14 August 2003, Volume
By Tanya Goudsouzian
History has shown that the only period under which Afghanistan has enjoyed peace and prosperity was when a king was on the throne, says Prince Sultan Mahmud Ghazi, a first cousin of former Afghan king Mohammed Zaher Shah and founder of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Milli (National Unity Party).
"Ever since the monarchy was abolished, there has been chaos," he continues. "The people are nostalgic for the peaceful days."
Ghazi launched the party on 9 August in the presence of nearly 2,000 supporters at a hotel in Kabul. Technically, political parties cannot exist without a constitution. Whether Afghanistan will be governed by a presidential or parliamentary system -- or a monarchy -- will be decided at a loya jirga, or grand council, in October that will debate and approve a final draft of Afghanistan's new constitution.
Until then, Ghazi's movement adds to the many de facto political parties operating in Afghanistan. The National Unity Party's platform calls for a return to the constitutional monarchy, which was ratified in 1964.
Zaher Shah was ousted in 1973 by a coup d'etat led by another cousin, Mohammed Da'ud.
"But over the past 30 years, every regime that has come to power has wreaked havoc in the country," Ghazi told RFE/RL over the telephone from Kabul in an exclusive interview. "These regimes have eroded the integrity of Afghanistan by dealing in narcotics, murder, and causing tremendous bloodshed. Ironically, with every step, these successive regimes have further endeared the king to the people of Afghanistan, who miss the 'golden era' of his rule."
Ghazi believes that if a survey were conducted across the country, nearly 90 percent of the people would endorse the return to a constitutional monarchy.
The party was launched on the same day 88-year-old Zaher Shah returned to Kabul from France, where he traveled a month and a half ago for medical treatment. The former king promptly issued a communique that very evening detaching himself from the National Unity Party and insisting that he would not back any movement which "would use his name to promote themselves," said a spokesman from the National Unity Party.
Ghazi remains undaunted.
"Even though His Majesty is not endorsing the party, just as he would not endorse any other party, our party will move ahead with our platform calling for a constitutional monarchy, because this is for the benefit of the country," he says. "And when the party succeeds in convincing the world and [segments of] the country that a constitutional monarchy is essential, then the throne will be offered to His Majesty."
Ghazi, 79, denies harboring any intentions of positioning himself as the future king of Afghanistan.
His father, Shah Mahmud Ghazi, was a brother of Mohammad Nader Shah, who was crowned in 1929 after the ouster of Habibullah Kalakani, who rose against King Amanullah Khan (1919-1929), aided by the British.
In 1978, Ghazi's three younger brothers were killed by the communists. He evaded a similar fate because he was out of the country during the takeover, which set the stage for a war with the former Soviet Union and years of brutal conflict among rival warlords.
During the past 30 years, Ghazi, based in Virginia, U.S., has been involved in Afghan affairs, travelling to the country twice during the mujahedin rule, and travelling to Kandahar, Jalalabad, Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and other cities to meet with tribal elders and assess the situation on the ground. He worked closely with the UN to devise a solution for the crisis in Afghanistan. He also made several trips to Rome to meet with and advise the former king.
Ghazi has not met with any members of the Shura-ye Nezar group, who are widely believed to be running the show in Kabul since the interim government was set up. But he insists he has "no animosity towards any group or any tribe or any sector in Afghanistan."
(Tanya Goudsouzian is a freelance journalist who covers Afghanistan)
NATO TAKES COMMAND OF ISAF...
NATO on 11 August assumed the helm of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, marking the first time in the alliance's 54-year history that it has embarked on a mission outside Europe, AP reported. At a ceremony at Amani High School, NATO Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth of Germany accepted the green ISAF flag from Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst of Germany, who has led the force on behalf of Germany and the Netherlands for the past six months. Attending the ceremony were Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, German Defense Minister Peter Struck, and top NATO officials (for background see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). (Isabelle Laughlin)
...EMPHASIZING THAT MANDATE REMAINS THE SAME.
