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Afghan Report: March 27, 2003

27 March 2003, Volume 2, Number 11

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By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The celebration of International Women's Day on 8 March was a time for reflection on the dramatic improvement of women's rights in Afghanistan, seen by many as among the greatest human rights success stories of the era.

In Kabul, 1,500 women from the capital and provinces attended a public event, a sign of a "a big change in Afghan women's life, as well as a significant sign of their interest in social affairs," Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Surabi told IRIN, the United Nations news agency, on 8 March.

Yet, such celebration is challenged by international advocacy groups who say progress is less than meets the eye and real obstacles persist for women throughout Afghanistan. While acknowledging gains brought on by outside intervention, especially in access to education, their appreciation of the role of U.S.-led military power in defeating the Taliban is decidedly muted.

Since the coalition's air strikes began in October 2001, Western feminists, as well as those in the "global South," have agonized over the ramifications of achieving women's rights through war and have been quick to find a lack of commitment among Western leaders to long-term support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Human rights groups have also tended to focus on the unmet promises of the international community. In a December 2002 report (, Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited negative trends such as a reconfigured Vice and Virtue Squad (renamed "Islamic Teaching") with a team of some 90 women under the Ministry of Religious Affairs that the report said was used by authorities to reprimand women for "un-Islamic behavior" like wearing makeup. HRW said men continue to harass women who have discarded the head-to-toe veil known as the burqua. Most ominously, HRW documents increasingly violent attacks, including rocket firings, at girls' schools.

"All over Afghanistan, especially outside the capital, progress on female education is being compromised by the behavior of ultraconservative local leaders, allies of the U.S.-led coalition in the war against the Taliban. They used their connections to the United States to seize power but then embraced some of the Taliban's most odious restrictions," HRW researchers write in an op-ed article published in the "International Herald Tribune" on 21 January.

Most of the HRW report focuses on the western province of Herat, "the worse province for women in Afghanistan," in the words of a UN official interviewed, and the north, where HRW reports that three rival forces have committed abuses against Pashtun women and girls, raping entire households.

While remaining neutral on the issue of the coalition's war itself, HRW's solution to end such brutalities involves more extensive deployment of international security forces. The watchdog group accuses both the European Union and the UN of "self-reinforcing obstructiveness" on the issue, although no Western state seems willing to suffer the public outcry over inevitably greater casualties resulting from the deployment of more troops on the ground in Afghanistan against warlords.

Solving security issues alone would only be a start. Even violent attacks by warlords are dwarfed by the number of maternal deaths suffered in everyday life. Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based group, found in a 2002 study of Herat Province (with a population of more than 1 million) that the rate of women dying in childbirth was 593 per 100,000 live births. The tradition of giving birth at home and the requirement that women seek their husbands' permission to get outside medical care, as well as the dearth of health facilities to turn to even with such permission, compound the tragedy (see

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health found even worse conditions for the whole country. An average of 1,600 women die in Afghanistan for every 100,000 live births -- a figure that suggests Afghanistan may be the worst place in the world for a woman to become pregnant. In Badakhshan, the rate is an alarming 6,500 deaths per 100,000 live births (see "Afghanistan: Study Shows Alarming Rate Of Maternal Mortality,", 8 November 2002).

To reverse such trends, far more investment of time and money will have to be made into Afghanistan's reconstruction. In an advocacy report bluntly titled "Rebuilding Afghanistan: A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action," the humanitarian organization CARE graphically demonstrated international priorities with a pie chart showing $10.2 billion, or 84 percent of international funding, going to the military costs of fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; $540 million, or 4 percent, for international peacekeeping; $1.16 billion, or 9 percent, going to emergency humanitarian aid; and $365.5 million, or 3 percent, going to reconstruction (see Their wish list for major donors involves pledging and delivering $10 billion over the next five years to rebuild Afghanistan and to release both emergency and long-term reconstruction funds simultaneously -- goals that are unrealistic because of the costs of the ongoing U.S.-led war in Iraq.

