9 October 2003, Volume 2, Number 35
ON THE ROAD TO WOMEN'S RIGHTS, ONE STEP AT A TIME
By Isabelle LaughlinIn a report released this week on the status of women in Afghanistan, Amnesty International (AI) presented what for many in the West has become a depressingly routine litany of horrors Afghan women continue to face: rape, domestic violence, forced underage marriage, chastity checks, even so-called honor killings -- not to mention the less menacing, but not less damaging, informal prohibitions on attending school, working outside the home, and shedding the burqa.
Published on 6 October, one day before the two-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion to drive out the Taliban regime, the AI report declared that "nearly two years on, discrimination, violence and insecurity remain rife, despite promises by world leaders, including [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush and [U.S.] Secretary of State Colin Powell, that the war in Afghanistan would bring liberation."
Few are in a position to understand the ramifications of all this as well as Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan's minister of women's affairs. Yet on a visit to Washington this week to take part in a Council of Women World Leaders meeting, Sarabi neither dramatized the state of the Afghan woman today nor downplayed it. "The last two years have made us realize that we have a long and difficult road ahead," she told a group of reporters at a press conference. "The international community have placed so much pressure on us to make a quick impact on women's lives. Changing customs and traditional gender roles takes time, as you see in your own society.
"Legally it's not difficult for women to take part in society," Sarabi continued, "but we have a problem and it's not because they don't have the rights. The problem is tradition and custom. We have to change the minds of people -- women and men, too."
Sarabi herself may be the best example of how to incrementally bridge the gulf between the position Afghan women find themselves in and the liberated future well-intentioned Westerners envision on their behalf. Soft-spoken, dressed in a plain gray suit and a white headscarf, she projects an air of modesty, even shyness. Yet she presides over a staff of 1,300 people in Kabul and 29 provinces and, during the Taliban's reign, she risked dire punishment by teaching girls in underground schools.
Sarabi's approach is to work from a base of traditional values women are comfortable with, starting with those enshrined in Islam. Prior to taking her ministerial post in December 2001, Sarabi worked at the Afghan Institute of Learning where, among other things, she taught girls interpretations of the Qur'an that emphasized the value of women. "Men translate the Qur'an, so they want to take the benefit themselves," she said. "Mostly they want to say the Qur'an is against women's rights. It is very clear in the Qur'an that education is a necessity for both women and men, and going out of doors and getting a job is very important. Khadijah, Muhammed's wife, was a businesswoman."
Recently Sarabi enlisted the help of clerics to endorse her point. The ministry of Women's Affairs invited religious scholars to a conference "to explain the Islamic values to the people, that we have a very clear idea in Islam that women have rights. We got very good help from a religious scholar," she said. In rural society, too, Sarabi sees a foundation for women's rights that can be built on. Today girls are returning to classrooms in Afghanistan in record numbers -- this week UNICEF announced the milestone figure of 1 million -- but that number constitutes less than 35 percent of school-age girls, and attendance is concentrated in cities. Left behind are millions of women and their daughters in the provinces. Sarabi wants to educate women in conservative areas about the continuum that links their traditional roles with potential new ones.
"Traditionally, women in rural areas take part in society," she said. "I have seen it with my own eyes, they can take part in the agriculture side very openly. They can go to fields, make the harvest, take part with male members," she said. "But some women who are a little bit not open-minded -- when they take part in society [in this way], I can say there is a lot of opportunity for them."
Ultimately, Sarabi says, education is key, not just for young girls but older women. So is the public codification of their legal rights. Ninety women are slated to attend the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December as delegates, 18 percent of the whole (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July and 7 August 2003). In light of the harassment and intimidation faced by women, opposition leaders, and minorities at the emergency Loya Jirga two years ago, Sarabi says she hopes the combined efforts of the Afghan government, the United Nations and international peacekeepers will make for a more protected environment.
"The most important thing for women is the constitution," she said. "It is something basic. On that basis we can build a nation of Afghan people that all have rights: women and men (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003)," she said. "After that, the judicial system is very important, because women are suffering from implementation of the law rather than the law itself."
Through influence on judicial reform -- the Ministry of Women's Affairs has an adviser to the Judicial Reform Commission -- combined with the constitution itself and the continued drive to educate Afghan girls and women, Sarabi said, "maybe we can bring a good change to women's life."
