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Afghan Report: December 30, 2004

30 December 2004, Volume 3, Number 46

The editor wishes everyone a peaceful new year.
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the cabinet on 27 December that it holds the key to reconstructing and stabilizing the war-torn country (see news items below).

"The people of Afghanistan have big expectations from all of us, and in your faces I see the desire to realize the hope of the Afghan people for a better Afghanistan," Karzai said. "I'm sure with our efforts we will make our country a better place to live."

Karzai's hope is that the government can make discernable progress on the economy, education and security. But the reality, experts said, is that the cabinet has mountains to climb in the coming months, starting with winning approval from the new parliament due to be elected in April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 December 2004).

Parliament's support is unclear, however. Karzai's chief presidential rival, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, has announced his intention to form a new party to run in April's election.

"The main challenge they will face is to receive a vote of confidence from Afghanistan's [future] parliament after its formation," said Shukria Barakzai, the editor of "Ayna-ye Zan," a weekly publication on women's issues. "We have to wait and see if the members of the parliament will give a vote of confidence to the people appointed by President Karzai."

For now, experts give Karzai's cabinet a vote of confidence. Karzai left out several influential warlords -- such as former Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim -- in favor of professionals. Barakzai noted that many of them have university degrees and studied abroad (see news items below).

"It is too early to comment on the work and achievements of the cabinet," Barakzai said. "But the presence of some people with expertise and knowledge in the cabinet shows that they can be effective for the executive organ of Afghanistan."

But Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch's Asia, noted that the cabinet does include Mohammad Ismail Khan. The powerful warlord, whom Karzai removed as Herat governor earlier this year, is now in charge of the energy ministry (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 September 2004).

"It was a relief to see some of the more obvious warlords not in (the cabinet). The one major disappointment is that Ismail Khan is in the cabinet, although he has a portfolio that would not necessarily allow him to project his military strength and its possible that he's in the cabinet simply to neutralize him."

Neutralizing the many other private militias across Afghanistan may prove harder.

"Although there has been some progress in the disarmament process in Afghanistan, there is still a big number of arms in the hands of irresponsible people and there are still private armies in Afghanistan," said Dadfar Sepanta, a guest lecturer at Kabul University and a professor of politics in Germany at Aachen University.

Afghanistan is still reeling from more than two decades of conflict. Most of the country's infrastructure is destroyed. A large portion of the population, including some 80 percent of women, is illiterate. And the drug business is booming, with Afghanistan the world's leading producer of opium.

Karzai recently declared a "holy war" on drugs, saying their cultivation and trafficking is a greater threat than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (for more on the topic, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003 and 12 February, 2 and 10 June, 1 September, 18 November, 3 and 8 December 2004).

The president has appointed Habibollah Qaderi, a relatively unknown figure, to head the newly created anti-narcotic ministry. But whether Qaderi can have an impact is far from clear, said HRW's Adams.

"That's possibly a step forward. It's not probably a question of bureaucracy," Adams said. "The question is one of political will and confronting the people who are profiting most off of this. And then of course at the other end, it is making sure that there is some viable economic alternative the small farmers who are growing it. And no one has come with very good ideas about how to address that in the short term."

The other major issue facing the cabinet is women's rights.

Masuda Jalal, the only woman candidate in the recent presidential elections, has been chosen to head a new ministry of women's affairs. She has reportedly said she needs the cooperation of the public health and education ministries in order to deal effectively with the problems women face.

But Barakzai, the editor, noted that it will be a major challenge for Jalal to turn her ministry into a veritable force for change.

"Right now, the women's ministry is not in a position to have any achievements. With regard to the many problems Afghan women face, the ministry is right now something between a charity organization, an NGO and a government ministry," Barakzai said. "We have to see if she can convince other cabinet members that the women's affairs ministry is part of the executive branch [and] should therefore have executive power."

Karzai says security and prosperity -- elusive for nearly three decades -- are his main goals. His has given the new ministers one week to report back with plans on how to achieving them.

Golnaz Esfandiari is an RFE/RL correspondent.

By Valentinas Mite

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is generally thought to have begun on 24 December 1979, when three Soviet divisions took control of airfields in and around the capital, Kabul.

On 26 December, additional Soviet regiments moved south toward the Afghan border.

