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Afghan Report: May 1, 2003

1 May 2003, Volume 2, Number 15
By Amin Tarzi

On 27 April 1978 -- 7 Saur 1357 in the Afghan calendar -- a number of officers loyal to the banned People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) staged a bloody coup d'etat that overthrew the republican regime of Mohammad Daud, replacing it with a Marxist-ideology-based regime headed by Nur Mohammad Taraki. Most likely the coup was not sponsored by foreign countries but executed by members of the PDPA, after Mohammad Daud had arrested most of the top leaders of the party a day earlier. However, the PDPA had strong ties to the Soviet Union and, soon after taking power, the Soviets began assisting their new socialist neighbor. Initially the "Great Saur Revolution," as supporters of the putsch preferred to call it, did not receive much world attention.

The following was written in "The Washington Post" on 5 May 1978: "There's been another coup in Afghanistan [the other one being Mohammad Daud's coup of 17 July1973, in which he deposed his cousin, King Mohammad Zaher] or, perhaps one should say, in Kabul, since Afghanistan is one of those traditional countries, culture-locked as well as land-locked, where the regime in the capital changes occasionally but the hard lot of most of the people does not. This time the change was bloody, [and unlike] the last coup, which had somewhat the aspect of a family feud, this one had an ideological tinge...."

The PDPA was based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, even though Taraki in his initial radio broadcast on 5 May said, "Afghanistan has never had a party under the title of Communist Party." The reports that claimed that the PDPA espoused to communism, according to him, were "seditious fabrications." Apart from any other factor, the ideological platform of the party, to which its loyal members were steadily attached and showcased symbolically and with exaggeration, separated the PDPA from the people of Afghanistan. This divide between the people and the new regime eventually led the PDPA to plead for the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan to ensure the continuation of their regime. Of course, factors such as deep internal bloody squabbles within the PDPA, its increasingly brutal policy towards opponents of the regime, and foreign support that made the armed opposition to the PDPA regime ever stronger, also led to its demise.

Soon after the Saur coup, communist slogans and symbols adorned public buildings; a red banner, very similar to the Soviet flag, was adopted as the new national flag of Afghanistan; even the doors of houses in Kabul were ordered to be pained in red. More substantially, the PDPA began issuing decrees ostensibly to free Afghanistan from the "bondage of feudalism and backwardness" and to steer the country towards a "classless and progressive society."

Of the many decrees, three were consequential in galvanizing opposition to the PDPA regime. Decree No. 6 cancelled mortgages on lands leased to peasants by large landowners. Decree No. 7 cancelled marriage payments, prohibiting the custom whereby male relatives of a female forced her to marry against her wishes. It stipulated that widows could not be compelled to marry one of their dead husband's relatives, as was the custom among some Afghans. Decree No. 8 distributed land to landless peasants and ended ownership of large parcels of land. These decrees, well-intentioned as they may have been, were badly managed and enforced on a society that had not even reached -- using Marxist terminology -- the feudalism stage of development. There was virtually no class in Afghanistan that could have been labeled as the proletariat, which after becoming the ruling class could "centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state." In Afghanistan, the very structure of the state was in its formative stages of development. The majority of Afghans were illiterate and bound to antiquated customary practices. The PDPA regime spoke in a language laced with Marxian jargon and slogans, which were totally incomprehensible and alien to Afghans.

As such, the Saur coup was a revolution in that it turned the Afghan state-building process -- albeit a slow and problematic one -- on its head and plunged the country into chaos, which by 2001 had claimed more than 1 million Afghan lives and created a political void, full of ideology but empty of any substance other than oppression, in the geographical and imagined Afghanistans.

The 27 April putsch was initially opposed by a motivated, but badly armed resistance known as the Mujahedin (holy warriors), whose main motivation was the removal of the atheistic PDPA regime from power. Almost all leaders of the Mujahedin came from the clergy or Islamic mystical orders, or were members of the Islamist parties. Few observers at the time thought that the Mujahedin could match the Kabul regime. "Time" magazine wrote on 14 May 1979, more than a year after the Saur coup, that resistance groups "are armed mainly with shotguns and ancient Enfield rifles, and thus are no match for the Taraki regime's Soviet-equipped 80,000-man army." However, what proved to be the Achilles' heel for the PDPA, namely ideology, proved to become the arrow of Paris for the Mujahedin.

