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Afghan Report: March 14, 2003

14 March 2003, Volume 2, Number 9
By Tanya Goudsouzian

Throughout Afghanistan's recent history, whenever a political figure has been considered a thorn in the side of the Kabul regime, he has been dispatched on a diplomatic assignment to a distant land, explained Ahmad Wali Masud, Afghan ambassador to Britain and a younger brother of Ahmad Shah Masud, the late commander of the Northern Alliance.

This is precisely why he tries his best to spend 70 percent of his time in Afghanistan, he added with a grin.

Outspoken and politically active, Masud regularly travels to European countries for conferences and speaking engagements. He has made no secret of his opinion that the present government has done little to address the needs of the Afghan people.

With elections scheduled for mid-2004, critics maintain that President Hamid Karzai's administration has a weak leg to stand on. After two years in power, the warlords remain intransigent over their feudal turfs, and development efforts are hampered by the lack of security.

In order to redress some of the dissent within the administration and formulate a common working plan for the future, Karzai has appointed a commission "made up of monarchists and Northern Alliance sympathizers," Masud said.

The members of commission include the president's brother Qayum Karzai, Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, National Security Adviser Zalmay Rasul, presidential spokesman Tayeb Jawad, Education Minister Yunis Qanuni, and Masud.

"The objective [of the commission] is to ensure the present system remains in place and to deal with the impediments to progress and stability," he said. "There is a year left for the elections and a year left for this administration to prove itself."

Masud outlined what he thinks are the major impediments to the success of the current Transitional Administration. "Right now, most of the cabinet ministers are behaving like kings in their castles. They are working for the benefit of their own ethnic groups and recruiting members of their own ethnic groups to work in the ministries," he said. "There are also ministers who are acting far too independently, issuing decrees which undermine the authority of the president." He cited the Finance Ministry as an example.

He also mentioned the resurgent threat posed by Pakistan. "My feeling is that Pakistan has taken up its old program to wield influence over Afghanistan and destabilize the country," he said. "Instead of promoting stability, they are supporting the residual Taliban. Lately, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been active again, with Pakistan's support."

Masud believes that if there were more cohesion within the government, these Pakistani elements would not have a window of opportunity to penetrate Afghanistan. "If the commission can devise a common platform and formulate a strategy to unify the disparate factions, there would be no room for interference from any country," he said.

The ambassador criticized the current administration for launching the disarmament program in the north. "The north is much more stable than the south. Why are they starting the program from the north? Besides, if you want young men to abandon their weapons, it is better to start by offering them alternatives to earn a living. Otherwise, you create chaos," he said. "You must first create jobs in these areas. That's why there is a lot of resentment toward this disarmament program."

Masud also laments the lack of dialogue between the government and the people. "The Afghans must rely on themselves to rebuild the country. The government cannot be isolated from the people as it tries to keep the attention of the international community," he said. "The assistance of the international community is no excuse for the Afghan people to be made to think that the world will do everything for them."

Other factors that need to be addressed, he said, are the absence of a constitution, the absence of bona fide political parties, and the absence of a viable census for the 2004 elections (see below on formation of a new political party in Afghanistan).

"Nor do we have a national agenda that could give hope to the people of Afghanistan and create momentum," he said. "People will not rally around a personality anymore. Such a personality does not exist today."

Masud said he accepted the invitation to join the commission in order to help draft a clear "political, social, and reconstruction program that works for the benefit of the Afghan people." "But if I see that the commission's chief goal is to work toward preserving the current administration, then I will not have a part in it," he said.

The commission is scheduled to meet in Kabul within the coming weeks.

Asked whether he had any plans to run for office in the upcoming elections, he answered, "Let's see how things will develop."

Tanya Goudsouzian is a journalist who covers Afghanistan.

