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Afghan Report: September 18, 2003

18 September 2003, Volume 2, Number 32
By Amin Tarzi

Afghanistan's Constitutional Commission announced amid confusion on 7 September that the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) that was scheduled to review and approve a new Afghan constitution in October would be delayed until December (see item below). The commission secretariat's official explanation for the postponement was that the body needed more time to evaluate the questionnaires it collected from the public. Lost in the shuffle, however, was the draft version that the Constitutional Commission had promised to release to the public by 1 September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April 2003 and

As the commission secretariat correctly pointed out, the October deadline for convening the CLJ was two months earlier than the date stipulated in the Bonn agreement of 2001 that established the rules and regulations of the transitional period of Afghanistan. As such, the December deadline still conforms to with the Bonn Agreement.

If intended to get the Afghan public more involved in its country's constitutional process and to ensure that the CLJ is as representative as possible, the delay might be a positive step. In fact, concerns regarding a lack of adequate public participation in the constitutional drafting process as well as Kabul's inability to ensure that delegates of the CLJ are not forced to toe the line drawn by the country's respective warlords and regional leaders suggested as early as January that the process ought to be delayed: "Rather than presenting a highly idealized but unworkable and potentially divisive draft constitution, the CDC [Constitution Drafting Commission] and its supporters may wish to bring some changes to the timeline provided to them by the Bonn Agreement, and work transparently on a new and workable vision for Afghanistan" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003).

Unfortunately, however, the principle factors behind the current delay do not seem to include the issue of public participation or concern about the lack of security. The driving force in the delay appears to stem from disagreements between various factions within the Constitutional Commission and some (especially conservative religious) elements outside the commission. Reports have indicated that various ulama (religious scholars) have demanded, for example, that the term "democracy" be omitted from the new constitution. Others have recommended draconian measures regarding the rights of women (see item below). There might be other points of contention surrounding the preferred form of government, including the issue of federalism, the role of Shi'a schools of jurisprudence, and other areas. No one knows for certain, because the entire constitutional process has been shrouded in secrecy and kept from the very public in whose name the document is being drafted -- the public it is meant to represent.

Whither The Draft?

If the aim of the delay is truly to provide time to review the questionnaires, then why is the draft of the constitution -- due to be made public on 1 September -- still being kept secret?

In welcoming the postponement of the CLJ, the Kabul newspaper "Mosharekat-e Melli" commented on 2 September that while the constitution originated in the minds of politicians and legal experts, until "it is endorsed by the free votes of the nation,... it cannot be called a constitution or national pledge." The paper added that the postponement of the CLJ has provided an "opportunity for making public the amended draft of the constitution to enable the people to criticize and dissect the law that they are going to approve." Finally, "Mosharekat-e Melli" warned that if the Constitutional Commission "does not manage to put the draft of the constitution at people's disposal, it may strike a heavy blow to its credibility."

Perhaps -- propitiously for Afghanistan -- the Constitutional Commission will produce a rabbit out of its hat that will be accepted by the majority of Afghans. But if the rabbit that emerges is not favored by the majority of Afghans, who today are not being heard in some corners of the country, then a golden and perhaps final opportunity to shape their country into a forward-looking and inclusive society with respect to their traditions and religious beliefs might be missed.

As Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai stated in an interview with the "Financial Times" of 23 April, a "constitution will be meaningless without a central army, a central police force, without the measures that are necessary to give the Afghan people the freedom to exercise their right to vote." Another two months is insufficient time to provide Afghanistan with a central army and a central police force. However, it might provide adequate opportunity to allow Afghans to exercise their right to vote for their own constitution.

