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Afghan Report: May 15, 2003

15 May 2003, Volume 2, Number 16
By Farangis Najibullah

Abdul Ahrar Ramizpour, a law professor at Kabul University, told RFE/RL that appointments to key, decision-making positions in the Afghan government are unlikely to happen without the support of family members or close relatives already inside the government.

"When the government appoints someone to senior posts, it should pay attention to their professional background and their education. Unfortunately, it is not the case here. People get jobs through their connections, not according to their professional skills and knowledge," Ramizpour said.

Afghan experts interviewed by RFE/RL all acknowledge that nepotism and cronyism are widespread in all levels of government, as well as in many nongovernmental organizations. They say almost every Afghan minister, governor, or organization chief tries to give key positions to family, friends, or other people who owe them loyalty.

Ramizpour is particularly critical of Sayyed Mustafa Kazemi, Afghanistan's trade minister, whom he accuses of rampant nepotism. "Our trade minister calls himself an Afghan patriot. The Afghan trade representative in Germany, Sayyed Mujtabah Hashemi, is the trade minister's cousin. The minister's other cousin, Muslim, is trade representative in Dubai. His other two cousins are trade representatives in the Iranian town of Mashhad. Mr. Daleri, the chief of customs in Kabul, is also the trade minister's cousin. Mr. Husayn Agha, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, is the trade minister's brother-in-law. The head of the Food Supply Office, Sayyed Hashem Hashemi, is the trade minister's cousin," he said.

Numerous other examples of nepotism and cronyism in the Afghan government exist.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim is Afghanistan's defense minister. His cousin Sultan Mahmud Didar was appointed Afghanistan's defense attache in Berlin. Fahim and his two deputies -- Atiqullah Baryalai and Bismillah Khan, as well as Abdul Latif, a senior official at the Defense Ministry -- are members of Shura-yi Nezar, a loose political grouping comprised of former mujahedin parties.

Latif is brother of Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is also a prominent member of Shura-yi Nezar.

Relatives and family members of other influential figures, such as Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful regional commander in northern Afghanistan, also hold high posts. Ismail Khan's son Mohammad Mir-Wais Sadeq was appointed minister of civil aviation and tourism, despite his apparent lack of qualifications. Meanwhile, Dostum's brother, Abdul Qader, is Afghanistan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan.

Indeed, most of Afghanistan's ambassadors are relatives of high-ranking officials. Two of Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni's cousins, Saifi and Mohammad Hasan, serve as ambassadors to Bulgaria and Ukraine, respectively, while Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai chose two of his uncles, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Ghaffar, as ambassadors to the Czech Republic and Egypt respectively.

Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang acknowledges that nepotism and cronyism do exist in Afghanistan's government. "As a member of the government, I do acknowledge that nepotism is rampant in our offices, unfortunately. I suppose, when the new government was established, it was a kind of police. We were planning to reform the system after the creation of the Loya Jirga [traditional Grand Council]. Unfortunately, reforms did not take place. Now we have to deal with the consequences. Nepotism and cronyism have been increasing in Afghanistan," Farhang said.

Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, Afghanistan's urban development minister, told RFE/RL that nepotism emerged in force during the jihad, the holy struggle, against the Moscow-backed government in Kabul. "Of course, there is no doubt that nepotism is widespread in Afghanistan. Nepotism emerged in our country during the jihad. During those times, no one was concerned about social justice. Security was the main issue. Every commander, every head of an office, would try to surround himself with people he could trust," Pashtun said.

Farhang, the reconstruction minister, said a lack of jobs and few other sources of reliable income are the main reasons behind increasing nepotism and cronyism in Afghanistan. Unemployment is still very high. Workers in the education, police, and health-care systems receive miserable wages. "It is simply impossible to find a source of income which would be enough to feed a family," Farhang said. "That's why everyone wants to get a position in a governmental system."

He said creating more jobs and promoting the country's nongovernmental sector will help alleviate nepotism. "We need to strengthen our economy, especially the private sector, because the private sector employs people according to their professional skills and knowledge, not through their connections and relatives. However, it is almost impossible to eliminate nepotism in the government system, even in well-advanced countries," Farhang said.