A new political party calling itself the National Democratic Front (NDF) was formed in Kabul on 10 March, Radio Afghanistan reported. The NDF will reportedly seek to "participate in the political sphere of Afghanistan as a political party in the future" but will serve as a council for the time being. An unidentified NDF member said the party's aim is to "implement democracy in Afghanistan in its true sense." According to a 7 March report by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the NDF is the brainchild of "liberal-minded intellectuals [who] have grown worried about the influence of extremists in President Hamid Karzai's transitional government, detecting their hand behind moves to ban cable TV, plus local-level prohibitions on women singing and being taught by men." The United Nations, a number of Western governments, and the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization National Democratic Institute for International Affairs assisted in the formation of the NDF, according to the IWPR. The NDF's platform is the establishment of "equal rights for men and women, separation of military and civilian authority, freedom of speech and religion, a campaign against drugs and terrorism, the creation of a tribunal for trying war crimes, and the building of a civil society." Members of the NDF "have already suffered intimidation from extremist organizations," the IWPR report added. Afghanistan does not have legislation on political parties, but a committee is discussing the draft of such a law (for more on Afghan elections, see Special Features above). (Amin Tarzi)

Latifa Langar, a professor at the Social Sciences Faculty of Kabul University, was quoted by the English-language "Kabul Weekly" on 26 February as saying "women want the same rights as men; they don't want to oppose [the men]." Langar said the only way to achieve this equality is by improving the education level of both sexes in Afghanistan. Jawayda Ahmadi, a professor at the university's Journalism Faculty, was more pessimistic, saying, "Afghan men are still treating women according to the old Taliban ways," as most women are confined to their homes. Ahmadi added that some Afghan women have jobs but still "face inequalities in treatment and salaries." Zohra Motahar of the Women's Affairs Ministry complained in the same article that nongovernmental organizations and other agencies "work in the name of [Afghan] women but they have done nothing so far." Motahar said most foreign workers "want to become famous" and that those who work "with honesty and commitment" are often discouraged from taking initiatives. She also complained about her own ministry, saying that it has done little to improve the situation of women outside of Kabul, "Kabul Weekly" reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Surabi said in an interview with Iranian state radio's Dari service on 27 February that the 1964 Afghan Constitution, on which the future Afghan constitution is to be based, "does not contain any article saying women's rights should be ignored," and she expressed her concern that women's rights stipulated in the future document will not be implemented. Surabi also criticized the Afghan legal system, saying it does not "always meet the expectations of women." She added that Afghan culture and traditions play the greatest role in preventing women from gaining their rights. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghanistan on 5 March ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, according to a statement from the United Nations that was obtained by "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report." "The convention will enter into force in Afghanistan on 4 April 2003," the statement read. The country's entry into the convention is seen as an illustration of the Transitional Administration's intention of safeguarding women's rights, and it also allows women to use provisions of the convention to protect themselves from discrimination. (Amin Tarzi)

A new all-female radio station called Voice of Afghan Women was inaugurated in Kabul on 8 March, International Women's Day, Iranian state radio's Zahedan-based Pashto service reported. The station will broadcast daily a total of one hour of programming in both Pashto and Dari. The radio station is funded by the UN Educational and Scientific Organization and is headed by Jamila Mujahed, an Afghan journalist who is also editor in chief of "Malalai," a French-funded magazine for women in Afghanistan, AP reported on 9 March. Mujahed said the new radio station "will focus on women -- the problems they face, and how they can find solutions for them," AP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

A radio station staffed by women and intended for a female audience was launched in Mazar-e Sharif on 9 March, Balkh Television reported. The ceremony was presided over by Mohammad Abdu, the head of Balkh Province's Information and Culture Department, and a representative of Ampex Corporation of Canada, which provided funding for the station, Balkh Television reported. The new 50-kilowatt FM radio station, named Rabia Balkhi, will broadcast two hours of programs per day, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

