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Afghan Report: June 26, 2003

26 June 2003, Volume 2, Number 22
By Tanya Goudsouzian

It is nighttime in a village somewhere in southern Afghanistan. A thief breaks into a home, but his plans are fast blighted. The master of the house is awake. He grabs his rifle and shoots into the air. Within moments, the sound of beating drums shatters the silence of the night. The young men in the village scramble out of bed and rush to the scene of distress. The thief attempts to flee. But he knows that his fate is sealed. He hears the sound of rifles firing in the neighboring village. They are signaling their readiness to assist in capturing the wrongdoer.

This primitive home security system is known as "tchigha," in the native tongue of the Pashtun tribesmen populating the southern region of Afghanistan. If the thief is caught, according to tribal code, he must return the stolen goods and apologize to the victim by sacrificing a sheep. The victim will accept the apology by cooking the sheep and organizing a feast for the village. Such tribal codes of conduct have governed the Pashtuns for centuries, and in this manner, they have defended the country from the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, up until the communists in the 1980s.

According to Mohammad Aref Nurzai, Minister of Frontier and Tribal Affairs, the "tribal defense system" was dismantled during the Taliban rule, since Pakistan "was not happy with Afghans patrolling the border."

But the Afghan Transitional Administration now considers the age-old system -- known as "Pashtunwali" -- as the most viable way to secure its 2,120 kilometer border with Pakistan, and control the influx of residual Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents. The plan is to deploy tribal militias in every district of every province along Afghanistan's southern frontier. Tribal militias are not only a traditional "tried, tested, and true" form of national defense, but they are also more cost-efficient, said the minister. "If we wanted the Ministry of Defense to secure the border, it would be at least five times more expensive and less effective," Nurzai explained. "It would take a lot of time and money to train a national army who are not indigenous to the area, whereas mobilizing the tribesmen wouldn't take such a long time since they already know the area very well."

He stressed the importance of securing the border area, alluding to the violent clashes and the infiltration of troublemakers, or "agents provocateurs," from Pakistan. "The Pakistanis are creating problems for us. They are allowing Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements to sneak past the borders, and they are instigating violence in order to receive more international aid," he charged.

In the same vein, he called on the international community to provide financial aid and logistical support to the Afghan Transitional Administration for the purpose of fortifying its border with Pakistan. "If the international community does not help us to secure our borders, there will be conflict, which will not only affect Afghanistan, but the entire world," he said.

At a meeting in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on 17 June, a tripartite commission, comprising Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. officials, was formed "to look at cross-border problems," said Omar Samad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry. "The objective is to build additional trust, increase cooperation and expand relations," he said. "Rhetoric is not enough. We need to tackle immediate concerns with action, especially when dealing with security and anti-terrorism."

Unifying the Tribes

Prior to the deployment of tribal militias, the Ministry of Frontier and Tribal Affairs must foster cooperation among the disparate tribes in the region. Over the course of the past 23 years, the tribes have been torn apart by vendettas and political alliances with factional groups.

The ministry's "unification" efforts have also been hampered by resident warlords, or "commandants," as well as reports that some tribal leaders are on the payroll of Pakistani intelligence. As such, there are some tribal leaders who may not see the benefit in aligning themselves with a central government, which does not seem to be doing any good for them. "The problem is that with certain tribes, some of their members are living on Afghanistan's side of the border, and the others are living on the Pakistani side. There is a lot of poverty on our side, whereas on the Pakistani side, they see their brothers enjoying all sorts of facilities, from running water to hospitals. This makes them susceptible to accepting foreign money," Nurzai explained. "We need to be able to offer the tribesmen these facilities. We need to improve their living conditions. This way, they will cooperate with the central government. Right now, we are working all along the frontier, from Badakhshan to Nimroz provinces. We are trying to meet their requirements, solve some of their problems and create jobs for them. Otherwise, they may move to the big cities, which are getting crowded."

The task of unifying tribes is a trickier affair, especially with larger tribal confederations, which count thousands of members and spread out in numerous provinces. These tribes have lived under the oppressive thumb of local warlords, who have imposed heavy taxation as well as checkpoints at every crossing. "The warlords don't want the tribes to be unified. It is not in their interest. Previous governments had adopted a similar strategy. They reasoned that if the tribes were divided, they would be easier to govern. But if they are unified, they may rise up against the ruling power," Nurzai said.