At the 11 August ceremony, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo declared that ISAF's "name and mission will not change," but said "what will change as of today is the level of commitment and capability NATO provides," AP reported. Afghan authorities, UN officials, world leaders, scholars, and nongovernmental organizations have pressed for NATO to deploy ISAF throughout the country when it takes command of peacekeeping operations to quell rising insecurity in the provinces. German Defense Minister Struck, who is among those calling for better security in Afghanistan, said at the ceremony the country must not "lapse back into anarchy and chaos and must not again become the home of global terror." General Jack Deverell, command chief of the regional NATO headquarters tasked with overseeing the Afghanistan mission, said there would be no change to the mandate "unless the nations and the North Atlantic Council decide that there will be changes...in agreement with the United Nations," RFE/RL reported. Deverell said that while Karzai's chances of success are slim without the ability to extend his influence throughout the country -- a key argument cited for expanding ISAF -- the players will "have to be imaginative," and that it is "not just a matter of drawing bigger and bigger lines around Kabul and filling them with soldiers." (Isabelle Laughlin)
AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WELCOMES NATO, URGES ISAF EXPANSION.
On the eve of NATO's scheduled assumption of command of the ISAF, the Afghan government urged the alliance to start "serious and meaningful discussions" about expanding the 4,600-strong ISAF beyond Kabul, and to do so "at the earliest opportune time," AFP reported on 10 August. The statement from the Foreign Ministry welcomed the command change, which will eliminate the need to search for a new commander every six months, and said the Transitional Administration is "confident" NATO's leadership will improve ISAF's effectiveness. (Isabelle Laughlin)
AFGHAN WOMEN CALL FOR ISAF EXPANSION...
Approximately 1,000 women rallied in Kabul on 9 August for the expansion of the ISAF to the restive provinces and the establishment and maintenance of "peace and security" throughout the country, AFP reported. The women, representing about 30 groups, gathered at the Kabul Women's Garden to present an 11-point declaration demanding the extension of peacekeeping forces outside of Kabul, the disarming of warlord militias, swifter reconstruction, and the positioning of new national army troops and police across the country. In an apparent reference to a widely reported incident in which coalition forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party in December 2001, the declaration specifically mentioned the need for training for ISAF "to enable them to better distinguish between civilian and enemy forces" and spare civilians needless grief. (Isabelle Laughlin)
...AS NATO SAYS IT WILL BE 'MONTHS' BEFORE THAT TOPIC IS ADDRESSED...
A NATO spokesman told reporters in Kabul on 10 August that the subject of expanding ISAF will "have to be discussed, because people will force us to discuss it," Reuters reported, but indicated any talks will take place later rather than sooner. Mark Laity, special representative of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, said the alliance will need "some months, at least, to make sure we are doing our current job as well and as efficiently as our predecessors" before addressing any new mandate, but offered assurances that NATO is well aware of the calls for it to broaden ISAF's mandate. (Isabelle Laughlin)
�BUT OUTGOING ISAF COMMANDER HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR SECURITY.
Lieutenant General van Heyst said on 6 August that while it is vitally important that security be established to ensure the success of the Afghan general elections scheduled for May-June 2004, he does not "see anybody who is willing to provide" the 9,000-10,000 soldiers required to expand the ISAF's mission beyond Kabul, Reuters reported. It has been suggested that the ISAF's role might expand under NATO's command, but Van Heyst said there is not sufficient time to implement such an expansion before the elections. He suggested that a more realistic measure would be to expand the role of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). As most of the countries providing forces to the antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan and to the PRTs are also members of NATO, by assuming command of ISAF the alliance might be able to provide logistical support to the PRTs. (Amin Tarzi)
TWENTY KILLED IN ATTACK ON AFGHAN BORDER POST.
Twenty people were killed in fighting that broke out early in the morning of 13 August when approximately 100 suspected neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda members attacked Afghan border guards along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in southeastern Khost Province, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The attackers, allegedly armed with heavy and light weapons, attacked the border post at approximately 2 a.m. local time and fighting continued until midday. Fifteen attackers and five Afghan border guards were reportedly killed in the clashes and one Afghan guard and one attacker were injured. The injured attacker was taken into Afghan custody. According to an unidentified Afghan army officer, it is suspected that five of the deceased attackers and the injured one in custody are Arabs, a potential indication of Al-Qaeda involvement. In addition, the group of fighters is rumored to have been under the command of Sayyed Gai, a former Taliban leader who was allegedly taken into U.S. custody in the Khost town of Miransha earlier this week. If these suspicions prove to be correct, this could be further evidence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda collusion to destabilize Afghanistan. (Kimberly McCloud)
LARGE GROUP OF AFGHAN SOLDIERS REPORTEDLY KILLED...
