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Afghan Report: October 16, 2003

16 October 2003, Volume 2, Number 36
By Ron Synovitz and Amin Tarzi

On 14 October Afghan Transitional Administration officials welcomed the long-awaited resolution from the United Nations Security Council that will allow troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to be deployed outside of Kabul Province (see below and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003).

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who is the UN Security Council's president for this month, read the results of the 13 October vote at UN headquarters in New York: "The draft resolution received 15 votes in favor. The draft resolution has been adopted unanimously as Resolution 1510 of the year 2003."

Negroponte explained that the United States has proceeded cautiously up to now about expanding ISAF because of a lack of countries willing to contribute troops for such a mission. "There was an absence of countries that were willing to undertake such missions outside of Kabul," he said. "Now NATO has taken this force over and there is willingness, at least to a limited extent, to undertake missions outside of Kabul. And in that context we were willing to support such a resolution."

The 5,500 troops now in ISAF have been under NATO command since August. At the moment, Germany and Canada have the most soldiers in ISAF -- which is a separate force from the 11,000 foreign combat troops within the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan.

Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF outside of Kabul Province is crucial to the disarmament of the private militias of Afghanistan's regional warlords -- and thus, a necessary step toward conducting democratic elections next year in accordance with the Bonn Accords.

"We are very happy that the resolution, at the initiative of the German delegation, on the expansion of the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan has been passed by a unanimous vote. This will enable us to better take care of the security [situation] in Afghanistan, especially in preparation [for] the implementation of the Bonn process, in particular with regard to the elections that are supposed to take place next year," Pleuger said.

In Kabul, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said the UN Security Council vote was "very much welcomed" by the central government and the Afghan people. Samad said the Afghan Transitional Administration considers ISAF expansion to be vital as it embarks on a new phase of political reforms and accelerated reconstruction activities.

But Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based expert on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group, told REF/RL on 14 October that ordinary Afghan civilians and international aid workers in the country are cautious in their welcome of the resolution.

Parekh noted that Afghans have been disappointed many times in the last two years by broken promises from the international community. He said there are also still many unanswered questions about what the new UN resolution will mean for ordinary Afghans.

"People are waiting to see what the UN Security Council resolution is going to translate to in practice," Parekh said. "Is it going to be a substantial deployment [of troops] or is it just going to be an extension of the current PRT -- the Provincial Reconstruction Team -- approach? Are troops going to be deployed in areas where there is a real lack of security? Or are they just going to be concentrated in places where there will be minimal risk to the troops that are being sent here? And are they going to be mandated to intervene in fighting between militias [and to] carry out the disarmament process?"

Two weeks ago, Pleuger said the expansion of ISAF envisages the deployment of international troops to what he called eight urban "islands" across the country -- including Herat in the west, Kandahar in the south, and Konduz and Mazar-e Sharif in the north.

Parekh said Pleuger's remarks have led observers to assume the PRT bases established or being planned by U.S.-led coalition forces in recent months will become a mechanism for expanding ISAF beyond Kabul. "The areas that are going to be particularly critical to establish a large [ISAF] presence right now are going to be places like Mazar-e Sharif or Herat or other parts of southern Afghanistan -- both to show that the [Afghan] central government has a presence in these areas and also to prevent factional fighting from being a barrier to reconstruction and development," Parekh said.

Parekh concluded that substantial numbers of troops are needed in tense areas like Mazar-e Sharif and Herat if ISAF is to be effective. "In Mazar-e Sharif, the British PRT there currently constitutes 72 troops. That's not going to be sufficient to do anything more than mediate disputes," he said. "What they are really going to need is a substantial force. I cannot give an authoritative assessment. But I can say what members of the various factions in Mazar have concluded -- which is that an international force of 1,000 might be enough to create a neutral space in which security-sector reforms and disarmament can actually be carried out."