The Afghan Transitional Administration, however, recognizes that tribal unity is imperative for preserving national security. "The tribal leaders are sick and tired of oppression. When we unify the tribes, the warlords will be out of business," said Nurzai. He acknowledged that many of these warlords may be receiving funding from the Americans to help "root out terror," and as such, they may be tough stains to remove, but he believes that without the support of their militia, these warlords would be "nobodies."

The ministry's first unification experiment was with the Mangal tribe, located in eight districts in Paktiya and Khost provinces in southeastern Afghanistan. The Mangals were divided into various factions, and there was a great deal of hostility among them. But the ministry considers the Mangal experiment as a success. After months of negotiations, the tribal leaders agreed to hold a congress in Kabul.

Nurzai said the ministry has also managed to unify the Ahmadzai, Tutakhayl, and Chamkani tribes. Efforts are underway with the Jaji, Shinwar, and Momand tribes. Nurzai, a Pashtun from Kandahar, was a university student when the communists took over. He abandoned his studies and joined the resistance effort. When the Taliban took power, he joined the Northern Alliance and organized offensives from different parts of the country. He was a key member of the Alliance's military council under the late Commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud, as well as the 42-member national council under then-President Barhanuddin Rabbani. At the Bonn conference in 2001, Nurzai was appointed Minister of Small Industry for the Afghan Interim Administration. He was soon after appointed Minister of Frontier and Tribal Affairs owing to his tribal background and his understanding of the various tribes populating the country.

Tribal Militias

The mobilization of tribal militias, however cost-efficient, depends upon an understanding of the modus operandi of Pashtun tribal customs. The militias can only carry out their mandate if they have the full cooperation of the tribesmen in the vicinity. For this, they must rely on the "shura," a council of tribal elders, and the "arbakay," a tribal law-enforcement team consisting of tribesmen aged between 16 and 25 years.

The "shura" must rule that punishment awaits anyone found harboring individuals belonging to the Taliban or Al-Qaeda groups, anyone involved in trafficking narcotics, or anyone accepting bribes from foreign governments or organizations. The "shura" will decide upon the punishment for these crimes. For instance, anyone who harbors an infiltrator will pay a $15,000 fine, and have his house burned down. The task of the "arbakay" is to enforce the punishment prescribed by the "shura."

Deputy Minister of Frontier and Tribal Affairs Mohammed Omar Babrakzai is a jurist by profession and a recognized expert in Afghan tribal justice systems. "In times of foreign invasion, it is the people who must defend their country. When 100,000 Red Army soldiers entered Afghanistan [in 1979] armed to the teeth with modern weaponry, our people defended the country without sophisticated arms. More than 1.5 million Afghans died to preserve the freedom of this land," he said. Babrakzai, who hails from the Zadran tribe in Kandahar, stressed that the efficacy of the defense system rests upon the unwritten laws of tribal society. "The people living in these areas know how to respect the laws, which have maintained stability for centuries," he said. "You rarely hear of rape or looting in these areas."

In the tribal militia system, Babrakzai explained, each district would be tasked with controlling one part of the border. Accordingly, each village of 30,000 tribesmen would have to provide 300 soldiers for the militia. These militiamen would be guaranteed support by the remaining tribesmen in case of emergency. Asked whether the ministry had any contingency plans for militias who might be seduced by the dark side, he answered: "We have spies who give us regular reports about the situation in the border areas." If the militiamen violate the law -- for example, if they succumb to foreign influence -- the central government will replace them with another "sincere group," said Babrakzai.

Khialgul Mangal, an "Arbakay" chief from Lajeh Mangal district in Paktiya, is based in Kabul, but regularly journeys south to compile reports about the situation there. He says the influence of warlords in Mangal territory has been totally eradicated. Commander Darwaysh, a warlord in Lajeh Mangal district loyal to former Mujahedin factional leader Sayyed Ahmad Gailani, no longer wields any power, he said. Neither do Commander Boto, another warlord in the same district loyal to extremist leader of Hizb-e Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Commander Shahzad Mir, loyal to former President Barhanuddin Rabbani. According to Mangal, Shahzad used to control a number of key checkpoints in the area, and many inhabitants were hassled. "They [warlords] are now living among the tribe, like ordinary guys. They are not allowed to have bodyguards. They may carry a gun, but everyone carries a gun. It's customary!" said Mangal. "Pakistani intelligence can no longer operate in Mangal territory. There is no more drug trafficking. And the Taliban -- at least the ones with Al-Qaeda connections -- are too scared to try and come in. The 'Arbakay' are patrolling the entire area."