Finally, on 27 December, 700 Soviet special troops stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin, who had come to power only three months earlier.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Afghan Service, Amin's widow, Patmana, recalled the events of that day. She said she became separated from her husband, and that the attackers kept her and children on the second floor of the palace during the night.

She said that when she went upstairs in the morning, she saw the bodies of some of those killed in the assault.

"They kept us on the second floor during the night," Amin said. "In the morning, I went upstairs. There was a big salon full of martyred bodies. I searched for my husband's body, but I couldn't find it."

Afghan radio announced that Amin had been sentenced to death at a revolutionary trial for "crimes against the state" and that he had been executed.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been living in exile in Eastern Europe and was seen as more compliant by Moscow, became the new president and secretary-general of the ruling People's Democratic Party.

Historians believe several reasons were behind the invasion. The Soviet Union, seeking to maintain or expand its influence in Asia, wanted to preserve the Marxist regime that had taken power in Afghanistan in 1978 but which was collapsing due to civil war and anticommunist sentiment in the country.

The Kremlin also wanted to secure its interests in Afghanistan from Iran, which was engulfed in the Islamic Revolution, and also from the West.

The invasion wrecked Soviet relations with the West. In a speech on 4 January 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the invasion an "extremely serious threat to peace."

"Massive Soviet military forces have invaded the small, nonaligned sovereign nation of Afghanistan, which had hitherto not been an occupied satellite of the Soviet Union," Carter said. "Fifty thousand heavily armed Soviet troops have crossed the border and are now dispersed throughout Afghanistan, attempting to conquer the fiercely independent Muslim people of that country."

The United States recalled its ambassador from Moscow and together with many other Western countries boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

But that was the least of Moscow's concerns. A fierce guerrilla war ensued, and Soviet troops found themselves unable to control the countryside or even the smaller cities. Within a few years, the Soviets' inability to seal Afghanistan's borders enabled the mujahedin to create a pipeline for weapons and recruits from abroad. The Soviets initially deployed an estimated 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Ultimately, the occupation force was boosted to 100,000 soldiers, but it did not help.

Lieutenant General Aleksandr Mayorov was a senior Soviet military adviser to the Afghan regime in 1980 and 1981 and is the author of the book "The Truth About The Afghan War." In an interview with RFE/RL, Mayorov said that after the success of the initial invasion, Soviet troops in Afghanistan became desperate.

"Months had passed, the troops had been there, a lot of garrisons [were there], battles were going on, but there was no success," Mayorov said. "And someone had to take responsibility. And then the Politburo set up a commission of four people. Well, a commission is a commission, but all depended on the success of the war."

The Afghan resistance was supported for different reasons by the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, with weapons and fighters channeled through Pakistan. As the war progressed, the rebels improved their organization and tactics and began using imported and captured weapons, including U.S. Stinger antiaircraft missiles.

Mayorov said Soviet troops became increasingly demoralized. Some 22,000 had been killed by the end of the war.

"Every war should have an aim," Mayorov said. "Both politicians and the military need to be capable of finding a line not allowed to be crossed. Because then [the war] will turn against them. There might be some isolated success stories, but as a whole it leads to failure."

Kirill Koktysh of the Moscow Institute of International Relations said that, looking from a historical perspective, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the last gasp of the Cold War.

"Essentially, it was the last war and the last event of a bipolar world, when the world was understood as the place where Soviet and American ideologies had to compete," Koktysh said.

Koktysh said that the war turned out to be destructive for both Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Half of Afghanistan's agriculture sector was wiped out and 70 percent of its paved roads destroyed. Some 5,000 of the country's 15,000 villages were destroyed or economically ruined due to damage to roads and wells. Moscow finally withdrew its troops in February 1989, only to see the Soviet Union itself collapse a few years later (see news items below).

The Soviet withdrawal began a long period of instability in Afghanistan. After Soviet forces left, a number of Afghan factions continued to fight for control of the country. The radical Taliban Islamic militia came to power in 1994. It was ousted by U.S. troops in late 2001 in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. Those attacks were blamed on the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, who was being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Soviet invasion is also blamed for the rise of Islamic militancy. Foreign fighters who came to fight Soviet troops perceived their eventual withdrawal as their victory. The war created a class of hard-line Islamic fighters, such as bin Laden, ready to fight for what they perceived as the interests of Islam around the world.