Germany's Ambassador Pleuger said officials in Berlin are now ready to seek parliamentary approval for their initial plan to send up to 450 German soldiers to the northern city of Konduz. So far, no other country has formally announced specific troop commitments for the expanded ISAF.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), said on 14 October that while UNAMA welcomes the Security Council's decision to expand ISAF, it has also warned that without a sufficient expansion of the force, Afghans might be disappointed. De Almeida e Silva said, "It is very important that member states [of the UN] provide ISAF with the necessary means to expand beyond Kabul" in order to meet the aspirations of the Afghans.

France has already noted that it will not be contributing troops to an expanded ISAF. Countries with a tradition of contributing soldiers to international security operations have hinted that they might be willing to dispatch troops to Afghanistan, ostensibly for financial reasons. Fijian Army Commander Frank Bainimarama has already noted his country may contribute troops to Afghanistan (see below). But it remains unclear whether there will be enough international deployments to create the conditions necessary to carry out proper voter registration programs in the provinces and to conduct free and fair democratic elections.

Some question whether the UN Security Council vote is an earnest attempt to give the Afghan Transitional Administration the chance to exert influence outside of Kabul without relying on the goodwill of or the need to provide incentives to regional commanders and warlords, or whether it is a way to allow countries such as Germany -- which had demanded UN authorization as a prerequisite for contributing troops to the PRTs -- to get the necessary political tools.

Also vague is how countries outside of NATO would interact with the NATO-led ISAF, as well as the operational relationship between ISAF and the U.S.-led coalition troops currently operating in Afghanistan.

A final question that is vital to Afghanistan's prospects of becoming a viable nation-state is how long after next year's elections ISAF troops would be authorized to remain in the country. Those elections are scheduled for June of next year.

Ron Synovitz is an RFE/RL correspondent.

Dozens of people were killed in fighting on 8 October between rival warlords in Faizabad District near Mazar-e Sharif, capital of Balkh Province, international news agencies reported. The fighting pitted forces loyal to Junbish-e Melli party head General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is also nominally Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's special adviser on security and military affairs, against Jami'at-e Islami forces under the command of 7th Army Corps commander General Ata Mohammad. Ata Mohammad has indicated that 50 of his fighters were killed, AFP reported on 9 October. A spokesman for Dostum said Junbish commander Mohammad Andkhoei and three of his bodyguards were killed, the BBC reported on 8 October. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said the fighting was an internal Afghan issue, Hindukosh news agency reported on 8 October. Dostum and Ata Mohammad have clashed intermittently since the Taliban forces were defeated in Afghanistan in late 2001. In May, Karzai named Dostum as his special adviser and requested that he be based in Kabul. Karzai has threatened to resign if he is unable to impose government control on the country's regional warlords (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Nearly 60 fighters were killed or injured in the recent fighting near Mazar-e Sharif, international news agencies reported. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Omar Samad described the fighting as the "worst we've seen in months," the BBC reported on 9 October. United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the fighting was "worse than anything before," adding that "tanks have been used, which we have not seen in a long time," "The New York Times" reported on 10 October. (Amin Tarzi)

The Afghan Transitional Administration, with help from the UN and British envoys to Afghanistan, on 9 October brokered a cease-fire to fighting that broke out on 8 October near Mazar-e Sharif, international news agencies reported. A team led by Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and including representatives from UNAMA and British Ambassador to Afghanistan Ron Nash held talks with rival warlords Dostum and Ata Mohammad. "Both sides have agreed to a cease-fire," Jalali announced after the meeting, Reuters reported. Ata Mohammad, commander of the 7th Army Corps loyal to the Jami'at-e Islami party, said that "we agreed to a cease-fire with immediate effect which will apply to all of the north[ern parts of Afghanistan]," the BBC reported. Sayyed Nurullah, a deputy to Junbish-e Melli leader Dostum, said the situation is tense, but confirmed the cease-fire. Ata Mohammad's reference to all parts of northern Afghanistan apparently also pertains to fighting between the two rivals that began on 7 October in Faryab Province. (Amin Tarzi)

