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Afghan Report: June 19, 2003

19 June 2003, Volume 2, Number 21
By John Heller

Almost one year before the first free elections in Afghanistan are to be held in June 2004, foreign experts and Afghan political groups have warned for the first time that the failure to disarm the warlords could not only jeopardize the voting process but also the whole peace process (see news section below).

Japanese professor Kenji Isezaki, Tokyo's special representative in Kabul for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) -- a Japanese-sponsored program to disarm former mujahedin fighters and reintegrate them into society -- said at a conference about the planned 2004 Afghan elections held in Kabul's Inter-Continental Hotel on 5 June that "free elections without disarmament are impossible." Isezaki emphasized that many Afghans do not view the Ministry of Defense as a national institution. In addition, he reported that Afghans were demanding more ethnic and political balance in the ministry, led by Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former deputy of the slain mujahedin leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. Mas'ud was the military leader of the United Front, also known as the Northern Alliance. This blunt request expressed by Isezaki for a long-overdue reform received open applause from the participants, a sign that open political criticism has not yet become an everyday phenomenon in Afghanistan after 18 months of the Afghan Transitional Administration, led by Chairman Hamid Karzai.

The conference discussed here was titled "Elections 2004 and Security" and was organized by the National Democracy Front of Afghanistan (NDFA), an umbrella of almost 50 newly emerged pro-democracy groups established in March this year.

The Japanese professor is the first official representative of the international community in Afghanistan who hinted at a possible delay or even a cancellation of the 2004 elections. But not only Tokyo thinks along those lines. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), led by special representative Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, seems to recognize now that the warlords in Afghanistan are a part of the problem rather then of the solution.

"Continued insecurity and the absence of effective judicial institutions remains the rule, rather than the exception," Brahimi told the UN Security Council during a briefing on Afghanistan in early May. "Those conditions not only enable local commanders and government officials to act with impunity, but also threaten to undermine the still-fragile peace process." Tareq Osman, a former mujahed and now leader of one of the new pro-democracy groups, the National Council for Peace and Democracy of Afghanistan, said of the briefing, "Brahimi expresses now what we have been trying to put across for one and a half years."

The Afghan democrats, too, have started talking in plain words. One NDFA spokesman, Abu'l Ahrar Ramezpur, a lecturer at Kabul University's Shari'a Faculty, accused the UN of allowing Karzai to fill the constitutional commission with what he called representatives of the "politico-military factions," i.e. the warlords, while the democrats were left out in the cold. He also criticized the fact that neither an election law nor a law on political parties has been passed yet. A draft for the latter has existed since October 2002, but the cabinet has not yet approved it.

To the dismay of many participants, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Ashraf Rasuli, who represented the Nohzat-e Melli (National Movement, a successor group of Mas'ud's United Front) party at the above-mentioned conference, stated that the law might not be passed before the new constitution is approved by the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which is scheduled to take place in October. "This is a clear injustice," said Sebghatullah Sanjar, leader of the Republican Party of Afghanistan, one component of the NDFA. "While Nohzat-e Melli can already be active, we are supposed to wait for the law. The time for us to prepare for the elections might be too short," Sanjar said.

Some of the speakers at the conference appealed to UNAMA to provide strong supervision of the elections and to be involved in every stage of them. Until now, UNAMA has only been mandated to provide support for voter registration. This process has already been delayed and is expected now to start in September.

Engineer Nuria Haqnegar from the Democratic Women's Organization pleaded for a comprehensive pre-election information campaign. This would be crucial to ensure a proper representation of women, she argued.

Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, the president of the Afghan Central Bank and leader of the Afghan Mellat (Afghan Nation) party, who is considered to be close to Karzai, agreed that the election process still mainly consists of question marks: Who will be allowed to vote? Which electoral system will be applied? Will there be party lists or the British "winner-takes-all" approach, or a combination of both, as in Germany? Will the country be parliamentarian or a presidential democracy? Last but not least, Ahadi criticized the fact that the draft of the new constitution has been "kept secret" from the Afghan population.

Rahim Pashtunyar, a doctor and democratic activist, just recently returned to Afghanistan from exile -- he fled to Pakistan when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and further to the United States when the Taliban threatened him even in the neighboring country. He emphasized that he indeed sees a place for the warlords in the future Afghanistan, "provided they disarmed their militias and turned their factions into civilian organizations."

Sebghatullah Zaki, spokesman for Karzai's special adviser on security and military affairs General Abdul Rashid Dostum and representative of a more reform-minded wing of Dostum's Junbish-e Melli-ye Islami (National Islamic Movement), made clear that this would be a difficult task to achieve. "We completely support the DDR process," he said, "but it has to be a genuine disarmament. And this has to start in the Ministry of Defense." According to Zaki, while the disarmament has already started in some regions, Fahim's followers often redistribute the collected guns amongst their own supporters.