But they should first be made aware of what they are voting on.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai announced in a 7 September decree that the Constitutional Loya Jirga will be held in December, not in October as planned, international media reported. The 500-member grand assembly, which will draw delegates from every Afghan province, was originally to be held in December under the timetable laid out in the 2001 Bonn agreement, but was rescheduled for October at the suggestion of the United Nations, AFP reported. Karzai spokesman Jawed Ludin said the new date is thus in line with the original timetable and will enable elections to take place in June 2004. Ludin added that Karzai's decision followed the advice of the Constitutional Commission. Ludin said the commissioners wanted more time to gather 460,000 questionnaires distributed to the public, 81,000 of which have been received, Reuters reported. Ludin also said the delay will give the commission more time to assemble delegates who will be tasked with debating and approving a final constitution. Those delegates will also determine the outcome of such contentious issues as the role of Islam in the new government and whether the government will be based on a federal or a central model, Reuters reported. (Isabelle Laughlin)

Declaring that Afghanistan is "about to be tested by history," the Kabul-based newspaper "Nangarhar" on 2 September called for extreme care in the selection of delegates to the Constitutional Loya Jirga. The newspaper praised the loya jirga as an institution but said some previous assemblies -- it did not say which -- were "fake and just for show." To avoid such a fate this time, the article's author wrote, the representatives to this assembly should be "respected public figures" who are "capable of putting public interests ahead of personal preferences." The loya jirga "is not a place for warlords, armed militias, and those who possess just power and wealth." The newspaper added that native and foreign constitutional experts should examine not only the draft constitution itself but the Constitutional Commission's preparation for the loya jirga "so that the performance of the commissioners does not remain unchecked." (Isabelle Laughlin)

UN special representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi said the conditions necessary to ensure free and fair Afghan elections in June 2004 do not exist, "The Yomiuri Shimbun" reported on 9 September. Brahimi stressed that although his office is not preparing for a delay, insecurity in the south and east of the country will make it "quite difficult" for elections to proceed as scheduled. Registering voters in an atmosphere of insecurity poses a problem in itself, Brahimi said, beyond which lies the issue of voter confidence. Even in the relatively secure north, he said, the question remains whether "the people who have the guns in their hands" are going to force the Afghans to vote along predetermined lines. In the same interview, Brahimi said the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Rehabilitation program, postponed in July to allow time for reform of the Defense Ministry, could begin in mid-October. (Isabelle Laughlin)

Afghan ministers on 8 September passed a law allowing for the formation of political parties, furthering Afghanistan's transition toward a democratic multiparty system ahead of elections in June, AFP reported. Under the 1964 constitution currently in effect, political parties are not recognized. The news agency quoted government spokesman Ludin as saying the new law incorporates "all criteria of a democratic and pluralistic society" as well as "Islamic laws and values." According to AFP, when members of the Communist Party, which ruled Afghanistan in the 1980s, formed the National United Party last month, Justice Minister Rahim Karimi condemned them, reportedly saying only those who believe in God have the right to form political parties. Ludin said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai will issue a decree on the new law but did not say when. (Isabelle Laughlin)

RFE/RL has obtained a copy of the law passed on 8 September regarding the formation of political parties in Afghanistan. Presented here is a complete -- but unauthorized -- English-language version of the document:

Chapter 1
General Provisions

Article 1

This law is adopted pursuant to Article 32 of the 1964 Constitution on the establishment, functions, rights, obligations, and dissolution of political parties in Afghanistan.

Article 2

In this law, "political party" refers to an organized society consisting of individuals that undertakes activities for attaining its political objectives, locally and/or nationwide, based on the provisions of this law and its own constitution.

Article 3

The political system of the State of Afghanistan is based on the principles of democracy and pluralism of political parties.

Chapter 2
Establishment And Registration Of Political Parties

Article 4

Afghan citizens of voting age may freely establish a political party, irrespective of their ethnicity, race, language, tribe, sex, religion, education, occupation, lineage, assets, or place of residence.

Article 5

Political parties may function freely on the basis of the provisions of this law, and have equal rights and obligations before the law.

Article 6

Political parties shall not:

1) pursue objectives that are opposed to the principles of the holy religion of Islam;

2) use force, or threaten with, or propagate, the use of force;

3) incite to ethnic racial, religious or sectional violence;

4) create a real danger to the rights and freedom of individuals or intentionally disrupt public order or security;

5) have military organizations or affiliations with armed forces;

6) receive funds from foreign sources.

Article 7

The headquarters and any regional offices of a political party shall be located in Afghanistan. The government shall ensure the security and safety of the political party's offices.