While outspoken groups abroad have linked their demands for Afghanistan to purse strings controlled by their governments and parliaments, the groups working within Afghanistan have more quietly focused on day-to-day, incremental improvements and making do with the limited funds available. Nasrine Abou-Bakre Gross, leader of Negar-Support of Women of Afghanistan, a Paris-based Afghan women's organization, is an Afghan woman who spent many years in the United States and now lives in Kabul. Avoiding what she views as shrill and uninformed Western attacks on Islam, she outlines in various essays on her group's website ( a vision affirming the equality of rights and dignity found in traditional Muslim beliefs.

In a February report, Gross tabulates the gains of women in ministerial positions in Afghanistan: three ministers (minister of women's affairs, public health, and minister of state for women's issues), four deputy ministers, five women generals, a dozen division chiefs in ministries, and two out of nine commissioners in the Constitutional Drafting Commission.

Critics have called these positions for women "symbolic," and some radical groups claim some of their occupants represent nondemocratic causes such as the old pro-Soviet or pro-Iranian agendas. Still, Gross writes matter-of-factly that, once employed, women quietly pursue efforts within these government agencies to provide necessities such as day care, as well as to form women's councils to look after literacy, computers, human rights, English-language courses, and even successfully combat sexual harassment. While the violent attacks described in the reports of international human rights groups are not remote to these women, they do not offset the gains they have achieved. Many hundreds of women are now employed in education, public health, communications, and agriculture, though not at the pre-Taliban level. For example, 1,800 women employees out of a total of 75,000 can be found in the Interior Ministry and are said to be lobbying President Hamid Karzai to issue a regulation that female employees must wear uniforms and caps rather than headscarves while on duty. Gross cites that there are 1,283 women out of 7,779 employees in 27 factories around Afghanistan in the Ministry of Light Industries and 442 women out of 2,560 employees in the Ministry of Information and Culture. The Ministry of Education, with 939 women out of 4,575 employees, was the largest employer of women.

Afghanistan ratified on 5 March the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the UN announced in a statement the same day. While its possibilities remain exotic for too many women, there are persistent efforts to realize them. Participants in a conference on Afghan women's issues held in Kabul in February issued a communique demanding the "termination of all forms of discrimination" and "threats and violence against women," the Kabul paper "Sirat" reported on 22 February. They also called for the new Afghan constitution to include rights for women and urged campaigns to eliminate illiteracy (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003).

The UN Economic and Social Council presented a draft resolution on 11 March in which it urges the Afghan Transitional Administration to "repeal all legislative and other measures that discriminate against women and girls," the UN Commission on the Status of Women reported. The draft also urges the Transitional Administration to "enable women and girls full, equal, and effective participation in civil, cultural, economic, and political and social life throughout" Afghanistan. The draft calls on the Transitional Administration to "improve the practices of law enforcers when dealing with women victims of violence, particularly those accused of offenses based on tradition." The draft also calls for the right of female Afghans to education, to own property, and to inheritance. Afghanistan on 5 March ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on 19 March opened an office in Herat, the first of seven planned regional offices, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported. The AIHRC was established under the provisions of the 2001 Bonn Agreement and plans to open offices in Mazar-e Sharif, Kandahar, Bamyan, Jalalabad, Gardayz, and Fayzabad to address its nationwide mandate, the report added. Human rights groups have criticized Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan for his policies of segregating the sexes, as well as the treatment of prisoners and freedom of the media in the province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002 and 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Sima Samar, the head of the Afghan AIHRC, has said that human rights violations are being committed "not only in Herat but in many provinces of Afghanistan," "The Kabul Times" reported on 20 March. Samar, who was in Herat for the inauguration of the first satellite office of the AIHRC, added that her commission is in "Herat to study and monitor the human rights issue more thoroughly and closely." (Amin Tarzi)

Ahmad Behzad, a reporter working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, was assaulted and detained by security personnel in Herat Province on 19 March, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Behzad said the incident occurred when he was interviewing Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, who was in Herat for the inauguration of the local office of the AIHRC. Behzad said that when he asked Jalali about reported human rights violations -- especially violations of the rights of women -- in Heart Province, he was stopped by Herat Governor Ismail Khan and ordered to leave the room. When Behzad did so, Herat Security Chief Nasir Ahmad Alawi began beating him and took him into custody. Behzad said he was released six hours later and suffered only superficial wounds. More than 50 people witnessed the incident, Behzad added. Behzad also said that in his view Herat Province officials expect international journalists to act in the same manner that journalists from Afghan state media do. (Amin Tarzi)