Isabelle Laughlin is a freelance writer in Washington who covers Afghanistan for RFE/RL.
AFGHAN LEADER WILL SEEK REELECTION...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai told the BBC's "Talking Point Live" program on 1 October that he will be a candidate for the presidential elections in Afghanistan scheduled for June 2004, according to the station's website (http://news.bbc.co.uk). Karzai added that he is establishing his own political movement. The Afghan leader indicated that political parties will be banned from having their own militias. The law on political parties passed by the Afghan cabinet on 8 September stipulates that political parties may not "have military organizations or affiliations with armed forces" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). If Karzai is able to enforce the measure, most of his chief rivals -- both inside and outside his administration -- will either have to disband their forces or face elimination from the election process. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT HINTS THAT ELECTION MIGHT BE POSTPONED...Karzai told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on 30 September that he has not ruled out postponing the Afghan presidential election slated for 2004, Radio Canada International reported on 1 October. The Afghan leader said his administration's goal remains holding elections by June because the UN mandate that provides legitimacy to the current administration expires on that date. However, Karzai added that Afghanistan lacks a list of voters and other essential requisites to holding national elections. A major hurdle, beyond the fact that Kabul's legitimacy does not extend to all parts of Afghanistan, lies in the fact that no one knows precisely how many people live in Afghanistan. The last census was conducted in 1975. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS FORMER MUJAHEDIN POLITICAL COALITION TO CHALLENGE KARZAI IN NEXT AFGHAN ELECTION...At a meeting on 4 October, about 70 leaders of former mujahedin parties agreed to form a joint political coalition to challenge Chairman Karzai, the Hindukosh news agency and Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 5 October. The meeting took place in the home of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and was attended by Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim; Education Minister Yunos Qanuni; Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan; General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Karzai's special adviser on security and military affairs; and Dostum's rival, General Ata Mohammad. All of these individuals, except Dostum, are affiliated with the Jami'at-e Islami party. The meeting included several leaders of other former mujahedin parties and military commanders. (Amin Tarzi)
...BUT WILL STAY LOYAL TO THE AFGHAN LEADER UNTIL THE ELECTION.Speakers at the meeting of the mujahedin leaders in Kabul emphasized that their actions are in opposition to Chairman Karzai's administration, Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 October. Fahim indicated that it is the right of the former mujahedin to unite and make decisions regarding the future of their country. Fahim added that ignoring the right of the former mujahedin parties to participate in the Afghan political process would have unpleasant results for Afghanistan and for countries interested in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)
SOURCE CLOSE TO JAMIA'T-E ISLAMI SAYS POLITICAL TIES WITH KARZAI HAVE BEEN SEVERED.Discussing the formation of the new mujahedin coalition, Hafiz Mansur -- publisher of "Payam-e Mojahed," mouthpiece of the Jami'at-e Islami party -- said that the meeting meant "cutting political ties with [Chairman] Karzai," "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October. Mansur said the new coalition will be searching for a new candidate, adding that "what is clear is that from now on, Karzai will be isolated." (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY DECLARES HIS CANDIDACY...Mohammad Sediq Chakari, a spokesman for Jami'at-e Islami, has said that former Afghan President Rabbani will run in the presidential election scheduled for June 2004, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 5 October. (Amin Tarzi)
...THOUGH NORTHERN ALLIANCE LEADER DENIES THAT RABBANI WAS CHOSEN AS A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim has rejected reports that Rabbani has been selected as a presidential candidate, Radio Afghanistan reported on 6 October. Chakari earlier indicated that former mujahedin leaders on 4 October selected Rabbani as their presidential candidate. Both Fahim and Rabbani belong to the Jami'at-e Islami party, although Fahim is also a member of the smaller Shura-ye Nizar party, which was founded by slain Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. (Amin Tarzi)
