam while Shi'a generally do not. (Amin Tarzi)

A Turkish engineer who was kidnapped on 14 December has been found dead, according to 15 December press release from the Afghan Foreign Ministry. The ministry identified the slain man as Mohammad Ayyub [Eyup Orel] and said his body was discovered on the road between Konar and Jalalabad. The engineer was kidnapped and his security guard killed in the village of Chawki, Konar Province, international news agencies reported.

The victim was working on a U.S.-funded road project in eastern Konar Province when he was abducted on 14 December. His body was found in eastern Afghanistan on the morning of 15 December, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said. Orel's driver and interpreter, also taken hostage, were reportedly freed unharmed. "After security forces cornered [the hostage takers], they released the driver and interpreter but killed...the Turkish engineer," Mashal said. The kidnappers escaped, Mashal added.

Orel was the second Turkish national to have been killed in Afghanistan this year and the fourth foreigner taken hostage in a span of seven weeks. Mashal said Orel's body "is being transported by helicopter" from eastern Afghanistan to Kabul, where it will be handed over to Turkish officials. Mashal said the exact circumstances of Orel's death remain unclear. President Karzai condemned the killing. "I am angered that the enemies of Afghanistan have killed a brother and fellow Muslim in pursuit of their goal of disrupting reconstruction in Afghanistan," Karzai said. (Amin Tarzi and Marc Ricks)

Neo-Taliban insurgents denied killing the Turkish engineer found dead on 15 December after having been abducted the previous day, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency reported on 16 December. "We are not involved in the abduction and killing of the Turkish engineer in Konar," neo-Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi told the Pakistan-based news agency in a telephone interview. "We do not need to commit such acts, because we can capture our enemy and fight it. Therefore, we do not need to carry out such attacks." (Marc Ricks)

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi told journalists on 17 December that a standoff at Pul-e Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul and the ensuing raid left eight people dead, AIP reported. Azimi said three Pakistanis and one Iraqi prisoner died along with four Afghan police officers when a prison escape turned into a riot. The standoff ended when Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers intervened.

According to Pul-e Charkhi prison chief Abdul Salam Bakhshi, the riot began when an inmate killed a security guard with a razor blade and seized his assault rifle, AFP reported on 17 December. A gun battle ensued, then two armed Pakistani prisoners reportedly barricaded themselves in for 12 hours before being killed when ANA forces stormed the facility. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Ambassador Rostam Shah Mohmand told AIP on 18 December that Islamabad has asked Kabul to conduct "a transparent and independent investigation" into the incident at Pol-e Charkhi prison. In a letter addressed to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Mohmand said that "we tried to end the clashes peacefully...but the Afghan government did not allow us." Islamabad's envoy to Afghanistan also complained that the Afghan side did not allow his embassy access to a wounded Pakistani prisoner.

ANA Major Amin Jan said on 17 December that his troops wanted to resolve the crisis "peacefully" but responded when they were attacked by the prisoners, AFP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

A drive-by shooting in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province killed four Afghan policemen and a civilian on 20 December, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammad Mojahed blamed the neo-Taliban for the attack but said that no arrests have been made. Reuters reported the same day that one of the attackers was killed. (Amin Tarzi)

An explosion at a security checkpoint in Nangarhar Province on 21 December left one soldier dead and four others wounded, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. No further information was available about the incident. (Amin Tarzi)

Military Corps No. 7 and No. 8 have completed the UN's Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, Radio Afghanistan reported on 14 December. General Abdul Manan, the Defense Ministry's official in charge of the DDR in northern Afghanistan, said on 13 December that 28,400 officers and enlisted personnel have joined the program. Military Corps No. 8, which is loyal to strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Military Corps No. 7, which is loyal to current Balkh Province Governor General Ata Mohammad Nuri, have been battling each other in parts of northern Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime. Observers believe that if Dostum and Nuri are, in fact, left without any military units, the prospects of a more lasting peace in northern Afghanistan will improve. (Amin Tarzi)

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported on 16 December that nearly 4,000 child soldiers have been disarmed in Afghanistan. "A total of 3,998 children -- all boys, the majority being aged 14-17 years old -- have been demobilized in 15 provinces in north, northeast, east, and central Afghanistan since the program began in February," said a statement posted on UNICEF's official website ( The group estimated that there are roughly 8,000 former child soldiers in the country, "many of whom were forcibly conscripted to fighting forces in the last years of the conflict." UNICEF said all the demobilized soldiers are given the opportunity to enroll in schools or undergo vocational training. Begun in northern Afghanistan, the child-disarmament program was carried out in step with a UN-backed effort to demobilize fighters across the country. "UNICEF now hopes to complete the demobilization program in the provinces of south, west and southeast of the country not covered in 2004," the statement said. (Marc Ricks)

Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono said on 15 December that his country plans to refrain from sending more troops to Afghanistan for the time being, AFP reported. "The participation of more troops in Afghanistan is not planned," Bono told Spanish legislators. Bono's announcement came despite appeals by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for members to share the burden of the alliance's various missions. NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan last year and expanded its presence in the country beyond Kabul earlier this year. During Afghanistan's presidential elections in October, Spain increased its troop presence from 165 to 1,040. Italy, Britain, Spain, and Turkey are slated to rotate command of international forces in Afghanistan over the next two years, beginning in February. (Marc Ricks)

The U.S. military denied systemic abuse of detainees held in Afghanistan despite the deaths of eight prisoners since late 2001, AFP reported on 15 December. The U.S. Defense Department recently disclosed a list of detainees who died in U.S. custody after Human Rights Watch (HRW) complained in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of foot-dragging and "excessive secrecy" over those cases (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" 17 December 2004). The Pentagon confirmed that the deaths are under investigation. In Kabul, U.S. military spokesman Mark McCann told reporters that an investigation of detention facilities by Brigadier General Charles H. Jacoby in May "found no evidence of abuse taking place at these facilities, nor was there any evidence of leaders authorizing or condoning any abuse." McCann acknowledged that the Jacoby report, which remains classified, did not probe past abuses but rather assessed prison conditions in May. HRW accused the U.S. military of stalling in releasing the findings of the report. "These investigations have proceeded extremely slowly and in excessive secrecy," the rights group said. (Marc Ricks)

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in a joint RFE/RL and Voice of America (VOA) interview in Washington on 20 December that the United States will not abandon Afghanistan, VOA reported. "I speak for [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush: We will not abandon Afghanistan," Khalilzad said. On 21 December, Khalilzad told reporters that foreign troops might remain in Afghanistan for a long time, Reuters reported. The question, according to Khalilzad, is the arrangement of the long-term presence in Afghanistan that "may be, either in a NATO context [or] in a bilateral context." Seventy percent of Afghans approve of the presence of U.S. troops, Khalilzad claimed, adding that the figure is higher than President Karzai's approval rating. (Amin Tarzi)

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved an $80 million loan to improve roads in Afghanistan, dpa reported 16 December. Announcing the project in a statement from Manila, a bank spokesman said construction will focus on rebuilding the last unpaved portion of the so-called ring road, which links Afghanistan's major cities. The section of road slated for reconstruction stretches for 210 kilometers from Andkhoy to Qaisar. "It will also install toll facilities for newly improved primary roads in Afghanistan and provide project-management support for the Ministry of Public Works," the bank added in a statement. Most of the roads in Afghanistan were in ruins when the Taliban was ousted in late 2001. The ADB said damaged roads block the movement of people and goods and slow humanitarian assistance. "The project area -- remote and subject to extreme weather -- is in need of continued humanitarian and basic social services," said ADB project specialist Hideaki Iwasaki. Iwasaki said improved road conditions will offer "better access to health, education, and other services" to at least 800,000 people. (Marc Ricks)

In a year of Afghan achievements, two success stories stand out: relatively peaceful presidential elections in October and the extension of central government authority to areas once dominated by factional militias.

"Afghanistan is definitely heading in the right direction," said James Phillips, who researches Afghanistan at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. "It has been much more stable in the last year than many people would have thought possible two years ago. Most significantly, the Taliban has not been able to stage systematic counter attacks. It threatened to disrupt [the presidential election] with terrorist attacks. But in the end, it was not strong enough to do so. And I think that's very positive going into the future."

But Phillips said that as President Hamid Karzai continues to extend Kabul's authority to other provinces, he should also be careful not to unnecessarily threaten the autonomy of regional leaders.

In March, troops from the fledgling Afghan National Army (ANA) were deployed to their first crisis outside of Kabul. With the backing of the U.S.-led coalition's military infrastructure, ANA troops were deployed to Herat to quell fighting between the militia forces of the western city's former governor, Mohammad Ismail Khan, and rival commanders.

Since then, Afghan army troops also have been working side-by-side with U.S. forces in the hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. Government forces also have been sent to stop fighting between militia factions in the west and northwest. Phillips said this cautious, case-by-case approach is best.

"The government must move gradually and incrementally," Phillips said. "It can't afford to challenge all of the warlords everywhere at the same time. In fact, what is perceived as 'warlordism' in the [Western world] often boils down to Afghanistan's traditional tribal structure. And I think over time, as the tribes see that their best interests are served by joining with the government to participate in economic development, the power of the warlords will naturally ebb."