Behzad, along with a group of journalists including Masud Hasanzada of Voice of America (VOA) as well as the BBC, on 24 March announced that they will leave Herat Province for one week and abstain from covering the region to protest Governor Ismail Khan's recent crackdown on the media. The weekly "Takhasus" and the monthly "Shugufa," along with a number of journalists from newspapers in Herat, proclaimed they will also join the protest, citing Ismail Khan's arrest and beating Behzad on 19 March.. Before the journalists left the province, Herat security chief Nasim Alawi told Behzad on 24 March that Ismail Khan demanded explicitly that Behzad was to leave Herat immediately. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan on 24 March, Behzad said that journalists and writers from most media outlets in Herat have signed an open letter to Karzai asking him to intervene to oppose Ismail Khan's efforts to stifle the press. (Amin Tarzi)

Foreign correspondents on 25 March left western Afghanistan's Herat Province for one week to protest Behzad's beating and arrest on 19 March, Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 March. The report added that Herat security chief Nasim Alawi "warned Behzad to leave Herat City." The Commission for the Establishment of Liberal Journalists of Afghanistan protested the beating of Behzad and asked the authorities of the Afghan Transitional Administration to "take measures to restore respect for the journalists" and to establish a committee to investigate the incident, Radio Afghanistan reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Representative Ed Royce (Republican, California) presented a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives on 18 March condemning "death by stoning as a gross violation of human rights," according to a press release from the representative's office. While focusing on the practice of stoning in Nigeria, he also singled out Afghanistan as a possible area of concern. He noted that Afghan women lived under brutal conditions during Taliban rule and were subject to public stonings, and he said: "Afghanistan remains a fragile state. Many parts of Afghanistan are struggling with the questions of how to govern. This resolution is our message that stoning should have no role in today's Afghanistan or anywhere in today's age." Under the strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic jurisprudence), the punishment of women who are found guilty of adultery is death by stoning. Afghan criminal codes are under review, and while there are no indications that the practice of stoning will be revived, there are signs that conservative forces might try to influence the new laws to contain some of the draconian rules that existed under the Taliban. (Amin Tarzi)

Forces loyal to renegade tribal leader Pacha Khan Zadran battled with U.S. and Afghan government forces on 12 March along the Khost-Gardayz road in Uza, Paktiya Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 13 March. This was the first time U.S. forces have clashed directly with Zadran's troops, according to AIP. Zadran was an ally of Afghan President Karzai and the United States, as well as a signatory to the 2001 Bonn Agreement, but he later took up armed opposition against the central government. Since November 2002, Zadran 's forces have been attempting to take control of Gardayz, the capital of Paktiya Province, where he was once governor (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). Zadran told AIP that U.S. and Afghan forces came to the area he controls and requested that his forces hand over their weapons and "leave the area." When he refused, according to Zadran, "fighting flared up." Zadran said his forces prevailed in the fighting and that six of his troops were killed when U.S. aircraft bombed the area. Radio Afghanistan on 13 March reported that U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King said a U.S. Special Forces patrol was attacked by 20 men along the Khost-Gardayz road and that several hours of fighting ensued. U.S. forces called for air support, and five attackers were killed, according to the report. (Amin Tarzi)

We will not "allow Afghan forces to use the Khost-Gardayz main road, and if U.S. forces want to use this road, they should ask us for permission," Zadran told AIP. He said the present administration in Kabul is "the Northern Alliance government, and I don't obey Hamid Karzai." Asked what his reaction would be if U.S. forces launched a major operation again his forces, Zadran said, "I will never hand over my weapons and will continue to fight to the end." The Khost-Gardayz road was blocked by the Zadran tribe from 22 February to 4 March and was reopened following negotiations (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Khan Mohammad Yar, a spokesman for the renegade commander Pacha Khan Zadran, has said that Jalani Khan, the eldest son of Pacha Khan Zadran, and 10 other troops were killed on 23 March in fighting between U.S. forces and Zadran's supporters in Paktiya Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 24 March. U.S. sources confirmed the fighting but said only one rebel was killed, "The New York Times" reported on 24 March. (Amin Tarzi)