In two separate attacks on 7 August in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, 11 soldiers loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration and a driver working for Mercy Corps were killed, Reuters reported. Afghan authorities have confirmed that six soldiers and the aid agency driver were killed in an attack by forces loyal to the ousted Taliban regime, or the neo-Taliban, in the Deshu District of Helmand Province. However, local authorities in Kandahar Province denied the claim by the neo-Taliban forces that they had killed five soldiers near Spin Boldak. According to a farmer in the area of the alleged attack in Kandahar Province, Afghan soldiers were removing dead bodies from a vehicle that was aflame. However, a Kandahar provincial official said that the vehicle had overturned and he could not comment on casualties. Reuters commented that if the Kandahar attack proves to be the work of the neo-Taliban, "the death toll would be the biggest for a single day...in many months." (Amin Tarzi)
�LEADING TO UN SUSPENDING ROAD TRAVEL IN SOUTH.
Following a string of attacks that killed seven and injured 15, the UN has again suspended travel throughout much of southern Afghanistan, AFP reported. UN spokesman David Singh told reporters on 10 August that missions to Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabul provinces have temporarily been halted after six soldiers and an aid worker with Mercy Corps died in a strike carried out by some 40 neo-Taliban fighters in Helmand Province on 7 August. In Kandahar Province, 10 Afghan aid workers with Coordination Humanitarian Assistance were tied up and beaten on 5 August when they refused to relinquish the keys to their new vehicles, Singh said. AP reported on 10 August that Singh also cited two attacks on deminers last week as reasons for the suspension. (Isabelle Laughlin)
TALIBAN THREATEN U.S. SUPPORTERS, AID WORKERS WITH DEATH...
Leaflets threatening death to U.S. supporters and purportedly bearing the signatures of four top Taliban officials are circulating in the town of Spin Boldak and in the nearby Pakistani town of Chaman, AFP reported on 11 August. The leaflets advised U.S. forces to leave the country and warned Afghans who persist in supporting U.S. troops that "Taliban mujahedin will kill them one by one along with their American masters." The messages were signed by Mullah Akhtar Usman, who is deputy of Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Mohammad Omar; Mullah Bradar; Mullah Abdur Rauf; and Hafiz Adur Rahim. AP reported that on 12 August it received a two-page missive said to be from Mullah Omar in which the reclusive commander called Western aid groups the "greatest enemies of Islam and humanity." Mine-clearing employees and other aid workers have been targeted in recent attacks, prompting the suspension of UN travel in parts of southern Afghanistan (see above). The agency said the authenticity of the message could not be verified. (Isabelle Laughlin)
...AND AFGHAN LEADER RESPONDS IN KIND.
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai promised a group of clerics on 12 August that he will not allow the neo-Taliban guerrillas who killed progovernment religious scholars to "escape execution," Reuters reported. In July, militants killed two members of the Ulama Shura, or clerics' council, in Kandahar Province and injured a third following an announcement by the council that the jihad had ended and Muslims should support the Karzai government. Karzai did not say whether authorities had apprehended any suspects in the killings, but he did say police have arrested two young men who were planning to carry out strikes on workers rebuilding a road between Kabul and Kandahar. The two were reportedly trained by groups in Pakistan to disrupt reconstruction projects, Reuters said. (Isabelle Laughlin)
REPORT SAYS NEO-TALIBAN CONTROL MOST OF ZABUL PROVINCE...
The geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor says neo-Taliban forces have retaken most of Zabul Province, marking the ousted regime's first significant recovery of territory since being driven from power in 2001, India's Sify News reported on 11 August. According to Stratfor, the Taliban redoubled its efforts to reestablish strongholds in Zabul, Oruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Nimruz, and Farah provinces starting in late March or early April as it perceived the United States' attention shifting to Iraq. Sify reported that according to Stratfor's analysis, Zabul is a strategically important position from which the Taliban could conceivably isolate U.S. forces in Kandahar and eventually retake that province as well. Sify reports the neo-Taliban's efforts in Kabul have benefited from a sense of "disaffection" among southern Afghans due in part to the slow pace of reconstruction (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). (Isabelle Laughlin)
...AND ARE REPORTEDLY EYEING TARGETS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN.
The Pakistani daily "The News" quoted Taliban spokesman Mohammad Amin as saying that guerrilla fighters from the toppled regime will soon target coalition forces and Afghan soldiers in northern Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 10 August. Amin reportedly said Mullah Mohammad Asem Muttaqi and two deputies have been appointed to spearhead the neo-Taliban operation and have set up a base in Faryab Province near Turkmenistan with the intention of organizing strikes on northern commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is special adviser on security affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and the commander of 10,000 troops in northern Afghanistan. Strikes conducted by remnants of the Taliban have been mainly concentrated in southern and eastern Afghanistan. AFP reports that another Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed, told the Pakistani daily that news of strikes carried out by neo-Taliban forces beyond the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been suppressed by U.S. and Afghan authorities in order to implicate Pakistan in anticoalition activities. (Isabelle Laughlin)
U.S. TROOPS REPORTEDLY KILL PAKISTANI SOLDIERS NEAR AFGHAN BORDER...
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a statement on 11 August in which it confirmed an "unfortunate and unintended engagement" by U.S. troops with Pakistani security forces near the Afghan-Pakistani border the same day. The incident resulted in two deaths and the serious injury of a third individual, according to CENTCOM. Pakistani officials identified the casualties as two Pakistani Army soldiers and a junior officer in the Pakistani paramilitary, and "lodged a strong protest with the U.S. authorities over the incident," according to pakistandaily.com and international news agencies. U.S. troops patrolling Paktika Province in western Afghanistan for remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces fired on Pakistani security forces as they pursued "enemy forces that were identified and fleeing toward the Pakistani border," CENTCOM said in a statement the same day. It added that the incident is being investigated. Unnamed Pakistani officials cited by Reuters said the U.S. forces had fired on a border patrol in the Waziristan region about 260 kilometers west of Islamabad. (Andrew Heil)
...IN FIRST SUCH INCIDENT SINCE U.S. FORCES ARRIVED IN AFGHANISTAN.
The fatal engagement was the first such occurrence since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001, Reuters and pakistandaily.com reported. "It was due to some misunderstanding," Reuters quoted an unidentified senior Pakistani official as saying. Pakistani accounts describe the clash as occurring when U.S. forces fired on soldiers of the 69th Baloch Regiment and Shawal Scouts near the Lawara border demarcation, which was established just four days prior to the incident, pakistandaily.com reported. It quotes "officials and local reporters" as saying the firing lasted more than two hours. Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently trying to settle lingering disputes over their mutual border, with the United States mediating, Reuters noted. (Andrew Heil)
AFGHAN, PAKISTANI, AND U.S. OFFICIALS DISCUSS SECURITY.
A tripartite commission on regional security has agreed to set up a hotline between top U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani security officials to improve communication, AP reported on 12 August. The move came in the wake of the 11 August incident in which two Pakistani Army officers reportedly were killed and one was injured when U.S. forces mistakenly fired on them while pursuing suspected militants near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see above). The meeting at Bagram Air Base, the third of four meetings scheduled this summer to address border security and other issues, brought together Afghan National Security Adviser Zalmay Rasul, Pakistani Major General Ashfaq Kiyani, U.S. Major General John Vines, and diplomats from all three countries. The commission expressed regret over the incident and agreed on the need for better coordination to prevent such loss of life in the future, according to a statement by a U.S. military spokesman. The fourth meeting of the tripartite commission is scheduled for September. (Isabelle Laughlin)
AFGHAN TRIBAL LEADERS PLEDGE TO SUPPORT BORDER POLICE.