Afghan experts say the fight against nepotism and cronyism should start at the highest levels of the country's leadership. They say that instead of promoting their relatives into positions of influence, Afghan leaders should work to pull together a nation divided by political and ethnic differences.

Farangis Najibullah is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said during a 1 May visit to Kabul that major combat operations in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, have ended, Reuters reported. A U.S. defense official said the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is "moving out of major military operations to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance" in most parts of the country. Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, added that while some parts of Afghanistan remain "a little bit messy," the coalition forces have the "upper hand." McNeill urged international aid organizations to "take a bold step in [the] reconstruction" of Afghanistan. McNeill said he hopes U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which number more than 7,000, can be withdrawn by the end of next summer, AP reported on 1 May. Rumsfeld was scheduled to travel to Kabul on 28 April but was forced to postpone his trip due to a technical problem with his aircraft (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

A large explosion rocked Kabul in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy during a 9 May visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, AFP reported. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, and there were no reports of casualties. Armitage held a brief press conference at the Afghanistan National Museum at which he handed over a $100,000 check to assist with the museum's renovation. Armitage stressed that the United States remains committed to Afghanistan and that coalition forces will not leave the country until it is secure. "[U.S.] President [George W.] Bush asked me to come to Afghanistan shortly following [U.S. Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld's visit to dramatically make the point the United States, although we may be occupied at present in Iraq, is not going to forget our responsibilities here in Afghanistan," Armitage was quoted by Reuters as saying. "We are able to do two things at the same time." (Robert Coalson)

In a statement issued on 6 May, the UN Security Council called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to implement reforms pertaining to the country's security and defense, "starting with the Defense Ministry and the intelligence [services]". It also advised that the transitional government extend its authority throughout Afghanistan and form a National Afghan Army and a national police force that "will be supported by all Afghan actors." In addition, according to the statement, the development of the future Afghan constitution should continue and should culminate in October with the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which the council said should adopt a constitution. The council also advised the government to begin the process of registering voters for the 2004 general elections. The Security Council called on member states to support the Afghan Transitional Administration in these efforts. In addition, the statement expressed the council's "serious concern at the deterioration of security" in many parts of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Lakhdar Brahimi, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), warned on 6 May that the country's peace process is increasingly threatened by poor security conditions, RFE/RL reported on 7 May. Brahimi urged the UN Security Council to consider expanding the authority of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside Kabul to provide security in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for 2004, adding that security continues to be a problem throughout much of the country and is insufficient to facilitate the implementation of the Bonn Agreement. Brahimi stressed that other countries must make it clear they will not deal with the factional leaders who continue to control a number of regions in Afghanistan. Those leaders, he said, must relinquish their power and face up to the new reality, adding that "there can be no room in this new Afghanistan for private armies, for private jails, for arbitrary arrests, for brutality, for corruption, [or] for discrimination on ethnic or any other grounds." One Security Council diplomat told RFE/RL after private consultations among Security Council members on 6 May that Brahimi's appeal "did not stimulate any new discussion" on strengthening the peacekeeping mandate in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson in Washington on 5 May that, at the request of Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada, NATO has accepted operational responsibility for the next deployment of the ISAF, according to a transcript posted on the U.S. State Department's website ( NATO deployment in Afghanistan "shows that the alliance recognizes that it has new kinds of responsibilities and is responding to new challenges and to new threats," Powell said. Robertson said NATO deployment in Afghanistan is the result of a "reengineered and transformed" alliance that deals with "the real and serious problems of the 21st century as, and where, they exist." France and Belgium initially opposed allowing NATO to take over command of the ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002 and 27 March 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