Almost exactly 13 years later, and after a decade of Soviet occupation (1979-89) on 28 April 1992, the Mujahedin triumphantly entered Kabul. Unfortunately, the final end of the Saur coup was at best a bittersweet one for Afghanistan. Almost from the outset, various Mujahedin groups, some incorporating in their ranks some of the very people they fought against for more than a decade, launched a terrifying civil war in Afghanistan over power.

Twenty-five years later, the memory for the Saur debacle itself is almost lost on the Afghan people, who have endured so much hardship both under the PDPA rule and under the subsequent regimes, in particular under the rule of the Taliban. So much wrong has been done, and some of the henchmen of the PDPA regime are not only walking guilt-free, but also are currently important personalities in Afghanistan. However, the effects of this carnage, not discounting the millions of dead and disabled Afghans and a destroyed country is, as written on 26 April 2003 in the Kabul daily "Anis," a "generation that has become acquainted with ammunition and weapons instead of pen and books."

Educating this generation about democracy, responsibility, civil society, equality, tolerance, and self-sufficiency is a mammoth task facing the current Afghan Transitional Administration. It is a task that cannot be done overnight, and any attempts to do so are likely to lead to disastrous consequences. The current, and subsequent administrations in Afghanistan as well as their international backers should learn a few lessons from the experiences of the last quarter-century of Afghan history. Firstly, no reform or change, however benevolent, can be imposed on the Afghans; it can be only brought to them incrementally. Secondly, Kabul is not Afghanistan. What may seem natural in Kabul or other major cities does not necessarily hold true everywhere else. Finally, reform can only come through widespread education and broad participation within the country as a whole.

Faruq Wardak, the secretary for the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC), has said that the draft of the future Afghan constitution, which has been prepared but not yet distributed to the public, will be the subject of a seminar to be held soon by the Constitutional Commission (CC), which is to take over the work of the CDC, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 22 April. According to Wardak, the new commission will inform the Afghan people of the importance of their opinions in the drafting process. Asked why the draft has not been made public, Wardak said the current document is a preliminary draft and does not "include the opinions of a broad number of Afghans," and it will only be "defined as complete" after the CC approves it. According to the CDC's schedule (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003), the public will get the chance to debate the new draft from the beginning of May until the end of June. (Amin Tarzi)

Nematullah Shahrani, former head of the CDC, said on 25 April that a 35-member Constitutional Commission (CC) has been formed to begin a national public educational and consultation process on the preliminary draft of Afghanistan's future constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 and 24 April 2003), AFP reported. Shahrani will head the new commission, which includes seven female members, and will study the draft for one month before touring Afghanistan's provinces to inform the public and gauge their reactions. The "constitution document is not a goal in itself, the goal is the implementation by and for the people," AFP quoted Knut Ostby, a senior deputy director for the UN Development Program, as saying.

The list of members of the CC as obtained by RFE/RL from the Secretariat of CC, in the order received, is as follows: 1. Nematullah Shahrani (chairman), 2. Abdul Salam Azimi (vice chairman), 3. Musa Marufi, 4. Rahim Shayrzoy, 5. Musa Ashari, 6. [Mohammad] Sarwar Danish, 7. Abdul Hai Elahi, 8. Mohammad Ashraf Rasuli, 9. Abdul Aziz, 10. Abdul Haq Walah, 11. Mohammad Taher Borgai, 12. Mohammad Yaqub Wahedi, 13. [Mohammad Alam] Ishaqzai, 14. Wakil Shamsuddin, 15. Qazi Amin Weqad, 16. Mohammad Akram, 17. Nader Shah Naykyar, 18. Likraj, 19. Parwin Mohmand, 20. Mohammad Amin Ahmadi, 21. Mir Mohammad Afzal, 22. Fatemah Gailani, 23. Sulaiman [Baluch], 24. Abdul Rahman Khurasani, 25. Sediqa Balkhi, 26. Shukria Barakzai, 27. Hashem Kamali, 28. Parwin Ali Majruh, 29. Hekema Mashal, 30. Daud Musa, 31. Nader Ali Mahdawi, 32. Mohammad Sediq Patman, 33. Mohammad Taher Hashemi, 34. Amena Afzali, 35. Merajuddin. (Amin Tarzi)