...AND SAYS THERE ARE NO PLANS TO POSTPONE ELECTIONS.Marshall Fahim has said the general election scheduled for June 2004 will go according to plan, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 7 October. Chairman Karzai said on 30 September that while his administration still seeks to hold elections by June, as the UN mandate that provides legitimacy to the current administration expires on that date, he has not ruled out delaying the process. Karzai said Afghanistan lacks a list of eligible voters and other essential requisites to holding nationwide elections (see above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN LEADER ANGRY OVER FORMATION OF MUJAHEDIN POLITICAL COALITION...Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai responded angrily on 6 October to reports that former mujahedin parties are forming a coalition to challenge him in the upcoming Afghan presidential campaign (see above), "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October, quoting BBC radio. "Anyone can be a candidate against me, but no party can have military force, no military men can form a party, and no one can write on a tank or an artillery piece that it belongs to this or that party," Karzai said. He added that the former mujahedin parties have "destroyed the results" of their struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, an apparent reference to the bloody power struggle that ensued after the defeat of the Soviet-backed regime in 1992. Karzai warned that if the leaders of the Northern Alliance attempt to disrupt order, he will act against them. The new political front consists mainly of members of the loose-knit alliance of anti-Taliban forces commonly known as the Northern Alliance. (Amin Tarzi)
...AS JAMI'AT-E ISLAMI SPOKESMAN SAYS KARZAI SEEKS TO WEAKEN THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE.Hafiz Mansur, publisher of the Jami'at-e Islami's mouthpiece "Payam-e Mojahed," has said that Chairman Karzai's actions are an attempt to "weaken the Northern Alliance," "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October. Mansur cited as examples the sacking of more than 20 officers from the Defense Ministry and the reduction of his deputies' power (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 September 2003). Mansur said Karzai's moves have prompted the leaders of the Northern Alliance to respond and that while "it is certain there will be no military action" against Karzai, "lack of cooperation by government leaders and military officials could inflict fatal damage on him." Mohammad Sediq Chakari, a spokesman for Jami'at-e Islami, has echoed Mansur's grievances against Karzai, Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 October. (Amin Tarzi)
NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT FAVORS DEMOCRATIC VALUES IN CONSTITUTION...The National Front for Democracy in Afghanistan (NFDA), an umbrella organization comprising 45 political groups, met on 4 October in Kabul and called for a democratic constitution for Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported. The NFDA conference brought together pro-democracy activists from a broad political spectrum beyond NFDA. Speakers such as Sima Samar, former minister for women's affairs, and Anwar al-Haq Ahady, head of Afghan Millat Party and of Da Afghanistan Bank, indirectly rebuffed the idea expressed at a recent seminar of the Council of Ulama of Afghanistan that democracy runs contrary to Islam (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003). Fatima Gailani, a member of the Constitutional Commission, said this was proven by the commission's recent national consultation process. "Literate and illiterate people, mullahs and laymen want Islam enshrined in the constitution in the first place, but all of them also mentioned either democracy or mardom-salari [people's power]," Gailani said. "There is no contradiction between Islam and democracy, and the people understand this." Gailani conceded that although some of these were "staged" consultation meetings, "we were able to find out the opinions of the people anyway." (John Heller)
...WHILE INTELLECTUALS REMAIN SKEPTICAL ABOUT PRACTICABILITY.Many participants at the NFDA-sponsored conference warned that even a good constitution might be meaningless if it cannot be implemented in practice, RFE/RL reported on 4 October. Noting that the draft still has not been published and that a general atmosphere of insecurity prevails in the country, Qasem Akhgar, one of Afghanistan's most outspoken intellectuals, said, "The process is heading in an antidemocratic direction, and the people are being cheated again." NFDA member Jawed Kohestani demanded that the draft constitution be published "paragraph by paragraph so that both intellectuals and common people can discuss it freely." As the main guest speaker, EU Special Representative Francesc Vendrell laid out some expectations from the future constitution: that internationally accepted values are duly reflected, that the armed forces and the intelligence service be brought under civilian control, that the judiciary and the civil service become apolitical, and that parliamentary and presidential elections be held simultaneously next year in accord with the Bonn agreement. (John Heller)
BALANCE BETWEEN ISLAMIC, SECULAR LAW SEEN AS KEY TO CONSTITUTION...Members of an Afghan panel tasked with drafting a new constitution say the draft document to be unveiled by Chairman Karzai within the next week aims to balance the demands of conservative religious leaders with the concerns of those who want a secular legal and political system.