Valentinas Mite is an RFE/RL correspondent (RFE/RL's Afghan and Russian services contributed to this story.)

Visit RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" ( for the latest news, analysis, and background on the country's 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 next year's parliamentary campaigns.

President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on 23 December appointing the new cabinet of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Afghanistan Television reported. Addressing journalists in Kabul on 24 December, Karzai said that what he has chosen is not a "party government," but "a government for reconstruction," Afghanistan Television reported. The new Afghan government "has the responsibility to build. We do not have any more patience to do politics and political games.... Politics should be in the parliament," Karzai added. Addressing the constitutional requirements that Afghan cabinet ministers should not hold dual nationality, Karzai said that all of current members of the cabinet with dual nationalities have given up their non-Afghan nationalities, and "were proud to do so" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 December 2004).

In another 23 December decree, President Karzai merged some ministries and created new departments, according to a presidential press release. According to Karzai's decree, the Antinarcotics Ministry and an Independent Environment Directorate were established. Also, the Planning and Reconstruction ministries were merged into the newly established Economy Ministry; the Light Industries Ministry was merged into the Mines and Industries Ministry; the Civil Aviation and Transport ministries were merged into newly established Transport Ministry; the Food Department was transferred from the Light Industries Ministry to the Agriculture and Food Ministry; the Tourism Department, which was part of the former Civil Aviation Ministry, was transferred to the Information and Culture Ministry.

The following is the new Afghan cabinet in the order listed in a 23 December presidential press release. The list includes the ministers' province of origin:

1 -- Hedayat Amin Arsala, commerce minister and senior presidential adviser, Nangarhar Province

2 -- Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister, Panjsher Province

3 -- Ali Ahmad Jalali, interior minister, Ghazni Province

4 -- General Abdul Rahim Wardak, defense minister, Wardak Province

5 -- Zalmay Rasul, national security adviser, Kabul Province

6 -- Nur Mohammad Qarqin, education minister, Jowzjan Province

7 -- Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, finance minister, Nangarhar Province

8 -- Mohammad Amin Farhang, economy minister, Kabul Province

9 -- Enayatollah Qasemi, transport minister, Ghazni Province

10 -- Amirzai Sangin, communications minister, Paktika Province

11 -- Mir Mohammad Sediq, mines and industry minister, Kabul Province

12 -- General Mohammad Ismail Khan, energy minister, Herat Province

13 -- Suhrab Ali Safari, public works minister, Wardak Province

14 -- Mohammad Yosuf Pashtun, minister of urban development, Kandahar Province

15 -- Obaidollah Ramin, minister of agriculture and food, Baghlan Province

16 -- Mohammad Sarwar Danesh, justice minister, Daikondi Province

17 -- Amir Shah Hasanyar, minister of higher education, Bamyan Province

18 -- Sayyed Makhdum Rahin, minister of information and culture, Kabul Province

19 -- Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi, minister of public health, Nangarhar Province

21 -- Mohammad Karim Brahwi, minister of border and tribal affairs, Nimroz Province

22 -- Masuda Jalal, women's minister, Kapisa Province

23 -- Sayyed Ekramoddin Masumi, minister of social and labor affairs, Takhar Province

24 -- Mohammad Azam Dadfar, minister of refugees, Faryab Province

25 -- Sediqa Balkhi, minister of martyrs and disabled, Balkh Province

26 -- Mohammad Hanif Atmar, minister of rural development, Laghman Province

27 -- Habibullah Qaderi, antinarcotics minister, Zabul Province

28 -- Amena Safi Afzali, ministerial adviser for youth affairs, Herat Province

[Afzali's name does not appear in the presidential press release.] (Amin Tarzi)

According to a 25 December decree by President Karzai, Nurollah Delaware was appointed the head of Da Afghanistan Bank, the country's central bank, Radio Afghanistan reported. Former Da Afghanistan Bank head Anwar al-Haq Ahadi was appointed the new finance minister.

Karzai appointed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai chancellor of Kabul University, Afghanistan Television reported on 24 December.

According to the 26 December presidential press release, Shfiq Gul Agha Sherzai has been appointed as a ministerial adviser and governor of Kandahar Province and Sayyed Hosayn Anwari has been appointed as the governor of Kabul Province.