In its "Patterns of Global Terrorism (2002)" report that was released 30 April (, the U.S. State Department says Al-Qaeda, "despite its setbacks," stills views Afghanistan as a "key battlefield in its war against the United States" and will continue to oppose the U.S. presence in that country. The report adds that Al-Qaeda continues to have "pockets of fighters throughout Afghanistan," as well as in "tribal areas of Pakistan." The report acknowledges that the Afghan Transitional Administration has pledged to support the war on terrorism," and recommends that to ensure that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not become "a significant threat," the transitional government "must consolidate its support among the country's rival ethnic and regional factions." (Amin Tarzi)

Justice and interior ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations (G-8) on 5 May issued a new warning about Al-Qaeda, saying the terrorist network remains a "serious" threat in spite of the destruction of most of its bases in Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. At a meeting in Paris, representatives from Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States issued a statement warning of the dangers of terrorism as a "pervasive and global threat," AP and AFP reported. The statement singled out Al-Qaeda as the foremost threat. The group also raised a red flag regarding potential terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, arguing that G-8 states must be prepared for such attacks. The meeting was held ahead of the summit of G-8 leaders that is to be held in France on 1-3June. (Kimberly McCloud)

Mulla Mohammad Hasan Rahmani, former governor of Kandahar Province under the Taliban regime, said in an interview with Reuters from an undisclosed location on 4 May that "the Taliban will continue their jihad and struggle for peace [and the] implementation of Islamic shari'a law, and against America and its agents." Rahmani described Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai as "an American clerk and a toy in the hands of the Northern Alliance." Mulla Dadullah, a senior Taliban commander, said on 28 March that the Taliban are united under the leadership of Mulla Mohammad Omar and will step up attacks on foreigners in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Abdullah Abdullah has issued a stern warning to groups that arm and support "elements attempting to destabilize" the Afghan Transitional Administration, "Gulf News" reported on 9 May. It is widely believed that these "elements" mostly comprise members of the majority Pashtun ethnic group who are reacting to the power that ethnic minorities -- Tajiks and Hazaras -- are perceived to be wielding in Chairman Hamid Karzai's government. Abdullah, who is part Tajik and part Pashtun, told the United Arab Emirates daily that "there is no ethnic divide in today's Afghanistan. Anyone who talks about this does not see the Tajiks and the Hazaras, the Pashtuns and the Turkomans, and Afghanistan's other minorities working together as they are today." Those "who are trying to divide us on ethnic lines are terrorists using terrorist tactics, as they have done in the past," he said. "The Taliban were foreign to the Afghan way of thinking. They brought in foreign ways of thinking and they played the same Pashtun card at that time, and it was rejected." (Tanya Goudsouzian)

Several hundred Afghans staged a demonstration in Kabul on 11 May to protest Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's offer of amnesty to some members of the ousted Taliban regime, the Bahrain-based "Gulf Daily News" reported. The protesters called the offer, made during a meeting with the clergy last month, a "national betrayal." Karzai said the move was aimed at uniting Afghanistan after 23 years of conflict and extended "only to those Taliban members whose hands are not stained with Afghans' blood." A spokesman for Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan told the daily that more than 60 Taliban suspects who had been held captive since the fundamentalist regime fell in late 2001 were freed on 10 May. The governor ordered their release "as a goodwill gesture and to consolidate national unity," according to spokesman Ghulam Mohammad Ma'sum. "The Taliban were and still are the enemies of Afghanistan," an unidentified protester was quoted as saying by the daily. "Karzai's decision calls into question his role as president." (Tanya Goudsouzian)

Interfax on 12 May quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official as dismissing as "absurd" an article published the previous day in "Scotland on Sunday" alleging that Russian special services are providing clandestine financial support to the Taliban. The official suggested such reports are intended to discredit Moscow. (Liz Fuller)

Hajji Habibullah, a cleric from central Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province was killed on 7 May, the Bahrain-based "Gulf Daily News" reported on 12 May. Haji Habibullah, the principal mullah of a mosque in the Deh Raoud District, was killed by unidentified assailants as he was traveling from the village of Kalacha to the mosque, Oruzgan Province Governor Jan Mohammad Mohammadi said. The Afghan Transitional Administration on 10 May condemned the killing as a "terrorist and anti-Islamic act," and accused the Taliban and their allies of responsibility. Deh Raoud, which is 100 kilometers north of Kandahar, is the home of Mohammad Omar, the former spiritual leader of the Taliban regime. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