Article 8

1) All political parties shall be registered with the Ministry of Justice.

2) The procedure for registering shall be regulated by separate regulation.

Article 9

The Ministry of Justice shall refuse the registration of political parties which:

(a) do not fulfill the requirement of Article 6;

(b) have fewer than 700 members at the time of registration;

(c) wish to register under the name of a political party that has already been registered.

Article 10

If the Ministry of Justice rejects an application of a political party, the applicant shall have the right to appeal to the relevant court.

Article 11

A political party may officially start its activities after being registered by the Ministry of Justice.

Article 12

A registered political party shall enjoy the following rights:

(a) Independent political activity;

(b) Permanent or temporary political alliance or coalition with other political parties;

(c) Open and free expression of opinions, both in writing and verbally, on political, social, economical and cultural issues, and peaceful assembly;

(d) Establishing an independent publication organ;

(e) Access to the media at the expense of the political party;

(f) Introducing candidates at all elections;

(g) Other rights in accordance with the aims and duties of a political party as indicated in its constitution.

Article 13

1) Afghan citizens who have completed the age of 18 and have the right to vote can acquire membership of a political party.

2) A person shall not be member of more than one political party at a time.

3) Judges, prosecutors, leading cadres of the armed forces, officers, noncommissioned officers, other military personnel, police officers, and personnel of national security shall not be members of a political party during their tenure of office.

Chapter 3
Financial Matters

Article 14

The funds and expenses of political parties shall be public and transparent.

Article 15

1) Political parties may receive income from the following sources:

(a) Membership contributions

(b) Donations by legal persons up to 2 million afghans per year

(c) Income from a party's movable and immovable property

(d) Subsidies by the government in connection with elections

(e) Other contributions by members

2) Political parties shall register all its income and deposit it in a bank account.

Article 16

1) The leadership of the political party shall bear financial responsibility during its tenure.

2) In order to carry out its financial affairs, the leadership of the political party shall appoint one or more authorized representatives and introduce their signatures to the relevant bank.

3) The movable and immovable property of political parties shall be registered in the office of the party and in the Ministry of Finance through legalized documents.

Chapter 4
Dissolution Of A Political Party

Article 17

The dissolution of a political party shall not be ordered unless:

1) The party uses force, or threatens with the use of force or uses force to overthrow the legal order of the country, or the party has a military organization or affiliations with armed forces;

2) The measures mentioned in sub-item 1 of this Article are not effective;

3) The party acts against the articles of the Constitution or this law.

Article 18

The Supreme Court shall, upon the request of the Minister of Justice, dissolve a political party according to the articles of this law.

Article 19

The Supreme Court shall consider a request for dissolution of the political party as a priority matter and in the shortest possible time. The hearings of the Supreme Court shall be open to the public.

Article 20

The leader or the authorized representative of the political party shall have the right to request the Council of the Supreme Court to replace the presiding officer or one or more of the judges. If the Council of the Supreme Court considers the request justified, it shall appoint another presiding officer or judge from the members of the Supreme Court.

Article 21

The leader or authorized representative of the political party shall have the right to be heard and to participate in the hearings of the Supreme Court.

Article 22

The Supreme Court shall fully state its reasons when ordering the dissolution of a political party. The order by the court for the dissolution of the political party shall be definite and final, and shall be published by mass media.

Chapter 5
Final Provisions

Article 23

All political parties and political organizations shall register in accordance with the provisions of this law. Political parties shall not enjoy the rights in this law unless they are registered.

Article 24

Financial and commercial governmental organs, and the responsible officials heading those organs, shall not use their position to favor or to disadvantage any political party.

Article 25

This law shall be in effect from the date it is published in the Official Gazette. This law shall abolish the Political Parties Law published in the Official Gazette No. (733), dated 29/10/1369 [19 January 1990].