Elders from the Mangal tribe in Paktiya Province offered during a meeting with Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali on 6 August to send young men from their tribe to participate in the new national police force and, in particular, for recruitment to the border police, Radio Afghanistan reported. It is not clear from the report whether the Mangal tribal leaders are offering to send the recruits to join the nascent Afghan National Army or to support tribal militias (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
MAN KILLED IN MINE BLAST ON JALALABAD-KONAR ROAD.
A man was killed when the vehicle he was traveling in hit a mine on the Jalalabad-Konar road on 6 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. The victim was reportedly a relative of one of the governmental authorities of Konar Province. No arrests have been made in connection with the incident. (Amin Tarzi)
KABUL DAILY WANTS CRIMINALS FROM AFGHANISTAN'S PAST WARS TO BE TRIED.
In a commentary on 5 August, the daily "Anis" wrote that armed groups in Afghanistan have committed "barbaric genocide and atrocious murders" since 1978, when a communist government was established in the country. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken no action. The United Nations and international human rights groups have spoken about war crimes in Afghanistan, but no one has been tried. However, since Afghanistan became a member of the ICC, responsible Afghan government bodies are "duty-bound" to cooperate with the ICC to bring those who have committed crimes in Afghanistan to justice. In January, Afghanistan joined the ICC and announced that it will submit a list of criminals for trial (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
BELGIUM WILL NOT CHANGE STANCE REGARDING AFGHAN REFUGEES.
Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael on 6 August turned down a request by the Center for Equal Opportunities to serve as "mediator" between Afghan asylum seekers and the Belgian government, "De Standaard" reported on 7 August. Dewael said, however, that he might be willing to appoint someone as a "go-between" to clarify the stance of the Belgian government toward the Afghan hunger strikers. "De Standaard" commented that in Dewael's opinion, the term "mediator" wrongfully implies that the Belgian government's standpoint could still be negotiable. According to an 8 August Human Rights Watch statement (see above), some 100 Afghans occupied a church and launched a hunger strike on 25 July after the Belgian government rejected their request for asylum. (Amin Tarzi)
HRW WARNS WESTERN GOVERNMENTS NOT TO REPATRIATE AFGHANS BEFORE SECURITY IS ESTABLISHED.
In a statement released on 8 August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Western governments should ensure that Afghan refugees are not sent home to face violence, extortion, political attacks, and abuse of women and girls, adding that Afghanistan is still too unsafe for many refugees, and many have signed up to return without an accurate picture of conditions in their homeland. Alison Parker, a refugee expert at HRW, said, "Western governments today claim that because the Taliban was defeated, it is safe for many Afghans to return." The reality, however, "is quite different," she said. "Many refugees who have returned from Pakistan and Iran are being attacked, robbed, and sexually assaulted. Persecution is persecution, whether at the hands of the Taliban or at the hands of local warlords now in control." (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN PAPER ACCUSES IRANIAN AUTHORITIES OF ABUSING AFGHAN REFUGEES.
According to reports from Herat Province, Afghan refugees who have been deported from Iran in recent months claim that they were forcibly repatriated and were sometimes tortured and abused, "Anis" reported on 7 August. According to the daily, Afghan authorities and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan have confirmed that Iranian authorities have beaten Afghan refugees in the last two months. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, more than 1 million refugees have fled to Iran. (Amin Tarzi)
UN REPORT DETAILS DRUG USE IN KABUL.
The first assessment of drug use in the Afghan capital has found that nearly one-third of the city's opium and prescription-drug users are women, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks reported on 11 August. The report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found the city of more than 1 million people is home to 24,000 hashish users, more than 14,000 pharmaceuticals users, almost 11,000 opium users, and 7,000 heroin users. Undertaken in early 2003 by surveying 200 drug users and 100 health-care and law-enforcement workers, the study also found that 34 percent of opium users and 45 percent of heroin users interviewed said they began their drug habits as refugees in Pakistan and Iran. UNODC's David Macdonald attributed the high incidence of drug use to the great availability of drugs coupled, of course, with demand. The psychological pressures of two decades of conflict, he said, prompted people to self-medicate. (Isabelle Laughlin)
TAJIK PRESIDENT, U.S. MILITARY OFFICIAL DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN.