The fighting between Junbish and Jamiat forces occurred near Mazar-e Sharif, a city in which the British military established a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to maintain peace and to assist in reconstruction efforts. The 60 British soldiers who comprise the PRT "appear to have been unable to prevent the fighting," "The New York Times" commented on 10 October. Critics of the PRT system have argued that "such teams are too small to have an impact," Reuters noted on 9 October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January and 2 October 2003). The ongoing conflict among the warlords of northern Afghanistan also illustrates the shortcomings of disarmament efforts in the country. According to de Almeida e Silva, "Weapons were not always collected in great numbers, and arms collected one day seemed to find their way back on the next," "The New York Times" reported. Coalition forces in Afghanistan have referred to the fighting near Mazar-e Sharif as an internal Afghan issue. (Amin Tarzi)

About 300 police officers from Kabul have been deployed in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif to help monitor a cease-fire between the forces of two feuding warlords.

The police force is token in size compared to the tens of thousands of militiamen loyal to each of the warlords -- General Abdul Rashid Dostum and General Ata Mohammad. And yet, the deployment has enormous symbolic significance because it appears to signal the start of a serious effort by Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and his international backers to extend the authority of the Afghan central government.

Radio Free Afghanistan's correspondent Zohra Safi was monitoring developments in and around Mazar-e Sharif on 11 October when Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and British officials met with the militia leaders. "There was a meeting that included Jalali, Dostum, Ata Mohammad, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, and members of the [British] Provincial Reconstruction Team [based in Mazar-e Sharif]. These meetings were held behind closed doors," Safi said.

Safi quoted Jalali as saying the meeting included discussions on a broad plan from Karzai's Transitional Administration aimed at bringing about what he called "fundamental changes in the military and administrative positions" in the north.

Safi also reported that both Dostum and Ata Mohammad signed an agreement on 11 October to extend their shaky cease-fire into other areas that have suffered from factional violence since the collapse of the Taliban regime nearly two years ago. Those areas include the provinces of Balkh, Samangan, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pul, and Faryab.

Dostum and Ata Mohammed last signed an initial cease-fire on 9 October that involved only their private militia forces close to Mazar-e Sharif. That deal came after a fierce tank and artillery battle advanced to within 20 kilometers of Mazar-e Sharif. Some reports say as many as 60 militia fighters were killed. The UN mission in Afghanistan could not confirm the exact number killed but says there was a "high number" of casualties.

Meanwhile, Western correspondents in Afghanistan report that implementation of the 11 October wider truce already appears to be in trouble due to allegations of fresh fighting in the Sar-e Pul Province.

Interior Minister Jalali told RFE/RL that officials from both the UN and the British military also have reported violations of the cease-fire but that he remains optimistic. "When I heard the reports by the [British] Provincial Reconstruction Team and the United Nations people, it became clear that in general the cease-fire is being implemented. But in some places, there are problems. These fighters [from both sides] have withdrawn from their fighting positions, and everybody has promised that they would work together to resolve their problems," Jalali said.

Earlier truces between the rival forces during the last two years have fallen apart. Residents of the tense northern provinces express fears that the latest agreement also will collapse. Western diplomats say they hope the deal will stay in place long enough to start implementing a series of international efforts aimed at disarming rival militias and bringing some of their fighters into an internationally trained Afghan National Army. A long-delayed UN disarmament program for northern Afghanistan is due to begin in the next 10 days. (Ron Synovitz)

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1510 in a 15-0 vote on 13 October, authorizing the extension of the NATO-led ISAF beyond Kabul, news agencies reported. Germany, which is expected to contribute 450 troops as part of a PRT in Konduz, had insisted on a UN mandate and had pushed for the resolution, dpa reported on 13 October. "There was an absence of countries that were willing to undertake such missions outside of Kabul," U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte, whose country has so far appeared cool to the idea of expanding ISAF, said on 13 October, according to RFE/RL. "Now NATO has taken this force [ISAF] over and there is a willingness at least to a limited extent to undertake missions outside of Kabul, and in that context we were willing to support such a resolution." (Amin Tarzi)