Omar Qol Elahiyari, a representative of Afghan Turkmen in the June 2002 Loya Jirga, criticized the fact than no Turkmen were named to the commission, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 27 April. Elahiyari said Turkmen have played a significant role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, but are now being excluded from having a say in the development of the constitution. He said the Turkmen will stage protests if they are not offered representation, IRNA reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The Kabul daily "Hewad" in a 29 April commentary on commencement of the work of the new Constitutional Commission this week, wrote that it has been 1 1/2 years since the Afghan nation abandoned armed conflict and paved the way for the constitutional drafting process to begin. It said the commission tried to move beyond interpersonal problems and draft a document through negotiations. The new Constitutional Commission should ensure that the future constitution becomes a tool that will allow Afghanistan establish a society based on the rule of law and in which no violence or brutality can take place, the daily wrote. It recommended that members of the Constitutional Commission "determine and recognize the wishes" of the Afghan people and the final document should reflect their wishes. The future constitution "should be quite clear as far as the rights of all tribes are concerned" and should leave no place for "tribal, linguistic, religious, and regional complaints" that could arise. However, the commission should not be swayed by "backward regional and tribal inclinations," and a strong central government should be established (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January, 3, 10, and 24, April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

The Kabul weekly "Payam-e Mujahed" in its 25 April issue stated that some Western radio broadcasting on FM transmission to Afghanistan are in "contravention of the constitution and media regulations" of the country, calling on the Ministry of Information and Culture "to explain the issue to the people," Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 26 April. The paper added that if the Ministry of Information and Culture refuses to explain the issue, "then it should accept its treachery and violation of the law."

Article 31 of the 1964 constitution stipulates: "The permission to establish and own public printing houses and to issue publications is granted only to the citizens and the State of Afghanistan, in accordance with the provisions of the law. The establishment and operation of public radio transmission and telecasting is the exclusive right of the state." This supports the argument of "Payam-e Mujahed." However, in February 2002, Afghanistan's Transitional Administration announced a new press law that does not limit the right of issuance of publication to Afghan citizens nor limits broadcasting rights only to the state. Moreover, the 1964 constitution will be replaced by a new constitution in October 2003 and the preliminary draft of it has no restriction on freedom of ownership of FM transmission or any other types of broadcast to Afghanistan by foreign entities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February and 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on 23 April that U.S. Special Forces believe they have killed the man who was accused of carrying out the execution of Ricardo Munguia, a El Salvadoran water and habitat engineer working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, in Oruzgan Province on 27 March, Radio Free Afghanistan reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003). King said the accused murderer was "identified by his accomplices" and by the people in the area between Kandahar and Oruzgan provinces, Hindukosh news agency reported on 23 April. Munguia's execution was apparently an attempt by pro-Taliban militia to discourage the presence of foreign aid workers in Afghanistan. The perpetrator of the killing called someone on his telephone before being ordered to shoot Munguia. (Amin Tarzi)