Approximately 1,000 U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division launched an operation in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province just minutes after the military campaign in Iraq began on 20 March, international media reported. Colonel Roger King, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Operation Valiant Strike is focused on the province's Maruf District and was initiated after U.S. forces received "a mosaic of different intelligence inputs," AP reported on 20 March. Kandahar government spokesman Khaled Pashtun said that "the U.S. forces were looking for Taliban" forces, adding that he was unsure if Al-Qaeda members were also being targeted, AP reported. King said Operation Valiant Strike is the largest military operation in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda in March 2002. (Amin Tarzi)

Colonel King said it is only a coincidence that the military strikes in Afghanistan began just after U.S.-led military operations were begun in Iraq, AP reported. However, the timing of Operation Valiant Strike in Afghanistan "appears to indicate that the Bush administration wants the war against terror at the same time that it prosecutes a war against Iraq," "The New York Times" commented on 20 March. (Amin Tarzi)

Operation Valiant Strike was launched following the receipt of "intelligence reports that Islamist militants were regrouping in the Kandahar region" and that U.S. forces in Afghanistan "were expecting to come under attack when the war on Iraq began," "The Guardian" reported on 21 March (see above). However, U.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King said that "operations in Afghanistan are conducted completely independent of any operations in other sectors [i.e., Iraq]." (Amin Tarzi)

As part of Operation Valiant Strike, U.S. and Romanian forces have captured six men, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 March. (Amin Tarzi)

An Afghan soldier was killed and a U.S. soldier was injured on 12 March when the vehicle they were traveling in triggered a mine in Barikot in eastern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. Afghanistan remains one for the most heavily mined countries in the world as a result of mines laid by Soviet troops in the 1980s and by various mujahedin factions during the Afghan civil war. More recently, mines have been used against U.S.-led antiterrorism forces operating in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

On 19 March, unidentified gunmen launched an attack on U.S. and Italian forces stationed in eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. No casualties were reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified assailants on 19 March fired 13 rockets at U.S. bases in Afghanistan but failed to hit their targets, "The New York Times" reported on 22 March. Colonel King, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, indicated that the attacks were probably timed to coincide with the start of the military action in Iraq, but he denied that they constituted any coordinated plan to attack U.S. bases. "These people are just -- you shoot a rocket and maybe something happens and maybe it doesn't," King said. "There is no intended outcome you can see." The Pakistani newspaper "Khabrain" on 20 March reported that forces opposing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan have "invented a new 16-kilometer-range missile, [called] 'Pamir,'" and have "changed their strategy" from being coordinated by a central command to operating in loose groups headed by local commanders. (Amin Tarzi)

Six U.S. servicemen onboard a U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter died when their aircraft crashed in Ghazni Province on 23 March, the BBC reported. According to U.S. Central Command, the helicopter was on a "medical evacuation mission" and was not brought down by ground fire. The helicopter was trying to rescue two Afghan children. (Amin Tarzi)