For many of the Afghan democrats, both disarmament and elections are still pies in the sky. Khodsha Shayr Pacha Qiyam, from the Union of Free Democrats, summarized the NDFA position: "The conditions for free and fair elections in Afghanistan are not yet given." Much remains to be done for Karzai and the United Nations.

John Heller is a freelance journalist who frequently travels to Afghanistan.

In a report released on 12 June entitled "Afghanistan's Flawed Constitutional Process," the International Crisis Group (ICG) says the future Afghan constitution should express the values and aspirations of the Afghan people. However, it notes that the constitution might lack widespread legitimacy because it has been drafted in a secretive and unaccountable manner. The report states that a unique opportunity to create democratic institutions and ensure the future stability of Afghanistan will be wasted unless far greater efforts are made to consult with the population on the development of the new constitution (see for the full text of the report). "The Constitutional Loya Jirga planned in October 2003 should be dropped," ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said. "Instead, national elections mandated for 2004 should be used to create a national assembly that can conclude work on and adopt a new constitution." RFE/RL Regional Analysis recommended in January that the constitutional process be postponed until a more suitable political climate is established in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said in a 15 June press release that the ICG was "uninformed or ill-informed" on some issues it raised in its recent report entitled "Afghanistan's Flawed Constitutional Process." According to de Almeida e Silva, if ICG researchers had consulted with UNAMA or the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), some of the flaws he claims are in the report, including "serious factual errors" and recommendations that have been or are being acted upon, could have been avoided. When asked to specify what factual errors the report contained, de Almeida e Silva said it asserts that funding is scarce for public education and the public consultation process regarding the draft constitution, but in reality there is close to $2 million in funding for such programs. (Amin Tarzi)

Several members of the CRC have rejected the ICG report, calling it baseless, the BBC reported on 15 June. The CRC also rejected the report's recommendation that the Constitutional Loya Jirga slated for October be cancelled, thus allowing more time for a more representative gathering. In his 15 June press release, UNAMA spokesman de Almeida e Silva rejected the report's assertion that sufficient time has not been allocated for public discussion on the new constitution and that the constitutional-drafting process has not been transparent. The draft of the new constitution has yet to be made public and the consultation process has been conducted mostly with select groups. Some critics charge that the CRC and its backers are arguably more interested in meeting deadlines than in ensuring that the new Afghan constitution reflects the wishes of the majority of Afghans (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 3 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Three members of the CRC met on 11 June with Nangarhar Province Deputy Governor Mohammad Asef Qazizada and began the process of collecting information on Nangarhar residents' opinions of the draft Afghan constitution, Nangarhar radio reported. Qazizada said the future constitution "should be comprehensive, Islamic, and Afghan," and be acceptable to all Afghans. The public-consultation process was originally scheduled to last from 1 May to 30 June, but its start was delayed until 1 June. It is likely that the CRC has decided to shorten the time allotted for public consultation and present the Afghans with a document -- the draft of which has not been made public -- without true public participation, as is suggested by a recent ICG report (see above) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Nematullah Shahrani, one of deputy chairmen of the Afghan Transitional Administration and the head of the CRC, visited Kandahar Province on 11 June to explain the draft constitution to the people, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 12 June. Shahrani said the new constitution will be adopted in accordance with the principles of Islam, but he did not elaborate whether the new document will make Islamic jurisprudence the basis of law of Afghanistan. Shahrani said the draft constitution contains no provisions for a federal Afghan state. A preliminary draft of the constitution obtained by RFE/RL confirms Shahrani's comments (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

In a meeting on 14 June that was intended to gather the opinions of Herat Province residents, more than 60 representatives said the new constitution of Afghanistan should be based on Islamic principles, "Erada" reported on 15 June. According to the report, numerous graffiti around the city also call for a constitution based on Islamic principles. It is not clear if calls to base the future constitution on Islamic principles can be inferred as calls to make Islam the official religion of Afghanistan, as was the case in of most earlier Afghan constitutions, or to make Islamic jurisprudence the law of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Nearly 80 humanitarian, human rights, and conflict-prevention groups released a statement on 17 June entitled "Afghanistan: A Call for Security" in which they urged the United Nations and NATO to expand the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mandate to locations and transportation routes beyond Kabul, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported. The report urges NATO, which is due to assume the command of the ISAF in August, to provide support for a comprehensive program of "disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of militia forces" that are not under the control of the Afghan Transitional Administration. IRC President George Rupp said that "the interim administration of [Chairman] Hamid Karzai needs much more support and resources to bring peace and safety to the Afghan people." He added that "unless there are dramatic security improvements in Afghanistan, reconstruction efforts will be stymied, the Bonn peace process risks collapse, free and fair elections might never be realized, and a return to anarchy and civil war becomes increasingly likely." (For the full text of the statement distributed by the IRC, see (Amin Tarzi)