Once the key tribes of the area have been unified, the ministry can move onto the next step of the project: deployment of the militias. At the moment, there is a militia force stationed in a small town called Shkin, an Afghan border town. Nurzai said the ministry plans to deploy a total of 30,000 militiamen along the border, and he claimed 10,000 are already in the process of being deployed. "The militias are ready to defend the borders, even though we haven't started paying them yet," he said, adding that he expected the militias to be deployed all along the frontier within the coming months.

Similarly, Babrakzai insisted progress depends on the budget of the ministry, which has not yet been disbursed by the central government. He declined to disclose the estimated total cost of the militia project. "We asked for a certain amount, but I don't know how much we will get," he said.

Tanya Goudsouzian is a journalist who covers Afghanistan.

The UN secretary-general's special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has said that general elections slated for June 2004 might be delayed if the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve, "Erada" reported on 22 June. According to the report, Brahimi said the security situation has not stabilized in Afghanistan, and in some areas -- especially the southern and eastern regions of the country-- the UN cannot function. (For more on the Afghan elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

NATO is mulling over a plan to send peacekeepers into the provinces to support coalition reconstruction teams when it takes command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August, Reuters reported on 18 June. Four U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams are already operating in parts of Afghanistan; under the proposal that number would increase to 16 and ISAF troops would be deployed to improve security in those areas so rebuilding can progress unimpeded. General Jack Deverell, NATO's commander in chief in North Europe, told reporters the alliance needs to "expand [Chairman Hamid] Karzai's area of influence and use ISAF's capabilities to help him do that." It was unclear whether ISAF's numbers would increase or how many soldiers would be sent to support the teams. The Afghan Transitional Administration, the United Nations, and aid groups have called for ISAF's expansion outside Kabul in order to quell unruly regional commanders and extend the central government's authority, but aid organizations fear the NATO plan will blur the line between military and humanitarian activities and potentially endanger aid workers, who could be mistaken for soldiers. (Traci Hukill)

After meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said on 18 June that the situation in Afghanistan is "not going as well as we'd expected" and that he would like to see 40,000-50,000 troops stationed there, "The Independent" reported. Such a force could secure up to 15 regional centers, Musharraf said, addressing the "vacuum in the countryside" that, if ignored, "will be filled by forces that are against peace." Nearly 5,000 ISAF soldiers are currently stationed in Kabul to conduct patrols and 11,000 coalition troops are hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda remnants elsewhere in the country. Musharraf suggested the United States and NATO members could supply the additional troops. British authorities confirmed that Afghanistan was a topic of discussion at Blair's and Musharraf's 17 June meeting but said only that discussions would continue, indicating no agreements were reached. (Traci Hukill)

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 23 June that a decision on the possible expansion of the German troop deployment in Afghanistan beyond Kabul will not be made in haste and any such expansion depends on security guarantees for German soldiers, ddp reported. Germany and the Netherlands currently command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. In May, German officials said they might consider taking part in the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams outside Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 5 June 2003). Germany has been studying Herat Province or Charikar in Parwan Province as possible areas of deployment. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Transitional Administration has announced it will launch a drive in July to disarm tens of thousands of fighters but that Defense Ministry reform must come first, Beirut's "The Daily Star" reported on 19 June. Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said the ministry, which is headed by a group of ethnic Tajiks under the leadership of Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, "has to be seen by the Afghan people as belonging to the entire country," adding that reforms must be undertaken in the next few months. Karzai has come under pressure from the UN to make the ministry more representative of Afghanistan's ethnic mix lest suspicion of it undermine efforts to disarm regional militias. According to Voice of America radio, the 1 July campaign will target soldiers who are on the central government's payroll but whose loyalties tend to regional commanders. The UN-supported program, which will offer cash and jobs to fighters who surrender their weapons, is projected to take up to three years. (Traci Hukill)

Responding to recent remarks by UN and Japanese officials that the Afghan Defense Ministry should be reformed in order to ensure fair ethnic and religious representation within the national army, Deputy Defense Minister General Atiqollah Barialay has said allegations that the army does not have fair representation are groundless and reveal ignorance of the army's composition, the BBC reported on 21 June. Barialay told Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service on 20 June that the 4,500-strong national army reflects the country's diverse makeup and that individuals were assigned to key posts based on ability, with the final decision on officer commissions resting with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and his administration. Karzai has said he intends to reform the Defense Ministry, which is led by Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik, so that Afghans are confident the national army belongs to the entire country. Barialay also discussed in the interview the idea of establishing a large reserve force alongside the national army to serve in emergencies. (Traci Hukill)