Two Afghan soldiers and three Taliban fighters were killed on 23 April when about 80 militia members believed to belong to the ousted Taliban regime attacked a district office in Zabul Province, "The New York Times" reported on 25 April. Zabul Governor Hamidullah Tokhi said on 24 April that around 200 armed Taliban fighters attacked the government post in Daychopan in northern Zabul, RFE/RL reported. According to Tokhi, Taliban fighters were believed to have fled to neighboring Oruzgan Province, where earlier this week two government soldiers and three Taliban fighters were killed in a clash, RFE/RL reported. Zabul Province borders Pakistan, from which Afghan officials have indicated the Taliban are attacking Afghan positions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and an Afghan and two U.S. soldiers were wounded on 25 April in a daytime clash with suspected Taliban fighters in Shkin, Paktika Province, very close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the BBC reported on 26 April. Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for U.S. forces based in Afghanistan, said approximately 20 of the fighters escaped and headed for the Pakistani border. King said the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces have "made no secret of the fact" that the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the "highest probability of contact," adding that the "more active you are, the more possibility you have of running into enemy elements." (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified assailants on 28 April attacked a security command post at Spin Boldak, situated on the border between Pakistan and Kandahar Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 29 April. Afghan military officer Lal Jan said one guard was killed and that the attackers escaped to the Pakistani side of the border, adding that the "assailants came from Pakistan, and we will talk to the Pakistani authorities in this regard," AIP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The death toll resulting from the 28 April attack on a security command post at Spin Boldak, situated on the border between Pakistan and Kandahar Province, has risen to three Afghan soldiers killed and two wounded, Reuters reported on 29 April. Initial reports indicated that unidentified individuals attacked the post, killing one Afghan soldier. However, the new report cited Sayyed Falzuddin Agha, the district commissioner of Spin Boldak, as saying the attack was carried out by Taliban fighters wearing Afghan Army uniforms. Agha said Afghan forces are surrounding a village where the assailants are believed to be hiding. Earlier reports, citing another Afghan official, claimed the attackers escaped to Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 27 April that he will announce a formal shift of focus for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan from a "major combat" phase to one of "stability," the "Financial Times" reported on 28 April. Rumsfeld was to make the announcement during his scheduled visit to Afghanistan on 27 April. However, a technical problem with his aircraft forced the postponement of the trip, for which no new date has been announced. The stability phase of the Afghan campaign is to be centered on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) comprising military and civilian personnel (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). Three PRTs are currently operating in Afghanistan and more are scheduled to be activated, the "Financial Times" added. Rumsfeld said on 26 April that the theory behind using PRTs is that the bulk of Afghanistan is "permissive and secure," as "much as a country like that's going to be," according to the U.S. Defense Department. Thus, with the assistance of a number of agencies and countries, the PRTs will demonstrate "an ability to better for the Afghan people," Rumsfeld said. (Amin Tarzi)

A hitherto unknown group calling itself the Devoted Movement of Martyrs' Sons sent a statement on 27 April to newspapers in Peshawar, Pakistan, warning Afghans that a war led by the United States and Great Britain has been launched against them to "take revenge" on Muslims, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 April. The statement says the country is experiencing a "civil war," which "ignorant Muslims still call...a war against terrorism," and that the new group has launched a holy war against foreign forces in Afghanistan and invites the Afghan people to join in the struggle, AIP reported. The statement claims that the new movement is independent, with no links to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Another mysterious group calling itself Tanzim al-Fatah Afghanistan (Afghanistan Victory Organization) on 10 February called for a holy war against U.S. troops in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces in Afghanistan have discovered and seized around 200 tons of ammunition in Maymana, the capital of Faryab Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 29 April. The ammunition was found in more than 10 locations in the provincial capital. It is not known if the ammunition was left in Maymana when the Taliban controlled the area, or if it belonged to rival factions currently in the city, the report added. Forces loyal to Jamiyat-e Islami under the command of Ata Mohammad most recently clashed with Dostum's Junbish-e Islami forces in Faryab Province on 8 April. The fighting stopped after the UN brokered a cease-fire on 11 April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Sayyed Fazl Akbar, the newly appointed governor of Konar Province, came under rocket fire on 28 April as he arrived in the provincial capital of Asadabad, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported the next day. The Afghan Transitional Administration on 28 April appointed Akbar, who previously headed the presidential press office, as governor of Konar, replacing Mohammad Yusof Shahjan. Akbar returned to Kabul after the attack, which did not result in any casualties. According to the report, the attack was not a terrorist act but was carried out to "frighten" the new governor. The report noted that Shahjan is not happy about being removed as governor. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said on 23 April that he has provided Pakistan with a list of members of the deposed Taliban regime who are wanted as criminals in Afghanistan, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. During the second and final day of his visit to Pakistan, Karzai warned that both countries face a threat from terrorism and extremism perpetuated by remaining members of the Taliban, some of whom are believed to have fled to Pakistan. In an interview with the "Financial Times" on 23 April, Karzai said this is not the first time that Afghanistan has presented a list of wanted Taliban leaders to Pakistan, and he named Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, Mulla Dadullah, Hafez Majid, and Hafez Abdul Rahim as "terrorists" Afghanistan wants to put on trial. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified officials in Islamabad described the reports that Karzai has presented a list of wanted terrorists to Pakistan "as totally false and baseless," Pakistan TV reported on 23 April. The officials said that Karzai has provided no list to his Pakistani hosts, adding that Islamabad is an important player in the antiterrorism campaign and "no terrorist could think of Pakistan as a safe haven," the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan pledged on 28 April that Pakistan will "do everything possible" to prevent any action detrimental to Afghanistan from being carried out from Pakistani soil, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. The spokesman said Islamabad supports the Afghan Transitional Administration and has backed the 2001 Bonn Agreement, adding that there is a very good understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Khan also denied reports that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai during his 22-23 April visit to Islamabad provided his hosts with a list of wanted Taliban members who are allegedly hiding in Pakistan. However, he said the Afghans did mention some names and that Pakistan gave its "categoric assurance" that it will investigate the issue. (Amin Tarzi)