In a statement released on 14 October, the Afghan Transitional Administration's Foreign Ministry welcomed the 13 October decision by the UN Security Council to expand the ISAF beyond Kabul. The ISAF's expansion would provide "an additional international security blanket over parts of the country with security-related concerns, [and] would assist in the political and reconstruction processes under way in the country, especially with the upcoming implementation of the disarmament program, the holding of a Constitutional Loya Jirga [in December] and elections" scheduled for June 2004, the statement said. (Amin Tarzi)

As a result of the UN Security Council decision on 13 October to expand ISAF's mandate, soldiers from Fiji could end up in Afghanistan as peacekeepers, reported on 14 October. Army commander Frank Bainimarama said the Fijian government has yet to decide whether or not to send troops to Afghanistan. French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Marc de la Sabliere welcomed the vote to expand ISAF but said his country will not contribute troops to ISAF, dpa reported on 13 October. It is still unclear whether ISAF will take over existing PRTs led by the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Likewise, the relationship between an expanded ISAF and the antiterrorism coalition remains vague. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai on 8 October rejected reports that Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, former foreign minister of the ousted Taliban regime, has been released from the U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base, Reuters reported. Karzai said the story, which was reported by several news agencies (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003), "is not true, this is absolutely not true, he has not been released." U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, when asked by Karzai in front of reporters about the validity of the reports, said, "No, we [the United States] have not released him yet." Meanwhile, U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said that Muttawakil's case falls within the Afghan authorities' jurisdiction. Reuters commented that Davis was perhaps indicating that Muttawakil is no longer in U.S. custody. (Amin Tarzi)

Mohammad Yaqub, the military commander in Kandahar, on 8 October said Muttawakil was freed on 6 October, RFE/RL reported. He added that Muttawakil is currently staying with relatives in Kandahar city. Unidentified sources in Kandahar have indicated that Muttawakil is no longer in U.S. custody, but have contradicted Yaqub's claim that he is in Kandahar, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 8 October. These sources said more information about Muttawakil's status will be available within a week. Meanwhile, an unidentified Foreign Ministry official has said that "time will prove that he has been released," Reuters reported on 8 October. The mystery surrounding Muttawakil is indicative of the sensitive nature of Karzai's reported attempts to negotiate with some members of the former Taliban regime (see below). (Amin Tarzi)

Kandahar Province Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun said on 11 October that 41 members of the former Taliban regime escaped from prison on 10 October, Radio Afghanistan reported. Pashtun said he cannot rule out the possibility that security forces collaborated with the escapees. The governor said the prisoners escaped via a 300-meter tunnel they dug under the Sarpoza prison in the city of Kandahar. Pashtun said there was a "vacuum" in the security arrangements of the prison and local police did not guard it because the prison had been placed under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. Afghan authorities indicated that they did not recapture any of the escapees, Reuters reported on 12 October. (Amin Tarzi)

Neo-Taliban commander Mullah Sabir said on 12 October that related organizations paid bribes of $2,000 per prisoner to prison authorities in Kandahar to facilitate the escape of those 41 inmates, Reuters reported. Kandahar police chief Mohammad Jashim countered that until an investigation is completed, he cannot confirm that prison authorities took bribes. Kandahar Governor Pashtun said he is "100 percent sure there was cooperation between the prison security and the Taliban," adding that the digging of the tunnel was "clearly not something you can do in a day or two -- it would have taken at least a month." Afghan leader Hamid Karzai appointed Pashtun as Kandahar governor in August to replace Gul Agha Sherzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 21 August 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Colonel Rodney Davis said at an 8 October news conference that former Taliban members face three choices: "be killed, change direction and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, or leave Afghanistan," Hindukosh news agency reported. When asked whether the United States will pardon former Taliban members if they "change direction," Davis said that issue is for the Afghan government to decide. Karzai has said he is open to allowing former Taliban members who have not committed grave crimes to reenter Afghan society, which is seen as 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, 9 October ,and 18 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 15 September 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