The ousted Taliban movement has named a 10-member leadership council to organize resistance to U.S.-led antiterrorism-coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistan-based daily "The News" reported on 24 June. In a recorded message delivered to "The News," Taliban spokesman Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed said Taliban spiritual leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has called on his followers to "offer sacrifices for evicting the American and allied soldiers from Afghanistan and fighting the puppet regime of [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman] Hamid Karzai." The leadership council includes Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sayf al-Rahman Mansur from Khost and Paktiya provinces, respectively, and eight other leaders from the provinces of Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Helmand -- where the Taliban, with Pakistani support, emerged in 1994. The remaining members of the leadership council are: Mulla Dadullah, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, Mulla Obaydullah, Hafez Abdul Majid, Mulla Mohammad Rasul, Mulla Beradar, and Mulla Abdul Razzaq Nafez. (Amin Tarzi)

Two bomb blasts shattered windows in government and U.S. buildings in the northern city of Kunduz in the evening of 21 June, AFP reported. The first bomb reportedly detonated between the governor's building and the city's municipal offices at about 9:15 p.m. local time. The second bomb went off 15 minutes later between nearby buildings housing the Constitutional Review Commission and a U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team. No one was hurt in the explosions, according to Kunduz Province Governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi. Immediately after the second blast, U.S. troops reportedly fired on an Afghan driver who failed to heed their orders to stop. The man was injured and a passenger in the car was arrested, questioned, and later released. Ibrahimi said local police have detained three suspects in the bombing, among them an individual who speaks "perfect Punjabi," which is spoken in Pakistan. Similar attacks have been blamed on Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda thought to be staging operations from Pakistan. (Traci Hukill)

In an effort to stem attacks on coalition and Afghan troops, U.S.-led forces have entered border areas to keep rebels from crossing the border from Pakistan, AP reported on 22 June. Operation Unified Resolve began on 21 June with coalition troops, having set up a base in Jalalabad, conducting air strikes and rapid maneuvers on the ground to secure the border. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said in a statement that Nangarhar Province was targeted because the area has "historically served as an Al-Qaeda stronghold." Davis said the operation has a humanitarian component as well, with personnel "assessing villages to determine their needs for wells, schools, roads, irrigation systems, and medical clinics while simultaneously demonstrating our ability to hinder the enemy's movement." (Traci Hukill)

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge described the campaign, code-named Operation Unified Resolve, as "successful," but he did not provide details. It is unclear from reports which Afghan troops are engaged in Operation Unified Resolve. They are possibly local militiamen loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration and organized by Kabul to counter infiltration by remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from Pakistan into Afghanistan (see feature above for more on the tribal militia forces). (Amin Tarzi)

Forces loyal to Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan clashed with U.S. forces in Shindand District on 23 June, leaving one U.S. soldier injured, Radio Afghanistan reported on 24 June. According to the report, the armed clash occurred when U.S. forces wanted to pass through Zayrkoh, a region under the control of Ismail Khan's rival, Amanullah Khan. Amanullah Khan said his side provided guides to U.S. military vehicles to pass through its region, Hindukosh news agency reported on 24 June. Haji Abdul Wodud, deputy head of security in Herat, said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding and that no one was injured on either side, Hindukosh reported. In December, a U.S. military convoy came under attack by Ismail Khan's forces in the region of Zayrkoh, prompting the United States to bomb the area where the Herat governor's troops were engaged in fighting with Amanullah Khan's forces, killing four soldiers loyal to Ismail Khan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 December 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

The Information and Culture Ministry banned the independent Kabul weekly "Aftab" on 17 June for violating the press law, the Bakhtar news agency reported. The ban was reportedly imposed because of the weekly's publication on 11 June of an article entitled "Holy Fascism." Deputy Information and Culture Minister Abdul Hamid Mobarez said the length of the ban has not been specified and it is not known exactly what the penalty will be. Bakhtar reported that the Information and Culture Ministry has summoned "Aftab" Editor in Chief Mir Husayn Mahdawi to provide explanations regarding his publication. Reuters on 18 June cited an unidentified Afghan official as saying Mahdawi has been arrested. Mahdawi, known for his open criticism of Afghan government officials, is said to belong to a communist group or party, according to Reuters. (Amin Tarzi)