One person was killed and another was seriously injured when unidentified individuals on 3 May fired on a vehicle carrying a demining team of the Afghan Development Association (ADA) in Wardak Province, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced the next day. UNAMA spokesman David Singh said the driver of the vehicle, an Afghan national, was killed in the attack. "The motive for the attack is yet unknown," Singh said. ADA has been active in demining projects in Afghanistan for more than a decade, as well as in projects related to agriculture, education, and community development. On 27 March, an engineer working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ricardo Munguia, was killed in a similar attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003). That attack is believed to have been carried out by elements of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in an effort to keep foreign aid workers out of Afghanistan, thus weakening the Transitional Afghan Administration. (Amin Tarzi)

The United Nations has suspended demining operations along parts of the Kabul-Kandahar highway in response to attacks on UN staffers and vehicles on 3 and 5 May, according to a press release issued by the UN Mine Action Service on 8 May. The highway is one of the most important routes for commerce and the delivery of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The UN has also ordered staffers not to travel by road in a number of southern areas following attacks on UN vehicles that left one Afghan dead and three wounded (see above). The ban affects locations in Zabul, Oruzgan, and Helmand provinces. In addition to the travel restrictions in the south, the UN imposed on its missions a ban on road travel from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. throughout the country. "We feel we have no choice but to protect deminers from future violent attacks by ceasing operations in areas that are not adequately patrolled and secured," said Dan Kelly, manager of the program supported by the UN Mine Action Service in Afghanistan. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

Two government officials were killed on 11 May when their vehicle hit a land mine in Khost Province, Afghan Islamic Press reported, citing unidentified sources from the area. The blast reportedly took place near Nader Shah Kot, some 20 kilometers northwest of Khost city. (Tanya Goudsouzian)

Two Norwegian members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) part of the Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team were wounded on 13 May when they came under small arms fire while working in the region of Mir Bathcheb Ku on the road to Bagram, ISAF reported. One of the Norwegians was seriously wounded and the other sustained minor injuries. (Amin Tarzi)

As many as 300 Afghans, led by the prominent Afghan philosopher and mathematician Mohammad Sadeq Afghan, held a peaceful protest in Kabul on 6 May to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Dow Jones reported. One protestor urged Afghans to resist the "American invasion" in the same manner in which they opposed the British and the Soviets in the 20th century. Another protestor said he wants the U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan and wants "Islam to rule." Afghanistan needs security, which, he said, the U.S.-led coalition has failed to provide. Afghan said the only changes the people of Kabul have seen since the fall of the Taliban regime is the introduction of the Internet and that women have stopped wearing burqas. Afghan added that the people of Afghanistan do not like the Afghan Transitional Administration and that it includes "Americans...who receive big salaries," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 6 May. AIP estimated the number of protestors at 100. (Amin Tarzi)

The protestors, many of them government employees and Kabul residents, called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to pay back wages owed to government employees, prevent redundancies among state employees, and heed the public's demands, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on 6 May. Demonstrators distributed leaflets in which they demanded that the transitional government fulfill promises regarding security, disarmament, reconstruction, and the end of administrative corruption that were made during the 2002 Loya Jirga. Afghan began a hunger strike on 6 May and "dozens of Kabul residents" gathered in his support, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Afghan said low-ranking government employees live with very little, while cabinet ministers "receive $30,000 to $70,000 in travel allowances" alone. He also claimed that most journalists in Afghanistan are "spies" and do not accurately portray the reality in the country. Neither Bakhtar nor Hindukosh reported on the anti-U.S. aspects of the rally. (Amin Tarzi)