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 17 March that after speaking with new NATO Supreme Commander General James Jones, he believes the Atlantic alliance is ready to "take over greater responsibility" in respect to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ddp news agency reported. The report added that NATO might take over command of ISAF in the fall, when the current German-Dutch command is scheduled to end. The issue of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan has been the topic of intense discussion since early 2002, and NATO logistical support for ISAF was formally approved during the alliance's Prague summit last November (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 November 2002). However, some NATO members, particularly France, have remained opposed to the alliance's involvement in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut said on 15 March that it is too early to think of a NATO command for ISAF, partly because NATO is closely associated with the United States, AP reported. Flahaut said he does not "rule out" that NATO command of ISAF "could happen eventually," but not at the present time. Germany has expressed hope that NATO will relieve it of its ISAF command duties in late October, saying the alliance could provide the international security force with more stable leadership. France and Belgium have indicated that NATO's expansion to Afghanistan would make the alliance a tool of U.S. policy in the region. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Transitional Administration has decided to release "all of those Pakistani prisoners who had been captured fighting for the Taliban regime," Radio Afghanistan reported on 16 March. Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Rostam Shah Mohmand said that the more than 900 remaining Pakistani prisoners who were captured in 2001 after the U.S.-led campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will be released at the order of President Karzai. Mohmand said this move "will further strengthen the economic and cultural relations of Pakistan and Afghanistan," the report added. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told PTV on 16 March that the "implementation of the decision will take some time due to logistics problems" but called the move a "positive step" in strengthening Kabul-Islamabad relations. Thousands of Pakistanis fought alongside the Taliban regime in Afghanistan while Islamabad was the primary political and military backer of the Taliban. However, after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Pakistan abandoned its former allies and sided with the United States. Many Afghans remain edgy over close ties with Pakistan and still believe that Islamabad is interfering in Afghanistan's domestic affairs. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan authorities have announced that just 72 Pakistani prisoners will be released from custody, "not the hundreds originally reported," "The Guardian" reported on 21 March. The report added that those Pakistanis not being released from various prisons in Afghanistan are "said to be suspected of having links" with Al-Qaeda. More than 1,000 Pakistanis remain in Afghan prisons. The change of plan may be related to reports that the United States asked Afghanistan to screen the prisoners more carefully before handing them over to Pakistan. Most of the Pakistanis fighting for the Taliban belonged to Islamist parties that still support the ousted regime and may be sheltering some of the senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda members. (Amin Tarzi)

A group of 18 Afghan prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of being members of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, were released on 21 March and flown to the U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, "The New York Times" reported on 24 March. Colonel King, the U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, did not provide any information about the freed prisoners but confirmed they were transferred to Afghan authorities, the report added. Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Hilaloddin Hilal said the United States told him "they could not find any evidence that [the 18 men] are guilty of anything." Hilal declined comment on the identities of the prisoners, saying only that one is a 20-year-old student "who is widely considered here to have been unjustly imprisoned." He said that in war "it is difficult to differentiate between the guilty and the innocent." Hilal added that Afghan authorities are "optimistic that after one year the Americans are managing to differentiate, and they are releasing the innocent ones now." (Amin Tarzi)

Member of Parliament Oona King (Labour Party, East London) on 24 March questioned whether U.S. and British claims of Iraq's treatment of prisoners of war were being undermined by the detention in Guantanamo Bay of prisoners from the Afghan conflict, "The New York Times" reported. British Prime Minister Tony Blair responded, in the newspaper's words, that the "analogy was imperfect because the men held in Cuba were not combatants representing a country, but he [Blair] agreed that their status should be resolved speedily once they had given over their information about terrorism." On 7 February, Human Rights Watch proposed that "unlike the Al-Qaeda fighters, detainees who fought for the Taliban probably should be accorded POW status because they fought for the armed forces of a party to the [Geneva] Convention, whether or not their government was recognized and whether or not their fighters respected the laws of war." It is not clear whether the releases of Afghan prisoners from Cuba are related to the war in Iraq. (Amin Tarzi)

Some of the 18 Afghans freed from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 21 March have spoken about their experiences in prison, and some complained that they were innocent of any wrongdoings, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 March. A prisoner named Serajoddin said U.S. soldiers treated him well but that he was "sold" by General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The "Americans wanted to capture terrorists, and Dostum just wanted money, so he sold me," he said. Another prisoner, Abbasin, said that he believes that "things should remain secret" for the time being, "The New York Times" reported on 26 March. Many of the prisoners avoided criticizing the United States and were visibly nervous about their future in Afghanistan, the New York daily added. (Amin Tarzi)