RFE/RL has obtained a copy of the article that led to the ban of "Aftab." The article, which was written by Mahdawi, is critical of the power of Muslim clerics and Islam in general. Mahdawi begins his article by questioning why no signs of advancement can be seen in Islamic societies, and answers that the Islam followed by most Muslims is used by clerics as a means to gain power. Mahdawi criticizes what he calls "mullasalari" (rule of mullas) and names several Afghan Mujahedin leaders as culprits, including former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of Hizb-e Islami. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN voiced concern over the 17 June arrest in Afghanistan of two journalists on charges of defaming Islam, AP reported. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva called the country's press laws ambiguous and justification for the detentions "unclear." The weekly's offices have been shut down, according to Deputy Information Minister Abdul Hamid Mubarez. Representatives from the AIHRC and the UN visited Mahdawi and Payam in a Kabul jail and reportedly found them in good condition. (Traci Hukill)

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 24 June statement that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is failing an important test on freedom of expression in Afghanistan by allowing the continued detention of Editor in Chief Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Reza Payam of the "Aftab" weekly (see above). HRW said the arrests come as Afghanistan undertakes the vital process of public debate on its future constitution. John Sifton, Afghanistan researcher at HRW, said the Afghan "government's message to journalists is clear: 'You are not protected.'" Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi told Radio Free Afghanistan on 19 June that Mahdawi and Payam will be tried on the "allegation of insulting Islam" and that no outside pressure can stop this process. The two articles that apparently led to the arrests appeared in the 11 June edition of "Aftab." Mahdawi's article was titled "Holy Fascism," and Payam's article was titled "Religion + Government = Oppression." Their criticism is leveled in particular at the role of Muslim clerics in Afghan politics. Mahdawi blamed several former Afghan mujahedin leaders, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his ally Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, for the chaos and bloodshed in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

According to the HRW statement on 24 June, Afghanistan's chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, a cleric allied with Sayyaf, ordered the arrests and the closure of the paper with the approval of Karzai, who reportedly had indicated that the arrests were lawful because the two "had insulted Islam." Karzai also reportedly has rejected requests by several of his ministers and UN officials to release the two men. HRW's Sifton said: "The right to freedom of expression means that individuals and journalists have the right to express their nonviolent views openly without fear of legal sanction. It does not matter how unpopular those views might be." In February 2002, a new press law was announced by the Afghan Transitional Administration that guarantees freedom of the press. The only restrictions enumerated in that law pertain to matters that are insulting to Islam or other religions, personal attacks against individuals, the publication of literature or photographs that could lead to moral corruption, and any publication that intends to weaken Afghanistan's national army. The new press law, however, remains vague and open to interpretation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

In an interview with the Kabul daily "Anis" of 22 June, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez said that while the ministry issued a report indicating that "Aftab" had violated the press law and that Mahdawi should appear before the Press Investigation Commission (PIC), it never "asked the justice and legal sources or the police for the arrest of" either Mahdawi or Payam. Mobarez said the two editors were arrested without the permission of his ministry or the presence of a ministry representative. Mobarez said his ministry wants the two editors to be released quickly so that that the PIC can "talk to them in a free and democratic atmosphere," "Anis" reported. The arrests highlight the problems confronting a conservative country with a literacy rate of just 20 percent that has suddenly been opened to democracy. (Amin Tarzi)

Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has said that Editor in Chief Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Reza Payam of the "Aftab" weekly should no longer be considered detainees but are under police protection against possible attacks stemming from their work, "Erada" reported on 24 June. Rahin said that if the two are allowed to "go home, we will still have to protect them," the BBC reported on 24 June. He added that while the two editors are being protected, their case is being reviewed, "Erada" reported. It is unclear from the report which authority is reviewing the case, which has prompted an international outcry and highlights schisms in Afghan society and within the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA). (Amin Tarzi)

A 19 June commentary in "Payam-e Mojahed," a paper belonging to the Jami'at-e Islami of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, argues that the "Aftab" editors' case marks the first time that ATA Chairman Karzai has issued a decree banning a publication for printing "blasphemous articles inconsistent with Islamic values." The commentary asks why, apart from "Aftab," "authorities do not take action against publications and newspapers that publish articles against Islam?" It adds that any disrespect shown toward the mujahedin or their jihad against Soviet forces represents "not only sacrilege but also a clear insult to the Muslim people of Afghanistan." "Payam-e Mojahed" also asks why Payam, who is an Iranian national, was allowed to publish a paper in Afghanistan. The commentary accuses Payam of belonging to the Iranian opposition group the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Rabbani was one of those targeted in the "Aftab" reports. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai on 25 June ordered the release of Mahdawi and Payam of the "Aftab" weekly, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai at a press conference said that "we support freedom of the press and we defend it," adding that the ATA tolerated "insulting statements" and even personal attacks by the press in the last year. He said, however, "when it is the Afghan people's religion in question, when the basic and general interests of the Afghan people are in question, and when the protection of the constitution and press law are in question, we have to assume responsibility and take measures." Karzai said that he ordered the release of the two detainees after receiving a letter from Minister of Information and Culture Sayyed Makhdum Rahin confirming that Mahdawi and Payam are Muslims and do not intend to defame that religion or act against the laws of Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

