Accessibility links

Breaking News

Afghan Report: January 9, 2003

9 January 2003, Volume 2, Number 2
By T. Goudsouzian

A week after Afghanistan's six neighbors (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) signed a pact to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and not interfere in its internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002), a large cache of rockets was seized on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, raising questions over the sincerity of the signatories to make good on their commitment to regional peace and security.

More than 300 rockets were seized on 1 January near Torkham, a major border-crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan (see "News" section for more details). Afghan authorities have said they are investigating the identities of the men transporting the cargo.

The so-called Kabul Declaration, which was signed on 22 December, the anniversary of the formation of Afghanistan's interim government headed by President Hamid Karzai, has been hailed as "a basis for good-neighborly relations."

After 24 years of war and conflict, some of which was a result of foreign occupation and interference, the declaration is the first collective action taken by Afghanistan and its neighbors to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity and to promote cooperation and noninterference, said Omar Samad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

At the last minute, some concern was expressed over the announcement that the Iranian, Uzbek, and Chinese foreign ministers would not be able to attend the ceremony, but Samad stressed that the declaration was fully "encouraged and supported" by these countries and by other members of the international community, including India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, as well as by groups such as the European Union, the European Commission, and the Organization of Islamic Countries.

"China indicated earlier that their foreign minister would not be able to attend, but Iran and Uzbekistan could not reach Kabul on the day of the conference itself due to technical reasons. For example, the foreign minister of Uzbekistan had left Tashkent but had to return midway because of technical problems with his plane. We're not reading too much into it," Samad said.

The foreign ministers of Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan attended the signing ceremony, while China, Iran, and Uzbekistan were represented by their respective ambassadors.

"The important point is that the countries of the region have reached an agreement that stability and peace require meaningful cooperation and dialogue instead of undue interference," Samad said.

The United Nations Security Council endorsed the declaration, which it said "expresses the determination that the Afghan people should enjoy security, stability, prosperity, territorial integrity, democracy, and human rights after so many years of conflict, suffering, and deprivation."

The Security Council also called on all states to "support the implementation of its provisions" and to "defeat terrorism, extremism, and [drug] trafficking."

Critics have expressed doubt that Pakistan will prove capable of respecting its end of the bargain. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are widely believed to be sheltered in Pakistan by sympathizers and religious leaders. Cross-border activities by remnants of extremist and terrorist groups continue.

"It is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to have or gain control over those elements who publicly and openly espouse a violent and destabilizing policy," Samad said. "We're not pinpointing any one country but are focusing on a common objective to improve and build upon existing relationships. We have no reason to believe that Pakistan would not abide by the principles enunciated in the declaration, which favor our mutual interest."

An editorial in the Urdu daily "Jang" on 24 December affirmed Pakistan's commitment to noninterference and "brotherly relations" by tracing the conflict between the two neighbors. It recalled that in 1947 Afghanistan was the only country to object to Pakistan's becoming a member of the United Nations on the grounds that it is occupying the Northwest Frontier Province, which is largely populated by Pashtuns.

The editorial wrote that after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Afghanistan pursued its agenda of reclaiming "Pashtunistan" by sending in agents provocateurs to stir things up (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003). Nevertheless, Pakistan tried to maintain good relations with its neighbor by facilitating trade, which, according to the editorial, later backfired when Afghan warlords started collaborating with Pakistani tribal chieftains to smuggle narcotics.

The editorial further claimed that Pakistan has significantly curtailed the narcotics trade on its end but that Afghanistan must implement stricter measures. It added that the Karzai government must also "check the influence of India, Israel, and Russia, which are long-standing foes of Pakistan".

It remains a moot point whether or not the intervention of the United States should be considered damaging to Afghanistan's national security. Regional strongmen, or warlords, reportedly funded by the United States to help root out terrorism, continue to pose a threat to the central government. The situation has been likened to the scenario of the 1980s, when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency arbitrarily supported mujahedin commanders who ended up tearing the country to pieces once the Soviets were driven out.

"One thing that we know is that the U.S., as of a few weeks ago, has stopped transferring weapons that were captured or found to local commanders, and instead is transferring them to the central government or Defense Ministry," Samad said.