Nangarhar Province military commander Hazrat Ali told a group of journalists on 17 March that for some time Pakistan, "taking advantage of the tense situation in Afghanistan," has started "some provocative activities among the Mohmand tribe" that lives in areas of southeastern Afghanistan, Hindukosh news agency reported. Hazrat Ali said Pakistan has constructed roads, extended electric lines, and is paying regular salaries to a "number of influential personalities" of the Mohmand tribe, and he described these acts as "interference" in Afghanistan's internal affairs. Hazrat Ali said the Council of Nangarhar has asked Governor Haji Din Mohammad to discuss this issue with President Karzai, Hindukosh reported. Afghanistan's six neighbors on 22 December signed a pact to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and to not interfere in its internal affairs. Prior to the pact, most of Afghanistan's neighbors, particularly Pakistan, directly interfered in Afghanistan's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Abdul Hosayn Hashemi, leader of the Peace Council of the People of Afghanistan, has said that comments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 2 March in which he said he expects Afghanistan to fulfill its commitments to supply Iran with water from the Hilmand River (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 March 2003) constitute interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs, the Kabul publication "Mashal-e Demokrasi" reported on 23 March. Hashemi said the "Iranian theologians [Iran's regime] should realize the fact that the Helmand River is the property of Afghans only" and that Iran has built canals on its side of the river in violation of international agreements. Rights to the water of the Helmand River, which originates in Afghanistan and flows into Iran's arid southeast, were a point of contention between Kabul and Tehran for years until an agreement was reached in 1973 establishing how much Helmand River water should reach Iran. Soon after the agreement, however, the Afghan monarchy was toppled in a coup in which the water-rights agreement was one of the antimonarchical rallying issues. The issue of Helmand River water rights, if not solved quickly, could lead to tension between Afghanistan and Iran. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai met with members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC) on 13 March and told them that, in fulfilling their "historical responsibility" in drafting the new Afghan constitution, the members of the CDC "should take national interests into account," Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said the CDC is determining the future shape of the country's political and administrative systems. CDC Chairman Nematullah Shahrani announced on 11 January that the preliminary draft of the new Afghanistan constitution would be ready by March 2003 and would subsequently be presented to the citizens of Afghanistan for consideration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni, leader of the predominantly Shia Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan, said on 25 March that in a meeting with members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission he proposed that, along with the Sunni Hanafi school of Jurisprudence, the Shia Ja'fari school of jurisprudence be included in the new constitution as an official sect, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 24 March. Mohseni said he proposed two additional formulas if his proposal is not accepted: mentioning "Islam and the Islamic sects," or just mentioning Islam without any mention of sects to ensure that Afghan Shia have their jurisprudence recognized and are allowed to "perform their religious duties according to it." The 1964 Afghan Constitution, which is to be the basis of the future constitution, states: "Islam is the sacred religion of Afghanistan. Religious rites performed by the state shall be according to the provisions of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence." This stipulation leaves Afghan Shia without proper representation. Conservative Sunni religious scholars have historically rejected including the Ja'fari school in the constitution (for more on the future Afghan constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The CDC announced on 16 March that a draft of the future Afghan constitution, titled "The New constitution for the New Afghanistan," has been completed, Iranian radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 17 March. The CDC said that "establishing the rule of law and ensuring national sovereignty were the main points" contained in the new draft constitution, which will also ensure "social justice" and establish a democratic system for an Afghanistan free of ethnic, racial, religious, and linguistic discrimination. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai canceled a planned trip to Islamabad at the last minute on 22 March, the BBC reported. Karzai was scheduled to be the guest of honor at a Pakistan National Day parade on 23 March. Karzai's spokesman, Sayyed Fazl Akbar, said the trip was called off because of intensification of the war in Iraq. Akbar told Hindukosh news agency on 23 March that Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached mutual agreement that the timing was not right for the visit. Akbar said Karzai's personal security might have been a factor in the cancellation of his trip. Afghanistan's government has endorsed the U.S.-led war on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 March 2003), although many Afghans remain opposed to it, according to the BBC. (Amin Tarzi)

Criticizing the Afghan Transitional Administration for not having a common strategy, the Kabul weekly "Edara" wrote on 23 March that while the Afghan Foreign Ministry has supported the use of military force to disarm Iraq (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 March 2003), Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari has "criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq," calling it a "brutal aggression against an Islamic country." Some Afghans sense that "high-ranking authorities" of the transitional government "have no common strategy in external" affairs, "Edara" commented, adding that if "these contradictions and differences" continue, Afghanistan will not be able to move toward prosperity. (Amin Tarzi)