Foreign Office spokesman Khan has described an assertion reportedly made by Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah that Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar is in Pakistan as a "claim" and "misinformation," APP reported on 28 April. Khan asked why, if Mulla Omar really is in Pakistan, no one has provided information about his whereabouts to claim the $25 million reward the United States has offered for information that leads to his capture. Karzai's verbal or written list reportedly did not contain the name of Mulla Omar, and during his trip to Islamabad Karzai refrained from addressing the issue. (Amin Tarzi)

A countrywide armed operation has been launched by Islamabad to identify and capture members of the ousted Taliban regime reportedly identified by Karzai as being in Pakistan and accused of being involved in attacks inside Afghanistan, "The News" reported on 28 April, citing unidentified sources in Pakistan. The sources said clear orders have been issued to "all concerned agencies" to capture any senior Taliban leaders who "might be hiding in Pakistan," the Islamabad daily added. (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani officials recovered a large number of mortar shells, remote-controlled bombs, and Russian-made rockets on 27 April from the home of Bahdur Khan Kharuti, an Afghan national living in the village of Mata Sangar, "Dawn" reported on 28 April. Ninety-nine missiles, 40 mortar shells, and six remote-controlled bombs were confiscated by Pakistani forces and Kharuti was arrested. (Amin Tarzi)

Chairman Karzai said on 23 April that his country does not want to be involved in disputes between Pakistan and India, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Pakistan has expressed concerns over the reopening of Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar, near the Pakistani border, but Karzai said Afghanistan will not allow its territory to be used by one friend against another. The Afghan leader added that the Indian consulates were there before and the Indians "simply came to reopen [them]," the "Financial Times" reported on 23 April. Karzai added that "Afghan-India relations should have no bearing whatsoever in a negative manner toward Pakistan," and Islamabad-Kabul ties should have no negative effects on relations with India. During the rule of the Islamabad-backed Taliban regime, Afghanistan did have any official relations with India. One of the objectives of the support provided by Pakistan to the Taliban was to keep Afghanistan at odds with Islamabad's archenemy India. (Amin Tarzi)

The Kabul newspaper "Eslah-e Melli" wrote on 23 April that while Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah has denied any intentions on the part of Afghanistan to recognize Israel -- calling the incident that led to such rumors "a technical mistake" -- Afghanistan should be aware that, as part of the Muslim world, it cannot "get away and separate [itself] from the suffering and pain of a Muslim nation [Palestine]." The commentary added that establishing ties with Israel would be tantamount to "enmity toward the Islamic values" of Afghanistan. The paper asked the Foreign Ministry to "pay attention to this issue" and to be careful not to recognize Israel "by mistake." Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said on 23 April that his country has no plans to recognize Israel (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

UN officials in Afghanistan are investigating an unidentified disease they say is killing more than 80 percent of newborn lambs in northern Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported on 24 April. Etienne Careme, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization spokesperson in Kabul, said the malady could be foot-and-mouth disease, but more testing is needed to establish the cause. The disease was first reported by the authorities early this month in Baghlan Province and has spread to Konduz, Takhar, Samangan, and Balkh provinces -- all in the north. Careme said the disease can spread from sheep to cattle. (Amin Tarzi)

27 April 1978 -- Members of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan gain power in a coup led by insurgents in the armed forces.

28 April 1992 -- Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, one of the leaders of the Mujahedin, arrives in Kabul and proclaims the Islamic State of Afghanistan. A civil war starts almost immediately.

27 April 1994 -- According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the civil war in Kabul has resulted in 2,500 deaths, 17,000 wounded, and 632,000 refugees from Kabul since January 1994. At least 20,000 houses were destroyed.

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