Although the agenda set at the United Nations-sponsored Bonn conference in December 2001 was supposed to have been completed in June, its final item has been delayed until 2005.

"The Bonn process was supposed to conclude [in 2004] with the holding of elections for representative governance," Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based researcher for the International Crisis Group, explained. "Right now, we've only got half of that process concluded. We've got presidential elections, but no parliament. And without the parliament, you're not going to have any checks and balances on executive authority. And any action taken by the [central government] will lack a certain legitimacy because it won't have any legislative review. So it's vital to go ahead with this."

The presidential polls provided lessons for both voters and international experts about conducting elections in the country. For example, many Afghans learned that a "secret ballot" means that regional militia commanders do not know whom an individual votes for. As a result, Afghans might feel less threatened by warlords who tell them how to vote.

On the other hand, Parekh concluded that the continued dominance of factional militia groups in many regions makes the emergence of local opposition to warlords unlikely in the near future. He said the answer is to push forward with so-called DDR programs to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia fighters.

"There is a great likelihood that elections will go uncontested in areas where a militia enjoys complete dominance -- that is to say, one militia has a monopoly of power and is backing one of its members as a candidate," Parekh said. "People are going to think two or three times before challenging that candidate through an electoral process. And there is practically no way to ensure their security. So accelerating the DDR process -- continuing the collection of heavy weaponry -- will be an important factor in terms of how confident opposition figures are."

Parekh said that in addition to security concerns, there also are new logistical challenges facing the organizers of parliamentary elections -- such as the drawing of maps with the districts that each member of parliament will represent. He said coordinated efforts by the Afghan election commission and the United Nations are essential.

Parekh also noted widespread recognition in Afghanistan that the election commission itself should be reconstituted in a way that makes it genuinely independent and authoritative. He said that move is necessary because the commission appointed by Karzai before the presidential vote is seen by many Afghans as partisan and weak.

For his part, Karzai has made the battle against drug lords an immediate priority. In a passionate speech two days after his inauguration, Karzai declared a "holy war" on drug production and drug smuggling.

"God knows how hard it is for me when [representatives of the international community] come to my office and say that Afghans cultivate poppies," Karzai said. "I feel terribly ashamed. It's very difficult for my Afghan pride to listen to it. I cannot tolerate it when they come to my office and say Afghans cultivate poppies. This shame must be removed from our country. Free us from this insult. Let's repeat in one voice, 'We don't want poppy cultivation!' [Crowd repeats.] 'We want life, honor and respect.' [Crowd repeats.]"

Karzai's declaration came a few weeks after the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) -- Antonio Maria Costa -- warned about the influence of the Afghan drug trade.

"What are our biggest concerns? Is it the extent of [poppy] cultivation? I would say, 'No.' It's the risk that growing shares of the population at large -- whether government officials or provincial officials, army officials, or the private sectors -- that growing segments of the population are involved or, in any event, they benefit from the cultivation. That would go beyond the definition of a narco-economy and start getting into a narco-society," Costa said.

Karzai said he hopes the international community will continue to help Afghanistan to rebuild its economic infrastructure in the months ahead so that his government can do more to alleviate poverty (Ron Synovitz)

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on 19 December that Hussein Sheikh Zein-ed-Din has been appointed consul to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, IRNA reported. Formerly head of the Center for Iraqi Reconstruction, Zein-ed-Din also served as ambassador to Colombia. Zein-ed-Din was in Bogota in late 1999, when Colombian authorities became concerned about Iranian activities in the demilitarized zone and raised questions about Iranian military advisers working on a slaughterhouse in a region that had few cows and was controlled by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Zein-ed-Din claimed that area was chosen because Iran wants to contribute to the Colombian peace process (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 1999). Colombian officials later expressed the belief that Iran was training FARC personnel in the use of explosives (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 August 2000 and 29 April 2002). (Bill Samii)

The Iranian government has frozen the bank accounts of former Afghan Prime Minister and current Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the BBC reported on 18 December and "Arman-e Melli" newspaper reported from Kabul the following day. Hekmatyar's mujahedin group was based in Pakistan during the anti-Soviet jihad, and he served as prime minister when the mujahedin seized power in Afghanistan (1992-96). Hekmatyar fled to Iran after the Taliban takeover, and Tehran expelled him in early 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 March 2002). The freeze reportedly is in response to a request from a United Nations committee that monitors sanctions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. (Bill Samii)

23 December 1879 -- Ahead of advancing British military forces, Amir Sher Ali leaves Kabul and appoints his son Ya'qub Khan as the ruler.

23 December 1999 -- Taliban regime changes the name of Pashtunistan Square in Kabul to Ahmad Shah Baba Square.

22 December 2001 -- Afghan Interim Administration begins tenure.

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