Samad added that one month ago, on the anniversary of the Bonn meeting, President Hamid Karzai announced the full agreement of all Afghan leaders, including so-called warlords, to gradually do away with "warlordism," to create a national army and police force, to demobilize several thousand armed men and militias, and to reintegrate them into civilian life.

"If [warlords] do not wish to be isolated in society and faced with the rule of law, then they will have to comply with the wishes of the majority," Samad said.

T. Goudsouzian is a journalist who covers Afghanistan.

A U.S. military spokeswoman on 2 January said that the U.S. soldier shot by a Pakistani border guard on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on 29 December (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003) is in stable condition and that the "person who fired [the shot] is in the custody of the Pakistani government," "The New York Times" reported on 3 January. U.S. and Pakistani officials have "played down the shooting," the report added, but Islamist lawmakers in Pakistan have condemned the United States for bombing an abandoned compound that includes a seminary during the incident. The United States has claimed that the bombing in question took place on Afghan territory, but Pakistani residents in the area claim the attack took place inside Pakistan. Major General Rashid Qureshi, a Pakistani military spokesman, "discounted what the residents said, saying that the clash and the bombing had happened inside Afghanistan," according to the daily.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is known as the Duran Line after the British signatory of the agreement demarcating the border, has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan and has been at the core of Afghan-Pakistani flare-ups since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The lingering border dispute and the accompanying desire for a friendly government in Kabul are seen by some as a factor in Islamabad's erstwhile support for the Taliban. The downplaying of the U.S.-Pakistani border skirmish may be related to an understanding by both Washington and Islamabad that if the dispute is not contained, it could become a rallying point for the those elements in Pakistan who oppose the presence of U.S. forces in their country, as well as in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani defense authorities have launched a high-level inquiry into the U.S. bombing of a seminary on 29 December, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 3 January, identifying the damaged location as South Waziristan in Pakistan. Major General Qureshi said the inquiry was "ordered into the incident of exchange of fire to ascertain the facts," the paper reported. Qureshi, who was quoted by "The New York Times" as saying the bombing happened inside Afghanistan, "confirmed that U.S. planes did attack and a bomb fell [a] few hundred meters inside Pakistani territory." The Provincial Assembly of the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan "strongly condemned" the bombing in a resolution adopted on 1 January and demanded that Islamabad "lodge a strong protest" to the United States over the incident, "Dawn" reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003). Qazi Husayn Ahmad, head of the Jamat-e Islami, an Islamist party in Pakistan, called for mass rallies against the U.S. bombing, calling it "an open violation of Pakistan's sovereignty," the paper reported. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. military spokesman Major Stephen Clutter said on 4 January at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that the United States has had a "long-standing policy" agreed to by Pakistan that it can cross into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan in pursuit of the enemy, the "Los Angeles Times" reported the same day. Referring to the U.S. military, Clutter said that: "We are not just going to tiptoe and stop right when we get to the border, we do reserve the right to pursue them, and Pakistan is aware of that. There's no change there," the daily reported.

Concerning the same story, "Dawn" reported on 5 January that Clutter stated that U.S. forces did not cross the border on 29 December or before that and that he called the skirmish "a very minor incident."

Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, said on 4 January that the U.S. military has "a close working relationship with the government of Pakistan. We don't discuss rules of engagement. But U.S. forces always have the right of self-defense," "The Washington Post" reported the same day. Whitman did not, however, elaborate on Clutter's statement,

A senior official in Pakistan's Interior Ministry said that, "there is nothing in the understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan that will allow the U.S. to pursue criminals in Pakistani territory," the "Los Angeles Times" reported. Similarly, Pakistani Interior Minister Makhdum Sayyed Faisal Saleh Hayat said on 5 January that U.S. military personnel will not be allowed to approach individuals on Pakistani territory without Pakistani permission, and he added that Pakistani personnel will conduct all antiterrorism operations in Pakistan, Islamabad's "The News" reported on 6 January.

In contrast, a senior Pakistani security official who wished to remain anonymous said that U.S. forces have been allowed by Islamabad to pursue enemy fighters into Pakistan since last spring, "as long as they don't go far into [Pakistan]," "The Washington Post" reported.