The draft constitution will be debated and voted upon by a Constitutional Loya Jirga in December. The creation of the new constitution is a critical step in the internationally backed Bonn process, which calls for democratic elections on the country's political leadership in June 2004.
Amin Tarzi, an RFE/RL regional analyst and an expert on Afghan constitutional law, says the presentation of a draft document that balances the opposing concerns in the country is a matter of practical sense.
"It has to please, [first and foremost], the two extremes, and then [it also has to satisfy those in] the middle ground. The extremes [include, on the one hand,] the extreme religious conservatives in Afghanistan. They are very powerful. They have a lot of say. They are in government. They have money, and they are pouring money into this process. Also, unfortunately, there are some extremes on the [pro-] Western side that want to make Afghanistan look like Norway [for example]. Both of those sides may not get what they want. What they are trying to do is to put it somewhere in the middle where the language pleases most people," Tarzi says.
A key issue debated by the constitutional drafting panel has been how the final document can create a balance between Islamic law (shari'a) and secular law.
Afghan officials this week said the draft envisions an Islamic state without imposing the full-fledged, strict interpretation of shari'a law demanded by Afghanistan's religious conservatives.
According to a preliminary draft of the constitution obtained by "The Washington Post" last week, the panel has decided to adopt mild language stating that Islam is the religion of Afghanistan and that no law "shall run counter to the sacred principles of Islam." But "The Washington Post" says the preliminary draft does not enshrine shari'a law.
Tarzi notes that Afghan scholars and political observers have been predicting such a formulation for months: "I'll make a prediction that the constitution will be very vague. The constitution of Afghanistan is going to be trying to please many people. It will have a lot of preemptive symbolic language, which could be a dangerous issue. But at the stage that Afghanistan is now, it will have [to be that way]."
Another important formulation in the preliminary draft is what "The Washington Post" calls a "semi-presidential system." Under that plan, a strong executive would be chosen in a popular vote. It says the president would then name a weaker prime minister, whose appointment would have to be approved by a vote of confidence in a two-tiered parliament.
Experts like Tarzi see the creation of both a presidential and prime minister's post as a way to avoid the kind of bloody factional fighting that occurred during the early 1990s between the forces of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, and those of former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun.
But Tarzi says the danger is that the document would be responding to the immediate problems posed by factionalism in the country without addressing important long-term concerns.
"We hear right now that the draft constitution will envisage a president with a prime minister. The reason is because I think they want to balance out the [powers of] Pashtun and Tajik [factions]. I think the constitution is not looking forward to the future of Afghanistan, but it is very short-sighted. I think the constitution is basically trying to patch up something and get the election done on the Bonn Agreement time frame and then see what happens. It is a hopeful constitution, rather than a plan to make something right," Tarzi says.
Tarzi says moderates will see the draft constitution as a victory for progressive reform if it does not make shari'a the primary source of law: "I urge people to look at this from the Afghan historical perspective, and not thinking that the Taliban are gone and Afghanistan has just become a Western state in the form of the United States of America or some of the Western European countries. The country has not evolved over two years suddenly into a democratic state. Therefore, it is a victory that shari'a is not the sole law of the land."
Still, Tarzi says it is absolutely essential that the new constitution recognizes and respects the importance of Islam within Afghan society.
"I think the constitutional history of Afghanistan has clearly illustrated that Islam is a central fact for the life of the Afghan people. And, as such it must be represented and respected in any constitution of the country," Tarzi says. "However, history also shows that Afghanistan's ethno-sectarian diversity requires a constitution that is balanced and sensitive to more than one school of jurisprudence in Islamic law. It has to have some symbolic references to Islam that allow the inclusion and, hopefully in the future, the total sovereignty of secular law. But that is in the future. Not right now."