Around 1,000 people staged an "anti-American and pro-Iraqi demonstration" in the Laghman Province of eastern Afghanistan, the Pakistan-based AIP reported. Demonstrators chanted slogans criticizing the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain but were prevented by local authorities from burning U.S. and British flags, AIP reported. The Laghman rally was the first recorded demonstration in Afghanistan against the war in Iraq. (Amin Tarzi)

Around 500 university students in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, marched on 25 March to protest the war in Iraq, AIP reported. Security forces prevented the students, who were reportedly chanting anti-American slogans, from continuing after they had marched just a short distance, AIP added. Afghanistan Television on 25 March confirmed reports of the student demonstration, adding that it "ended peacefully." Afghan security officials banned further rallies after the antiwar protest in Laghman Province on 23 March, AIP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Ismail Jaji, spokesman for the 3rd Battalion in Paktiya Province, said on 23 March that the Paktika, Paktiya, and Khost provinces in southeastern Afghanistan have been placed on high security alert to prevent incidents that might occur because of the war in Iraq, Iran radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Southeastern Afghanistan was one of the strongholds of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and has continued to be a volatile region. (Amin Tarzi)

Hamid Karzai told a cabinet meeting on 24 March that "Afghanistan's stance with regard to the war against Iraq is obvious," Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai added that the Afghan people love the Iraqi people and sympathize with them and with the "large Islamic country" of Iraq, but he said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "with his tyrannical and anti-Islamic performances, such as the wars and violations against Iraq's neighboring Muslim countries, Iran and Kuwait, brought disaster on the Iraqi nation." Reflecting on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Karzai said that despite religious and historical ties between Afghanistan and Iraq, the Iraqi leader supported the Soviets and "the communist aggressors [Soviet-installed government in Kabul] at the time of jihad of the Muslim people of Afghanistan" instead of supporting Afghans who were fighting for their freedom. Karzai added that his administration hopes the Iraqi people achieve their "just desire for a perfect and democratic government very soon" and that Iraq's "territorial integrity, independence, and its national rule are preserved," the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

The Dari-language Kabul daily "Anis" commented on 24 March that whereas some countries and people are opposed to the war in Iraq -- and the Afghan people are concerned about the welfare of Iraqi civilians, particularly given their own bitter experience of war -- "the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan compare their situation with the people of Iraq" and "believe that peace and democracy will be provided for Iraq at the end of the day and [that] the Iraqis will witness a regime that will be in accordance with their will and desire." The paper added that some in Afghanistan are sympathetic to the position of Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, who it says "compared the invasion of Iraq with the Russian [Soviet] aggression against Afghanistan and denounced it." "Anis" added that, "as the people of Afghanistan have been rescued from a dictatorial regime, the Iraqis have the right to decide their fate, too." Ismail Khan was in a Kandahar prison under the Taliban and came to power only after the U.S.-led military campaign that toppled that fundamentalist regime in late 2001. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of the antiterrorism coalition forces in Afghanistan, said on 23 March that he is "frustrated" that the international community, particularly Western countries, have not taken "more bold steps" to rebuild Afghanistan, London's "The Independent" reported. "What is needed now is an overstep by the international community towards reconstruction," McNeill said. As regards postwar Iraq, he said, "Clearly there is a lesson to be learnt for those who have responsibility for other conflicts and postconflict situations." (Amin Tarzi)

13 March 1973 -- Prime Minister Mohammad Musa Shafiq and his Iranian counterpart Amir Abbas Hoveyda sign a formal settlement of the Helmand River dispute.

16 March 1979 -- There is revolt in Herat City with the participation of the military garrison against the communist regime in Kabul. Thousands are reported to have been killed in the recapture of the town by government troops.

February 1997 -- President Burhanuddin Rabbani announces his refusal to retire on 21 March as stipulated in the United Nations plan but otherwise promises to support further peace efforts.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997); AP; and AFP.