About 100 neo-Taliban forces killed eight policemen and temporarily seized control of the administrative offices of the Arghandab District in Zabul Province on 12 October, Reuters reported. The Afghan National Army's 1st Brigade had managed to clear Arghandab District of neo-Taliban forces, Radio Afghanistan reported on 13 October. The Afghan forces were assisted by coalition air support. Five members of the neo-Taliban were arrested in the cleanup operations, and there were no reports of casualties on the government side. According to the report, Arghandab is now under complete control of the army. (Amin Tarzi)

Suspected neo-Taliban militants killed four soldiers loyal to the Afghan central government in the village of Darwan in Oruzgan Province on 13 October, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. Abdul Rahman, district chief in Karaj, claimed that members of Al-Qaeda carried out the attack, according to a report by Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press on 14 October. The attacks destroyed the vehicle in which the soldiers were traveling. Attacks against forces loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration or the international antiterrorism coalition are often carried out in the name of the Taliban by neo-Taliban (forces loyal to the former regime, members of Al-Qaeda, newly disenchanted segments of the population, or, more recently, drug dealers). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan troops, backed by U.S. forces, began an operation on 14 October to flush out suspected neo-Taliban forces that were responsible for killing four soldiers loyal to the Afghan government the previous day, Radio Afghanistan reported. The joint operations managed to dislodge the neo-Taliban forces from Darwan, Reuters reported on 15 October. "The Taliban forces overnight escaped from Darwan because they could not resist the fighting, and now American soldiers are conducting house-to-house searches to find out if any Taliban members are hidden among ordinary people," U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said. Davis said there were no U.S. casualties. One local Afghan official, Dur Mohammad, said two Afghan soldiers and three members of the neo-Taliban were killed in the fighting, dpa reported on 15 October. Reuters reported that 10 militants were killed. (Amin Tarzi)

A lantern lights the simple room. Mohammad Fazel, a 22-year-old from the central Afghan village of Do Ab, plays love songs on the tambura, a simple, two-stringed mandolin made from mulberry wood. Sitting cross-legged on the floor around the room are men from the local Hazara militia, as well as elders from Saigan, an impoverished valley of 40,000 or so close to the border between Bamiyan and Baghlan provinces. Outside, all is quiet. A militia soldier adjusts his machine-gun position near the riverbank by starlight. Inside, the talk is impassioned. Much of it concerns hunger and the regrouping of former Taliban in the area, something the Hazara militia say they will never again accept.

Mohammad Fitrat, a 35-year-old commander, is the evening's host. He controls security up and down the Saigan Valley. The valley is disarmed, he said. Ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks live together in peace. There are tensions, he conceded, but they do not amount to much.

The main problem, he emphasized, is hunger. Wells have gone dry from a seven-year drought. Crops of wheat and maize have failed. In some places, poppies are being grown in their place. The poor have only enough for one meal a day. Some local residents are dying from hunger.

Fitrat is desperate for more help from international aid agencies. He said the foreigners come but they do nothing to alleviate the suffering. "The problem of people in Saigan is a problem of water. The drought came, and now nearly 400 families have become refugees in Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul and other cities. They are working there as porters in the bazaars to find food for their families. The poorest are those families whose men were killed in Taliban times. Now, the obligation of a whole family of 20 people are on the shoulders of one man. People here are really suffering and dying of hunger," Fitrat said.

An intelligence officer, Mahram Ali, sits at the other end of the room. He takes his turn singing songs in praise of Hazara heroes, accompanied by Fazel on the tambura. When the mutton and beans comes, he breaks off to describe for the commander and the guests the latest news from Do Ab, just north of the Saigan Valley. The news is not good. Ali believes there is a major regrouping of Taliban in the area, extending up to the border with neighboring Samangan Province. At the center of the resurgence, he claimed, is a former Afghan provincial governor. According to Ali's sources, the ex-governor is receiving arms and support from former Taliban commanders based in Pakistan. The aim is to set up a pocket of self-rule in the center of the country and to once again impose the Taliban's strict religious code.