Tarzi predicts that Islamic law will continue to be a factor in Afghanistan under the new constitution. But he says he does not expect it to become the basis of criminal law. Rather, he says, shari'a will play a role in the resolution of family disputes, questions of inheritance, and in matters of marriage and divorce. (Ron Synovitz)
PASHTUN TRIBES WANT REPRESENTATION IN LOYA JIRGA.Representatives of the Afridi, Mohmand, Safi, and Shinwar tribes demanded representation in the Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled to take place in December, Afghanistan Television reported on 30 September. The tribal representatives from eastern Afghanistan met in Kabul with Mohammad Karim Khalili, a vice chairman in the Transitional Administration. Representing all of the attendees, one tribal leader said the Transitional Administration has not allocated a single seat in the upcoming Constitutional Loya Jirga for those four tribes. Khalili told the visitors to elect one individual to work as their representative with the administration in trying to solve the problem. Afghan civil-society representatives have complained that the allocation of 500 seats for the Constitutional Loya Jirga is somewhat unclear (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July and 7 August 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN CHAIRMAN SAYS NO PLANS TO ELIMINATE TALIBAN.In his interview with the BBC on 1 October (see above), Chairman Karzai said his administration's policies do not include eliminating the Taliban. He said that only a very small minority of former members of the ousted Taliban regime is involved in terrorist acts. Karzai added that most ordinary Taliban returned to their villages, adding, "They are part of our country." Karzai said he is opposed to terrorism but not to peaceful Taliban, who are welcome "to come back to be part of Afghanistan." Karzai has sought to gain the support of some elements of the former Taliban regime in an effort to limit the destructive activities of neo-Taliban and to bolster his own political standing among Pashtuns (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July and 18 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 15 September). (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHAN ADMINISTRATION REPORTEDLY OPENS NEGOTIATIONS WITH TALIBAN.Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 6 October that talks are under way between the Afghan Transitional Administration and "some Taliban groups," Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 7 October. Shinwari said Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai's policy is "to hold talks with those Taliban whose hands are not covered with the blood of the nation," adding that this policy is "for the benefit of the country." Chief Justice Shinwari also mentioned that former Taliban Tribal Affairs Minister Mawlawi Jalaluddin Shinwari, who he claimed was a "key Taliban government leader," has already allied himself with the Transitional Administration in Kabul. Karzai has sought to gain the support of some elements of the former Taliban regime in an effort to limit the destructive activities of the neo-Taliban and to bolster his own political standing among Pashtuns (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July and 18 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 15 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER REPORTEDLY RELEASED FROM U.S. CUSTODY...According to an unidentified Transitional Administration official, the United States has released former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil from the detention center at Bagram air base, Reuters reported on 8 October. A close friend of Muttawakil confirmed the official's claim, saying Muttawakil was released last weekend and "is living with his family in Kandahar." One of Muttawakil's aides based in Pakistan has also confirmed the report, the BBC reported on 7 October. It is not certain under what circumstances the United States released Muttawakil, according to the BBC. However, an anonymous Afghan Foreign Ministry official has told Reuters that Muttawakil recently played "a very important role" in preparing the way for talks between U.S. forces and some members of the former Taliban regime. A neo-Taliban intelligence official, Mulla Abdul Samad, said Muttawakil's release, if true, is an attempt to split the Taliban ranks, Reuters reported. Muttawakil was considered a moderate member of the Taliban regime and reportedly opposed the presence in Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. (Amin Tarzi)
...PROMPTING DENIAL FROM AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTRY.Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Omar Samad denied reports that Muttawakil has been released from U.S. custody, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 8 October. The Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman added that there is no evidence to suggest that U.S. officials have held talks with former Taliban authorities. He ruled out negotiations with members of the former Taliban regime, citing its inhumane policies. Afghan Chief Justice Shinwari said he has no information about Muttawakil's release, AIP reported on 7 October. However, he added that "no matter who is pleased and who is not...talks with the Taliban...have begun." According to AIP, many sources have confirmed Muttawakil's release, but the agency could not obtain official confirmation. (Amin Tarzi)