In a statement issued on 25 June, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed the release two editors of "Aftab" but expressed its deep concern that the ATA has threatened to "prosecute the journalists for blasphemy in connection with articles published that were critical of Islam." According to the CPJ, Karzai has said that he has ordered an investigation into the article and that the detention was necessary for that purpose. Executive Director of CPJ Ann Cooper said that "until the charges against [Mahdawi and Payam] are dropped and new laws protecting the rights of journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal are established, Afghanistan will continue to be hazardous place for the media." In his press conference Karzai had said, "we do not value opinions given by some international sources. What we value is the national interests of Afghanistan, the protection of religion, and the national dignity of the Afghan people," Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 June. (Amin Tarzi)

In an interview before the release of the editors, Afghanistan's Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 24 June that the Supreme Court "cannot accept anyone's demands" and that the two will be tried according with the rules of the Shari'ah (Islamic jurisprudence), Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Shinwari said that the Afghan judiciary is "free and independent" and will act as such, adding that the Dar al-Ifta', a religious body which issues edicts, will issue a fatwa concerning the case of "Aftab" and would present it to the lower courts of Kabul Province. He added that in Afghanistan no anti-Islamic publication would be tolerated. In his press conference Karzai said that the trial of the two would be fair as he and the Chief Justice have "personal interest" in it, adding that in case of any impropriety, he "personally intervene and free them," Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 June. Shinwari said that Karzai released the two editors after they repented, not because of international pressure, Reuters reported on 25 June. (Amin Tarzi)

Minister of Information and Culture Sayyed Makhdum Rahin said that his ministry shared the concerns shared by the United Nations and other international bodies regarding the detention of the two editors and because Afghan journalists were inexperienced in journalistic activities, they should be treated with tolerance and forgiveness, "The Kabul Times" reported on 25 June. Rahin regretted that the issue was not channeled through his ministry (see above). Rahin said debating the backwardness of Islamic societies is nothing new, but noted that "Aftab" could have been more. Rahin said following an appeal by the UN for the release of the editors, his ministry urged the attorney general to release them, adding "we are loyal to freedom of expression," "The Kabul Times" reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) have called a recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report about "Afghanistan's Flawed Constitutional Process" unfair and ill informed, the BBC reported on 18 June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). Reacting to the ICG's recommendation that the planned Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for October be postponed, one CRC member, Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, said any delay in the process could lead to a "power vacuum." Another CRC member, Fatima Gailani, defended the loya jirga tradition, saying Afghans "have historically believed" it to be a place where problems can be solved. The question that has gone unanswered is how the upcoming Constitutional Loya Jirga can be representative of the Afghan people when most of the country is ruled by warlords or militias independent of Kabul. Moreover, the fact that the draft constitution has been kept from the people raises questions about the sincerity of the CRC's stated claim that "everyone who wants to be involved can contribute." (Amin Tarzi)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari has said that four members of the Ulama Council of Afghanistan have been added to the 35-member CRC (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 May 2003), the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 17 June. Shinwari said CRC Chairman Nematullah Shahrani told the Ulama Council that the future constitution "should be in accordance with Islam." The four new members of the CRC, according to Shinwari, are Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi, Ata'ullah Lodin, Shaykh Haidari, and Enayatullah Bilagh. (Amin Tarzi)

22 June 1961 -- Pakistan says nomads will no longer be allowed to enter the country without valid passports, visas, and international health certificates.

16 June 1986 -- U.S. President Ronald Reagan met with Afghan Mujahedin leaders in Washington and promised an "unshakable commitment" to their cause. Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ittehad-i Islami leader Abd al-Rabb al-Rassul Sayyaf criticize the meeting.

25 June 1996 -- Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar announces formation of interim government and holding of elections while the Taliban advance on Kabul.

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