During his meeting with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General John Abizaid on 11 August, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov discussed the threat posed by drug trafficking from Afghanistan and exchanged views on the ongoing antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan and on bilateral cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, Asia Plus-Blitz and centran.ru reported on 12 August. Rakhmonov asked that the United States support his initiative to create an international coalition against drug trafficking, and was quoted as saying that he has sent his proposal to a number of international organizations and individual countries, including the U.S. government. (Bess Brown)
RIGHTS GROUP OUTRAGED AT CONFIRMATION OF JOURNALISTS' DEATH SENTENCES.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a statement issued on 6 August, expressed its outrage at the Afghan Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the death sentences passed on journalists Sayyed Husayn Mahdawi and Ali Reza Payam. The two were found guilty of blasphemy for articles published in the weekly journal "Aftab" of 11 June in which they criticized some of Afghanistan's Islamic leaders and the way Islam is practiced in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 June 2003). In a letter to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, RSF expressed regret that the conservatives who dominate the Afghan judicial system are once again abusing their power by attacking freedom of expression. The organization urged Karzai to ensure the safety of the two journalists and called for the Supreme Court to be reformed "so that it becomes an independent body that guarantees individual freedoms." The death sentences were reportedly recently suggested by a council of ulama (Muslim scholars) and were subsequently passed down by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN ROYALISTS CALL FOR RETURN TO CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY.
As 88-year-old former monarch Mohammad Zaher Shah returned to Afghanistan this weekend after spending 1 1/2 months in France, nearly 2,000 of his supporters gathered in Kabul to inaugurate a new party, the National Unity Party (see feature above), and call for Afghanistan's return to a constitutional monarchy, AP reported on 10 August. Under the leadership of Mohammad Zaher's cousin, Sultan Mahmud Ghazi, the group is urging Mohammad Zaher -- affectionately called the "'father of the nation" and considered a symbol of unity for the fractious country since his return from 29 years of exile in April 2002 -- to take a leadership role in the government, whose final form will be decided at the Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for October. Mohammad Zaher is reportedly not part of the movement, and a spokesman for the party said it would be inappropriate for him to join a particular party. According to Reuters, Mohammad Zaher was in France recovering from a broken femur, which he fractured while on a visit there for a medical checkup. (Isabelle Laughlin)
AFGHANISTAN: THE ILL CONFRONT MISERY OF MEDICAL CARE IN REMOTE GHOR PROVINCE.
The mullahs of Afghanistan's remote Ghor Province are in despair. Their people have always been among the poorest in Afghanistan.
"During the 23 years of war we lost everything," says Amanullah Amanullah, a senior cleric.
"Ghor was the poorest and most remote province in Afghanistan before the war. We did not have roads, schools, hospitals. Now it is worse," he says. "Many people have emigrated to Kabul and other places. Some villages no longer exist. There are not enough laborers to bring in the harvest."
Ghor has few public services -- and not much of an economy. Education is limited. There are an estimated 750,000 people living in the province, and only four high schools. Most children in the villages of Ghor have little hope of ever receiving an education.
"They have zero chance," says Amanullah. "The best they can hope for is some winter classes with the local mullah, studying the Koran."
The 3,000 mullahs in the province are partly to blame. Most are illiterate and more interested in selling magic charms and amulets to the needy than assisting with schooling.
The best customers for the mullahs' amulets are the sick. Access to health care is even worse than for education. Ghor has only five doctors and a single 20-bed hospital in Chaghcharan -- a dusty village, nearly 400 kilometers west of Kabul, which serves as the province's capital.
The hospital has improved since the French delegation of the nongovernmental Medecins du Monde undertook to rebuild and supply it in November 2001. But it can still perform only basic surgical procedures. Often that isn't enough. Medical care is the last resort in this devout and superstitious part of Afghanistan. Many of those who make it the hospital are already terminally ill.
Women are especially vulnerable. Some have been bleeding for days from the complications of pregnancy before reaching the hospital. There is little doctors can do for them: the hospital has no blood bank or even the ability to test for blood type. In one case, an Afghan surgeon passed his own blood into the patient. Amazingly, she survived.