NEO-TALIBAN REPORTEDLY IN CONTROL OF EASTERN DISTRICT.Forces loyal to the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan are reportedly in control of the Barmal District in Paktika Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 1 October. Pakistani forces on 2 October reported heavy battles on their side of the border with fighters crossing from "the Taliban-controlled district of Barmal and the Afghan border town of Shkin," AFP reported on 3 October. A U.S. solider was killed in Shkin on 29 September and a planned deployment of Afghan forces in Barmal was postponed because of security risks (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 October 2003). Afghan sources have not confirmed the fall of the Barmal District. (Amin Tarzi)
CANADIAN PEACEKEEPERS KILLED IN KABUL...Two Canadian peacekeepers were killed and three others injured on 2 October when their vehicle hit an antitank mine or a buried shell in the Afghan capital, canada.com reported the next day, citing the "Ottawa Citizen" and "The Vancouver Sun." The Canadian soldiers were part of a 1,950-soldier contingent from Canada serving as part of the ISAF in Kabul. In June, four ISAF members from Germany were killed when a suicide bomber struck their bus (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...THOUGH IT WILL NOT CHANGE CANADA'S MISSION.Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum said on 2 October that the death of two Canadian peacekeepers in Kabul "will in no way lessen" his country's commitment to ISAF, canada.com reported. There have been suggestions that the NATO-led ISAF should expand beyond Kabul to other Afghan cities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 October 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
ISAF'S MANDATE COULD BE EXTENDED BEYOND KABUL...An unidentified NATO spokesman told the BBC on 6 October that the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mission might be extended to other Afghan cities if the UN Security Council approves such a move. Meanwhile, a Security Council delegation is expected to visit Afghanistan from 31 October to 8 November to study the possibility of expanding the NATO-led ISAF beyond Kabul, dpa reported on 6 October. Germany has proposed that the 5,000-member ISAF's area of operations be expanded to eight additional Afghan cities, with 250 to 400 troops in each new location. The United Nations, most NGOs working in Afghanistan, and some Afghan officials -- including Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai -- have warned that reconstruction projects and scheduled elections will not be possible unless peace and security is established outside Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 26 June, 7 August, and 18 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
...EXPANDING THE ROLE OF NATO IN AFGHANISTAN.Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry on 7 October welcomed NATO's decision that it is willing to expand the ISAF beyond Kabul Province. Ministry spokesman Omar Samad called the development "good news for Afghanistan and for the Afghan people." Nongovernmental organizations and aid groups that have called for such an expansion for more than a year also welcomed the news.
But Samina Ahmed, director of the International Crisis Group's (ICG) Afghan and South Asia program, says it remains unclear whether the proposed ISAF expansion will bring the desired results. "It's certainly positive that NATO has decided to go in for an expanded ISAF mandate," she says. "How positive it is will depend on the nature of that mandate, the number of forces involved, and the missions that NATO will undertake as ISAF in Afghanistan."
A NATO official in Brussels, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, says the agreement passed on 6 October by the alliance's North Atlantic Council is a "political guideline" under which an expansion of the ISAF mandate can be envisaged (see above).
The official stressed that it is an agreement, in principle, that allows NATO military planners to contemplate an expansion of ISAF beyond Kabul Province. The official said that specific details about troop numbers and deployment locations will be discussed within NATO during the coming days.
NATO has led ISAF since August. Any expansion of the force outside of Kabul Province will require a new UN Security Council mandate. Plans now being drawn up by the alliance's military experts also will need to be approved by all 19 NATO countries.
NATO countries yesterday also agreed to allow Germany to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern Afghan town of Konduz. The timing of that decision has left some analysts questioning whether the eight proposed PRT bases across the country are to become a mechanism for expanding ISAF. The ICG's Ahmed says the existing PRT model is certainly not sufficient for the security tasks at hand.
"The German proposal is to have a very small presence in Konduz, which is 250 troops. That is pretty much along the lines of the earlier PRT concepts, which were close to about 100 to 260 troops. That's pretty much all it constitutes. If this is the way that NATO intends to go as far as expansion is concerned, it's not going to have a huge amount of impact. A physical presence of international peacekeepers on the ground does matter, symbolically. But you need to have more substance in terms of numbers -- 250 troops won't do it," Ahmed said.
Ahmed explains that the PRTs originally were conceived as a way to establish provincial bases for U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces in Afghanistan. Ostensibly, the PRTs were created to bring coalition soldiers into the reconstruction efforts. But U.S. Special Forces are also part of the security element of each PRT.
"The PRT concept was an American concept. And the reason why the U.S. opted for the PRT concept was because the United States, at that point in time, opposed ISAF expansion outside of Kabul," Ahmed says. "So the idea was to have a very small number of civil and military personnel stationed in a very few areas -- but just to prove that, yes, there was an intent and a purpose to extend the security umbrella outside of Kabul."