"The Kabul Times" commented on 15 June that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke "too soon when he declared last month [1 May] that the combat phase" of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is over. Mentioning the 7 June suicide attack on a bus carrying German troops serving under the ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003), the commentary added that unless the United States and the rest of the international community "act quickly to deploy a larger security force outside" Kabul, Afghanistan "will unravel" in the face of attacks by terrorist and warlords. "The Kabul Times" suggested that when NATO assumes command of the ISAF in August, the United States and its European partners "must increase their forces and security coordination." (Amin Tarzi)

The Kabul daily "Anis" commented on 16 June that elections for the Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for October and a general election that is planned for June 2004 will "fail if a general disarmament is not carried out." According to "Anis," Afghan experience has shown that "irresponsible armed people will have an influence on the election process." The commentary praised recent efforts by the Afghan Transitional Administration to control the country's warlords. However, it warned that if the process of disarming the warlords is not completed prior to the elections, a democratic and free election cannot be expected (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

Albert Stahel, a leading Swiss expert on security issues, said following a recent fact-finding mission to Afghanistan that "the country will sink deeper step by step" if the United States does not change its policy, Swissinfo reported on 11 June. Stahel said the U.S.-led war on terrorism is making the Afghans "increasingly angry" because of the presence of foreigners in their country. He suggested that the Afghans themselves be given a chance to "control the country." He also blamed the ISAF for being isolated from the local population, adding that the feeling is that the ISAF is "operating in a territory that belongs to the enemy." Stahel said ISAF troops should not be isolated in barracks. It seems highly unlikely that the ISAF will become more open, especially after the 7 June suicide attack that left four Germans dead (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Tribal and Frontier Affairs Minister Mohammad Aref Nurzai said on 16 June that seven Afghans in charge of destroying opium-poppy crops were killed in Oruzgan Province on 15 June, Reuters reported on 16 June. Nurzai said that "local [poppy] farmers were behind the ambush," but he did not rule out the possibility of ethnic and sectarian reasons for the killings. According to Nurzai, the farmers were Shi'ite Hazaras while the team tasked with eradicating their poppy crops comprised Sunni Pashtuns. On 11 June, 12 people were reported killed in a bomb attack in Oruzgan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). Reuters reported that nine were killed in that attack and that it was carried out by Hazaras against Pashtuns (for more on the drug problem in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said on 17 June that "war and lawlessness have been the forces that have driven opium production to present [high] levels, and not the other way around," the BBC reported. In 2001, the last year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the regime "succeeded in significantly reducing [drug] production, but under the warlords who are the de facto rulers of many areas in Afghanistan, it has risen sharply," the BBC commented. Costa said that "in the coming years Afghanistan will continue to be the world's largest opium producer," despite the Transitional Administration's efforts to stem illegal-drug production. The main problem facing Karzai's administration, as highlighted by the statement issued by NGOs (see above), is its inability to enforce its policies beyond Kabul. Karzai proposed a national army comprising 70,000 troops, but just 4,000 have been trained. In addition, most of the new army recruits are loyal to Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and not to the central authorities (for more on the drug problem in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Leaflets recently distributed in Kandahar Province in the name of the former Afghan Taliban regime warned of suicide attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 16 June. The leaflets warn that a "suicide force of Taliban mujahedin has been formed to take revenge for Taliban martyrs." This is an apparent reference to the 4 June killing of 40 neo-Taliban fighters at the hands of Kandahar Province militia. The warnings say that the new force will "start nonstop suicide attacks on senior Afghan officials and American and British forces." Three days after the 4 June incident, a suicide bomber killed seven German soldiers serving with the ISAF. However, the leaflets reportedly do not make any reference to that attack, which Hamid Karzai has blamed on foreigners (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). AT

The 12 June "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" news item titled "...As An Afghan Is Named As The Attacker" stated that the perpetrator of the 7 June attack on a bus carrying German soldiers was Abdul Rashid, an Afghan from the Khogiani District of Nangarhar Province. According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, Abdul Rashid, who purchased the taxi used in the attack, did not actually carry out the suicide mission. The ministry said the perpetrator of the attack was a foreigner.

13 June 1947 -- Afghanistan sends a note to British and Indian governments saying that inhabitants of region between Afghan-Indian border and Indus River are Afghans and must decide themselves whether to join Afghanistan, Pakistan, or India or become independent. This was the beginning of the Afghan-Pakistani conflict.

15 June 1994 -- Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani extends his "mandate," which was to expire in June, for another six months, prolonging the Afghan civil war.

17 June 1994 -- Mohammad Yunos Khales, leader of Hizb-e Islami (Khales), rejecting Rabbani's unilateral extension of his term in office, declares himself as the interim president of Afghanistan.

Sources: "Dictionary of Afghan Wars, Revolutions and Insurgencies" by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996).