The former Talibs are not be underestimated, Ali said. He believes they have amassed a decent number of weapons. "They have 600 guns, Kalashnikovs, Zikoyak [heavy Russian gun], and 30 trucks of ammunition. Besides this, they have hidden stores of weapons that they collected during the years of war from Bamiyan and brought to the Do Ab district," Ali said.

Ali continued: "This is really tense for us. It is like a cancer in the area. They have a big plan. It should be prevented. If not, you will witness big disorder in this area. Four days ago, the Americans spent a night with us. We told them the whole story of what is happening here, and [the Americans] went at night to Sargoli, near Do Ab, to look for the Taliban. We sent two policemen with them. After they saw the area and interviewed the people, they left for Bamiyan. They told us they would come back after four days, but there hasn't been any sign of them. We want them back. There isn't complete security around here. Everyone is still armed. At the minimum, each house has two guns. And because of this lack of security, people can't work."

Ali claimed the arms are passing through the district of Do Ab. He said his agents followed a former Taliban commander now based in Pakistan, who traveled north to meet with and allegedly advise the former provincial governor.

Not everyone is sure what the gathering of arms and political advice from Pakistan means. Elders from Saigan, stroking their beards at the other end of the room, think the deposed Talibs are only maneuvering for a better life.

The next day, in secret meetings in Do Ab, locals give mixed views on the possible return of the Taliban. Most say that while the former Taliban could agitate and cause bloodshed, they are no longer a serious threat. Mohammad Amar is a 32-year-old government official in Do Ab charged with preventing smuggling from local coal mines. "I can't say what they want," he said. "Maybe instigating insecurity and getting benefits from such insecurity. Maybe a government which favors them. If Talibs are in power, then they would have power, too. Of course, now the Talibs are out of power, so they have no power."

International officials in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, say they are concerned about what would amount to the brazen shipping of arms deep into the center of the country and about links with former Taliban commanders in Pakistan. But they say they do not believe these activities constitute a significant threat, at least for the moment. (J.M. Ledgard)

Commenting on recent political maneuvers by former mujahedin leaders (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003), "The Kabul Times" commented on 8 October that former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani has the right to run against Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. However, the Kabul daily noted that "Professor Rabbani managed to extend his [previous] tenure for four years [1992-96] through a hand-picked council" and "during his 'reign' Kabul was divided among 12 'sovereign' commanders." Rabbani was elected by a mujahedin council in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1992 to run the country for four months, following Sebghatullah Mojaddedi's two-month presidency. The Kabul daily added that as a result of the violent power struggle among mujahedin groups, "parts of the old city [of Kabul] were razed to the ground." In the jockeying before the 2004 general elections, Afghanistan is witnessing its first relatively open political campaigning. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has passed a new law aimed at preventing Afghan warlords from using their private militias to intimidate voters during elections next summer. The law was formally approved by Karzai on 11 October. Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi said it will be officially published by early next week (for an English translation of the law, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 September 2003).

Vikram Parekh is an expert on Afghanistan who works out of Kabul for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He told RFE/RL that the ability of Karzai to enforce the new political parties law is a critical test for the Transitional Administration chairman. He said the expansion of the ISAF into provinces of Afghanistan that are now controlled by different militia factions could help encourage disarmament and foster the environment needed for free and fair elections. But to achieve those goals, Parekh said the number of ISAF troops sent into warlord-controlled territory must be substantial.

"I can say what members of the various factions in Mazar-e Sharif have concluded -- which is that an international force of 1,000 might be enough to create a neutral space in which security-sector reforms and disarmament can actually be carried out [there]. And those are also the types of numbers we need to be talking about if there is going to be an electoral process that allows parties which don't have force of arms to participate -- and to enforce the new political-parties law that prohibits individuals and parties that have the force of arms from taking part in the elections," Parekh said.