The hospital is clean by Afghan standards and the pharmacy well stocked. But space is a problem. There is no special room for tuberculosis patients. They lie, coughing, on cots in the corridor. There is no special section for children, either. A young boy winces and quietly weeps in a bed beside dying elderly men. A vat of boiling water scalded much of the boy's body. Such cases are among the most difficult to deal with, say the doctors. The wounds of burn victims are often badly infected by the time the patients reach the hospital, and changing their dressings is difficult for the male nurses, who have little formal training.
A sense of the medical challenge faced at the Chaghcharan hospital comes with the arrival of Mehman Gul, a 15-year-old girl, carried by her father from a village 30 kilometers away. She is laid down on the floor, porcelain white, skeletal, barely breathing. Then a bed was found for her. She died in it an hour later, wasted away from typhoid and hunger.
Noosh Afarin Shahab Dolati is the hospital's gynecologist. She is working with a Medecins du Monde midwife to reduce the dangers of pregnancy for Ghor's women. Four local women are training as midwives. They will learn clinical procedures and public-health education. Some of them, it is hoped, will make trips to remote villages to urge traditional midwives to adopt medical practices.
According to Dolati, health problems are exacerbated by the ignorance regarding health care and the continued faith in magic spells and religious traditions.
"Mullahs are very powerful in this area. People first go to see them. Only in the last stages will they come to us. And it causes a very big problem for us to help them. By the time they get here it is sometimes too late. For example, we have many women with problems concerning their placenta. The placenta remains inside the woman for three or four days. I have seen with my own eyes a woman whose placenta remained inside her for five, six, even seven days."
"There is no understanding of hygiene in the villages," Dolati continues. "The women know nothing about their own bodies. Tetanus is common among babies because traditional midwives make mothers deliver their babies into bowls of dirt gathered from the farm yard or the village street. The women believe they will be rewarded by Allah for delivering their baby into earth."
Some of Dolati's stories are even more horrific.
"One woman came to the hospital recently. She was in very bad condition. She had come from a distant village." The woman had tried to deliver a breech birth; her baby had shifted into a shoulder-first position. Dolati says, "The traditional midwife told the father she was not strong enough to pull the baby out. So the father came and finding the arm of the baby he pulled as hard as he could. But the arm of the baby came off in his hand."
The rest of the baby, Dolati says, remained in the womb. The woman was brought to the hospital four days later. Her baby was dead, and the woman's uterus had to be removed.
Medecins du Monde is doing what it can. It hopes that its present two-year budget of $1 million will be extended into 2004. But it is a struggle, says Matthieu Tillet, the agency's regional director. "Our mission is only to support the Afghan government in its task of running the hospital," he says. "We don't want to take over."
Sometimes that means taking a back seat in disputes Afghan doctors would prefer foreigners to solve. But Medecins du Monde has to entrust the hospital to its local staff anyway. Security concerns mean the French team must depart in November and return in March with the melting of the snow. "The roads are impassable for most of the winter and the airstrip is snowed over," says Tillet. "It is impossible to guarantee safety in those conditions."
Medecins du Monde is planning an exit strategy. It wants to be out of Chaghcharan by 2005. By then the midwives should be trained. But the fear is that Kabul will simply forget about the hospital. A review of the funding effort for health care already has. The new plan for overhauling health care by the U.S., EU and World Bank -- the major donors -- overlooks Ghor altogether.
"Don't worry," Tillet says wryly. "We're going to remind them." (J.M. Ledgard)
8 August 1919 --
Treaty of Peace signed between Afghanistan and Britain, leading to Afghanistan's independence in its internal and external affairs.
8 August 1988 --
Soviet troops begin withdrawing from Kabul after 10 years of occupation, leaving behind more than a million dead Afghans.
10 August 1992 --
Battles in Kabul reach bloody climax: 500 killed, 1,100 wounded; more than 10,000 people flee the capital.
"Historical Dictionary of Afghan Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997); "A History of Afghanistan" (2 vols) by Percy Sykes, (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Press, 2002 -- originally published in 1940); "Sueddeutsche Zeitung."