Mohammad Fayaz, director of the Tehran office of the Afghan Constitutional Commission, said in an interview that appeared in the 4 September issue of Iran's "Etemad" newspaper that the constitutions of both Islamic and non-Islamic countries are being studied in order to incorporate "internationally accepted criteria and values" in the future Afghan constitution. He said Afghanistan has witnessed different types of discrimination in the past, "but in framing the new constitution, we have tried to treat different races equally." He added that although the majority of Afghans adhere to the Hanafi school of Islam, Jafari and Shi'a Muslims' rights are respected in the draft constitution. Fayaz said because the constitution aims to prevent faith-based tensions, the most popular view is that the constitution must not regard one specific faith as the "official religion." (Bill Samii)

Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported on 15 September that suspected neo-Taliban in southeastern Paktiya Province stopped cars and told passengers that if they listen to music or shave their facial hair the neo-Taliban will cut off their ears and noses. Provincial Governor Asadollah Wafa said the 14 September incident occurred in Zadran, about 140 kilometers south of Kabul on the road to Khost city, according to the report. (Bill Samii)

Commenting on the Council of Ulama of Afghanistan's recent recommendation that Afghan women should not work with foreign NGOs, Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 16 September that women may work in these organizations but only if they observe Islamic hijab (dress code), Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "Only a woman's face may be left uncovered," Shinwari said, adding that Afghan women may not travel for more than three days without a mahram (a husband or male relative she cannot legally marry). Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi supported Shinwari, saying some religious rulings cannot be changed. He added that democracy can only function in Afghanistan within the framework of Islamic rulings, and he asserted that mahram does not violate women's rights. Until the ulama (religious scholars) can find another solution, Manawi said, Afghan women may not travel outside of the country without a mahram. Women's groups both inside and outside Afghanistan regard the travel limitations imposed on women as an infringement on women's basic human rights. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said on 15 September that a commission will be established in the near future to examine the issue of land grabs by powerful government officials, Radio Afghanistan reported. The formation of the commission is apparently a response to comments made on 11 September by UN special envoy Miloon Kothari. While addressing Afghans' right to adequate housing, Kothari accused Afghan Transitional Administration Deputy Chairman and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim and other leading government figures of appropriating land, the BBC reported on 14 September. Kothari suggested that Fahim and others involved in the alleged land-grab scheme should be removed from office. Ludin said that "no deputy head of the government, minister or other government official was authorized to decide on the distribution of plots of land." (Amin Tarzi)

Stating that illegal seizure of property is among the many negative legacies of the war in Afghanistan, the Kabul daily "Anis" commented on 15 September that "the bitter reality today is that many people are [still] witness to the seizure of their property by powerful people." Without identifying any individuals by name, "Anis" wrote that "today a number of people who possessed nothing until yesterday own everything," claiming that "a number of well-known people now have 100 to 120 houses" in the most exclusive districts of Kabul. The paper asked if human rights and social justice are served when people's homes are seized and destroyed and their inhabitants are forced to move to the outskirts of the city. (Amin Tarzi)

The recent bulldozing of houses in a Kabul neighborhood to build private homes for senior Afghan officials is growing into an embarrassing scandal for the UN-backed Afghan Transitional Administration.

About 20 families in the Shayr Pur District of the Afghan capital -- an exclusive neighborhood close to the city center -- have been forced to leave the mud-brick houses they had built in the area over the last two decades.

A critical report by a nongovernmental organization, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, has named 29 senior officials and other powerful Afghan individuals who received plots of land in Shayr Pur for nominal fees. Included on the list are six cabinet ministers, the mayor of Kabul, the governor of the Afghan National Bank, and two former militia commanders.

Among the most prominent names on the list are Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Education Minister Yunis Qanuni. Both are leaders within Jamiat-e Islami, the most prominent party within the United Front (Northern Alliance). Jamiat-e Islami seized de facto control of Kabul after the Taliban regime fled the city but before the International Security Assistance Force was deployed there.

The legitimacy of the NGO report has been strengthened by a separate report by Miloon Kothari, a UN special rapporteur on housing and land rights who recently spent several weeks in Kabul. The report by Kothari accuses Fahim -- and other senior cabinet members -- of active collusion in official land seizures. Kothari says those involved should be removed: "Fahim, the minister of defense, is directly involved in this kind of occupation and dispossession. And ministers that are directly involved have to be removed." Fahim has not commented publicly on the accusations or the calls for his removal.