President Hamid Karzai told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 26 February that Western press reports that his administration is unable to control "warlords and provincial people" are not accurate, adding that the central "government has much more authority in charge of the country" than is presumed, the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 27 February. Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican, Nebraska) told Karzai that if he "leave[s] an impression that everything is going well and the problems and challenges are minimal but they are all manageable,...the next time" he comes to ask for help in maintaining security in Afghanistan, his "credibility will be in question." Hagel said he understands that Karzai is "in a delicate spot" but that he "needs to be clear as to what his needs are," AFP reported on 27 February. Karzai asked the United States not to forget Afghanistan "if Iraq happens," adding that it would be "very, very unwise to reduce attention to Afghanistan" in the event that war breaks out in Iraq, AP reported on 26 February. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. President George W. Bush apologized to President Karzai for the treatment the Afghan leader received during his 26 February appearance before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "The Washington Post" reported on 11 March. Heads of state usually meet with the senators privately, but Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) invited Karzai to a meeting room with reporters present, and the Afghan president was asked questions that he "did not expect and had not prepared for," the report added. Andrew Fisher, a spokesman for Lugar, said the Afghan delegation "clearly knew the format and that [the meeting] would be public," adding that Lugar had sent a letter to Karzai two weeks in advance about the format of the meeting and that the Afghan Embassy in Washington had inspected the meeting room and approved the format. (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai was angry, particularly with Afghan Ambassador to the United States Ishaq Shahryar, when he left the U.S. Senate meeting, "The Washington Post" reported on 11 March, citing unidentified Afghan officials. According to the Washington daily, unconfirmed reports indicated that Shahryar, who is absent from the current meeting in Kabul of all Afghan ambassadors, will be removed from his position. Shahryar, a highly successful businessman and one of the inventors of solar-chip technology, gave up his U.S. citizenship to assume the ambassadorial post in Washington. (Amin Tarzi)

In an exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan on 11 March, Shahryar said the news of his removal is a laughable rumor and that President Karzai has not informed him of any such possibility. Regarding his absence from the meeting in Kabul of Afghan ambassadors, Shahryar said the U.S. assistance package for Afghanistan is in its final stages of approval by the U.S. Congress and that he believes it is more important to work on that than to travel to Kabul. Shahryar confirmed that he and his deputy, Harun Amin, are experiencing some problems, adding that Amin "has never cooperated" with him and that Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is aware of the situation. Shahryar said it is ridiculous to believe that he would be removed from his position because of disagreements with his deputy, who he claimed arranged Karzai's meeting with the Senate, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Amin is affiliated with the Jamiat-e Islami party to which Abdullah also belongs, while Shahryar is not known to have any Afghan political affiliations. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai said during his testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 26 February that Afghanistan is "moving more and more toward stability and security" and that as a result, "we have not really talked for quite some time" about expanding the role of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 28 February. Karzai said he is "seeking U.S. support for paying the irregulars [nongovernment soldiers]" to ensure they are "not left without payment or without salaries" and will "remain well-behaved," UPI reported on 27 February. Karzai said he would not oppose the expansion of the ISAF but will not request it, and he urged the United States to help establish a strong National Afghan Army, UPI reported. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Lugar said that at "this critical stage, the [ISAF] is inadequate to provide security for political reconstruction and distribution to key areas of the country," adding that he would like to see a role for NATO in assuming the leadership of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the "Chicago Tribune" reported. Karzai had until recently been urging the international community to expand the ISAF's mandate beyond Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003), and Afghan Ambassador to the United States Shahryar on 12 February urged the Foreign Relations Committee to support the expansion of the ISAF's role (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

President Karzai issued a decree on 3 March appointing Enayatullah Enayat as the new governor of Faryab Province, Afghanistan Television reported on 3 March. The report did not elaborate on the reasons for the new appointment, but the move could be related to recent clashes in January and February in Faryab between forces loyal to the Junbish-e Islami party and the Jamiat-e Islami party (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 27 February 2003). Enayat is replacing Mohammad Saleh Zari, who is reportedly allied with Jamiat-e Islami. (Amin Tarzi)

The 2nd Battalion of Afghanistan's armed forces has collected 380 pieces of weaponry from the residents of Kohmard District of central Afghanistan's Bamyan Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 March. Most of the local commanders in the region, "who had oppressed the people," have escaped, the report added. Bamyan Governor Abdul Rahim Aliyarzada told Hindukosh that the government "has not had any influence in Kohmard District for a year." As a result, no reconstruction projects have begun there. However, following the successful arms-collection program, the district will be placed "at the top of the list" for future reconstruction programs, Aliyarzada said. (Amin Tarzi)

Three people were reported killed in clashes in northern Afghanistan on 5 March between forces loyal to two regional commanders of the Jamiat-e Islami party, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. One of the commanders, Rahin, was reportedly among those killed in the fighting in the Gosfandi District of Sar-e Pol Province. The fighting stemmed from "an internal conflict" between commander Rahin's troops and those of commander Ayyub within the 6th Division of military forces loyal to Jamiat-e Islami, according to the report. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has dispatched a delegation to the region to assess the situation. International aid to Sar-e Pol Province and neighboring Faryab Province has been halted for the past two months because of "continuous confrontation in the region." Faryab Province has been the scene of sporadic clashes between commanders loyal to Jamiat-e Islami and the Junbish-e Melli parties (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 27 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Thirteen rockets hit Bagram Air Base on 25-26 February, but the headquarters of the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces did not sustain any damage, Afghanistan Television reported on 26 February. (Amin Tarzi)