Factional leaders within Karzai's coalition cabinet who control the rival militias have gathered with radical Islamist leaders in Kabul at least twice this month in a bid to unify behind a single candidate to oppose Karzai in next year's presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003).

Christopher Langton, of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees that the decision by the UN Security Council this week (see above) to expand ISAF beyond Kabul Province could bolster enforcement of the new political parties law.

But Langton told RFE/RL that the chances for its successful enforcement vary in different parts of Afghanistan. He said the governor of the western province of Herat, Ismail Kahn, has said ISAF is not welcome in Herat. "So, if they're not welcome -- and, of course, [Ismail Khan] has a huge number of people under his command who are armed -- it's hard to see how ISAF can actually deploy there," he said. "Mazar-e Sharif is feasible, even though the situation between Ata Mohammad and Dostum is somewhat insecure. I think [ISAF] is welcomed in Kandahar, so [the ban against warlords in political parties] can be enforced -- but it's dangerous. In Herat, [Karzai] can't enforce it. And Mazar-e Sharif probably is the place where it most likely could succeed."

Langton said he remains skeptical about long-delayed programs aimed at disarming the militias of Afghanistan's regional warlords -- particularly if rival militias are not disarmed simultaneously. But he said the new law on political parties, combined with substantial ISAF deployments in the north, could lead to at least a token start on disarming the militias of Dostum or Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Commander Ata Mohammad. "It will have some impact, maybe at the lower end of the armament spectrum where it doesn't matter," he said. "People like Fahim and [Ata Mohammad] will not wish to be seen to be dragging their feet in front of the international community. Nor will Dostum. But at the same time, they are not going to disarm more than they need to."

Langton said some aspects of the Bonn process itself could unravel if Karzai fails to enforce the new political parties law. And certainly, he said, Karzai's credibility will suffer from failure. "It could add up to undermining the Bonn process at least partially. What [failure] really [would do] is undermine Karzai himself and reduce his credibility -- certainly amongst Afghans, and to some extent within the international community," Langton said.

In the final analysis, Langton said Karzai's political future in Afghanistan depends upon his ability to bring together the divided ethnic Pashtun clans in the south and east of Afghanistan -- especially as the country heads toward a Constitutional Loya Jirga, originally scheduled for this month but already pushed back to December. "The real problem is that Karzai's power base was fairly small at first and is really no bigger, and is probably more delicate now than it has been for some time. So we're really on a knife's edge as we go towards a Loya Jirga -- whenever it may be. And it depends to some extent on whether Karzai can give unity of voice to the Pashtun majority in the country, because if he can't, then the Loya Jirga is going to be dominated by the Tajik factions. And if they get their way on all the various issues and the constitution, then it basically isolates the majority ethnic population in the country, which does not bode well for the electoral processes," Langton said.

Other Afghan experts agree that international donors will not be well disposed toward providing additional financial support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan if Karzai is seen to be failing. (Ron Synovitz)

Afghan militia forces fired mortar rounds at a Pakistani checkpoint in the Mohmand tribal region on 13 October, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on 15 October. According to the report, Afghans fired at Spina Bara checkpoint for one hour "without any provocation." "Dawn" reported that the attack was the third in the past week, adding that Pakistani forces did not return fire in the attacks. Skirmishes along the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan brought the two countries to the brink of a larger conflict in July. The border with Pakistan has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan and parts of it remain in dispute (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July and 7 August 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

12 October 1841 -- British forces evacuate Kabul, ending the First Anglo-Afghan War, which started in 1839.

15 October 1990 -- Jami'at-e Islami commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud visits Islamabad where he meets Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Pakistani officials.

11 October 1994 -- Fighting among mujahedin groups in September leaves 1,100 killed and 23,000 wounded in Kabul.

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