Spurred by the media attention the two critical reports have received, the Afghan Transitional Administration chairman's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, announced that an official investigation is being launched. "The presidential office has appointed a commission to investigate the housing problem in Shayr Pur, where houses of people were destroyed," he said.

Privately, Chairman Karzai is reported to be infuriated about the scandal.

Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, who is not among the cabinet ministers listed as taking land in Shayr Pur, told Radio Free Afghanistan that Karzai only became aware of the issue last week.

"There was a discussion on this issue last week in the cabinet," he said. "The president asked all individuals who had taken land in Shayr Pur. [Karzai] didn't know about the Shayr Pur issue until that meeting. As far as I can remember, no more than five [senior cabinet ministers] were among those who had not taken land."

Karzai's aides have made statements promising that the government's investigation will not gloss over the criticisms made by the NGO and the United Nations.

But Farhang suggests strong measures be taken to save the credibility of the post-Taliban Afghan central government: "The government should take back all this land that was distributed to those [officials] and redistribute it to those who are entitled to it, regardless of whether they are ordinary citizens or government officials in the cabinet. This [taking of land] is against the law, and I reject it."

Two of the officials named in the report by the human rights group say they have done nothing illegal.

Education Minister Qanuni, who headed the Interior Ministry until June 2002, suggested that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is being misused by individuals who are spreading what he called "propaganda" aimed at undermining political figures in the country.

"There is a difference between those who are given land by the current rulers under current laws and those who take land by force in Shayr Pur," Qanuni said. "I was also given land there." Qanuni said the land had been legally transferred to him on Karzai's orders.

But Kabul's deputy mayor, Habibullah Asghari, who also is among those who received land in Sherpur for a nominal fee, told Radio Free Afghanistan in May that it was the Defense Ministry that decided which officials and former militia commanders would receive land in Shayr Pur.

"The land in Shayr Pur belongs to the Afghan Defense Ministry," Asghari said. "According to the ownership law in Afghanistan, every government institution has the right to do with its land whatever it wants. The Defense Ministry distributed the land to its commanders and high-ranking officials who defended our country and freedom."

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, has told journalists he has "absolutely no disagreement" with the substance of the report made by Kothari, the UN special rapporteur. Brahimi told "The Washington Post" that the destruction of the houses in Shayr Pur is "totally unacceptable."

Some of the Afghans whose houses were recently bulldozed in Shayr Pur told "The Washington Post" that they were beaten by Afghan police when they refused to leave. (Ron Synovitz)

Afghanistan's share of the $87 billion that U.S. President George W. Bush is requesting for military and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan and Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003) is nearly $12 billion, AFP reported on 9 September -- $11 billion to maintain the U.S. troop presence and $800 million to fund reconstruction projects. Another $400 million reallocated from the current U.S. budget will bring the reconstruction aid component to $1.2 billion. According to sources cited by AFP, $400 million of that will shore up the Afghan National Army and police force; $300 million will fund the construction of roads, schools, and health clinics; $300 million will flow to government operations and elections; and $120 million will support jobs and training for former militia fighters. (Isabelle Laughlin)

NATO ambassadors at their weekly meeting in Brussels on 10 September heard requests from Germany and the United States to broaden the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to include protecting Provincial Reconstruction Teams, AP reported. NATO officials reportedly said they expect the request, which would need a nod from the UN, to be approved, although they could not say when. The ambassadors also heard a plea from the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, to use NATO' s muscle as the commander of ISAF to stamp out Afghanistan's multibillion-dollar opium trade. "Unless we get some results and bring this monster under control,... the country is going to explode and we get a failed state," AP quoted Costa as saying. Costa, who spent two weeks in Afghanistan last month, reiterated the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism funding and urged NATO to consider counternarcotics missions "an integral part" of creating a secure Afghanistan. (Isabelle Laughlin)