A car bomb killed three members of a tribal council and injured five people in the Jali District of Kandahar Province on 10 March, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials in Kandahar are blaming members of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami, the report added. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident. According to AP on 11 March, the attack was carried out using a remote-controlled mine, not a car bomb. Terrorist activities presumed to have been carried out by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Hizb-e Islami have been on the rise in Kandahar in recent months (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 and 30 January and 13 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

A vehicle belonging to the World Food Program that was carrying foodstuffs was stopped at a checkpoint in Haftasiab area of Wardak Province on 7 March, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 March. The station cited the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as saying three armed men reportedly blindfolded occupants of the vehicle and looted the supplies on board, as well as communications equipment and cash. (Amin Tarzi)

Security forces have arrested six men in connection with the July 2002 attack on a vehicle belonging to the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), Afghanistan Television reported on 9 March. In the attack on the Tashqorghan-Hairatan road in northern Afghanistan, robbers took a large sum of money and equipment from the ACTED vehicle and raped a woman traveling in the car, according to the report. The arrested suspects have been transferred to Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

Twelve police officers were injured on 1 March in clashes that erupted after a group of 300 Kabul residents stormed police station No. 14 in the Dasht-e Barchi area of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported. The crowd was protesting "a misunderstanding regarding an action taken by" officers at the police station, according to Afghan state radio, which did not elaborate on what the "misunderstanding" was. The report added that the demonstrators threw a hand grenade into the police station. The rioters were dispersed after Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq addressed the crowd, the report added. According to residents of Dasht-e Barchi cited by AP on 1 March, the clash resulted from "rumors that [police] officers raped two women." The police allegedly fired on the crowd, injuring two civilians, AP reported. Dasht-e Barchi is populated primarily by the Hazara ethnic group, to which Planning Minister Mohaqeq belongs. (Amin Tarzi)

Fazl Ahmad Faqiryar, a lawyer representing the demonstrators accused of injuring 12 police officers and throwing a grenade at police station No. 14 in Kabul's Dasht-e Barchi District on 1 March, has said the injuries policemen sustained when protesters stormed the station were caused by stones and not a grenade, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 March. Faqiryar said that members of a commission formed to investigate the incident and a team of criminal investigators have visited the area and interviewed eyewitnesses but have not found any signs of a grenade attack. Radio Afghanistan added that the Interior Ministry has announced a list of new officers to be stationed at police station No. 14. (Amin Tarzi)

Ali Ahmad Jalali on 5 March told a gathering of Dasht-e Barchi residents at police station No. 14 that the "police are the servants of the people," Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali said the "role of the people is essential" to the maintenance of peace and security and asked residents to cooperate with the national police, the report added. Jalali "gave due instructions" for solving the problems faced by Dasht-e Barchi residents, the report added, but did not elaborate on his instructions or what those problems might be. (Amin Tarzi)

Amnesty International on 12 March released a report in which it says Afghanistan urgently needs a functioning and efficient criminal-justice system that protects and promotes human rights and that a police service that serves the community must be an integral part of such a system. The report, titled "Afghanistan: Police Reconstruction Essential For The Protection of Human Rights," adds that after more than two decades of armed conflict during which human rights were routinely abused, and the police force, prison system, and courts in Afghanistan were almost completely destroyed, the Afghan people are virtually left with no protection. The report adds that not only are police unable to guarantee the protection of human rights in Afghanistan, some members of the police are themselves involved in committing human rights violations. The report acknowledges that the situation in Afghanistan is currently far from reaching standards set by international law. However, it says these standards are the benchmarks to which all institutions concerned with protecting human rights must aspire and that all steps must be taken to implement these standards in the future. (Amin Tarzi)