Prior to the formation of the new cabinet, Anwari served as the agriculture minister and Sherzai was minister of urban development, a post which he took over after being recalled as the governor of Kandahar in August 2003 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 21 August 2003). Sherzai's replacement, Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, served as minister of urban development until August 2003, at which time he was appointed as the governor of Kandahar. During Pashtun's tenure as governor of Kandahar, relative peace and security was established in the birthplace of the Taliban movement. (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai in a decree granted former Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim special lifetime privileges, Afghanistan Television reported on 26 December. In his decree, Karzai indicated that since marshal is the highest military rank in the country, Fahim will have this rank "throughout his life and will have all the military rights and privileges." Moreover, Fahim "will sit in the first row in official ceremonies of the government" and "his vehicle's license plate will have five stars on it, and [he] will be protected by security guards."

After the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Fahim emerged as the most powerful man in Afghanistan. He served as Karzai's first deputy during the transitional period. However, in July, Karzai sidelined Fahim by not including him on his presidential ticket. In response, Fahim reportedly persuaded Mohammad Yunos Qanuni to run against Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July, 5 and 12 August 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai welcomed the decision by Mohammad Sarwar Danish to renounce his membership to Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, a 27 December presidential press release indicted. According to Article 80 of the Afghan Constitution, ministers are not allowed to be affiliated with political parties while serving in the cabinet. (Amin Tarzi)

National Congress Party of Afghanistan head Latif Pedram told a news conference on 27 December in Kabul that the new cabinet can only be accepted after it is approved by parliament, Afghanistan Television reported. Pedram said that according to the Afghan Constitution, the period after the presidential election until the formation of the parliament is considered a transitional period. The parliament is scheduled to be elected in April-May 2005. Pedram was a candidate in the 9 October presidential election. (Amin Tarzi)

In a ceremony on 26 December in the western city of Herat commemorating the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in 1979, Herat Province Governor Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwah said the Russian Federation should pay compensation to the Afghans, Herat Television reported. Khairkhwah said that during the decade-long (1979-89) Soviet occupation of Afghanistan "around 1.5 million" Afghans were killed and 7 million took refuge in other countries and "everything was ruined" in Afghanistan. And in a demonstration in the eastern city of Jalalabad, a group of disabled Afghan veterans of the war against Soviet forces called on the Afghan government to provide them with jobs and housing, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Ja'far Khan Tawakoli, head of the Union of Disabled Persons, called on the Russian government to pay war reparations to Afghanistan, especially to the disabled Afghans (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

A monument to the "internationalist soldiers" was unveiled on 27 December in Moscow to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the "introduction of Soviet troops" to Afghanistan, Russia's ORT reported. The monument to about 14,000 dead Soviet troops was erected with funds collected by Afghan war veterans. Russian Association of Heroes President General Valentin Varennikov said that the "dignity of our internationalist soldiers has been upheld" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January and 25 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Ahmad, a local commander in the central Afghan Wardak Province, voluntarily surrendered his weapons to the government, Afghanistan Television reported on 22 December. General Mohammad Basir Salangi, security commander of Wardak, said other commanders also wanted to disarm along with Abdul Ahmad but weather prevented them from doing so. "We will witness the handover of weapons by other local commanders in the near future," Salangi pledged. (Amin Tarzi)

At a news conference in Kabul on 22 December, U.S. military spokesman Major Mark McCann said the United States is building four military bases in Afghanistan for use by the Afghan National Army (ANA), Reuters reported. McCann said that the bases are "not for U.S. use." The bases, each designed to accommodate some 4,000 ANA personnel, are being built in western Herat Province, southern Kandahar Province, northern Balkh Province, and southeastern Paktiya Province. Iranian sources have expressed concern over the base being built in Herat, which borders Iran (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

A Georgian Defense Ministry source said his country has ended its participation in the international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and will not send additional troops, Interfax-AVN reported on 22 December. The source said 50 Georgian troops returned home on 22 December from Afghanistan, where they had worked with the German contingent of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. (Amin Tarzi)

27 December 1979 -- Soviet troops assassinate President Hafizollah Amin and install Babrak Karmal as the new president.

28 December 1979 -- President Karmal says that the Soviet Union has agreed to supply Afghanistan "urgent political, moral, and economic aid, including military aid."

27 December 2002 -- Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan sign an accord on the construction of a gas pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Pakistan.

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