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali told reporters on 11 September that the government will bolster the police force in Kabul and move to secure the main roads connecting Kabul with Kandahar and Kandahar with Herat, Reuters reported, as well as those linking Kabul with the Pakistani and Uzbek borders. Of the situation in the capital, Jalali said security there has been deteriorating and many police have "failed to respond to the challenges they face." Jalali also said government delegations have been dispatched to quell factional fighting in Paktiya and Herat provinces and that a third will soon make its way to Mazar-e Sharif. Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 11 September that Paktiya Province has seen 20 people killed and 40 injured in an area 35 kilometers east of Gardayz as the Totakhel and Mangal tribes struggle for control of Dam Mountain. (Isabelle Laughlin)

The commission of Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. officials charged with addressing the tense border situation postponed its fifth meeting, scheduled for 10 September near Islamabad, because of "logistical problems," according to a U.S. spokesman cited by AFP. An unidentified Pakistani security official told the news agency that U.S. intelligence warned of a possible attack in Pakistan around the second anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported on 10 September that Pakistan's commitment to rooting out the Taliban is considered insufficient by Afghan authorities and even some Pakistani government and intelligence officials. The daily commented that U.S. criticism of Pakistan's effort has been muted, noting that President Bush reportedly telephoned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on 8 September to thank him for his antiterrorism efforts. The daily also quoted a Western official as saying that Pakistan, which faces a conservative domestic constituent in the border region, "may not know what to do" about the problem. The Indian daily "The Hindu" reported on 8 September that Pakistan is mounting its first-ever large-scale military operations in the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province but faces strident criticism at home for allowing U.S. forces free rein in searching those tribal areas for Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. (Isabelle Laughlin)

Afghan and Pakistani border officials, together with representatives of the U.S. military, met in the border town of Chaman on 10 September to discuss ways to avert terrorist attacks and stem illegal border crossings, the Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported. In what appeared from the daily's account to be a cooperative endeavor, the Afghan government decided to reinforce troops on its side of the border while Pakistan agreed to deploy 800 more soldiers on its side. Both parties said they will work together to investigate suspicious activities. Pakistani officials also reportedly raised the issue of India's secret service, which Islamabad believes is active in the area. (Isabelle Laughlin)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai in an address to the Council of Ulama of Afghanistan (CUA) on 12 September accused some Pakistani ulama (religious scholars) of attempting to destroy Afghanistan. According to a transcript of the address obtained by RFE/RL, Karzai said some "madrassa managers and so-called ulama of Islam sitting in Pakistan" are sending Afghanistan's sons -- to whom he referred as "the innocent Afghan talib [a student in Islamic seminary, not the political movement]" -- across the border to "kill and/or be killed." Karzai added that while the Pakistani ulama are sending Afghans to destroy their own country, they ensure that their own sons receive an "education, build a career, and live a normal life." The Afghan leader indicated that he does not place the blame on all madrassas in Pakistan or the Pakistani government, which he referred to as a brother of the Afghan government. Karzai urged Afghan and Pakistani ulama to "sit together and consider the problem of those elements that are damaging [the Islamic] religion under the banner of religion." (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat on 13 September said in response to Karzai's speech to the CUA that "there is no denying the fact that certain elements within the clergy have been engaged in activities that have been leading the world to believe the clergy are involved in terrorism," Reuters reported. Hayat added that while Karzai's "assertion does have some logic," it is not only the clergy in Pakistan who are backing the neo-Taliban, as they "certainly have some sympathizers within Afghanistan." Hayat suggested that it would be in Karzai's "own interest" to take "complete and positive steps to tackle the situation within Afghanistan." (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistani Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Nauriz Shakoor said on 16 September that his country will implement the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas-pipeline project with or without Indian participation, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Construction of the TAP pipeline project, which is to transit natural gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond, is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2004. New Delhi's participation in the project as a purchaser of gas is crucial to the TAP project's economic feasibility, as Pakistan alone is not a large enough market for Turkmen natural gas and Afghanistan is not a significant consumer of natural gas (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 28 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

31 August 1926 -- Treaty of neutrality and mutual non-aggression signed by Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.

18 September 1947 -- Iran says diversion of Helmand River waters in Afghanistan causes crop failures in Iran's Sistan Province.

6 September 1961 -- Afghanistan breaks diplomatic relations with Pakistan.

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