Hizb-e Islami leader Hekmatyar said in a recent statement that "people who support the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan are enemies of the people of Afghanistan," Iranian state radio's Pashtu-language service reported on 5 March. Hekmatyar went on to say that Afghanistan would be free of unrest once all foreign forces are expelled. The United States on 19 February announced that it considers Hekmatyar a "specially designated global terrorist" because of his cooperation with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda against the Afghan central government (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). Broadcasting Hekmatyar's statements in the Pashto language is part of Iranian efforts to use the ethnic factor to turn Pashtuns against the central government. (Bill Samii)

Former Taliban diplomat Nasir Ahmad Ruhi told Reuters that Osama bin Laden and a few of his companions were in the southwestern Nimruz Province when U.S.-led antiterrorism-coalition forces began operating in the Baghran area of neighboring Helmand Province in February (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003), the BBC reported on 9 March. This report came as the United States dismissed reports that two of bin Laden's sons were arrested in Afghanistan on 7 March, the BBC added. The source of Ruhi's information has not been reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department of Herat Province announced on 1 March that, as the people of Herat are Muslims, their "behavior and actions should be in line with Islamic regulations as well." Therefore, the sale of "films that are contrary to the tenets of Islam is prohibited," and the showing of such films in shops and hotels should be avoided, Herat Television reported the same day. The announcement also banned the use of loudspeakers in shops and hotels, the report added. Shops and restaurants often play music for their customers through loudspeakers. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mulla Fazl Hadi Shinwari on 21 January ordered a ban on cable-television broadcasts in Afghanistan, and in February northern Afghanistan's Konduz Province issued a decree banning the distribution and showing of videotapes (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 27 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The Endowment and Islamic Affairs Department of Herat Province has ordered a ban on satellite dishes and the viewing of movies, Radio Afghanistan reported on 5 March. Herat has also issued a warning to shopkeepers and other businesses to "remove posters of Indian film stars" on their premises, the report added. Radio Afghanistan noted that the former Taliban regime "also restricted movies, televisions, dish antennas, and posters." Herat Province on 1 March issued a ban on playing music in public and the sale and screening of movies. (Amin Tarzi)

The Supreme Court has issued a ban on the sale of posters of the Prophet Muhammad or other religious figures and has warned that anyone caught selling such posters will be prosecuted under Islamic law, Radio Free Afghanistan reported from Kabul on 11 March. Posters bearing images of the Prophet Muhammad and the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali, have appeared in Kabul markets, according to the report, and the Supreme Court views the practice as a sign of disrespect. Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari has accused Iranian Jews of exporting such posters to Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 11 March. In Sunni Islam, depiction of prophets is prohibited, but Shia Muslims venerate representational paintings of Ali and his sons. (Amin Tarzi)

The local private Itehad Internet Company on 1 March launched Kandahar Province's first Internet service, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported the next day. The service is capable of handling 1,000 connections at a cost of $3 per hour, an amount that is to be halved once better lines are set up, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Air Transport and Tourism Minister Mohammad Mir-Wais Sadeq said on 26 February that an agreement has been reached with Azerbaijan that would allow Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines to begin flights to Baku and allow Azerbaijan Airlines to commence flights to Kabul, Afghanistan Television reported the same day. An Azerbaijan Airlines passenger plane flew from Baku to Kabul on 15 January, making the airline the first to establish a regular route to Kabul since the fall of the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios announced on 27 February that the organization will provide funding for the reconstruction of 1,000 schools across Afghanistan over the next three years at an estimated cost of $60 million, according to USAID's press office. The initiative will also provide for the printing of up to 15 million textbooks and the training of 30,000 classroom teachers, the report added. "As President [George W.] Bush has repeated, the American people believe strongly in making continued investments in Afghanistan's future," Natsios said, adding that in "village after village that I visited in Afghanistan, the people told me the hope for the future was their children. And that meant education." Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. (Amin Tarzi)

22 February 1921 -- Treaty of friendship signed between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union after Afghanistan gained its full independence from Britain in 1919.

6 March 1956 -- Southeast Asia Treaty Organization member states declare that the territory up to the Durand Line -- the present-day Afghanistan-Pakistan border, disputed by Afghanistan since the formation of Pakistan in 1948 -- is Pakistani territory. This pushes Kabul further into Moscow's orbit.

7 March 1993 -- The Islamabad Accord between warring Afghan factions (except those of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mawlawi Yunos Khales) nominates Burhanuddin Rabbani president for 18 months and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as prime minister, but the accord fails to achieve peace.

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