One development contributing to the notion that the PRTs could become a mechanism for ISAF expansion is the deployment of a UN Security Council fact-finding mission to Afghanistan from 31 October to 8 November. The announcement came yesterday after outgoing NATO Secretary-General George Robertson informed the Security Council of NATO's willingness to lead an expanded ISAF. That 15-member diplomatic mission is expected to visit Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar -- all areas where a PRT has either already been established or is soon to be set up. Led by German UN Ambassador Guenter Pleuger, the UN mission was organized by U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte after he took over as president of the Security Council this month.
Negroponte himself is to join the mission, along with French UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, Russia's Sergei Lavrov, and Pakistan's Munir Akram. Negroponte said in an official letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the mission would "convey a strong message to regional and factional leaders" in Afghanistan about the need to reject all violence, to condemn extremist, terrorist, and illegal drug activities, and to ensure public order and safety.
ICG's Ahmed says she thinks it probably already is too late for ISAF to expand in time to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections by June of next year -- the timeline established under the internationally backed Bonn accords on Afghanistan's post-Taliban transition. "Time is rolling by," she says, adding that she doubts the right conditions will be in place for free and fair elections by next June. "Even if NATO were to expand now, and even if there are sufficient peacekeepers and sufficient peace enforcers on the ground, it is going to be very difficult to conduct all the other exercises that go along with an election -- such as finding out how many people are there on the ground. In other words, a census of sorts. The registration of voters. So there are any number of problems already. And compounded with that, of course, is the Taliban resurgence -- which means that large parts of the south and the east, at this point in time, are very problematic."
Ahmed concludes that if press reports are correct in predictions that the ISAF will be expanded by between 2,000 to 5,000 more troops, the force will still be "insufficient" to create the conditions for free and fair elections. (Ron Synovitz)
AFGHANISTAN TO DOWNSIZE NUMBER OF MINISTRIES...The Afghan Transitional Administration is reportedly due to cut as many as 14 government ministries by merging or eliminating them, Hindukosh news agency reported on 1 October, citing a "reliable source." Currently, there are 28 ministries in Afghanistan, although some sources put the number at 31. The move is reportedly being planned because of complaints from donor countries that the Transitional Administration has many agencies doing similar tasks. The changes are due to be announced by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai in the near future, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 2 October. In addition, there are many ministerial advisers who hold a cabinet-level position. (Amin Tarzi)
...WHILE DISMISSED OFFICERS ARE PROMISED JOBS IN OTHER MINISTRIES.According to the Afghan Transitional Administration, officers who have been dismissed from the Ministry of Defense will be assigned jobs in other ministries, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 October. On 29 September, about 200 recently dismissed officers staged a rally in Kabul to demand pensions or alternative posts in the civil service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2003). It is not uncommon in Afghanistan for dismissed officials, troublesome commanders, or people of influence to be given jobs in another ministry or for a new post to be created for them. (Amin Tarzi)
AFGHANISTAN TO COMPETE IN 2004 ATHENS SUMMER GAMES.International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge announced on 6 October that Afghanistan will send a delegation to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Reuters reported. Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan was banned from participating in the Olympic Games. (Amin Tarzi)
PUTIN SAYS SOVIET OCCUPATION OF AFGHANISTAN WAS FOR THE BEST.Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with "The New York Times" of 5 October that "the Soviet Union tried to improve the situation in Afghanistan." According to Putin, the situation in Afghanistan "was not very bad, but [the Soviet Union] decided to improve it, and improved it with the help of war for 10 years." Putin's comments came in response to a question whether he sees a parallel between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the current situation in Iraq. During the decade-long Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, more than a million Afghans were killed and the country was turned into a dysfunctional state (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January, 1 May, and 25 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)
THIS WEEK IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY9 October 1979 -- Kabul radio announces that former communist Afghan President Nur Mohammad Taraki has died. In fact his deputy, Hafizullah Amin, had him killed and succeeded him in power.
8 October 1991 -- Afghan Prime Minister Fazl Haq Khaleqyar announces official peace talks between the government and mujahedin parties, however the radical factions refuse to participate and favor a continuation of the fighting.
7 October 2001 -- The United States begins the bombing campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network in that country.
Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghan Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997); Sueddeutsche Zeitung.