The statement by some U.S. military officials that their forces had a right to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in pursuit of an enemy caused an uproar in Pakistan and became a rallying point for anti-American protests in Pakistan on 3 January, "Dawn" added. The rallies were originally called by the Islamist parties in Pakistan in protest of U.S. policies on Iraq. The border incident between the United States and Pakistan was used by the Islamists to gather more support for the rallies. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have agreed that U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan can continue to pursue members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, as well as fugitives, across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, as long as they do so "quietly," "Dawn" reported on 6 January. An unidentified diplomat based in Washington is quoted by "Dawn" as saying that the new understanding "means that if a situation requires a hot pursuit, it will be done, but there will be no angry remarks from either side, as we saw after the [29 December] incident." (Amin Tarzi)

A new independent body was established in Kabul on 7 January to safeguard Afghanistan's freedom of the press, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. The Free Press Defense Foundation was established by a number of Afghan journalists, headed by Abdul Qahar Sarwari, in order to safeguard the freedom of the press in Afghanistan and to increase the number of journalists working in the country. Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin said at the inauguration of the new foundation that, although Afghanistan enjoys free media, the number of journalists in the country remains limited, the radio reported.

While Kabul and some parts of Afghanistan are enjoying relatively free media, cities such as Herat and Mazar-e Sharif are still unaffected by the new openness. (Amin Tarzi)

In an interview broadcast on Afghanistan state television, Jawayd Farhad, the editor in chief of the Kabul weekly "Panjara," claimed that the media in Afghanistan are "by no means being run in a free or independent manner," the Kabul weekly "Farda" reported on 5 January. Farhad said Afghan media are "being supported by some associations and international organizations, and this limits the freedom of the press," "Farda" reported. Farhad did not name these organizations or say how they restrict press freedoms in Afghanistan. He did say, however, that "steps are being taken toward freedom of the press," "Farda" reported. "Farda" criticized Farhad's comments as a "sort of sabotage" against the free press in Afghanistan and questioned the origins and objectives of "Panjara." Furthermore, it suggested that Afghans not view progress regarding press freedoms in the country from the perspective presented by Farhad. "Farda" did not indicate when the interview with Farhad aired. (Amin Tarzi)

A radio station has begun antipresidential broadcasts from southeastern Paktiya Province, the Kabul daily "Anis" reported on 8 January. The international antiterrorism forces operating in the area have not been able to pinpoint the exact origin of the broadcasts of the radio station, which refers to itself as the Voice of Afghan Resistance, the paper added. According to "Anis," the radio station does not broadcast on fixed frequencies or established times, and it randomly airs fatwas (Islamic legal opinions) against President Hamid Karzai's administration and urges people to resist it. Paktiya Province has been the center for activities against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in recent months. Coalition forces are implementing new plans in the province intended to provide security and to facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Antidrug Commission head Abdul Hai Elahi said in a 4 January interview with the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service that the Afghan government is determined to eliminate opium-poppy cultivation and that it has promised farmers they will be compensated with alternative crops. Elahi vowed on 3 January that the necessary resources to fight narcotics production and trafficking will be mobilized, and he called on the international community for help, IRNA reported. President Hamid Karzai's national-security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, discussed joint counternarcotics activities during a December visit to Tehran, but Afghan farmers are reluctant to give up opium cultivation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime has reported that the crop in Afghanistan will yield 3,400 tons of opium this year. (Bill Samii)

Helmand Province Deputy Governor Haji Hayatullah complained on 5 January about the failure of the central government to help farmers who have destroyed their opium-poppy crops, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported. Hayatullah described crop destruction in seven provincial districts, noting that the central government has promised to compensate or otherwise help the farmers, but this has not happened. "High-ranking officials have made many promises," Hayatullah said, "but they have not carried any of them out." To stop poppy cultivation, Hayatullah said, the farmers should receive food assistance, financial compensation, and seeds, and irrigation systems should be repaired. (Bill Samii)

An Iranian delegation headed by Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi arrived in Kabul on 5 January to hold discussions about the campaign against narcotics, IRNA reported. Hashemi said on 1 January that the ease with which Afghan narcotics enter Iran is contributing to drug abuse, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Hashemi said Iran will increase its interdiction efforts with the addition of X-ray equipment and radar systems. He added that Iran will train Afghan policemen, strengthen guard posts on both sides of the border, and increase intelligence exchanges. (Bill Samii)

Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Wardak met with Hashemi on 6 January in Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. Wardak asked for help in training the police, and he asked the Iranians to share their experience, IRNA reported the next day. Hashemi called on the Afghans to get serious about battling narcotics, according to IRNA. He also warned against victimizing already impoverished farmers, saying it would be more effective to train Afghan police, formulate effective laws, and develop alternatives for farmers. Hashemi said the two countries should strengthen border-control cooperation, and he described the need for a "security belt" around Afghanistan to stem the flow of smuggled drugs. The Iranian desire for a "security belt" around Afghanistan dates to at least March 2000, when Law Enforcement Forces deputy commander Mohsen Ansari called for one, IRNA reported on 2 March 2000. (Bill Samii)

Hashemi participated on 7 January in a counternarcotics conference in Kabul, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Pashtu-language service reported. Also in attendance were Rasul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's national-security adviser; Karzai himself; UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi; a delegation from the United Nations; and a British delegation. A 7 January IRNA report said U.S. and German delegates were expected to attend the meeting, but it did not say whether they did so. (Bill Samii)

Afghan border authorities seized more than 300 rockets on 1 January, Reuters reported the next day. Colonel Sayyed Rahman, an overseer of frontier security in Nangarhar Province, said his forces arrested men near Torkham, a major border-crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan, hauling the rockets with donkeys and horses, the reported added. Sayyed Rahman said the artillery rockets are BM-12s, some of which are Russian-made, Reuters reported. The identities of the men arrested in the case, which is one of the largest rocket seizures since the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001, is being investigated by Afghan authorities. (Amin Tarzi)

Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi said on 8 January that the United States has pledged to provide $2.5 million for the ministry and an additional $1 million to promote literacy and educational programs for women in Afghan provinces, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. The donations were promised by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who along with Sorabi inaugurated the first meeting in Kabul of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council on 8 January, the radio reported. The council is co-chaired by Afghan and U.S. officials and is dedicated to creating public-private partnerships to boost Afghan women's involvement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, according to a 7 January U.S. State Department report. For more on the council, see (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai said in a radio address on 2 January that his administration wants to establish a democratic system that will be in full compliance with the historical and social circumstances of Afghanistan and will respect the wishes of the people, Islamic teachings, and national values, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said democracy is in complete harmony with the tenets of Islam. He pointed to the traditional Afghan social system of grand assemblies (loya jirgas) as an example of "traditional democracy," adding that democracy is "deeply rooted" in Afghan history. (Amin Tarzi)

Gul Agha Sherzai told an audience at the Kandahar Municipality on 7 January that since the old afghani banknotes are no longer legal tender and that new afghanis have been distributed to replace them, there is no need for people to rely on foreign currency, "Arman-e Melli" reported the same day. Sherzai said it is illegal to "buy or sell things using foreign currency" and that violators will be questioned by security forces, the Kabul daily reported. Prior to the introduction of the new afghani banknotes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002), foreign currency, especially the Pakistani rupee and the U.S. dollar, were used in Afghanistan, as well as various types of afghani banknotes, most of which were printed by various warlords during the Afghan civil war of 1992-2001. (Amin Tarzi)

An Ariana Airlines passenger plane carrying pilgrims en route to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was forced by coalition aircraft on 7 January to land in the United Arab Emirates because of a bomb threat, the "Financial Times" reported the same day. However, the Afghan government announced that a search of the plane uncovered no bomb and that the report of a hijacking was incorrect, international media reported. A second Ariana passenger jet also carrying Afghan pilgrims was forced down in Sharjah, U.A.E., and was searched as a precautionary measure, the "Financial Times" reported. Both jets were allowed to continue their flights after the searches of the planes and passengers revealed no danger. The false reports of bombs on Afghan planes en route to Mecca could have been a deliberate attempt by some to discredit the antiterrorism coalition among the Afghans. (Amin Tarzi)

6 January 1842 -- British forces commence their retreat from Kabul upon ending the First Anglo-Afghan War that began in 1839 with the British installing Shah Shuja al-Dawla as a puppet Afghan king.

1 January 1965 -- The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan is established in Kabul. The party, which was based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, took control of Afghanistan in 1978 coup d'etat and invited the Soviet Union to invade the country in 1979.

4 January 1994 -- In clashes between fighters loyal to Burhanuddin Rabbani against fighters belonging to Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar alliance, at least 54 people were killed and around 1,000 injured in Kabul.

Sources: "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997)