The independent Kabul Press Club was inaugurated in Kabul on 29 April, Pakistan's "Daily Times" reported on 1 May. Abdul Hai Warshan, chairman of the Afghan Center for Promotion of Communication, said the opening of the Press Club was "a dream come true." Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Sayyed Makhdum Rahin cancelled his scheduled appearance at the opening ceremonies because he had an important meeting, the report added. Vincent Brossel, the Asia-Pacific desk chief for Reporters Without Borders, said that with the inauguration of the Press Club it is hoped that "Afghan journalists working for Afghan and foreign media will find an open place where they can meet, [hold discussions], share views, and defend their rights to freedom of expression." (Amin Tarzi)

Afghanistan placed fourth in a list of world's top-10 worst places to be a journalist that was released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 2 May to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The CPJ report states that the unchecked power of local warlords and weak rule of law make Afghanistan an inhospitable environment for the media. Despite the new freedoms enjoyed by the media after the ouster of the repressive Taliban regime, journalists have complained that it is impossible to write and speak freely due to threats, physical intimidation, and assaults. According to CPJ, these abuses are often committed by politicians and military commanders who use government security forces to harass independent journalists. CPJ acknowledges that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has "publicly championed press freedom," but the report says his administration has "not moved aggressively to stop attacks against the press." Reporters Without Borders's Press Freedom Barometer ( has listed Afghanistan among countries with "noticeable problems" -- a category that includes Spain and India -- while most countries in the Middle East and Central Asia are listed as countries with "difficult" or "very serious" situations. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai has formally approved a commission Afghan journalists set up nine months ago in an effort to defend their rights, Radio Afghanistan reported on 4 May. Officials of the transitional government have recently threatened a number of journalists in Kabul and other areas of Afghanistan, the reported added. Radio Afghanistan commented that it "would be difficult to anticipate the practical performance of a commission formed to support journalists and writers." (Amin Tarzi)

Speaking to Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service on 5 May (see below), Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi said the council stressed the importance of the future Afghan constitution, as it will be based on Islam. Manawi added that foreign FM radio broadcasts in Afghanistan violate the provisions of the 1964 Afghan Constitution, and that when Afghan radio and television expands its programming there will be no need to allow such broadcasts. In February 2002, the Afghan Interim Administration implemented a new media law that does not limit the right to publish print media to Afghan citizens nor limit broadcasting rights only to the state. The 1964 Afghan Constitution will be replaced by a new constitution in October 2003 and the preliminary draft has no restrictions on foreign entities' rights to broadcast via FM frequencies or any other broadcast medium in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February, 24 April, and 1 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

In outlining the decisions of 75 Islamic scholars (ulama) from across Afghanistan who met for a three-day council organized by the Supreme Court, Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi said on 2 May that the "only source of legislation in Afghanistan is Islamic shari'a law," AFP reported on 3 May. Manawi said the council decided during its meeting in Kabul that "Islam guarantees women's right to education and participation in political life, but they should dress in an Islamic manner and observe hijab [the veiling of the head and/or body]." Manawi said the media should not publish anything "that is considered a crime under Islamic law," and that anyone doing so "will be considered a criminal and questioned." The recommendations of meeting, which ended on 30 April, are not binding by law. (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Chief Justice Manawi said the council decided that "fornicators, sodomites, [and] alcohol and drug consumers will have to be punished," adding that "these are not only the demands of the ulama, but also the Afghan Muslim nation," Reuters reported on 3 May. Manawi said the council recommended that followers of religions other than Islam be free to practice their beliefs. "All forms of discrimination are condemned," he said, according to AFP. "Islam is the basis of national unity." The council meeting took place as the Constitutional Commission debates the draft of the new Afghan constitution, in which the issue of the role of Islamic jurisprudence is expected to be a point of contention (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 3, 10, and 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

11 May 1965 -- New electoral law, providing for universal, direct vote by secret ballot for all Afghan men and women over the age of 20, goes into effect.

14 May 1993 -- In the ever-changing alliances during the Afghan civil war (1992-96), General Abdul Rashid Dostam unexpectedly sides with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the main Shia party, Hizb-e Wahdat.

9 May 2002 -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder visits Kabul.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997); "Suddeutsche Zeitung"; "Les Nouvelles d'Afghanistan."